Branching Out in What You Do

We all have our favorites: favorite movie, favorite food, favorite color…These favorites are things we tend to come back to and rely on again and again. Favorites can be a great thing, they provide comfort during times of stress and enjoyment when you are bored, but they can also be limiting in a number of ways.

Speaking from personal experience, I have noticed that when I get in a bad mood, whether that be angry, anxious or depressed, I tend to gravitate towards the same set of songs or youtube videos that I will listen to or watch over and over. These are all methods of trying to comfort myself, but this pattern has some unintended consequences.

I began to notice a point at which this behavior began to feed into itself, and I saw how those things which had once brought me relief were becoming another factor of what was bringing me down. 

It makes sense looking through a simple pavlovian lens, the things you tend to experience when in a bad mood, like a particular song, are bound to become automatically associated with that same mental state, even when you weren’t in that state to begin with. 

This illustrates a concept that ties back nicely to an earlier post about setting a good precedent and breaking cycles that are unhealthy.

I am not saying that having our favorites and sticking to them is unhealthy, rather that looking past things that are comforting and familiar to us is a behavior pattern that can help us practice breaking other kinds of cycles.

How Can This Be Implemented?

The most obvious way you can begin this process is picking up a new hobby.

This is actually a harder step that you might think but don’t get discouraged, especially if it’s something like an instrument which takes a while to really get familiar with.

From personal experience some easy hobbies to pick up are journaling, jogging, and songwriting.

Songwriting is one that has really made an impact on me, being that I had never played any instrument or made any attempts to learn music theory. I think that making such a large leap into a realm I was totally unfamiliar with was a great experience in terms of growth and it put me in the right mindset to want to learn more and not just about music.

Specific Benefits of Learning New Skills/Hobbies

It probably doesn’t surprise any of you reading this that learning and developing new skills is good for your brain, both short term and long term. 

There is a boatload of research on how different activities such as learning a new instrument or solving puzzles encourages memory consolidation, while also improving executive functions such as attention and problem-solving.

Long-term, there are similar benefits such as a reduced risk of dementia, which is always nice.

A lot of these same benefits are seen in and furthered with mental cross-training. Mental cross-training refers to the practice of incorporating multiple activities such as puzzle solving and music playing over a period of time. For me, this took the form of altering activities on a day-to-day basis, practicing guitar one day and running the next, while trying to work in something new every month or so, such as cooking or weight lifting.

Like anything we suggest, it is also worth considering whether or not you have the time in your schedule for these things. After all, a lot of the benefits that come from adopting this behavior are kind of moot when you are spending most of that time worrying about how that big paper is going to get finished. 

Conclusion

Diversity is a great thing and there is a reason its importance is stressed the way it is in academic and professional settings. There is always a benefit to be had from learning about something new and adding to your perspective, whether that be a new culture or a new skill/interest.

Lastly, it’s an opportunity for growth, which is something that we should always be striving for.

Thank you for reading.

—Jake

References:

J. Najar et al. (2019). Cognitive and physical activity and dementia: A 44-year longitudinal population study of women.  Neurology, 92, e1322-e1330.

Hughes, T. F., Chang, C. C. H., Vander Bilt, J., & Ganguli, M. (2010). Engagement in reading and hobbies and risk of incident dementia: the MoVIES project. American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias®, 25(5), 432-438.

M.A. Balbag et al. (2014). Playing a musical instrument as a protective factor against dementia and cognitive impairment: A population-based twin study. International Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, article ID 836748.

Caltabiano, M. L. (1995). Main and stress-moderating health benefits of leisure. Loisir et societe/Society and Leisure, 18(1), 33-51.

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