You need an Outlet

Sailing in the British Virgin Islands

When I posted this on my LinkedIn feed, it got some great traction. So I fleshed out the idea and reposted it here. Simple idea with some thought behind it.

You need an outlet. In today’s world, we’re all asked to be creative, to execute and to think. It’s actually much harder to be creative and think deeply than it is to do almost anything else. Consistently coming up with smart ideas that aren’t the same as everyone else’s requires a lot of brain power. It’s taxing and rewarding at the same time. But to get the most out of your brain, you have to give it a break. I think you need a hobby that has several ‘features’ in order to reset and refresh.

These are the features I think are important for your hobby:

Requires concentration and focus

The most important feature is that you can’t think about work. So find a hobby that requires complete concentration and focus. At first, this idea sounds like I’m just replacing one hard brain activity with another. But hobby focus is way different than work focus. It doesn’t require you to reinvent the wheel, it just requires concentration that will eliminate you from thinking about other things.

My example is sailing. When you’re sailing a boat, you must constantly adjust to wind and water conditions. A non-sailor might not realize that you can’t stop to think about other things, but you really cannot. If you drop your attention, you can make a mistake that turns into an accidental jibe (dangerous) or just lose the impact of the wind you have. I have friends that lift very heavy weights and feel the same way about that activity. Complete concentration to take you away from your work.

Requires physical movement

Especially for us desk jockeys who spend most of their time deep in the depths of excel; finding an activity that makes you move and use muscles is very helpful. Your body needs physical activity; sweat that makes you realize you’re a human. Physical effort makes your brain work in a different way and keeps you alive longer. Exercise increases the amount of blood pushed into your brain, which has been shown to boost your memory, increase your ability to concentrate and improve your mental health over time (Scientific American). Lack of physical movement means no improvements to memory, concentration and mental health. Exercise also is a huge antidepressant.

I prefer mixing hobby with exercise. I hate running, but enjoy lifting weights. Having said that, its much easier to exercise if it’s tied into a hobby you enjoy. Mountain climbing is a perfect example of hobby that is extremely physical (lots of exercise and strength) plus requires complete concentration. That combination is magical in my opinion.

Moves you to a different place

Another great feature is a hobby that requires a different environment that mentally changes your perspective. I recommend something outdoors. I’m indoors all work week and it’s refreshing to be outside when I can. Nature is a great healer of the human psyche. When you physically move into a new environment it helps your mind and body prepare to do something different. It helps you to stop working and move on to something else. Exercising in the same office where you work all week just doesn’t have the same impact on your mind. Go somewhere different.

Snow skiing is another good example of these types of hobbies. You absolutely must concentrate, it’s very physical, and the environment is so different that you can’t help but change your perspective. I know lots of high performers that make sure they hit the slopes as often as possible.

You can improve at it

One last recommendation. We are all competitive. Find a way to harness that outside of work through your hobby. Pick something that you can improve and compete in. And make sure you’re measuring progress over time. Whether that is counting and recording reps in a workout or competing in a local basketball league. Find a way to drive improvements over time and keep yourself interested in the hobby. A stale break just doesn’t drive us the same way a competitive action does. Improvement over time gives you confidence and the joy of growing as a human. Keep getting better always.

Find a hobby you love and your performance will increase

Spending time on something other than work seems like a ‘waste’ of energy. Wouldn’t you be better off by focusing 100% on work? There’s only one answer to this: No. We’ve moved to a post-office environment. Yes, we skip the commute, but we also work 24/7 without a natural break. Burnout is going to be a big topic over the next year. Finding a way to give your brain a break will not only avoid burnout but will also actually improve your performance at work.

The brain benefits from blood and challenges. The body benefits from effort and movement. Personally I often have my aha creative moments after I’ve spend time pursuing a passion and hobby that I love. It’s not surprising, it’s science.

I hope you’re taking advantage of an outlet. If not, find one and make time for it. We need to live a full live, not just a work life.

Jay Allen
Digital believer. Started an ecommerce website in 1997 and been focusing on digital marketing ever since. B2C, DTC, B2B, I've done it all from building campaigns and up.
Atlanta, GA