How to Recommit to a Hobby You Keep Dropping
If you've never mastered a skill that you've always wanted to know—whether it's speaking Italian, mixing the perfect cocktail, or running ultramarathons—turn that hobby into a habit with these tips from BJ Fogg, author of Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything ($24.98, amazon.com) and director of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University. The first step, of course, is deciding whether that hobby you keep dropping is one that still serves you. "If someone has fallen away from an old habit, they need to stop, and pause, and say, 'Maybe I don't want that habit anymore,'" says Fogg. "It's so liberating to give yourself permission to let it go and not feel bad about it—in fact, people should feel good about it."
1. Pick something you like.
A hobby should be fun—and maybe even relaxing—so if you can't stick with a certain activity, your first step is assessing whether or not you truly enjoy it. If you find jigsaw puzzles frustrating and running exhausting, they might not be the right hobbies for you. "The bottom line is this: The only habits you can successfully form and maintain are the ones you really want to do," says Fogg. "If you're dreading it or you have to force yourself to do it, that's a signal that you don't want to do it. For many of those kinds of things, people can temporarily use discipline or willpower to get themselves to do it, but it's rare that they wire in to be true habits." If you're trying to commit to a habit for the health benefits, find a similar alternative you can get excited about, like eating a side of fruit at dinner if you don't like vegetables, or trading treadmill sessions for outdoor yoga.
2. Set the bar low.
If you're envisioning spending an hour on a new hobby every day, it's going to be easy to get frustrated. What's more important than quantity, says Fogg, is consistency. You may not have an extra hour each day for editing your family photo albums, but if you set a smaller goal—like spending 10 minutes each day on a single spread—you can create a stronger habit. "Be realistic about what you can do every day, and do that tiny version," says Fogg. "In the time you have, scale it back to be really tiny so you can be very consistent every day." On days when you have more time, work as long as you want.
3. Tag it to an established habit.
One of Fogg's core habit-forming techniques is the concept of anchoring, when you pair a new habit with an established one—like adding facial moisturizing night cream into your evening agenda by applying it right after you brush your teeth. "It's really important," he says. "It allows you to tie it into your daily routine, and then your routine serves as the prompt or reminder." It works on a larger scale, too: Swap your morning social media scroll for a crossword puzzle while you're drinking your coffee, or stop at the library for a new book after every trip to the grocery store.
4. Find a friend.
Asking a friend or family member to keep you accountable is a classic habit-forming technique, says Fogg, but you're likely to have more luck if you find a partner who wants to pick up a new (or similar) hobby. "Changing together is good," says Fogg. If you're taking up hiking at your local nature center, your partner might bring an art set to paint the landscape; if you're joining a basketball team at the local YMCA, your kids might sign up for swim lessons.
5. Don't incentivize yourself.
If you've chosen the right hobby—one that you truly enjoy—then you shouldn't need to reward yourself with new workout clothes for a week's worth of runs or a manicure after four language classes. The positive feeling you get from your hobby, which Fogg refers to as "celebration," is a reward; treats you promise yourself for completing an activity are incentives.
"You only need an incentive if you don't want to do the habit," says Fogg. "An incentive is to motivate you; ideally, you're already motivated to do the habit." By setting a goal with a reward at the end, "You might make it," says Fogg, "but the habit isn't going to stick, and in a lot of cases, you won't make it. It's a bad design for long-term habits."