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On your bike, mate: Get yourself a hobby and a more effective you

Rosemary Gillespie - Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Regardless of the industry you work in, if you have customers and competition then you need to be creative, flexible and focused to stay ahead of the game.

Talking of games, it turns out that having a hobby can help us achieve these qualities. Who knew that playing footie once a week, doing a crossword or occasionally tinkering with a car engine could increase our intelligence, enhance creativity, improve concentration and help us think more clearly?

There’s a neurological explanation for this. According to behavioural scientists, we enter a ‘flow state’ when we engage in a hobby, becoming utterly focused on the task at hand and completely absorbed in the experience. We sometimes call this being ‘in the zone’ and there are strong links with peak performance, as well as with general happiness levels.

The theory behind why a flow state makes us feel good is complex – it’s partly to do with the motivation created by investing psychic energy in attaining realistic goals, and partly to do with what psychologists call ‘self-actualisation’ – but there’s a more straightforward explanation in the release of ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine that occurs during the flow state. These neurotransmitters help us to stay focused on the activities that we find so energising and invigorating, while acting on the parts of our brain associated with creativity and positive thinking. It’s win-win!

In an interview with The New York Times, psychotherapist, career coach and author Gail McMeekin said that any stimulating and challenging hobby can inspire ideas that may be used in our professional life; for example, new ways to lead others, or give presentations, or solve a client’s problem. “Any time you take a break from routine, you develop new ways of thinking,” McMeekin said. “By tapping into our creativity through hobbies, we make connections that lead to a flurry of insights and new ideas.”

In the same interview, psychologist and business coach Michelle P Maidenberg said that hobbies can increase our confidence and enhance our self-esteem, with a positive knock-on effect on our careers. Defining ourselves solely by what we do for a living is risky – when we’re scoring goals, we’re on top of the world, but we run the risk of anxiety and depression when the going gets tough because failure becomes personal. “If you are unhappy with your work performance, you are more inclined to define yourself as inadequate,” Maidenberg said, “but if your identity is varied — businesswoman, mother, wife, painter, cook — you can reflect on your success in those other things.”

So let’s recap. A hobby can:

  • Make us feel good
  • Help us think more clearly
  • Enhance creativity and problem-solving
  • Improve our self-esteem
  • Improve concentration

These are all things that help us be more effective and more efficient in all areas of our working lives, not just in our communications. So why are you still reading this? Get on your bike and cycle your way to better business writing!

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