At the start of the pandemic, when it seemed like everyone was housebound, we all turned to indoor-friendly hobbies to keep occupied and stay sane. Maybe you got into the sourdough baking trend (or at least made your store-bought toast look extra fancy), stocked up on yarn for craft projects, gave a classic Japanese artform a shot or started a YouTube channel. But have we actually kept up with those new hobbies? Or are we all just mikka bōzu (literally “three-day monk,” a Japanese idiom referring to someone who can’t stick with anything)?

While I’ve certainly relegated that adult coloring book I impulse-bought to the back of my bookshelf, not everyone has been as flaky. Some people have continued to cultivate some pretty interesting “pandemic hobbies,” even 18 months down the line.

Hobby to habit

Although conventional wisdom is that it takes 21 days to form a habit — i.e., to turn that hobby into an activity you’ll maintain and enjoy in the long run — according to Tokyo-based global life transition coach Katie Hurd, that’s not exactly the case.

“What a lot of people find is they (have started) something and suddenly stop doing it,” she says, referencing a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology that debunks the 21-day myth. “More difficult habits need to be done for longer, an average of 66 days, and up to eight months (to become second nature).”

So if you’ve dropped that fitness routine or jogging plan shortly after vowing to keep it up, cut yourself some slack and know it will take more time than you’d like for certain activities to become a regular part of your day.

Hurd recommends looking out for and cultivating keystone habits to help any new routines or hobbies stick. “Keystone habits are habits that, if you follow through on them, can have a huge impact on the way your day goes. Some common keystone habits are planning out your day the night before, sleeping by (a certain) time, taking a run every morning, meditating or doing yoga … and looking at a vision board before starting your day. By identifying your keystone habit, you can learn to create a domino effect of other positive habits in your day.”

Jennifer Shinkai wrote and illustrated 'Can Giraffes Swim?' after being inspired during a virtual art class. | COURTESY OF JENNIFER SHINKAI
Jennifer Shinkai wrote and illustrated ‘Can Giraffes Swim?’ after being inspired during a virtual art class. | COURTESY OF JENNIFER SHINKAI

If you’ve let that sourdough starter die, maybe make a point of feeding it just before you prepare your own breakfast, or lay out your yoga mat and workout gear the day before to encourage yourself to keep active. Throughout Japan’s various state of emergencies, Hurd, too, has picked up reading a few books per month and gotten into scratch art — something creative that doesn’t require a lot of mental energy.

Passionate people

Hobbies are “a passion that did not become a career … but one that I can still indulge in wholeheartedly to serve as a helpful distraction and relaxation from work and other responsibilities. In essence, a route for productive escapism,” says Ramesh Krishnan, a doctoral candidate at Tokyo’s Hitotsubashi University. Over the course of the pandemic, Krishnan says he’s turned into a “serious cinephile,” writing reviews on Facebook about films from all over the world.

“I was looking to maintain a sense of being socially connected, primarily via the internet, and I was hankering for more intellectual pursuits than scrolling to the bottom of Instagram,” he says, explaining that, since films offer closure in a specific time period, they’re something he can enjoy on almost any day of the week.

“I am not a trained film critic — far from it. … My view of a film is centered on its social narrative, editing quality, color palettes and frames. While these perspectives make my reviews ‘simpler,’ they also make them more relatable … Ultimately, the pandemic has left me more socially connected and richer.”

He’s not the only one whose new hobbies have led to rewarding personal connections, and even helped boost mental health.

In Myoko, Niigata Prefecture, Nanaco Kawai was already used to the slower pace of rural life, but realized, during the first state of emergency in April 2020, that she was missing social interactions with others. Eventually, she decided to form Goddess Circle, a community where other local women who were also feeling isolated could come together regularly and support one another. Together, they meditate, journal and even do yoga.

“It’s been a really lovely way to meet with other women … creating a sense of intimacy between one another,” Kawai says. “I’ve since taken these Goddess Circles online, as I know that we all want to connect with human beings, to listen to one another’s stories, and to share our own. All these are fun, bring me a lot of joy and definitely help my mental health.”

Side hustle

There’s even some people who ended up turning their new hobby into a professional enterprise, such as Jennifer Shinkai, who ended up publishing a children’s book, “Can Giraffes Swim?” about a giraffe who swims from a Tokyo zoo to Australia, after taking a virtual art class.

“Originally it was an adult class for stress release in lockdown,” Shinkai says about how she got started. “I had met (the teacher) Kiro Tan through the global Points of You (coaching game) community and it looked fun. Then it turned into a mixed class and eventually I found I was the only adult left at Artswonderland. … It is really non-judgemental. The kids are so free and funny and I like that we are joining together from Japan, Malaysia and Australia.”

After a watercolor class in which one of the kids requested giraffes — combined with an offhanded suggestion from Tan — Shinkai decided to take on the challenge, and the hobby-turned-project went from initial sketch to publication in four months.

Asked if any future books are in the works, Shinkai says that “A friend asked me to illustrate his poem so I suppose that is my first commission! … I’m always thinking about other stories. I’d love to have a proper studio space and to have an exhibition — once it is easier to gather people together, I’d love to show the original artwork for ‘Can Giraffes Swim?’ and have a belated launch.”

Fun is key

So what should the rest of us mikka bōzu do to persevere with our own hobbies?

“Get rid of the ‘all or nothing mindset,’” Hurd advises. “There’s no need to guilt trip yourself. One of the steps for personal growth is scheduling fun into life.”

Guess I should go dust off that coloring book! Now where did I stash the colored pencils?

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