In The Turn

5 Ways Hobbies Can Help You Live and Lead at Your Best

What are your hobbies?

You can tell a lot about a leader by the way they answer that question.

If you’d asked me a few years ago what my hobbies were, I would have said I didn’t have any because I didn’t have the time. The truth is, I didn’t make the time. I chose to spend nearly every waking moment building my company – to the detriment of my family, my health and my friendships.

I knew that needed to change. You have to find the “off” switch. Everyone wants to live a richer, fuller life. But when you allow work to take precedence over everything, you risk experiencing burnout, anxiety and depression. Not to mention relationship stress.

And if your happiness and self-worth are tied up exclusively in your professional success, at some point along the way I promise you are going to be disappointed.

These are some of the many reasons why you should engage fully in the rest of your life. But did you know that pursuing activities you love also helps you be a better leader? Here are five ways hobbies can help you bring your “A” game to your professional life while invigorating and inspiring your personal life.

1. Hobbies help you think better. Hobbies allow you to refresh, recharge and see things in new and different ways. In fact, a higher functioning brain allows you to be a more critical and creative thinker – science proves it. When we engage in activities that bring us joy and enrichment, it activates a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. This area of the brain controls how we feel about life, good or bad. It’s where we process motivation, reward and pleasure. We also activate thousands of neurotransmitters in our brain that allow us to sharpen our focus and become energized around one activity.

With science like this, it’s no wonder some of the greatest leaders of our time engage in fun and creative hobbies. Richard Branson enjoys kite surfing. Steve Wozniak engages in Segway polo. And Google’s co-founder, Sergey Brin, is mastering the art of the flying trapeze.

2. Experience the exhilaration of “flow.” When we become totally immersed in things we love, the worries of the day fade and our inner critic is silenced. We feel focused and competent. We perform at our best. This sense of flow is often described by others as being “in the zone.” Flow can give us the confidence and energy to tackle other more challenging aspects of our lives, particularly in our work.

3. Develop more of a can-do spirit. Even if you love what you do, the routine of working all the time can feel relentless – even monotonous. You can become set in your ways and less willing to take risk. Trying a new hobby can help you break out of that mindset. Take painting lessons or learn to kayak. Try your hand at woodworking. You’ll have a bounce in your step as you develop new skills. That can-do attitude will empower you to be more innovative at work, too, and willing to try new things.

4. Become more resilient. To get good at something, you need to try, fail, learn and repeat. And as you keep trying, you become smarter and better. More resilient. The type of dogged determination that helps you learn how to climb trails or run a marathon will help you deal more effectively with challenges you face in your career.

5. It’s where you’ll get your best ideas. One of the greatest benefits of having hobbies is the way your mind is freed to think creatively. We’ve all heard our best ideas come to us when we’re in the shower or out on a bike ride. This is because we’re relaxed, we’re focused on something enjoyable, and our bodies release positive chemicals like endorphins and dopamine into our brains, which give us a burst of energy and creative thinking. You can take these ideas into your workplace and find ways to bring them to life.

J. J. van der Leeuw, a Dutch author who spent much of his life exploring philosophical and theological ideas, got it right when he said, “The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved; it is a reality to be experienced.”

When I realized I needed to change my relentless focus on the destination, I did. I found hobbies that helped me find joy in the journey — like motorcycling and riding alongside my husband, Raye. I took up running, one of the joys of my youth, and completed my first half marathon in 2009. I learned to fly fish and have also begun to study photography.

These things are meant to be experienced, not accomplished. But they also helped me become a better (and happier) leader.

So the lesson is this: Find hobbies you enjoy that can help you live a richer, fuller life. Chances are, they’ll also help you lead at your best.

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