Turning Hobbies Into Habits: 5 Practical Steps

Hobbies into Habits

Lately, I’ve been very preoccupied with the notion of habits. Part of getting myself through the various struggles I’ve encountered this year has been a reliance on and strengthening of old habits (the ones that I know work really well for me), as well as building new habits. Although many of us recoil from the idea of structuring our lives around habits, fearful that they go hand-in-hand with predictability and a lack of spontaneity, habits are a cornerstone for us all. More than 40 percent of the actions that we perform over the course of the day are habit-based, meaning that there is no conscious decision-making involved. Statistics like this make it clear why learning to create good habits can be so critical to our health and happiness. Our brain automates what it can in order to conserve extra energy for other critical decisions. If we can learn to automate the different activities that we really want to perform (or, at least, reduce the amount of decision-making involved), we are building our lives on a solid foundation and raising the bar for our own base levels of happiness.

It all sounds very appealing, of course. But habit creation is a difficult thing. I’ve spent months reading through literature, doing research online, and trying to apply various strategies to my life in order to create better habits. Although I’m not suggesting that anyone should give their lives over to habit formation – nor do I think that habits hold a magic answer to all of life’s problems – working on building good habits has helped me immensely this year. Since I work from home, juggle multiple projects, and am something of a self-care fanatic (no surprise there!), I have a lot to grapple with and total freedom in how I do it. All of this free time really lends itself to bad habits, since I rely exclusively on self-motivation in order to get things done (and fall victim to reality TV binges with concerning regularity). I’ve also been trying to better manage my mental health and work through periods of depression and anxiety with a view to lessening their impact. A big part of this has been turning my existing hobbies – or new ones that I wish to pursue – into something more akin to a habit. After my two month hiatus from sewing, I’ve become particularly keen to figure out how these types of hobbies can become more ingrained and less susceptible to life’s ongoing peaks and troughs.

But why should we turn hobbies into habits? Doesn’t it suck the fun out of it? I don’t believe so. Habits are foundational to the overall trend of our lives. If our habits are bad, we generally don’t feel great nor do we thrive. Integrating good habits into my daily life has truly allowed me to take control of the downward trend that I was on. I also know that, when it comes to hobbies, we have a tendency to see them as optional. Life gets in the way. Yet hobbies exist because they expand our life – they make us happier, better, and more fulfilled. The idea that we would allow life’s obligations to interrupt such an important aspect of our wellbeing is a problem. We deserve to take the time to create a habit around these most important activities. Turning a hobby into a habit means that the time is already set aside and we are choosing to use it for ourselves. It’s not simply an optional extra that we can dip into if we happen to find that we have the time left over.

If you’re looking to build a hobby into a habit, I’ve put together five practical steps that you can take to this end. These are things that have worked for me and are also backed up by the truly incredible amount of literature that exists on the topic (I’ll put some resources at the end of the post if you’re interested in reading more). So, without further ado, let’s delve in…

1. Get To Know Yourself

I’d love to do away with the cliches but self-knowledge is critical when it comes to building good, sustainable habits. We all have limited time in a day and, for most of us, we have far less free time than we would like. This makes it extra important that you are working to build habits in a way that is geared specifically toward your own preferences and lifestyle. It’s so easy for us to get caught up in what other people are doing and how they’re doing it. I’m definitely guilty of this. I love reading about the habits of various famous authors and imagining that adopting their routines might suddenly unveil the literary genius that I always knew lay deep down inside me. Or perhaps I could become the Oprah of a new generation by mirroring her morning regime. But the simple fact is that I am not these people and, if I want to succeed in my own way, I will need to know what works best for me.

Obtaining the kind of self-knowledge that can help you on your journey to habit creation isn’t as hard as it might sound. It’s really about getting into the practicalities of what a habit would look like for you. The types of questions that I asked myself (and wrote down the answers to because it really does help), included:

  • Are you a lark who functions best in the morning? Or do you work best late at night?
  • What does your free time look like? Do you have the ability to shift your free time around (if you’re a lark, for example, can you build your free time into the morning?)? Is there a set period of time that you can set aside for your hobby – daily, weekly, or monthly?
  • What are your goals? Why do you want to pursue this hobby as a habit?

These questions will help you to become better acquainted with your goals and how you might pursue them within the limits that your lifestyle imposes. It is important to give some time to exploring the realities of how a habit can fit into your everyday life, particularly when that habit is a hobby such as sewing. Hobbies tend to take up quite a lot of time and it can take a while in each ‘session’ for us to feel like we’re really present. It’s a bit different from a habit of brushing your teeth. However, when you compare to the sort of time that would be invested in exercising or cooking dinner as habits (both good habits, by the way), it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. As I’ve emphasised in previous Sewing for Self-Care posts, even 10 minutes a day at the sewing machine can help to stir motivation and, ultimately, create a habit out of a hobby. Getting to know yourself is really the first step toward setting yourself up for success which, incidentally, is the second step!

2. Set Yourself Up For Success

It can sometimes be difficult to acknowledge the places where we are limited. If we’re in the habit of going to bed late after a Netflix binge but know that we function best in the mornings, it can be tough to acknowledge that we may do better with an early night and some self-care time in the morning. Life can undoubtedly get in the way of us functioning at our best! So it’s key when trying to build new habits that we set ourselves up for success in as many ways as possible. Once you’ve spent a bit of time thinking about your lifestyle and preferences (as per Step 1), you can begin to create manageable goals for yourself. This is so important. You’ve already asked yourself what you want to achieve, so now it’s a matter of figuring out how to go about it. This will look different for everyone. If your goal is time-specific, you may decide that you are shooting for 30 minutes at the sewing machine per day. If you’ve figured out that you are a lark, you might have chosen to set your alarm an extra 30 minutes early to accommodate. Or perhaps weekdays are out of the question for you, so you’re setting aside Sunday afternoons as your weekly crafting time. The most important thing is that you are realistic. Going from doing nothing at all to sewing every evening after work is probably not setting yourself up for success!

You will also want to enable yourself by making sure that you have what you need. This is something that’s relatively specific to hobbies as habits. You’ll want to be sure that you don’t sit down in your crafting space, ready to begin your activity, and then discover that you’re missing something critical to the whole endeavour. There’s nothing worse than getting ready to sew and realising that you’re out of thread. This just increases the temptation to throw in the towel and sit down with an episode of The Only Way is Essex and a bowl of ice cream instead (am I revealing too much?!). So be sure to pre-plan and set yourself up for success by being properly equipped. It is also a great idea to have a back-up plan. If you discover that you don’t have what you need in order to sit down and sew, what can you do instead? Perhaps spend some time planning your next makes, or look for some style inspiration. Maybe tidy up your crafting area. Or take care of some of those long-neglected clothing repairs. There’s always something else that you can do and still feel that you are maintaining your habit. The key is setting aside the time and using it purposefully on your hobby.

3. Use The SMART System

If you’ve read anything about creating habits, you’ve probably come across the SMART method before. It’s a really easy way to ensure that you are hitting all of the most important components of successful habit formation. So let’s go through them one by one:

  • Specific: giving yourself vague goals will not work. So don’t say to yourself ‘I want to sew more’. Be as specific as possible when setting out to create a habit. Hobbies are slightly more complex as something to turn into habits because they are naturally more expansive than many of the habits we think of (drink 2 litres of water a day, for example). So there are many different approaches. As I outlined above, you might choose to be time-specific (sew for 10 minutes a day, paint every Saturday afternoon from 2-5pm). Or you might be project-specific (complete one new garment a month). Being project-specific is slightly harder since it doesn’t necessarily create a concrete habit in the same way as designating time. However, it depends on your goals. Perhaps the habit you want to cultivate is simply making more of your own clothes, in which case being project-specific would be a valuable approach!
  • Measurable: This relates back to specificity. It’s important to set goals that are measurable. So time, projects, etc. Saying ‘I want to sew more’ is not a great way of creating a habit because it isn’t measurable. You need to be able to know that you are achieving what you set out to achieve in a very clear and concise way.
  • Reward: Successful habit creation relies, in part, on some sort of reward. This can be something you consciously give yourself as you complete a habit. For instance, eating a piece of chocolate after exercise. With hobbies, this kind of explicit reward shouldn’t be necessary. Assuming that you are picking up the hobby for the sake of enjoyment, the reward is usually a part of the process. You get something out of what you’re doing. In the case of sewing, this might be the absorption that comes with immersing yourself in the activity. It is also very likely that you feel rewarded by completing a garment and wearing it out. That said, there’s nothing wrong with giving yourself an explicit reward. I like to accompany my daily sewing with cups of tea and a podcast. To me, this just ups the ‘reward’ factor that’s part of my sewing time.
  • Trackable: Monitoring/tracking is important. It’s a form of accountability that allows you to acknowledge whether what you’re doing is working. It’s also part of human nature that knowing we’re being monitored (even if it’s by ourselves) makes us stick to habits. It is the same reason that many people advocate an accountability buddy when they’re trying to diet or exercise. I use my bullet journal to track my habits (not just sewing but any habit that I’m trying to cultivate). It helps me to monitor how well I’m doing and often encourages me to perform an activity, even when I’m not really in the mood. Obviously you want to be sure that the habits you’re tracking are ones that actively make you feel good!

Adopting the SMART system is a sure way to set yourself on a good path toward successfully creating habits. Before diving into performing a habit, it is worth figuring out how well it conforms – or can conform – to SMART. Ensuring that you’re ticking each of these boxes just makes it more likely that the habit will stick long-term and survive life’s more tumultuous periods.

4. Get Involved In The Community

For me, being part of a community is integral to habits around hobbies. It is an actively encouraging factor in pursuing hobbies that we love, particularly where time investment might be higher. This could mean taking classes to develop your skills. Alternatively, it might mean creating a blog or participating in a community via social media. Hobbies lend themselves to interactions with others. Whether you’re into fitness, painting, sewing, or cooking, there are huge communities both in-person and online that you can become involved with. I find that the friendships I’ve formed online, as well as the inspiration that I get from others, helps to remind me why hobbies (and habits) are so important. I love to sew because it plays such an important role in my wellbeing. And I like to make a habit of sewing because I know how often life can get in the way of pursuing hobbies. Being a part of the sewing community is a great reminder of why setting this time aside for myself is part of the foundation on which I’m choosing to build my life.

If accountability is something on which you thrive, community can also be a massive part of that. Signing up for a class keeps you accountable, particularly if you know that you’re expected at the class or you have already paid for your place. Alternatively, you might enjoy taking part in an online challenge. The sewing community on Instagram is constantly having 30 day photo challenges (#bpsewvember is taking place right now, in fact) or competitions (the Cosy Cardi Challenge is also going on at the moment) and these can be great ways to up the accountability factor. Using a blog to make a public commitment to some sort of challenge (self-imposed or otherwise) might also help!

5. Acknowledge Your Achievements

This final step is probably my favourite because I’m all about taking time to step back and celebrate the victories. Acknowledging what you’ve achieved is absolutely key to creating a habit. It serves, in part, as the ‘reward’ function that I mentioned as part of the SMART system in Step 3. If we forget to recognise our victories, we’re losing an inherent part of the reward that comes with hobbies! Taking the time to celebrate achievements is also fundamental to what psychologist Albert Bandura called ‘self-efficacy’. Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in their ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task. So self-efficacy is key to us having the confidence to pursue an activity and is, therefore, absolutely vital to our continuation of habits. If we don’t believe we’ll be successful, we’re not as likely to keep devoting the time to habit-building. Making sure to celebrate what you’ve achieved and acknowledge what you’ve overcome is part of creating self-efficacy. If you can step back and recognise the victory in setting aside time for yourself, creating amazingly unique garments (or whatever is relevant to your hobby of choice), you automatically increase your own self-efficacy. Sticking to the SMART system and setting yourself up for success are also important ways of developing self-efficacy when it comes to hobbies as habits!

I would suggest writing down victories as they happen. Maybe, like me, you keep a journal in which you can acknowledge what you’ve accomplished. Or perhaps it’s just a matter of writing a list on your phone before you go to bed. Either way, it’s important to communicate your successes in a concrete way. Writing things down allows our brains to process them more actively and consciously, rather than just half-absorbing them as they buzz around our mind. These victories will play a large role in what spurs you on to keep up with a habit, even when the going gets tough.

So there we have it! Five practical steps for turning hobbies into habits. If you’ve managed to make a habit of your own hobby, leave any tips you have in the comments! Part of what I love most about writing these posts is getting to chat with all of you and hear about your experiences. Happy hobbying!


Some of my favourite resources on habits:

  • The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  • Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
  • 6 Stages and 16 Tips for Developing Good Habits by Barbara Markway (Psychology Today)

Sewing For Self-Care: Being Honest About My Struggle

It’s been a while, friends! In fact, this has probably been my longest blogging hiatus in over a year (which is saying something). Truthfully, this break was not simply a matter of life getting in the way – although I have been ridiculously busy. While I always strive to be as honest as possible on the blog – and my Sewing For Self-Care series was a way to integrate my struggles with my mental health into this – it’s not always easy. The past few months have been tough on me. I started working for the first time since I left my PhD programme, whilst also trying to accommodate increasing amounts of yoga into my schedule to gear up for teacher training. I’ve had a backlog of sewing projects to work through – some with deadlines – on top of dealing with some really severe homesickness. It’s hardly a surprise that I found myself back in the throes of panic attacks and pretty crippling stress.

Surprisingly, given the nature of these blog posts, I generally struggle to talk in detail about my mental health. I’m sure there’s an element of cultural conditioning in this – the whole ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality – as well as an awareness throughout my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood of the stigma that still surrounds these sorts of conversations. Starting a conversation about self care on Sew For Victory was not only an effort to point to the remarkable impact of creative activities on mental health, it was also a place for me to learn how to have honest conversations regarding mental health and mental illness. Although I’m so passionate about the destigmatisation of conversations about mental health, practicing what we preach isn’t always as straightforward as advocating our passions.

When things started to go downhill for me again, I realised how much easier it is to share our stories once they’re behind us, rather than when we’re in the middle of them. After all, a story of conquest and victory sounds so much more appealing than one of struggling in quicksand when you’re casting yourself as the main character. Unfortunately, battles with mental illness are rarely simple plot lines – as inconvenient as that fact is when we’re trying to distill our experiences into something that sounds attractive to others. But this realisation is hard to come by.

Writing about mental health on a public forum adds an extra layer of complexity to this whole situation. Having introduced some incredible voices to the conversation, I felt more obliged than ever to stick to a narrative of having ‘survived’ and ‘come through’ my struggles with my mental health. After all, who would consider me a responsible host for the conversation about sewing and mental health if I was still knee-deep in the struggle? It took some time to realise that this idea of ‘obligation’ was one that I’d built up for myself. I don’t believe for a minute that any of the incredible bloggers that have written for the Sewing For Self-Care: Your Story series, or any of Sew For Victory‘s readers, would consider me obligated to any kind of standard.

So here’s the honest truth. I still struggle. Sometimes every day, sometimes every hour. I have panic attacks, I take medication, and sometimes sewing is the activity I’m least likely to turn to for any kind of relief. I cry, I hold myself to oftentimes impossible standards, and I see a therapist. Equally true, however, is the fact that I’m writing this post and that, despite having many moments of feeling that giving up might be the easiest option, I still have an incredible amount of hope. The internet offers us a forum to paint our lives as whatever we want them to be and whatever we wish they were. It’s easy to slip into the habit of creating a narrative for yourself that veers so far away from reality you feel ashamed and guilty when you look at the truth. My story with mental health isn’t one of conquest – although I achieve victories constantly. Neither is my use of sewing to help manage my mental health as simple as I’m sure it comes across in the posts that I write. Although the tips I give and the thoughts I offer are all true and things I use, the ways in which I utilise sewing (or, on some days/weeks, don’t) shifts in parallel to the changes in my mindset.

Although this isn’t really a sewing post, as the host of the Sewing For Self-Care series I thought that it was important to write. When I wonder if stigma still exists around mental health – given the fact that conversations on the subject are increasing – I can’t help but look to my belief that I have to be ‘on the other side’ of the battle in order to offer a legitimate and worthy perspective. Looking around, it’s clear that so much of the information we consume regarding mental health is told by the ‘victors’ – people who consider themselves free and clear of the struggle. Perhaps, like me, they’ve simply made their narrative more palatable to a society that still isn’t quite comfortable talking about the reality of mental illness – the unbrushed hair, the angry outbursts, the feelings of hopelessness that no amount of logic or rationality can contradict. These are difficult truths to face.

I managed to get back to the sewing machine last week. It felt like a relief. I actually ended up taking some of my own advice – tried and tested – to rediscover my motivation. But if you read these posts and wonder why the tips don’t work for you, you need to understand that they don’t always work for me either. As Jenny wrote in her guest post, sewing and self-care have a complicated relationship. Sewing isn’t always what we want to do, nor is it always what’s best for us. I still believe that creativity provides one of the most powerful resources – available to all of us – through which we can manage out mental health. The science backs this up. But sometimes, we’re just working on getting ourselves out of bed. And that’s ok.

I’ll still be writing about sewing and self-care. Even with the fluctuations in my mood and my motivation, sewing is still one of my major passions. But it’s important to write here that I don’t fit the narrative of Sewing For Self-Care. My story with mental health is much bigger than that and, whether you struggle with mental illness or the general stresses of adulthood, so is yours. My overall message, however, remains the same. Be kind to yourself. Whether that involves a session at the sewing machine or not.

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Sewing For Self-Care: Getting Honest About Your Needs

Ordinarily (and as is totally my instinct) I would begin this post with an apology for the fact that there was no post on Monday. Although one day of a missed post definitely isn’t a big deal – and nobody’s wellbeing is dependent on my posting – I’ve made real efforts to work toward my 2018 goal of posting on a reliable three day per week schedule. For me, deciding to miss a day was tough. I’ve been feeling very much on top of game for most of January and have definitely enjoyed the structure that I’ve given my attention to Sew for Victory. That said, my choice not to post was precisely that – a choice. And it very much provided the inspiration for today’s post.

*An important side-note: sewing is definitely not a cure for mental illness and this post is totally reflective of my personal experiences. I got better through a whole range of things, including help from doctors and therapists. But, for me, the holistic approach always works best. Sewing is a huge component of how I maintain my happiness and positivity and I definitely recommend creative endeavours to anyone struggling. But I absolutely see this as a companion to other kinds of intervention. Please make sure to pay a visit to your doctor or call a helpline if you are in a bad way.*

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I’ve been working really hard to stay true to my initial goal when writing about self-care, mental health, and sewing, which was that I try to be as honest as possible. It’s difficult to have helpful conversations about these topics while holding things back or presenting life to be something different from reality. I’m definitely acquainted with how easily the internet – social media and blogging, in particular – offers a warped and very selective version of what our lives are actually like. When I decided to start writing posts dedicated to self-care, it was incredibly important to me that I avoid falling into these traps. Not only am I sure that any insincerity on my part would be pretty obvious to you all, it would also be less than helpful in starting a conversation about creativity and self-care that I believe is sorely needed. I’ve spent a lot of January thinking about these things and one significant benefit has been a greater degree of honesty in my relationship with myself.

Part of developing a comprehensive and helpful self-care regime is learning to be honest about your needs. After all, being in denial about how you’re feeling or what you need is always going to be a big obstacle to practicing effective self-care. This is where therapy, and even yoga and meditation practices, can be particularly useful. It’s important to cultivate a good amount of self-awareness if you want to live as your best and happiest self, and these sorts of resources are so helpful for getting to a place of self-knowledge. Although I’ve worked hard to become more self-aware, I still go through periods of some denial about what I need. I tend to be very all or nothing in my approach to life – I throw myself 100% at a project or hobby until I eventually burn out to a point of being unable to act. Balance is something I struggle with. Recently, this problem has started to impact my sewing.

A couple of months back, I decided that I wanted to spend a while looking at ways to make sewing a full-time occupation. Although I’m still relatively early in the planning stages, this decision totally reinvigorated me in my attention to personal sewing projects and blogging. I’ve spent much of January juggling the various aspects of sewing for myself, developing content for the blog, and moving future plans along. As I got more and more into this, I started shedding my weekends in favour of working. Even though I was still careful to set aside evenings to be with my husband, do yoga, and relax, I found that my mind was never far from my work. I’d lost sight of my off switch. Had I stepped back for a minute, I would’ve realised that this was unsustainable – I have enough experience of these cycles to know that cracks will always inevitably appear. This past weekend, things broke down. Although this happened no way near as dramatically as used to be the case, I felt very low and completely physically exhausted. Fortunately, having a lot of knowledge about the self-care practices that work best for me, I was able to work my way back up to a better place. In doing this, I decided that I needed to take a designated self-care day (hence my lack of post on Monday) and focus completely on myself.

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This kind of dedicated self-care practice will look different for everyone. In my case, it meant lots of cups of tea and reading a good book whilst tucked up under a ridiculous number of blankets. I ate good food, listened to music, worked on my bullet journal, and totally relaxed. I also unplugged from the internet – meaning no social media checking, no blog activities, and no time wasters. When you feel burnt out, this kind of designated self-care time is vital. Whether only for an hour or an afternoon, setting aside some ‘you time’ can be the most effective method for putting a stopper in feelings of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm.

As you all know from my previous posts on the topic, sewing is typically one of my main go-to methods of self-care. But, now that I’m working to step-up my activities in a more full-time capacity, I’m aware that my relationship with sewing is undergoing a transition. I believe that I can continue to make it a vital aspect of my mental health maintenance and I still feel so incredibly fulfilled every day that I get to sit down at my sewing table. That said, it will inevitably become a source of stress. Blogging, in and of itself, can invite these issues. Even if you’re blogging as a hobby, entering the world of social media and online communities can invite negative comparisons with others and a sense of failure. There are very concrete and measurable barometers for success online – numbers of followers, numbers of page views etc. This can make it very easy to fall into a place of stress or melancholy. However, it can also be an opportunity for us to revisit our relationships with ourselves and our self-care outlets. Sewing will continue to be a method of self-care for me but it will require a reappraisal of my approach. Balancing my sewing time with dedicated attention to other things – bullet journalling, reading, cross stitching, yoga – will become increasingly important. I’m also planning on stepping up my meditation game to ensure that I’m able to stay present in what I’m doing when I’m not sewing – hopefully helping me to avoid my propensity to have my mind on sewing while I’m doing other things.

We must never take for granted that our self-care practices are always practiced as self-care. Our relationships with the different components of our life will inevitably change as our circumstances shift. It’s important to check in with yourself often to re-evaluate, making sure that you are properly aware of your needs and addressing them. This will always require a degree of honesty. Sometimes we’re blinkered by distractions. This was exactly my problem when I was so deep in my sewing activities that I didn’t even think to step back and consider the possibility of burn out. I hadn’t anticipated that my approach was turning an incredibly valuable self-care practice into a source of stress. Had I checked in with myself earlier, I would have noticed the warning signs (less sleep, more tension, more irritability etc) and taken some much needed time out.

So remember that a good self-care practice is one that remains attentive to your current situation. To know what this looks like means having an honest conversation with yourself about habits, thought patterns, and behaviours that might affect how and why you practice self-care. One of the most helpful things for me is keeping an ongoing list of my favourite self-care activities – this includes things like snuggling with my dog, watching RuPaul’s Drag Race (YAAASSSS!), and having a cup of my favourite herbal tea. Every so often, some things on the list get crossed out or changed. I also categorise some practices as especially helpful when I’m feeling certain ways (for example, herbal tea is especially great when I’m feeling stressed, watching RPDR works amazingly well when I’m anxious or panicking). This list should be a total reflection of you – although looking around online can give some amazing ideas for things to try. Just remember to remain true to yourself and open to what you need in any given moment. As this past month has proved, I’m still learning about the best ways to be kind to myself. While I’m very sure the learning won’t stop, I really do believe that the process can only take us on to better and brighter things.


Thank you so much to everyone who got in touch or gave feedback about my Sewing for Self-Care: Your Story post. I’ve had some incredible people reach out to me and they should be providing some amazing insights into their own use of sewing for self-care over the coming weeks.

If you use sewing as a self-care practice – whether to combat daily stresses or to help manage your mental health in any capacity – and would like to add your voice to the conversation, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can email me – laura@sewforvictory.co.uk – or message me via Instagram or Twitter – @sewforvictoryuk You can also check out the blog post for more details!