They say all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. And it's true -- hobbies make you more interesting and fun to be around and keep your body and brain rested and renewed. But your activity of choice also makes you better at business by improving essential skills like memory, creative thinking, and overall job performance.
Hobbies also help us keep learning. This is key as we tend to stop learning as we get older. Research suggests that by age 25 our brains tend to get "lazy." It's not that our gray cells can no longer learn new things, but rather we rely on a set number of neuro pathways to do our thinking. In other words, we get stuck in a brain rut.
However, it's possible to break free and become new learners and hobbies can help. For instance, one study that focused on 200 older adults found that learning a mentally challenging skill can improve memory. In this case, the people took up hobbies like photography and quilting that required them to complete cognitive demanding and complex tasks.
Hobbies often can make you a more valuable worker. Another study suggested that people who spend time on hobbies tend to perform better on the job. They also are more likely to come up with creative solutions to problems at work and are more likely to help their co-workers.
In addition to research, many top business leaders tout the value of hobbies. Indian billionaire Anil Ambani is a serial marathon runner, Richard Branson kite surfs, Marissa Mayer bakes cupcakes, and Twitter's Jack Dorsey hikes.
In fact, Mark Zuckerberg believes he learned more from doing side projects in college than from his classes. And both Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are long-time bridge players and they have commented how the game stimulates their strategic thinking. "In the stock market, you don't base your decisions on what the market is doing, but on what you think is rational," says Buffett. "Bridge is about weighing gain/loss ratio. You're doing calculations all the time."
Hobbies can help improve your business and bottom line in other ways too. For example, hobbies help you better structure your time since you have to balance it with other aspects of your life. This can help improve time management, and as the saying goes, "time is money." Yet most of all hobbies simply increase happiness, and happy workers are more productive and dedicated.
Does it matter what hobby you take up? Research has suggested that learning a new creative hobby, such as art, music, gardening, or a language, offer more direct business-related benefits as they stimulate your thinking and problem-solving skills. I experienced this myself when I began learning bass guitar as an adult. You don't realize how hard it can be to be an adult learner until you put yourself in the position to be a beginner, to be vulnerable and sponge to learning something new.
Sticking with something, even when you are not the best at it, is hard but the outcome of realizing how to learn again is extremely valuable for business. I have found my bass playing challenges me to use different skills while improving my existing ones. And many times when I'm stuck with a work problem, I can refer back to how I learned a new riff on guitar, even when it was challenging, and apply those learning skills back to work and come back to the business situation with a new perspective.
However, what is most important is that you enjoy your hobby. It should be something that excites you as well as helps you relax and step away from the hustle and bustle of life for a while.
So what activities, hobbies, or interests excite you? Write them down, pick one, and get going. Don't worry if it doesn't stick or you find your enjoyment waning after a while of doing it. When you need to find that joy again, simply choose another activity to learn. Time devoted to yourself is always time well spent and don't be surprised if your new found hobby also teaches you how to try new things in business and drive more innovation through your enterprise.