Why You Should Work Less and Spend More Time on Hobbies

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By Gaetano DiNardi

As professionals around the world feel increasingly pressed for time, they’re giving up on things that matter to them. A recent HBR article noted that in surveys, most people “could name several activities, such as pursuing a hobby, that they’d like to have time for.”

This is more significant than it may sound, because it isn’t just individuals who are missing out. When people don’t have time for hobbies, businesses pay a price. Hobbies can make workers substantially better at their jobs. I know this from personal experience. I’ve always loved playing the guitar and composing. But just like workers everywhere, I can fall into the trap of feeling that I have no time to engage in it. As head of demand generation for Nextiva, I have enough on my plate to keep me busy around the clock. I can easily fall into the trap of the “72-hour workweek,” which takes into account time people spend connected to work on our phones outside of official work hours.

When I crash, there’s always the temptation to do something sedentary and mindless. It’s little surprise that watching TV is by far the most popular use of leisure time in the U.S. and tops the list elsewhere as well, including Germany and England.

But by spending time on music, I boost some of my most important workplace skills.

Creativity. To stand out and compete in today’s crowded and constantly changing business environment, organizations need new, innovative ideas that will rise above the noise. I’m tasked with constantly looking for new ways to attract attention from potential buyers. But coming up with a fully original idea can be difficult when your mind is filled with targets, metrics, and deadlines.

A creative hobby pulls you out of all that. Whether you’re a musician, artist, writer, or cook, you often start with a blank canvas in your mind. You simply think: What will I create that will evoke the emotion I’m going for?

It’s no surprise that by giving yourself this mental space, and focusing on feelings, you can reawaken your creativity. Neuroscientists have found that rational thought and emotions involve different parts of the brain. For the floodgates of creativity to open, both must be in play.

Perspective. One of the trickiest tasks in the creative process is thinking through how someone else would experience your idea. But in doing creative hobbies, people think that way all the time. A potter imagines how the recipient of a vase would respond to it. A mystery novelist considers whether an unsuspecting reader will be surprised by a plot twist.

When I take a break from work to go make music, I reconnect with that perspective. I keep thinking about how someone hearing my song for the first time might respond. I do all I can to see (or hear) the world through someone else’s eyes (or ears). Then, when I resume the work project, I take that mentality with me.

Confidence. When I face a tough challenge at work and feel stymied, I can start to question whether I’ll ever figure out a successful solution. It’s easy to lose creative confidence. But after an hour of shredding on the guitar, hitting notes perfectly, I’m feeling good. I can tell that my brain was craving that kind of satisfaction. And when I face that work project again, I bring the confidence with me.

It turns out people like me have been studied. In one study, researchers found that “creative activity was positively associated with recovery experiences (i.e., mastery, control, and relaxation) and performance‐related outcomes (i.e., job creativity and extra‐role behaviors).” In fact, they wrote, “Creative activity while away from work may be a leisure activity that provides employees essential resources to perform at a high level.”

So to my fellow professionals, I highly recommend taking some time to keep up your creative hobby. It doesn’t have to be long. A study found that spending 45 minutes making art helps boost someone’s confidence and ability to complete tasks.

I also suggest you encourage your business to celebrate employees’ hobbies. Zappos puts employee artwork up on its walls and encourages people to decorate their desks in whatever ways they wish. Some businesses hold talent shows. Even employees who may not have these kinds of talents should be encouraged to do something that feels creative and fun. Some CEOs spend time on their own hobbies, setting the right example.

And when you find a little time for a creative hobby break, make it guilt free. After all, when you do this, everyone stands to gain.

Surprising Countries Where U.S. Citizens Need an Advance Visa

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Many countries require U.S. travelers to present entry visas on arrival.

U.S. passport owners have the privilege of being able to visit various countries—among them CanadaMexicoFranceItalyBelizeIcelandNew Zealand, and more—without needing a visa. However, a number of international destinations do require that travelers with U.S. passports purchase tourist visas before entering the country. Here’s what you need to know about a few of the more frequently visited countries that require visas from U.S. citizens upon arrival.

Australia

Before heading to the Land Down Under, travelers with U.S. passports must apply for an electronic authorization from the Australian government known as the Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). You can purchase an Australian ETA online up to—but no later than—24 hours in advance of your departure. Electronic tourist visas are valid for one year and permit multiple stays of up to 90 days in Australia. They currently cost $20 per person.

Bolivia

Although U.S. passport holders can obtain visas on arrival at the Bolivian border, the extensive paperwork you need to have with you can complicate matters, which is why it can be better to apply for a Bolivian tourist visa online or at a consulate in advance. To enter Bolivia, U.S. citizens must provide a completed application form, a passport-size headshot, evidence of hotel reservations (or a letter of invitation to stay at a private residence), proof of sufficient funds and departure tickets, a photocopy of your passport, plus a yellow fever vaccination certificate. All of this is in addition to a fee of $160, which is only accepted in cash at the border.

Brazil

A Brazilian tourist visa costs $44 for two-year entry or $160 for 10-year entry, and it can be applied for online or at a Brazilian embassy at least one month before travel. In early 2019, Brazil’s Foreign Ministry announced that the country will soon eliminate visa requirements for visitors from the United States (as well as from Canada, Japan, and Australia). However, timelines for this change have not yet been announced, which means that until further notice, U.S. passport holders must still obtain travel visas prior to arrival in Brazil.

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China

Non-business travelers with U.S. passports are permitted to visit Hong Kong visa-free (for stays of up to 90 days). But to enter China’s mainland, U.S. passport holders must purchase an entry visa through the Chinese embassy no less than one month before their trip. China’s required visas currently cost $140 and allow for multiple entries to the country over the course of 10 years as long as the U.S. passport has a remaining validity of one year at the time the tourist visa is issued.

Cuba

Cuba might be the least surprising country to appear on this list due to its complicated history of travel regulations with the United States. But U.S. passport holders can visit the Caribbean island nation—they just have to adhere to a few specific requirements for entry, the first of which includes applying for a Cuban Tourist Card (sometimes referred to as a Cuban visa). These tourist cards can be purchased online and grant visitors a maximum stay of 30 days on the island. They’re valid for 180 days after purchase, which means you will need to travel within six months of obtaining the document. (Learn more about the legwork required to visit Cuba here.)

India
India’s visa application process changes frequently, so the Indian embassy in Washington, D.C. urges travelers to check its website for updates before planning a trip. At the moment, however, India’s tourist visa regulations are as follows: U.S. citizens can apply online for an electronic travel authorization referred to as an “e-Visa” up to four days before arrival in India, but no more than 30 days before travel. The e-Visa costs $100 and is valid for 60 days upon entry to India. (Be prepared to present a printed copy at customs in the international airport.)

Vietnam
Just as with Australia and India, U.S. citizens planning trips to Vietnam have the option to apply for an e-Visa—also referred to as a “visa on arrival”—online and in advance. Acquiring this e-Visa, which is valid for stays of up to 30 days, requires paying two fees: one “visa letter service fee” at the time of application and another “stamping fee” upon arrival in Vietnam. (The cost varies depending on length of travel and other factors—see more information here.) It’s important to note that Vietnam’s online visa approval process only applies to air travelers who arrive at one of the country’s international airports in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, or Da Nang; travelers arriving by land or sea must apply for a visa through a Vietnam embassy.

For the full list of countries requiring tourist visas from U.S. citizens, including Russia, Nepal, and Tanzania, click here.

Why Having A Hobby Is So Good For Your Mental Health

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By Sarah Garone

How do you answer when someone asks, “What are your hobbies?” Playing guitar, competing in triathlons, decorating show-stopping cakes? As it turns out, engaging in a hobby means more than just having something to chat about at parties or fill your Saturdays with. Research shows that keeping up with the activities that interest us actually has measurable benefits for mental health.

Wondering how your knitting project or instrument practice could bring you peace of mind? We chatted with Dr. Daniel Levitin, neuroscientist, musician, and consultant for Fender’s guitar-learning app Fender Play about various ways investing in a hobby enriches the life of the mind.

Woman playing guitar

HOBBIES MAKE US GET CREATIVE

Many hobbies are inherently creative. Whether you’re painting, woodworking, or baking muffins, you’re not only producing something that never existed before, you’re engaging the creative network of your brain. Creative pursuits are experimental acts, says Dr. Levitin: “These acts of experimentation expand the neural networks in our brains, making connections between circuits in the brain that might not have otherwise been connected.” This type of neural linking-up boosts mood in a measurable way. It actually modulates levels of the feel-good hormones dopamine and opioids in the brain, says Dr. Levitin. And although popular perception tends to associate “creative types” with mental illness, research indicates that imaginative pursuits are actually restorative for mental health.

While engaged in a creative hobby, you may also find yourself in a mental state known as “flow.” Described by psychologist Mihály Csikszentmihályi, the concept of “flow” is sometimes better known as getting “in the zone.” It occurs when you’re engaged in an activity to the point of almost meditative focus. Ever find that when you sit down to or scrapbook or play piano, your mind doesn’t even wander? That’s flow. Getting into this focused state promotes mindfulness, known for its positive effects on stress and anxiety.

HOBBIES BOOST SELF-IMAGE

When your self-image needs a pick-me-up, you might typically take to social media to rack up likes on a cute photo or funny meme. But for better results, try diving into your favorite hobby. Spending time on your own leisure pursuit is a self-care gift you give yourself — and some hobbies result in actual gifts you can give others. Taking pride in a handmade card or blessing friends with your musical talents could go a long way toward boosting your good vibes.

Hobbies also serve to keep the blues away by helping us hone valuable expertise. Maybe your years of dabbling in web design could lead you to teach a class on it, or perhaps your persistence with running has helped you place in your most recent competitive 5K. This type of skills mastery has been associated with reduced psychological distress. Tellingly, a survey conducted by Fender found that people who played guitar as a hobby had “increased patience, confidence in self and skills, work ethic and persistence.” Sounds like devoting time to improving a skill could make you feel like a rockstar (even if you’re not playing guitar).

HOBBIES CONNECT US WITH OTHERS

A number of hobbies are meant to be performed in a group, or lend themselves well to collaborating with others. Picking up a new pastime can be a great way to meet new people and establish friendships. Shared experiences enhance our enjoyment of activities and help us to feel less isolated. Dr. Levitin confirms this phenomenon: “People who play music together experience increased levels of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes social relationships and bonding.” So if you’re looking for the best hobby for your mental well-being, try something interactive, like joining a band or improv group.

With some hobbies, of course, it’s natural to fly solo. (Let’s be honest, it’s a little difficult to do sudoku in a group.) But even your solo pursuits make you a more diverse and interesting person — qualities that attract social engagement.

HOBBIES DECREASE STRESS

Finally, hobbies simply give us a break we can look forward to. Creative hobbies in particular “are the perfect antidote to high-stress jobs of multitasking and computer-based work,” says Dr. Levitin. (We’d argue that physical hobbies are too!) Turning to something non-work-related allows us to “hit the reset button in the brain, replenishing neurochemicals in the brain that have been depleted by a few hours of high-stress work,” he says.

As long as you enjoy your hobby, it really doesn’t matter what it is. Research shows that both physical health and mental health benefit when we use our leisure time for something constructive but fun. So whether it’s continuing your lifelong love affair with soccer or picking up the guitar for the first time, maybe it’s time to make your favorite hobby a priority.

The Important Health-Related Reason You Should Have More Hobbies, According to a Psychologist

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Whether you pick up knitting or join a book club, hobbies are a fun way to wind down and tap into your creative side. They could also, it turns out, make you a happier person.

We recently checked in with Barbara Nosal, Ph.D., chief clinical officer at Newport Academy, for her tips on combatting seasonal affective disorder (which, per the American Psychiatric Association, affects roughly 5 percent of U.S. adults). One of her suggestions? Spend time doing things you love.

This seems like a no-brainer, but, especially in the depths of winter, it can be really tempting to veg out 24/7. Don’t cave into the temptation: Spending time with friends or keeping up with hobbies, according to Dr. Nosal, fills “an intellectual, creative or social need, as well as builds self-esteem and self-confidence—bolstering against or lowering the intensity of SAD symptoms.” So basically, resist the overwhelming urge to hibernate until spring and instead spend time reading or cooking or learning pretty much anything.