Do you ever reminisce about an old hobby you used to have when you were younger? Something you were so passionate about but now you can’t seem to get it to work in your current lifestyle, or it doesn’t interest you as much, but you remember how much you loved it and want that passion back. You may even have tried to pick it back up again many years later and maybe you have stuck with it, or maybe it fell by the wayside again. For me, one of those lost hobbies is reading. I used to read all the time, I’d stay up late to read and would sometimes have multiple books on the go. I never imagined it would be something that I would stop but in the last few years my reading time has declined significantly to the point where almost the only time I do actively put aside time to do it is when I’m on holiday. Meanwhile, my shameful stack of unread, but ‘definitely-will-read-I-promise’ books in my room keeps growing. I know I’m not alone in this struggle, people often mention something they used to be into but don’t anymore, and it made me wonder why so many people find it hard to pick something back up that they used to enjoy so much.
What makes us stop doing the things we enjoy?
According to some interesting articles on Google (I’m not going to pretend to be some sort of hobby-recovering life coach), many things can affect our relationships with our hobbies: the hobby itself may become boring and repetitive, you might be embarrassed or scared of failing, spending time on social media is just easier, it could be that it’s a more serious issue with mental health, and finally, as you get older your life changes, you have more responsibilities and much less free time to spend.
Personally, I was most affected by changes in my daily routine and social media; I used to read on the train and tube on my way to work, then I moved and started driving instead. I would read on my lunch break, but now that I work from home I use that time to do things around the house. I’d read before bed, but then I started struggling to fall asleep and I found that listening to YouTube or podcasts helped to stop my mind from thinking 20 different things as the same time. I spend a chunk of time that I normally would have spent reading scrolling through social media, which I don’t get much from really but it’s addictive. So now it seems that I have to make time for reading, or alter my behaviour.
Learning to love again
First of all, ask yourself if it’s disinterest or avoidance, why you started the hobby in the first place, and why you stopped. Then consider how to get around these obstacles. Schedule time in to do the activity every day (if possible), not for a long time, it can be as little as 5 minutes. Or if it’s something more active find a club or a class that you can attend.
I’ve tried various ways of starting to read again in the last few years and you may be thinking that a simple solution to my reading dilemma would be to listen to audio books but I have tried and unfortunately, I don’t like them. For some reason they give me horrendous second-hand embarrassment, similar to when you go to an event that has actors and they have to interact with you and be over-the-top, it makes me want to curl up into a ball and hide. This is even the case when they are read by some of the best actors. On top of that, when I do find one that doesn’t make me cringe I struggle to pay attention. I tried really hard with Small Gods by Terry Pratchett, (read by Andy Serkis) but my mind kept wandering off and by the time I mentally tuned back in I had no idea what was going on.
Fortunately, I think I may finally have cracked it. I decided I needed to frame reading as a game or challenge to give myself a sort of rewards-based system, though I’m slightly appalled to think that I need to psychologically trick myself into doing something that I enjoy. To help with this I signed up to Goodreads and set myself the challenge of reading 24 books this year. I felt like 24 was a good number and that two books per month was challenging yet achievable. I started off well with Persuasion by Jane Austen, but then hit an obstacle on book two: The Garden of Unearthly Delights by Robert Rankin. I’ve never read any of his books before but I love Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and I’d heard he has a similar style. Unfortunately, it was not for me and rather than just put it down and move on to something else I stubbornly insisted on powering through. This backfired as it just meant that I put off reading it instead by scrolling more on my phone or watching more YouTube before begrudgingly reading a couple of pages, just to say that I had. I stopped reading for good about halfway through when (mild spoiler) the main character’s soul was stolen and I realised that I didn’t care whether he got it back or not.
My Rankin experience in The Garden of Mediocre Male Protagonists annoyed me and made me feel like I’d failed at my challenge, and by extension failed at becoming the well-read person that I want to be. Thankfully, advice came from an unexpected (but very welcome) source: Alexis from Schitts Creek; It was an episode where her stressed-out brother David is worried about his driving test and she bluntly tells him “nobody cares. No one thinks about you the way that you’re thinking about you. You always overthink everything and that’s why you fail all the time”. It may have been a bit mean but, as a big overthinker, it appealed to me. Who cares if I don’t finish every book I read? Who cares if I don’t like that book when it had some good reviews? It doesn’t make me any less of a reader and it certainly doesn’t mean that I’ve failed. I had been unconsciously putting pressure on what is supposed to be a relaxing activity and once I realised that I put the book in the charity shop pile and immediately felt happier.
Going forward, if I’m not enjoying something I’m simply going to stop. That applies to all hobbies and activities, not just reading. Have you got any lost hobbies that you want to take up again? Have you ever tries to pick one up again? How did you start again? Do you have any book recommendations for me?