At a time when people are traveling less and are stressed more, finding a hobby that is rewarding can provide needed mental health uplift. My connection to fly fishing has expanded my life and helped me manage my stress. In this second half of my blog from last week, I offer some ideas on how to find a new hobby and how to stick with it to gain the most benefit from the time you spend with your hobby.
Starting a New Hobby
Connecting to a new hobby requires that we learn new things. We learn by changing patterns of our thought processes through the addition of new thoughts and ideas. The drivers of these changes are usually through two avenues: pain or pleasure. Pain is a dominant learning mechanism, as people will change behavior to protect themselves. Finding things that you enjoy and reinforcing that positive feedback also promote learning.
My journey along the path of learning about fly fishing was initiated by a combination of pain and pleasure. Stress, diet, and genetics led me to discovering my heart disease five years ago. I was a runner until injuries to my hips slowed me down, and I needed to stay more active to keep my heart healthy. My professional life and schooling has focused on environmental restoration with a particular focus on stream health and water quality. My connection to streams and the natural environment is deeply embedded in my history and personality. The foundation for my connection to fly fishing is strong. Encouragement from my wife and friends and my enjoyment of the outdoors helped me jump into fly fishing.
How Do We Learn?
Learning styles are often described as visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Understanding how you learn can help you connect to new skills and information faster. Studies have shown that it is important to have multiple cognitive pathways, which is a fancy way of saying using multiple learning styles per topic. Using multiple methods to ingest new information makes it easier for it to be committed to your memory.
Gathering material on a new hobby has never been easier. Passive learning through reading, listening, and watching video is just a click away. Blogs, YouTube channels, and Podcasts exist on nearly every topic. Books are available via hard copy, e-book, and auditory versions. More active learning can occur through online classes, in-person instruction, and expert coaching or guidance. Just looking through the Orvis Learning Center provides excellent instruction on a variety of topics. Following video instruction on fly tying has been incredibly helpful to me.
Evaluating your learning styles and your interests can help you find a hobby you enjoy. Dave Goetz and Steve Mathewson in their fun book, The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists, state that “Fly Fishing is a great sport for life long learners”. They also state they are drawn to fly fishing due to their connection to the outdoors, their love for the rush of catching a fish, and the appreciation of the art and skill of the sport. My mother-in-law learned through instruction of teachers, her rug hooking group, and the patterns used. Through a combination of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic methods, she learned her own style and approach to an artistic craft she appreciated with a community she adored.
Staying Motivated and Engaged
Losing interest after starting a hobby is commonplace. I think of the violin I started to play in elementary school that I would never practice (thankfully my kids either play their instruments willingly or quickly decided they didn’t want to play). When gaining knowledge or proficiency in an activity becomes difficult, people often suffer from cognitive conflict. Integrating new information with old habits or interests is challenging and fatigue sets in. Equipment gets sent to the garage or basement, never to be seen again. Until you move.
Maintaining the flow of a hobby requires balancing your gains in overcoming the challenge with your gains in achieving fulfillment (see graphic below). In fly fishing, the time on the river soothes me and excites me when I catch a fish. Those intrinsic rewards keep up my motivation and keep me learning. For my mother-in-law, her friendships and support network of rug hookers surrounded her with friendships that motivated her to keep learning and to stay connected to rug hooking.
Different feedback loops and multiple interest paths in hobbies can help bring people together with varying skill sets and backgrounds. In fly fishing, there are people who love casting a fly rod, fishing for particular species, building or using specialized rods, tying flies, learning the history, collecting gear, going on long trips, and fishing local streams to catch a meal. Similarly, in rug hooking, people are drawn to different styles, collecting or designing patterns, collecting cuts of wool, dying the wool, challenging themselves with different types and sizes of rugs, and the comradery of the groups. These niches within each community allow each individual to have input and their own path for growth and support.
Communities in hobbies are one of the greatest benefits. Fly shops, conservation organizations like Trout Unlimited, fly fishing or tying shows, guiding trips and fishing clubs provide great opportunities to connect to experts, learn new techniques and tactics, and meet people connected to something you enjoy. These events and training opportunities also allow you to dedicate time and energy toward becoming an expert or to remain a participant and observer. Your level of participation is up to you, but your community can help you grow. These events occur across many different hobbies and can open up new worlds for you.
The final stages of learning involves looking back at what you’ve learned, reinforcing your skills, appreciating what you’ve gained, and determining what level of energy you want to add moving forward. For my mother-in-law, she continues to rug hook for her friendships, her appreciation of handmade crafts, and the connection with wonderful people who are willing to share their knowledge and support others. For me, I love that I can grow and learn with everything I do in fly fishing and fly tying. I love the support and opportunity I feel from the community and from the people I am meeting through Trout Unlimited and my blog. I have learned so much from and appreciate my friends and family. It also has given me an activity I can grow with as I age and one that I can share with my kids and hopefully my grandchildren.
Connecting to a hobby that brings out your energy and connects you to a supportive community is a powerful element in our lives. Thinking through the things in life you are drawn to, the skills in life you want to explore, and what level of engagement you want to put forth can help you find a hobby that can expand your life. Understanding your learning styles and discovering resources that match your abilities can help you gain knowledge quickly. Feedback that increasingly matches your gains in abilities to the challenges you overcome can help you get into the learning flow that adds to the fulfillment in your life. Staying motivated and engaged often requires the support of friends or a community, so seek out others who are willing to share their knowledge and are openhearted. Finally, taking moments for self-reflection helps us to appreciate all we have gained from our hobbies and where we want to go!
Thanks again to my mother-in-law for talking with me and contributing to my blog!