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)