The Mental Health Benefits of Pushing Your Hobby Limits


I’ve known Trevor Marshall for many years.  He’s always been a good modeler.  As good as he was when I first saw his work, he’s an even better modeler now.  He’s always pushing his own personal limits.  Case in point are the photos to the right and below.  One of the most difficult skills to master (and most dramatic if you do) is effective ground cover.  Note the impact of his newly acquired skills in the images of his recent work.   My point is that it’s not so much this latest addition to his skill set but rather his lifelong attitude of always improving that is key.  Trevor's latest venture is his new blog, "Achievable Layouts".

An excerpt of the book How to Live to 100 reads, “Research over the years has shown that people totally engaged in pursuits can trigger healthful changes in their brain chemistry and respiratory patterns.  To derive these benefits, researchers have found, the tasks involved must be sufficiently hard to really challenge us.  It’s that challenge that draws us in and it’s overcoming that challenge that produces health and happiness.   These conditions have been given a name as well: “just manageable difficulty.” Like Goldilocks’ porridge preference, our challenges have to be “just right” for us to thrive.   Or, as Lisa Berkman, a professor at Harvard puts it,  “Your mind is really like a muscle, and using it is a key to lifelong mental health.”


And this has to do with model railroading how????   Look, model railroading is recreation.  It’s a hobby.  Everybody needs to decide how far they want to take it without judgment from others.  It’s not my role to tell another hobbyist how hard they should push things in terms of skills development.  Having said that, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here by saying that for those that do want to totally immerse themselves in model railroading, push their own personal limits, there are mental health benefits to be had.  Benefits that are achieved by going beyond the cursory dabbler phase.  I’m not talking about a single skill here and there but rather a sustained, lifelong effort to become a better modeler, get out of your comfort zone, and learn new skills.   It could be anything wiring, signals, decoders, weathering.  The key is to venture into new areas and/or strive to make a substantial improvements in areas you're already familiar with.

For those where such a lifelong approach has appeal I say go for it. Immerse yourself totally. I think you’ll find the health benefits totally transcend the ‘playing with trains’ mentality that may be holding you back.

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