My self-improvement resolution this year was to spend less time on self-improvement. So I must’ve been motivated by something more earnest when I casually picked up the dusty ukulele my grown daughter left behind when she took leave of our nest.
After all, there it was: a finely crafted uke, bereft of its true purpose — to be played. And there was I, with a song unsung. Our pairing felt destined. I took the instrument in hand, bookmarked some online lessons, and have played and practiced steadily ever since.
Discoveries in Well-Being
I didn’t set out to mine the depths of my musical journey for well-being insights. But, all the same, a few surfaced:
- Recognize the inherent value to doing something different. We’re told we can enhance brain power with unfamiliar experiences and ways of doing things: eat with a non-dominant hand, take a new route to the office (remember the office… where you used to go when you went to work?), learn a language or how to play a musical instrument. But I’m sure these activities also deliver in the good ol’ here and now. This may have something to do with mindfulness, flow, self-efficacy, gray-matter synapses; I don’t know. I revel in novel experience without dissecting it.
- Forget about stepping out of comfort zones. Who needs the anxiety? The uke is challenging to me, but not uncomfortable. It’s a cozy corner of my comfort zone I never knew existed.
- Make something. I’m making music. You might draw, craft, garden, carve, weld, glue, construct, sculpt, or fold. Thinking, moving, and talking are all well and good. But creating scratches an itch I believe is universal.
- Bid adieu to perfectionism. I could practice nothing but a chromatic scale for the next 5 years, and I’d get better and better at it. But then I’d never learn to play Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
- Do it together. Even we introverts get a lift from creating side by side with others. Jamming with other music-makers — when I feel ready — will be a dream come true for me.
- Nix the fix. I’m not learning ukulele to make myself happier, manage stress, improve dexterity, or check off any other box on my well-being to-do list. (I like myself just the way I am, thank you very much.) Music, I find, is simply a mode of being.
I’ll be a novice for some time… doing my best. By the holidays, I hope to be able to accompany my family in a rousing chorus of You Are My Sunshine, which will be one of the best-ever contributions to my well-being and theirs.
2 Tips for Well-Being Practitioners
For wellness leaders, I offer these suggestions — the first for you personally and the other for your work:
- Do something different, as you probe or expand your comfort zone
- Incorporate into your wellness strategy opportunities for employees to make something meaningful to them and enjoy the rewards — whether they’re benefits I’ve described here or, better yet, something completely unexpected — free from pressure to improve themselves.
My uke experience reminds me how well-being is analogous to a houseplant or a tree. Intervention can be superfluous. A plant, for example, doesn’t always need more water, more sunlight, or to have its budding branches pinched.
Sometimes, it just needs room to grow.
Bob Merberg is an independent consultant with 20+ years in managing employee well-being programs. He specializes in helping employers increase engagement and health outcomes through innovative programs, communication, workplace environment, and organization development strategies. Bob’s well-being program evaluation results have been featured at wellness conferences and in various media outlets.