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How to Boost Your Professional Confidence Through Hobbies

How to Boost Your Professional Confidence Through Hobbies
Published November 14, 2022 by the Behance Team

We know that it’s vital to set aside time to properly recharge, both physically and mentally. But does it matter what you actually do in your downtime? Is there a way you can use your hobbies to not only have fun and unwind, but also to boost confidence in your work life?

Related findings crop up repeatedly in research literature. For instance, sports-based hobbies are particularly beneficial for recharging. Fred Zijlstra, a professor of work psychology at Maastricht University, says this is because they are fun and require you to concentrate on what you’re doing. “Physical activities work well, in particular when people have a rather desk-bound job, because they require active engagement and they distract the mind from work-related issues.”

However, psychology has also thrown up some contradictory research, especially in terms of whether you should pick hobbies that resemble your work or are completely different. Here's our look at how to evaluate for yourself based on your current priorities—even if your only requirement is to avoid Zoom outside of work hours.


The Guardian by Michael Driver

Balance out your working life 

One approach is based around achieving balance and recovery. This suggests you use your downtime to do something completely different from your job. That way you’ll feel happier and more refreshed, which will have trickle down benefits in your workday. 

Dr. Jessica de Bloom, who splits her time between Tampere University in Finland and University of Groningen in the Netherlands, says to think about this in terms of the satisfaction of your various “psychological needs,” specifically detachment, relaxation, autonomy, mastery, meaning, and affiliation. 

“It might be helpful to first understand which of your needs are least satisfied [by work] and choose hobbies which support these needs,” she says. “For instance, if you have a work situation which offers very little possibilities for social interaction and fulfillment of the need for affiliation, it might be beneficial to choose a social hobby. If I have a job which is not very challenging, I may want to choose a hobby where I can learn new skills and experience mastery and competence.”


36 Days of Type by Judit Zengővári

Nurture work skills in your downtime

Yet there’s another perspective from work psychology called Enrichment Theory, pointing out that the skills and experiences we build up in our free time can flow through and complement our work performance. If you were looking to harness your leadership skills, for example, then facilitating a book group or playing the role of team captain for your local weekend soccer team could be the perfect training ground. 

“Enrichment Theory is about the positive interactions between different roles, it outlines different resources you might generate within one role—material resources, psychological resources, social contacts—and you apply them in another and it boosts your performance in that other domain," explains Dr. Ciara Kelly, a psychologist at Sheffield University Management School.


Illustration for by Tanya Vino

Reflect on whether a hobby is a passion or just a bit of fun

Dr. Kelly led a study that aimed to reconcile the two apparently contradictory perspectives emerging from work psychology: one based on balance and recovery vs. the other on enrichment. She and her colleagues surveyed over a hundred volunteers repeatedly over a seven-month period, asking them whether they’d spent more time than usual on their hobby and how confident they were feeling in their ability to perform well at work. Crucially, they also asked the volunteers to rate how seriously they took their hobby and how similar it was to their work.

The results paint a more nuanced picture of how we should think about our leisure time. It’s not that some hobbies are better than others, nor that you should always aim for hobbies that are either similar or different from your job. Rather, it all depends on the kind of attitude and approach you have toward a particular hobby—specifically whether you take it seriously or not. 

“A serious approach would be one where you strongly identify with the particular activity, where you could describe yourself as ‘a climber’ rather than climbing just being something that you do,” explains Dr. Kelly. “It could be something where you’re quite invested, you intend to get better at it, and intend to keep doing it into the future.” 


Are You Well? by Matt Rudinski

Beware burnout from serious hobbies that are similar to work

For serious hobbies that were also similar to a person’s job, Dr. Kelly’s team found that spending too much time on them actually dented confidence at work. You’re effectively spreading yourself too thin:  “If you get in a situation where you’re highly committed to the hobby and it’s just like work, and you’re invested in both sides, then you get a bit of an adverse impact.”

However, this wasn’t an issue for the research volunteers who took a casual approach to a hobby that was similar to their job—they benefited from the overlap, like the manager who gains leadership skills from time as captain on the soccer pitch. 

This raises the question of what counts as "similar." For the research, hobbies were categorized as similar based on the volunteers’ own perceptions. For instance, one of the volunteers was a school teacher who felt that playing the Dungeons and Dragons game was similar to work, perhaps because of the need to improvise and be creative in both roles. Likewise, you’re probably the best judge of whether there’s an overlap in your hobby and work. 

If the degree of similarity and your commitment to the hobby are both high, Dr. Kelly’s advice is to be mindful of the rhythms of your work and hobby, so you can avoid potential clashes when either are going through a particularly demanding phase. 


TODOS CALENDAR 2022 by Matheus Costa

Dedication to hobbies that are sufficiently different can pay dividends

Taking a hobby seriously wasn’t a problem if it was sufficiently different from work, likely because the contrast prevented too much conflict or exhaustion from competing demands. In fact, spending more time on a serious hobby that’s totally different from work was also beneficial, leading to feelings of greater professional confidence. 

To recap, the new research found that taking a hobby seriously was beneficial—if it was sufficiently different from work; at the same time, a hobby similar to work was beneficial if it was just a casual past-time. In other words, they’re probably aren’t good and bad hobbies, it’s more about being smart in your approach.

The best way to recharge  is to use your leisure time to do something you enjoy and that’s sufficiently engaging. Anything from collaging to playing tennis with friends could fit the bill—just find what works for you.

The original version of this article was published on Discover.

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