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A pro psychiatrist’s tips to beat Warhammer hobby burnout

Wargamer's visiting psychiatrist Joe Stammeijer shares his top tips for getting back into the Warhammer hobby when the motivation just won’t come.

Warhammer hobby burnout - a burnt out match

You want to paint, but you can’t start. The projects feel overwhelming; you feel you can’t create to the standard you want, and all that grey plastic feels unfinishable. We’ve all been there. I’m Dr Joe, the Wargamer Psychiatrist, and I’m going to teach you some simple techniques to help fight Warhammer Hobby Burnout.

I could write a lot about what causes Hobby Burnout, and why sometimes the idea of painting miniatures for your beloved Warhammer 40k faction or Age of Sigmar army just seems impossible. This article focuses on practical tips to help you fight the problem.

Warhammer hobby burnout - unpainted miniatures

How do you fight hobby burnout?

So how do you fight hobby burnout? We’re going to steal some brain hacks from psychiatry and psychotherapy and use them to boost your motivation. To feel more motivated, we need to hack the brain’s reward pathways.

Warhammer hobby burnout - the Behavioural Activation model

The brain chemical dopamine plays a key role in the many complex processes that give us motivation, so we’re going to give our brain a dopamine boost. Psychotherapy uses an approach called Behavioural Activation (BA), which identifies four key factors that make activities motivating, and contribute to a good flow of dopamine;

  • Giving us a sense of achievement.
  • Being enjoyable.
  • Being important to us.
  • Making us feel close to others.

This article looks at three common Hobby Burnout feelings, and uses the BA principles to find ways to fight them.

I can’t get started

Probably the most classic problem we think of when we read Hobby Burnout is – I can’t get started! The next time you’re sitting on the sofa hunting for motivation, try out these techniques:

Warhammer hobby burnout - three photos of a cluttered workspace

Think of getting ready as an achievement

Preparing to hobby can be a goal in itself; cleaning your desk, getting your paints out or even laying out sprues. You’ve set the scene, accomplished an important task and removed a barrier to getting on with the next steps.

This uses the BA principle that activities should have a sense of Achievement. Completing tasks makes us feel a sense of accomplishment, and stokes the dopamine fire that gets us motivated to do more.

Aim Small

To feel a sense of achievement, you have to complete something. If you’re struggling to get motivated, don’t set your session target as finishing a unit (or even a model). Instead, set your goal as finishing a component; build one model, paint one part or even just prime a mini. You want to get that feeling of achievement.

Just don’t fall into the trap of ‘over-breakdown’ – yes, “Finish the Army” is an overwhelming single task, but breaking it down into 500 steps can be just as daunting. Focus on one thing at a time, and give yourself permission to stop after each completed element.

Warhammer hobby burnout - woman juggles hourglasses

Try a time target

If you feel like any of the steps of your project are insurmountable, set a time goal instead. Say “I want to spend 30 minutes at the desk” and set a timer on your phone. Get started on anything, even if that’s reorganising the space. When the timer is up, if you want to continue – great! If not, give yourself permission to step away with a goal completed.

I’m not enjoying this project

If you’re not enjoying a hobby project, no wonder you’re finding it hard to get motivated – a key BA principle is that Enjoyable activities are more motivating. These suggestions should help spark some joy in your hobbying again.

Just remember, if you’re only completing a project because you’ve bought it but you don’t want to continue it, you have permission to Marie Kondo (or Inquisitor Kryptmann) those sprues.

Warhammer hobby burnout - the Golden Demon award

Add Inspiration

Go back to what first got you excited about the project. Something got you started. Was it a video tutorial, a story, or a great game? Set yourself a goal all about getting inspired: watch a video, spend thirty minutes looking at examples of these models.

We’re using the BA principle of Importance here – reminding you why this project is important to you is going to help motivate you to carry on with it.

Add Variety

Paint something new. We all crave novelty. It’s a big reason why we have Piles of Shame in the first place! Pause those 30 guardsmen and pick out a character, terrain or even a new game system altogether. Try building instead of painting.

Lots of productivity advice says to do the difficult or boring stuff first so you can reward yourself with the fun stuff after. But if you can’t even get started, that just makes the first hurdle even higher! We need to get your motivation engine running in the first place, to power through the later stages of the project.

Warhammer hobby burnout - gaming together at a store

Add Community

Take advantage of group motivation. Join a hobby discord, talk to fellow hobbyists about your project, share photos. For the maximum benefit, paint with friends at home or at your local hobby shop.

This is the BA principle we haven’t touched on yet – Closeness. Activities that make you feel close to others are more motivating. Hobbying has a big community aspect – if you’re reading this article, you’re already taking part in that community.

Warhammer hobby burnout - the Slayer Sword prize for painting

I don’t feel good enough

Sources of inspiration are a double-edged sword. We’re surrounded by incredible artists online, and while that’s often inspiring, we sometimes forget that social media gives a filtered view of any hobby or lifestyle.

Marketing presents a biased, universally positive view of creator’s abilities and how motivated they are. Most of us don’t have the time we’d like to finish a model, and we need to remember that even the experts paint things they’re not proud of – and most of them will never share those moments.

Keep your First Model

Don’t compare yourself to others, look to your past work and notice your own growth. Comparing yourself to the latest Slayer Sword winner will leave anyone feeling down. Every Slayer Sword winner has their own self-critical voice that finds faults in their own painting.

Warhammer hobby burnout - unpainted miniatures

Hobby for the Process, not for the Goal

You cannot fail. If you have built one model, applied a coat of paint or even cleared your desk, that’s hobbying, and that’s an achievement. You don’t owe performance to a certain standard. Remember that you’re not doing this for anyone else.

Remember, we all feel like this

Imposter syndrome is a universal trait. Almost nobody thinks they’re good enough all of the time. The internal voice that says “This isn’t good enough” just isn’t an accurate judge.

This isn’t an all-encompassing guide, and tackling motivation problems is a topic that fills whole books! Hopefully, these hobby-specific tactics will help you get back to the painting desk and – most importantly – enjoying the process.

Warhammer hobby burnout - a paintdesk, photograph from Warhammer Community

Keeping motivation going is a skill, and it’s normal to not feel driven by inspiration every minute of every day. You’re allowed to stop, step back and do something different. You don’t owe your free time to anyone but yourself.

Burnout itself is a serious problem. If you’re struggling with low mood and low motivation generally, with feelings of not being able to enjoy the things you normally would, you can speak to your GP or another healthcare provider. The links below give resources you can use to learn more about mental health, and you can always reach out to a support service if you need to. You don’t have to be ‘ill enough’ to ask for help.

Lastly, if you want a little inspiration, make sure you check out Wargamer’s other Warhammer 40k and Age of Sigmar articles. You’ll find everything from five-paint painting challenges, to armies made from sprues, to tales of people painting in spite of difficulties ranging from tremors to paralysis, to ranges of minis you might never have seen before.