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How your hobby can boost your confidence at work

Coronavirus has given many of us more time for our hobbies – and more time to worry...

How your hobby can boost your confidence at work

Coronavirus has given many of us more time for our hobbies – and more time to worry about work. New research shows that focussing on the former offers a solution to the latter

During these strange and unpredictable times three key themes among others are emerging. Businesses are under pressure, individuals are therefore suffering stress and a lack of confidence but, on the other hand, more of us are finding time during lockdown to pursue our hobbies.


The connection between the first two points might be obvious but, according to new research they also have an association with the third. This connection is positive and helpful when it comes to dealing with the strain that Coronavirus is putting us under as well as being useful for managing stress and boosting confidence in challenging situations in the longer term.

Traditional remedies have always included talking to family and friends about your problems, escaping to the pub (remember that?) or sharing your concerns and anxieties on social media.


From rock climbing to stand-up

However, according to recently published research by the Journal of Vocational Behaviour, devoting more time to your hobby can boost your confidence and your ability to perform well at work. The caveat, though, is that your hobby has to be sufficiently different from your work. If they’re too similar and if your dedication to your pastime is extreme, then the effect can actually be detrimental. In other words, keep it fun and don’t take it too seriously.

Dr Ciara Kelly and her colleagues at the University of Sheffield’s Institute of Work Psychology took 129 people with hobbies ranging from climbing to stand-up comedy. First, they assessed the study participants’ commitment to their hobbies by asking them to agree or disagree with statements such as: “I regularly train for this activity.” The researchers also assessed how different these hobbies were to the participants’ jobs.

Then, over a period of seven months, participants noted how many hours they had dedicated to their hobby on a monthly basis. Meanwhile, by rating themselves on statements such as “At work I am able to successfully overcome many challenges,” they were asked to assess their belief in their “self-efficacy,” that is their ability to do their job effectively. In addition, they measured their resilience at work.


Why hobbies boost your confidence

When the participants spent more time devoted to their hobby (and it was dissimilar to their work), the findings revealed that they expressed greater belief in their ability to do their jobs well.

Why might this be? Devoting time and effort to your hobby, Dr Kelly and her team suggest, enables you to learn skills and develop knowledge that are transferable to the workplace. Further research needs to be done to discover whether the influence works the other way around, that if you’re confident and relaxed at work you’re more willing to indulge in a hobby outside the office.

“A high commitment approach to hobbies can help us to build skills and experiences that improve our confidence in the workplace, so is beneficial – as long as the hobby doesn’t interfere with, or place the same demands experienced at work,” says Dr Kelly.

“Consider a scientist who is an avid rock climber,” she explains. “Since climbing is so far removed from their day-to-day work activities, they can still recover from the demands of their job and replenish their resources, despite investing a great deal of effort into honing their climbing skills.”


Learning from our hobbies

These findings resonate with research we quote in our bestselling management book Be Bulletproof: How to achieve success in tough times at work. Ruminating excessively on a problem – which might be especially tempting for anyone with time on their hands during lockdown – can make finding a solution more difficult, according to research carried out by Dr Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a psychologist at Yale University.

Even worse, it can lead to a loss of social support as friends and family lose patience with someone who seems to spend too much time contemplating an issue and going around in circles when thinking and talking about it. Even when they find a solution, Dr Nolen-Hoeksema’s research suggests, those who ruminate excessively are less likely to have confidence in it and to put it into practice. Not only that, but ruminators are four times as likely to suffer from depression.


Spend time on a hobby, not on rumination

As we say in Be Bulletproof, based on this and other research, one way of avoiding unhelpful rumination is to distract yourself. There is increasing evidence that those of us who can simply take our minds off these issues can deal with stress - and the lack of self-confidence that is so often associated with it – better than ruminators.

So, instead of spending the extra time that lockdown has given us ruminating, we’d all be better off immersing ourselves in a hobby. It could be sports, reading, film, games or that tried and trusted clearer of minds, a vigorous walk. Anything that is unlike work would be good.

“When we feel like we have the confidence to tackle challenges in our jobs, we are more likely to be able to build a sustainable career and remain healthy, productive, happy and employable over our lifetimes,” says Dr Kelly. “It’s important to consider how our leisure activities might play a role in that process.”

Part of the HOW TO WORK WITH HUMANS series, by Threshold.

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