When we want to improve at work, it's natural to focus on what's going on at the office. But while industry books, scheduling hacks, and the like are a great way to try and get ahead, science suggests that what we do outside the office can actually have an incredibly large impact on our professional success. 

A boatload of studies shows that cultivating a hobby in your off hours isn't just a fun way to fill up your evenings and weekends. Having a passion outside of work has surprising benefits that carry over into your professional life, making your life not just more fun, but more successful too. Here's how a getting a hobby will help you: 

1. It will boost your performance at work. 

The simplest reason to get yourself a hobby comes from recent research out of San Francisco State University. Whether the psychologists behind the study examined professionals or Air Force pilots, they saw the same pattern. Having some sort of creative passion outside of work makes you better at your job - 15 to 30 percent better to be exact. (The researchers defined 'creative' loosely to include anything from painting to knitting.)

"We found that in general, the more you engage in creative activities, the better you'll do," summed up lead author Kevin Eschleman. 

2. It will increase your confidence.  

Not only will having a serious hobby outside work likely make you better at work, it will probably give you more swagger too. That's the conclusion of a new British study that asked people not just if they had a hobby, but how dedicated to it they were. The researchers discovered that the more passionately people pursued a hobby, the more confident they felt about overcoming challenges in other areas of their life.  

There was one catch to keep in mind, however. This confidence-boosting effect only held when a person's hobby was dissimilar from their work. If you're an aeronautical engineer building model rockets in your free time isn't going to do much for you, but rock climbing or improv comedy will help you be a little more fearless. 

3. It will make you more resilient. 

You might think a passion outside work might make you more resilient by keeping burnout at bay, but according to research by Duke psychologist Patrician Linville the benefits of having a hobby go deeper than that. 

Each of us plays multiple roles in life: you're an employee, a friend, a parent, etc. A passionate pastime adds another identity to your portfolio of selves. You might also view yourself as a surfer, say, or a master baker. And according to Linville's research, the more roles we see ourselves having in life the more resilient we are. 

That's because if we face a setback in one area - like failing to close a deal at work - we have other areas to feel good about that can nourish our self-esteem. Being able to bake yourself a delicious dessert or catch a wave after a rough day at the office helps keep setbacks in perspective and reminds you of your strengths, and that means you bounce back quicker when you get knocked down. 

4. It might make you smarter. 

If your hobby is binge watching reality shows on Netflix, then no, I'm sorry to report it probably won't make you smarter (though that's no reason not to indulge). But science suggests a surprising array of popular hobbies, from any form of exercise to reading (no huge shock there) to playing a musical instrument, will boost your brainpower

Even playing video games has been shown to improve working memory and your ability to make decisions under pressure. So go ahead and play your way to a higher IQ.  

5. It can serve as a form of mindfulness. 

You've no doubt heard of the many, impressive benefits of mindfulness meditation, from greater focus and lower stress to straight up making people nicer. But finding time to sit still and breathe is hard for lots of folks. 

No worries, replies Guardian writer Oliver Burkeman, you probably already have a mindfulness practice. You just call it a hobby. 

"I have a personal theory that almost everyone secretly meditates, whether they realize it or not. Scratch the surface and you'll find that almost everyone pursues some activity demanding absolute presence of mind: if not mountain climbing or sailing or bike racing (where a lapse of attention might mean death), then photography or singing or recreational cookery (where a lapse of attention means you'll screw things up)," he has written. "Deep down, we know that we need this kind of present-moment focus, so we find ways to make it happen."

Research confirms that even just doing the dishes can be mindfulness as long as it keeps you focused on the present. Maybe that's why even some of the world's richest people still find time to get their hands sudsy or hang the laundry.

And if even Bill Gates can find time to do the dishes and play bridge, certainly you can find time to cultivate a hobby too. Your work will only benefit. 

Published on: Oct 14, 2019
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