Today at Two Roads we are very excited to be publishing Helen Russell’s new book, LEAP YEAR. Helen is the author of the bestselling The Year of Living Danishly (and the person who brought hygge to the UK!) – but her new book tackles a much bigger topic: when so many of us are filled with indecision and fear of change, what can we actually do to change our lives for the better, and for good?

We’ve been conducting our own experiments in-house, road-testing the theories from the book, and improving our own lives along the way. In today’s blog, Editorial Assistant Louise Richardson embraces the re-invigorating power of hobbies. Over to her…


I’ve wanted to do more stuff in my spare time for a long time. Living in London I could easily blame it on lack of funds or time, but to be honest, it’s my own head that’s the problem. I’m often deafened by my inner monologue which always kicks in just when I’m about to start something for fun, making me veer off and onto something far simpler but definitely more important. Something like tidying my sock drawer or washing up a fork, for example. What if I end up wasting my potential?, it goes. Or what if I’m just straight up awful? It’s nails-down-a-blackboard intrusive.

When I read the hobbies chapter in Leap Year, and the bit about using NLP to quieten your mind long enough to start something for yourself, I thought it sounded pretty great. One of the ideas behind NLP, Helen Russell explains, is that we shouldn’t focus on why we can’t do something – that’s not useful. Instead, you should focus purely on how: how are you going to move on from a situation? There are loads of other interesting techniques to try in the book, but this was the one that resonated. If Helen could use NLP to distract herself from her own inhibitions long enough to pretend to be a clock in a truly odd exercise class, I could try to put the chattering part of my mind in a corner and focus on doing something fun.

My housemate happened to be hosting a life drawing class at his comic shop, Orbital Comics, and invited me along. ‘It’s going to be great!’ he enthused. ‘It’s a themed class, completely clothed. The theme is ‘Tokyo Creepshow’!’ What, like Godzilla? I thought. Turned out the models would be dressed as Harajuku dropouts and gothic Lolitas. This sounded brilliant for my experiment – the less serious the class, the less seriously I’ll take it (I hoped). I signed up with my friend Max. Strength in numbers.

When we arrived the main table was already stuffed full of artists with enormous pads of paper and fancy brush pens.  Oh help, I thought, before remembering Helen’s distraction technique. I’m only here for fun. I’m here to see what happens and to try something new. I grabbed a glass of wine.  There was a slumped pink bear in an eyepatch on stage and people were drawing it intently. Max and I were told we could sit at a tall table off to one side. We perched on the stools, unpacked pencils and biros and started some tentative drawings. Mine looked like a melted turnip and we both fell about laughing. We were like Statler and Waldorf up there.

Then the moderator put a J-Pop record on and the first model came out. He was a slender guy in a pink tartan jacket, matching miniskirt and a spiky bubblegum wig. We did a couple of 5-minute drawings to loosen up. OK, I’ve got this. Totally comfortable and not at all intimidated by this yawning blank page. Argh.

And then…

I was ok. I remembered what Helen said about distracting myself from my inner monologue and picked up my pencil. I wasn’t there to listen to all the reasons I couldn’t do it. I drew one figure and then the pose changed and we went again. Another model came out, this one a woman in a dead bunny mask and bandaged corset. They moved through more choreographed poses, each one allowing slightly more time than the one before. I had gulped down a whole glass of red wine before we started but we were hallway through the second half of the class before I realised I hadn’t touched my second.

An hour later I was thrilled with what I’d done. When the moderator said we could leave drawings out for the other people and the models to look at, I didn’t think twice and spread them out. I felt great – light and confident. So this is why people do things for fun! There’s a whole heap of reasons why hobbies are great for you (see Leap Year) but for me, this sensation of floatiness is what I’d needed.

Derailing my train of thought for long enough to actually do several drawings is a huge win. Since the Tokyo Freakshow class I’ve found another life drawing class near home and I’m feeling pretty relaxed about going. Thanks, Helen!

Things I’ve learned about taking up a new hobby:

  • Listening to all the reasons something is frightening isn’t very useful
  • NLP techniques are great for distracting yourself from your inner monologue just long enough for you to get stuff done
  • Extra-curricular pursuits really do leave you feeling invigorated
  • Guys look every bit as cute as women in pink tartan miniskirts

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