Even if you have the coolest job in the world, when someone asks what you like to do for fun, it can come across as a bit deflating if all you’re able to answer with is in-depth details about your nine-to-five. That said, our jobs keep us busy—so busy, in fact, that few of us even maximizing our vacation days. In effect this can feel like there’s simply not time for hobbies. As such, many don’t have a handy-dandy list of activities to speak of, like they might have had in high school with the likes of sports teams, clubs, and musical instruments filling up their schedule. Back then, it was probably hobbies, not a job or job-related time constraints, that largely kept people so busy, so there was likely no need to wonder under later on how to discover your passion.
And, to be clear, having multifaceted interests that genuinely engage, interest, and keep you curious is great for you. One study found that engaging in a hobby for two hours a week can improve mental well-being, and hobbies have been found to help you feel less lonely (which is how more than half of Americans report feeling). But finding a hobby that fills you with purpose and happiness isn’t as simple as picking up a paintbrush, or knitting needles, or chef’s hat—in fact, figuring out how to discover your passion can feel like straight-up work. And who needs another job?
Good news: There’s another way to go about the search for hobby fulfillment, and it won’t remind you of any kind of needle-in-a-haystack-esque scenario. Rather, you set a goal and work toward it—even if the endgame isn’t something you’re necessarily “passionate” about from the get-go. This strategy calls upon you to grow passion consciously rather than finding it randomly. Research even backs up that people who work hard at something tend to develop a passionate connection it.
How to discover your passion using goals—and science
The study on goal-oriented passion focuses on participants’ pursuit of entrepreneurship, but neuropsychologist and licensed clinical psychologist Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, says the same logic applies hobbies, too. “Human interests go beyond just our jobs,” she says. “What this study is looking to point out is that we don’t just pour our efforts into our heart’s desire, but we also can learn to feel passionate about that which we put effort toward.”
“We don’t just pour our efforts into our heart’s desire, but we also can learn to feel passionate about that which we put effort toward.” —neurophysiologist and psychologist Sanam Hafeez, PsyD
Dr. Hafeez says there’s a neurological reason for this. “Let’s say that you came across an article saying that working out early in the morning is more conducive to an entrepreneurial and successful lifestyle, but you hate waking up early,” she says. “So you begin to track your sleep, jogging in the mornings, and logging data points, like distance run, consistency of routine, and how you feel afterward. When you implement that routine long enough, your brain will begin to become comfortable with the idea that you have to be up early, that you will be working out, and that night is for resting. Your brain will learn your new schedule and your priorities.” In other words, even night owls can learn to love being early birds if it may help them reach their goals. And, since we’re programmed to celebrate successes, these newly minted early birds will likely attach a positive connotation to the routine—including the early alarm time they once loathed.
The brain works the same way when it comes to goal-oriented hobbies, such as learning a song on a musical instrument, writing poems or short stories, or dancing. Even if you aren’t into a given goal at first, Dr. Hafeez says the magic stems from committing to a routine, tracking your progress, and improving.
Where to start when choosing a hobby
Instead of stressing out about how to discover your passion in order to inform which hobbies you pick up, set a goal, such as learning how to play your favorite song on the guitar, filling a blank canvas to hang on the empty wall in your bedroom, or developing the confidence to perform stand-up comedy at a local open mic night. Really, any goal that relates to any kind of potential hobby works.
“Write down a list of why you are challenging yourself,” Dr. Hafeez says. “Why is it that I am looking to improve my skills in a certain area? Why am I trying to change a habit for a new one? How will I be better once I find my passion for my particular goal? How will this help me help others?” She says revisiting the answers to these questions can provide encouragement as you work toward your goal.
As far as when it comes to the moment you actually become excited about the goal you’re working toward, Dr. Hafeez says it happens at different rates for every person. “Some people will have greater hurdles to overcome in order to find their passion or find something to put their effort toward.” And while experts have yet to pinpoint a timeline for forming habits, developing motivation, and identifying passion, the sweet spot tends to range between 21 to 60 days, she says.
How to know if it’s time to let go of a hobby
Of course it’s also important to keep in mind that hobbies are meant to be fun. If you’re actively working toward something and the passion just isn’t coming, it’s okay to let it go. But before you give up on it completely, Dr. Hafeez recommends going back to the list of reasons why you wanted to challenge yourself. “There will be times when you’re working toward anything in life where your tasks, or your stress, or your life situations will overwhelm you. In these times it is incredibly common for people to give up on what they are working for. Having a pre-made list of the reasons why you are pouring your efforts into something will help you reconnect with the same desire you had when you started your journey,” she says. It may give you the spark you needed to keep going—or it may not, and that’s okay, too. Give yourself permission to try something else by setting a new goal.
The biggest takeaway Dr. Hafeez says, is to not just sit around waiting for a passion to make its way to you. “Many people wait to be inspired,” she says. “But you can find inspiration in your dedication and hard work.”
Another potential benefit of hobbies: confidence. And if you’re still looking for motivation regarding to how to discover your passion, here are some tips, based on your Myers-Briggs personality type.
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