One of the best questions that came up today is something I've heard many times before:
"What do I do about hobby burnout? How do I get over it?"
Hobby burnout is something that many of us face from time to time - not just in gaming hobbies but in any of our interests. Even when it's the ways we most enjoy spending our time, there comes a time when you just don't feel like doing it. Could be for a short time - a few weeks, a month or two; or it could be a lot longer - months or even years.
First of all, this is normal, it's okay. Our interests naturally wane and grow over time. It's part of the human experience, and it keeps our recreation from feeling habitual. Generally, we want to discover and explore new things. Our brain chemistry is designed to reward us for doing so, which is why we participate in our favorite activities repeatedly and frequently.
But no matter who you are, we only have so many hours in a day. Most of us have other obligations and demands on our time - whether that's work, or family, or even simply other non-gaming activities with friends. That can be a good thing! Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. But it can also lend to feelings of guilt if we don't spend the free time we have left doing the things we enjoy - whether that's painting miniatures or playing a game. And, ironically, that can sometimes make us less likely to want to do the things we otherwise enjoy. Before you know it, weeks or months have passed.
But we're all in this hobby because it's something we enjoy - so, naturally, we want to keep it enjoyable. But what is the best way to do so, and how do we get over that feeling of boredom or disinterest that sometimes keeps us from going back?
We have talked a little bit about this a few years back, but that was more about getting the motivation to finish a project. Some of the things mentioned there still pertain to this issue also, so they bear repeating.
Some of these suggestions have a counterpoint - they may seem contradictory but that's just because there needs to be a balance. Burnout usually is the result of taking something to extremes, so chances are you're at one end or the other of each situation.
Take some time off: As "Brother Captain Arkhan" once said on the Bolter & Chainsword forums: "You cannot fertilize a field if it's Winter... wait for Spring again". Sometimes all you need is a little time away. Put it down for a few days, a week, even a month or two if that's what it takes. Generally, you'll find yourself naturally drawn back to your hobby after you've had a little time to rest from it. But what if you don't?
Look for new sources of inspiration: If you feel burned out by a game or a hobby project, put it down and do something else until that passion returns. There are a lot of non-gaming sources where you might find inspiration - movies, books and magazines, even music. Look for something related to what you are working on (most games have a considerable amount of related fiction - some good, some not so good) or seek out something new entirely!
As "Brother Chaplain Kage" said on the Bolter & Chainsword : "If the spark has died, you need to find a new one."
Whether it's a new game, a different hobby, a TV series, or something else, I'm the sort of person who finds a topic of interest and immerses myself completely - thoroughly and intensely exploring everything I can about it. After a while, I find myself oversaturated and before I get sick of it, I move on to doing something else. But I always come back to each of my existing interests - whether it's weeks, months, or sometimes many years later.
But the upside of this near-obsessive focus is that I have discovered lots of new interests to keep things fresh. I've discovered games I'd never have played otherwise, found new models and factions that make me want to try something new when it comes to painting them, and one other thing it's helped me to do is:
Make new friends... One of the first things I do when I find a new spark is to get on the Web and find forums, other blogs, or social media groups that share that interest. It gives me access to a treasure trove of new ideas and discussionand helps to stoke my new-found interest. But if you can find something local, that's even better! Whether it's a Facebook group for gamers in your city, or a game club at a local store, you can find people who share your passion for the hobby, or your new game.
...but avoid toxic people! One of the downsides of Internet "communities" is the anonymity and lack of accountability that comes along with it. Some places keep things civil and polite (whether because of the caliber of participant, or the effectiveness of moderation), while others are "wretched hives of scum and villainy". If you come across people who are overly confrontational or lack respect, utilize whatever means are at your disposal to ignore, block or mute them. Resist the temptation to engage and fuel the flames. If that sort of behavior is more prevalent or seems to be endorsed by the hosts, look somewhere else.
The same goes for local gaming groups or pick-up games at a store. Generally, people behave better in face-to-face situations, but we've all heard stories of "That Guy" - the one who twists or breaks the rules to his advantage, who gets his fun at the sake of yours, or just is no fun to play with. These people can ruin a game for a new player. The best thing to do is to pack up and find someone (or somewhere) else to play. Soon enough, you'll find yourself with new friends who might share more than just your interest in games. When you have friends who share other interests, activities and hobbies, you'll find your gaming time with them is even more rewarding.
Try something new... Chances are, you're trying to grind through some project that you'd really like to finish, but you've spent too long doing too much of the same. Of course you'd like to play that new 2000-point Ultramarine army you've been itching to try, but halfway through you are sick of so much blue and can't bring yourself to paint another Marine. That's OK, put the current project aside and work on a different one. Refresh yourself by painting a warband from a different game or a team for Blood Bowl or Guild Ball, or a Necromunda gang or something. Just don't get involved in something equally as large or daunting. That's why I like skirmish games.
... but don't get into too many projects at once! It's all too easy when changing things up, to suddenly find yourself halfway through not one project, but three or four. That's as discouraging (possibly moreso) than one unfinished project. So take a moment to consider one question:
What's the "One"? Identify one thing as your "main" project and make sure that's what you keep coming back to. Don't be afraid to set it aside (or even step away completely) from time to time, but the feeling of satisfaction from finally finishing a squad or a team (or even an entire army!) is very rewarding.
Okay, your hobby doesn't have to make you feel like this ALL the time,
but you get the idea.
Put aside the distractions: While playing a video game or watching your favorite shows may be a good break to recover from your burnout, take care not to let them distract you from your hobby for so long that you just don't care to return. The rewarding thing about this hobby is that it's interactive - even if you are a painter who doesn't play any games, you're still a participant and not merely an observer. Some people watch TV shows in the background while they are painting - but I can't help but think that this doesn't possibly help to focus on what you're actually doing.
For instance, I find Minecraft to be an incredibly enjoyable distraction - quite possibly the most advanced time-wasting invention of its time - but my painting table is just to the right and when I look at the unfinished squad I'm looking forward to playing, I realize that breaking rocks won't get them done. I can imagine that I'll be spending a lot of hobby time on the new Battletech video game once I get it - but there's also a very good possibility that it will reignite my interest in the game it's based on, and I fondly recall all the weekly games we played all through my college years. I've still got some of the 'Mechs I painted 30 years ago, and they're honestly not too badly painted (I regret giving away the rest of them - more on that later).
Clear up the clutter... Many times, all that's discouraging us is clutter - whether its an untidy painting area, disorganized bookshelves, or drawers (or even closets) full of things you want to get around to eventually. That backlog can be daunting, and might even put you off from working on your current project.
Take the time to organize your workspace and your shelves. Put all the stuff you're not working on out of sight - stow all those unopened boxes and unpainted models and sprues. Make sure everything in your painting area is tidy and close to hand - and that the models on your desk are just your current project, and maybe the one side project you work on when you need to switch things up.
If you know you've got games or armies that you'll never play again, consider selling them - but don't fall into the trap of getting rid of something you'll wind up buying again when the interest returns. I've had to sell armies (or even most of my gaming stuff) before, solely out of financial necessity - and I've hated having to pay all over again to get what I had before. But there was also the bitter realization that if I hadn't bought all the never-finished kits in the first place, I wouldn't have had a need to sell them. Controlling impulse spending keeps your backlog down and your money free for other things.
Off the top of your head, can you actually list all the unfinished kits you have?
Look back on your past accomplishments: Whether it's recalling the stories of memorable game sessions with your friends, looking at (or touching up) models on the shelf from years ago, or looking over pictures of your past work and seeing how far you've come, all of these things can help to remind you why you love the hobby and all the fun it's brought you.
You can also find inspiration by checking out the work of fellow hobbyists - whether it's a blog or pictures of their work. Sometimes you'll find new ideas to try or the motivation to return to your project - just don't get discouraged by it! I've seen work that's so amazing that I'll never equal it, no matter how much practice I get (I know my limitations) but that's not going to be an excuse to stop trying!
Don't force it: Sometimes, we cling to something (whether it's an army, or a game) long after we've stopped enjoying it. Are you forcing yourself to play an army (or possibly an entire game) that you never really liked, because maybe things were different in the last edition - and now they're not, but you already sunk all that time and money into them? Give yourself permission to make the break from it. Sell the army to someone who will enjoy it - but if you still enjoy the game itself, use the funds to try an army that appeals to you. Don't base it solely on how powerful they are at the moment - or you're just trading one problem for another. Don't go all in on the flavor of the month - find an army (or a new game) that you like for more reasons than that. Can you identify with your new faction in some way? Do they look cool? Will they be fun to paint, and fun to play? Will you enjoy them even if they don't win every game? Love what you paint and love what you play, and you'll find the hobby fun no matter how the dice roll.
BUT HERE IS THE NUMBER ONE WAY TO GET OVER BURNOUT...
Remember that this is supposed to be all about FUN. If it's not fun, why are you doing it? If it feels like work, wouldn't it be better to do something that pays? If your army or your game (or whatever) isn't bringing you joy, find something that does. Get out and play a few games with your friends (old or new). Find something fun to paint and play. Before you know it, you'll be enjoying the hobby once more.
Do you have other ways you've used to get over hobby burnout? Share them in the comments!