Happy and successful people understand the vital importance of leisure time, but the role of hobbies in sharpening different areas of the brain certainly isn't lost on them. Business Insider gives the example of playing an instrument, which can "stimulate your creativity, analytical skills, and fine motor skills." When choosing a hobby that doubles as a mental exercise, consider the following leisure activities of some of the world's most successful people:
Kate Middleton colors. Even the Duchess of Cambridge isn't immune to the allure of a good adult coloring book, according to Prince William. The art form has actually been found to reduce stress and help organize one's thoughts. "A 2012 study in the journal Art Therapy found that art activities such as coloring mandalas significantly reduced anxiety," writes an Atlantic article. Similarly, another Atlantic writer describes why coloring is pleasantly soothing. "It takes a good while to color one of these things in completely—a few hours, I’d say—and there’s something very satisfying about watching the color slowly spread across the page, about seeing your thought and effort create a tangible, pretty thing at a reasonable, predictable pace," Julie Beck writes.
Tim Gunn soaks up art. The Project Runway co-host spends every Sunday at the Metropolitan Museum "until [it's] about to close," he told the New York Times. "I'm a huge lover of art." It can also be said that art, while visually stimulating, can also be good for the brain. For example, one 2014 study by the University of Arkansas found that, in a post-art museum field trip survey of more than 10,000 students, 70 to 88 percent of them not only retained factual information from the art tour, but also demonstrated improved critical thinking skills, increased tolerance, and empathy after the trip.
Richard Branson plays chess. "I think chess may just be the best game in the world," Branson wrote on Virgin's blog. "It combines the greatest aspects of many different sports—tactics, planning, bravery and risk-taking." While the scientific jury is still out on the brain boosting benefits of playing chess, it can still teach us vital life lessons. Says one chess grandmaster, "The absolute most important skill that you learn when you play chess is how to make good decisions. On every single move you have to analyze a situation, process what your opponent is doing and evaluate the best move from amongst all your options."
Meryl Streep knits. The award-winning actress has found a source of comfort in knitting: "For me, it was a place to gather my thoughts and understand the contemplative [life]… it's a sort of clearing out place." Similar to coloring, knitting seems like quite the meditative experience. For example, one UK-based study looked at the potential therapeutic benefits of knitting and found that, of the 3000 participants surveyed, more than half reported feeling calmer, happier, and more confident.
Marissa Mayer bakes. The Yahoo! CEO credits baking for some of her career success: "I've always loved baking. [My hobbies] help me come up with new and innovative ways of looking at things." Mayer may be on to something. A 2014 Leading the Way blog post by Harvard Business Publishing writes that cooking can be a great way to develop analytical and mathematical skills. When you're creating something in the kitchen, you're also learning from failure (a recipe gone awry), and figuring out how to be resourceful using the ingredients you have on hand.
Plus, in the name of unplugging, for those of us who spend the majority of our jobs in front of a computer screen, cooking (like knitting, and playing chess, contemplating art, and coloring) can be a welcome activity, even if only for a little while.