Choosing Real Hobbies Over Digital Distractions

Look how fucking zen this guy looks, that could be you
Photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash

Digital Minimalism encourages you to cut back on low-quality, digital distractions and spend more time doing high-quality analogue things. Once you have succeeded in reducing digital distractions, you will have a lot more spare time. Without a better way to spend your time, you can easily slip back into old habits.

There is a better way.

You start a new hobby or rediscover and old one. The effort of doing more may make you groan. After a hard day’s work it’s tempting to zone out and scroll through your newsfeed or binge-watch the latest Netflix show. You will feel more energised and getting a greater sense of satisfaction from doing something difficult and/or creative. The initial hump of effort is worth the positives.

Why to Choose Hobbies

Change is difficult. Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism has advice is advice on how to survive this new change and I, your humble blogger, have summarised it for you:

1) Choose To Do Hard Things, Rather Than Passive Things

It is much more effort to read a book than to watch TV. Humans have evolved to listen to voices and watch people, so we find those easy. Learning to read requires stealing resources from your brain that used to do other things like pattern recognition of symbols, processing the meaning of words, phrases and grammar and so on.

Effort is rewarding.

A day of binge-watching can leave you feeling like you wasted your day, even if you liked the show. Part of you feels guilty for wasting your time. There’s an emptiness afterwards. Reading a book feels good though. You can look at the pages you read and feel a sense of accomplishment. Your brain is fatigued by the mental effort of having read something, but it is a pleasing kind of tiredness, like you earned it.

The effort felt good.

2) Creation > Consumption

Make Something

Building something with your own hands is satisfying. It gives you a sense of achievement to look at something you built and know you built it. It might not even be that good, but you did it. It’s even the secret to IKEA’s success, most people’s favourite piece of furniture is often something they struggled to build from IKEA, rather than the most expensive item.

Making can be any creative hobby. You could do woodworking, knitting, writing essays, drawing etc.

The key to enjoying the hobby, rather than getting frustrated and giving up, is to focus on the process. Focused creating is meditative, you are only aware of what you’re doing, your other worries don’t cloud your mind for a while.

Don’t think about how good the end result will be. Putting too much pressure on yourself to be good can kill the fun for you. So consider not sharing the results online. You want to do something for yourself.

If later, you get good at the thing, and feel proud and want to share it, then go ahead. Just do it for you at first, not for adoration or Likes.

Fix Stuff

Next time you find damage in your house that you would usually call someone to fix. See if you can do it yourself. There are plenty of ways to learn how to do anything online, just try to avoid getting stuck in YouTube rabbit holes. You want to fix a loose hinge not find out if there are real mermaids.

Once you can fix things, you will get a feeling of confidence that comes from having a skill. You don’t feel so panicked when something goes wrong in your house or you tear your favourite shirt, because you’ve fixed something before and you can do it again. You feel more capable and ready to take on the challenge. You might even save money by not needing to call contractors for each little thing.

3) Get Real

Making Something Real

Coding or doing digital art, whilst creative, don’t give you something you can pick up and touch. There’s something more satisfying about tangible creations, than something you an only see on a screen. Maybe it’s why people still buy real books and vinyl records, even though their digital counterparts are so much more convenient.

An added issue is digital creations can be closer to the distractions you were previously trying to avoid. You are just an open tab away from a YouTube rabbit hole.

Doing Something Real

Playing a sport or getting exercise is good for your physical and mental health, we all know this. A lot of the time it seems like a bother, but being fit and healthy feels good in ways you don’t expect. You have more energy and confidence in your body. You don’t need to become an Olympian, you just need to be moving a bit each day.

Social media won’t give you the same good feelings from socialising, you will have much better experiences in person, which is difficult right now, but outside sports are still allowed.

Getting physically exhausted by doing exercise will feel better as well. It’s not that you will be too tired to do anything else in work or life, but instead you will feel more energised day-to-day than when you just scroll all day. You will feel more tired at night, but it’s a good tired, like you’re ready for bed and to recharge, not tired like you can’t get through another minute of life right now.

How To Choose Hobbies

Now that you’re convinced of the wonders of high-quality leisure time, you may be wondering how to put this advice into action, the following tips should be a good starting point

Make or Fix Something Every Week

Think of something creative you used to do when you were younger but no longer do. Do that. If there was nothing you did when you were younger, think about something you always told yourself you wanted to do but never have done.

If you need materials you don’t have, get the cheapest stuff you can find. You don’t need the pencils Da Vinci used to draw or Hendrix’s guitar. Go cheap and simple, if you over-complicate things at the beginning you will stop yourself before you even start.

If your hobby requires you to setup and put things away, try to make this process as automatic as possible. The more friction there is in your hobbies, the more likely you will put it off.

Look around your house, something is probably not in the best shape. Stick to something safe, don’t go changing wires if you don’t know how. A wonky chair could be a good start or a loose tile. You’re not looking to be a master builder, just to fix something that bothers you.

Make Time For Your New Hobby

Don’t rely on inspiration. You might never do anything.

Set yourself a schedule for when you can do your new hobby and stick to it. You don’t have to plan to the minute, just find an hour a week when you expect to have some free time and stick that in the diary. Then show up and do it.

You will meet some internal resistance at first, but fight through it. It can take a few weeks for a a habit to form, then you won’t have to keep scheduling time, because you will automatically do so. If the habit slips due to a change in schedule, then rinse and repeat.

Join Something

Joining a class or team sport, usually means there will be a schedule, you are obligated to go at certain times. This helps you maintain a routine which makes hobbies easier to stick with, rather than having to set your own schedule or doing it when the mood strikes you.

Doing things with other people is also enjoyable because humans are sociable creatures by nature. If it’s a hobby you would like to do but know you are unreliable at, having a group who relies on you could keep you accountable, so you actually follow through. You can’t quit running half way through a group run, because you would let your team down, or you can’t avoid finishing the book because it will ruin book club. The social pressure can keep you in check.

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Is Your Passion Harmonious or Obsessive?

Choose harmony
Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash

Does your work light a fire inside you or does it consume you? If you’re passionate about work, it can be the best feeling in the world, or it can burn you out.

Harmonious Passion

This is the kind of passion you want in life.

Harmonious passion will give you energy, harmonious passion will give you meaning, harmonious passion will make your life vibrant.

You will perform better at work, you will seem happier to your friends and you will be more resilient to the struggles of life.

Then there is the other kind of passion…

Obsessive Passion

Obsessive passion is always on your mind, even when you don’t want it to be.

Obsessive passion interferes with your social life, you just can’t help but check your emails over dinner. You find yourself unable to hold conversations because you’re too distracted and anything not building your dream feels like a waste of time.

If something goes wrong at work, your whole world comes crashing down. You feel like your value and self-worth comes from your work, so if you fail or get fired, you are a failure.

You are obsessed.

This is not healthy.

Choose harmony, not obsession.

How Your Hobby Can Boost Your Career

Your hobby can make you a more rounded person, make you more interesting and even make you more successful. I am not talking about turning your hobby into a side-hustle, no, this is a post about how blogging can improve your performance at work.

The Many Benefits of Hobbies

Hobbies have been found to improve creativity, lower stress and prevent burnout. Work shouldn’t be the only thing that defines you, because if it is, then what happens when you leave that job or get fired? A good hobby can give you another side of your identity, so when you lose one part (your job) you still have many other parts (your family, your friends, your hobbies).

It just takes one hour a day of engaging in a hobby to make you feel refreshed and more fulfilled. The hobby can be anything that actively engages you, I can’t tell you what you liked doing. That said, I recommend anything where you can learn and improve. It can be creative like drawing, playing an instrument or writing a blog or it can be physical like running, lifting weights or playing football. The important part, is it’s something you enjoy.

Why Hobbies Help

  • Firstly hobbies break up your day from all the spreadsheets, meetings and office bullshit you have to put up with. Just taking a break is a helpful for your poor frazzled brain. It allows you to recharge, so that when you are at work, you can focus.
  • Hobbies make you more rounded as a person. You’re not just John the accountant, you’re John the guy who paints, runs and does some top notch accounting work.
  • Hobbies allow you to achieve outside of work. Once you finish that 5k you can say “Wow, I ran 5k today, that’s pretty impressive” or you can look back at the wooden ducks you whittled and feel proud of yourself.

I can say from experience these things are true, I sketched for the first time in a while the other day. It’s not my best drawing, but whilst I was doing it, time and the world around me melted away, leaving just me, the pencil and the paper.

A quick sketch of Auri from The Kingkiller Chronicle

What hobby could you restart? What hobby have you always wanted to try? Let me know in the comments below.

The Best Way To Avoid Burnout, Without Slowing Down

One frazzled brain

We’ve all been there, work is just droning on and on. from week to week. Today is no different. You wake up, hit snooze, wish it were still the weekend and slowly drift off to sleep, then 10 minutes later, do it all over again. You drag yourself out of bed and into the shower. That’s over, even getting dressed feels difficult right now. Then there’s the dreary drive, with the never-ending queues of traffic. You finally get to the office and hope nothing major goes wrong, you just want an easy day. You finish, some fuzzy amount of time later, only to realise it’s Monday and you have to do it all over again for the next 4 days.

You swear the job didn’t use to be this bad, that Sally in marketing wasn’t that annoying just a few weeks ago. Yet the spreadsheets you used to tackle with glee (for some people this is true, don’t judge) suddenly look like a grey pile of sludge you have to trudge through. You are stressed. Last week you were stressed. This is what being burnt out feels like.

You see two ways out of this funk:

  1. As soon as you get home, just do nothing. Relax in front of the telly and pretend the whole world away. Then tomorrow, you will feel refreshed.
  2. Don’t work so hard anymore, this feeling is horrible and you don’t want to repeat it.

Here’s the problem, you try plan 1. but you are still stressed the next day, you realise escapism isn’t working, you are just as burnt out as before. On to plan 2. this lasts maybe an hour, then you realise you don’t want to do the bare minimum, you care about doing a good job and you want to progress in your career.

What now? Your two plans have failed. Time to hand in your letter of resignation? No. According to Google’s in-house productivity expert, Lila MacLellan, there is a better way. Google has shown time and time again how successful they can be in cognitively demanding environments, so she must know what she’s talking about, right?

MacLellan recommends doing activities that require you to use your brain in a different way to how you do at work. It’s like when people who go to the gym have different days for different muscles groups, if you did leg day every day, 3 days in a row, your legs would be exhausted and perform more poorly each successive day and you may even injure yourself.

It’s all about using your different brain muscles (figuratively speaking) if you have a super social chatty job like making sales calls one after the other, try quietly reading a book once you get home. If you stay sat at a desk all day, go for a brisk walk in the evening. If you write code at work, try drawing in your spare time. The task can be equally demanding of your brain’s abilities, but it just has to be a different way of using your brain than what got you so fatigued in the first place. Research has shown this to be much more effective in refreshing you from day to day, than just trying to avoid the stress or doing nothing.

This makes your day-to-day life more fun and fulfilling. It will help you to be more resilient, making you feel fresher at work for longer and improving your mood as you will have more skills to handle stress. You can’t avoid stress forever (sadly), but you can become better at handling it.

If you have any stress-busting tips, please let me know in the comments below.

What I discovered When I Tried Warren Buffett’s 5/25 Rule

dav

I saw a video recently about Warren Buffett’s 5/25 rule in which it is claimed that Buffett once had a conversation with his pilot. For anyone who doesn’t know, Warren Buffett is one of the most successful investors in the world and has been top of his game for decades. After realising he’d had the same pilot for 10 years, he was perturbed to find that the pilot had not moved on in all that time. I will be paraphrasing, but Buffett says something along the lines of “if you’ve been working as my pilot for 10 years, I must not be doing my job right” so he instructs the pilot to write down 25 career goals and that he can write anything he wants.

Next Buffett tells the pilot to prioritise the top 5. This is more difficult, but the pilot does it. Now, Buffet asks him

“What will you do with the other 20?”

The pilot says “I will treat these as 2nd best and work on them when I have spare time”

Buffett replies “No. You avoid those at all costs, until you had achieved your top 5.”

Buffett explains that spreading yourself too thin means you don’t make any significant progress towards any of your goals. Focusing on a goals instead, is the key to making progress.

This doesn’t mean that you are limited to do just 5 things for the rest of your life, never trying anything new, just repeating the same cycle of days for the rest of time. BUT you can’t do number 6 until you have achieved ONE of the top 5. This is the crux of the idea.

This idea can be applied to any area of life where you have too many options. Too many options meaning there are multiple things you want to achieve, but you never quite seem to get any of them done, they just remain on a wish list for all time. For example, do you have too many hobby projects you never complete? Too many career skills, so none seem to improve all that much? Too many new business ideas, but you don’t ever seem to start any? All of these can be whittled down to your top 5, allowing you to focus and make real progress.

I tried this for myself. I don’t have 25 career aspirations, so I wrote down 25 things I want to do in my life in general from hobbies, to work, to travel. The top 5 I prioritised, see below:

  1. Improve my writing
  2. Improve my blog
  3. Exercise regularly
  4. Travel outside Europe
  5. Start a Side-Hustle
  1. I have been reading more and more lately about the benefits of being able to write well, which was part of my inspiration to start a blog, so that was always going to end up on this list.
  2. This blog is new, there’s lots of room to grow and improve, but I’m enjoying the process so far With a lot of practice I hope to be writing better articles, have a better website and anything else that would make the blog better.
  3. I have been trying to do this for years, but I always give up a few weeks in. I was recently pointed towards “Couch to 5k”, which aims to make running a habit by easing you in. Instead of going too hard too soon and quitting, as I always have done in the past, you build up to longer runs until you can do 5k even if you started from a point of doing no exercise at all. The best part for me has been the structure the app provides, as I tend to just run hard, then get tired and never want to run again.
  4. I love to go on solo-travel trips, but I have played it pretty safe so far, going to European cities where pretty much everyone speaks English and the culture isn’t too different to our own. I want to go further away and experience more, even if it is a little scary to not speak the language or know all the customs, that’s part of the fun, right?
  5. I recently read a fantastic book by Chris Guillebau, in which he describes the merits of having a “side-hustle” and how to start one. The book is very clearly written and inspiring, with great advice. I aim to write a post on it someday soon. The main reason the idea drew me in, is it allows you to have a project of your own, that gives you a sense of achieving something of your own. Guillebeau says it’s not about workaholism, having a second job would be a nightmare for many people. Side-hustles come come in many different forms, as you can see on his podcast it’s a creative outlet for some people for others it gives them a sense of independence. It’s a great way to do some work you enjoy, just for you, without going all in and quitting your job to start a business.

If this post or the original video inspires you to try the idea for yourself, please let me know in the comments below, how it worked out for you!