Is Beauty A Brain Health Recommendation?
What if the things we focus on become our reality?
There is a ready supply of Brain Health Recommendations on how to keep our brains healthy. Typically they include;
- Physical activity. Aim for 150 minutes of physical activity a week.
- Hydration. Drinking water and juices can help keep our brains in good shape.
- Novel challenges. Confronting ourselves with learning opportunities that are new and interesting.
- Living a Mediterranean lifestyle. Eating fresh vegetables and fruits, especially those with vibrant colours. Getting out and socializing with others.
- Restfulness. Sleeping at least 7 hours a night, and enjoy the benefits of relaxation, perhaps meditation during the day.
From: Brain Health in Memory Care by Krystal Culler, Cathee Steghl, Patrick Cleary & Caroline Larimore. Today’s Geriatric Medicine, July August, 2020, 22-25.
Who can argue with those five suggestions? But as Shakespeare put it (Hamlet, Act 11, scene 2) ‘there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’
Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer had undertaken a couple of studies involving elderly patients. In one, she found that nursing-home residents who had exhibited early stages of memory loss were able to do better on memory tests when they were given incentives to remember — showing that in many cases, indifference was being mistaken for brain deterioration. In another, now considered a classic of social psychology, Langer gave houseplants to two groups of nursing-home residents. She told one group that they were responsible for keeping the plant alive and that they could also make choices about their schedules during the day. She told the other group that the staff would care for the plants, and they were not given any choice in their schedules. Eighteen months later, twice as many subjects in the plant-caring, decision-making group were still alive than in the control group. Ellen Langer back in 1979 and subsequently has demonstrated just how much our mindset influences our physical and mental ageing, and that body of evidence grows and grows.
Langer then ran an experiment with a group of men in their 70s that has come to be known as “the counterclockwise study.”
For five days, they lived inside a monastery that had been designed to look just like it was 1959. There were vintage radios and black-and-white TVs instead of cassette players and VHS. The books that lined the shelves were ones that were popular at the time. The magazines, TV shows, clothes and music were all throwbacks to that exact period.
At the end of five days, the men stood taller, had greater manual dexterity, and even better vision. Independent judges said they looked younger. In 2010, a BBC show recreated the experiment with ageing celebrities to similar effect. Langer’s research has led her to conclude that we can prime our minds to feel younger, which in turn can make our bodies follow suit.
“People with more positive feelings towards ageing walk faster, they do better on memory tests, they heal quicker, and they live longer. Even with brains full of plaques and tangles, some people stayed sharp to the end. What did they have in common? A sense of purpose. And what’s the biggest obstacle to having a sense of purpose in late life? A culture that tells us that getting older means shuffling offstage. That’s why the World Health Organization is developing a global anti-ageism initiative to extend not just life span but health span.”Ashton Applewhite TED Talks 2017
I would also mention all the work around the Polyvagal nerve that runs from the head to the gut, and Gabor Maté who has studied the impacts of trauma upon our bodies.
So, here is just one tip beauty. Beauty?
You might be surprised by all the evidence ( https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/147470490500300109) that shows how beauty impacts positively upon our wellbeing. The gift of a bunch of flowers has a powerful impact upon mood. A gift of any sort can lift someone’s mood but flowers have a longer lasting ability to lift mood. We know that a walk amongst nature is beneficial and is increasingly prescribed by doctors.
Eco-therapy – “Being able to connect with nature has positive mental health benefits. And it has been shown that being more active in green environments can boost your mood and self-esteem far more than simply exercising alone.” Mind
So, I am not arguing for the pressure that society places on looking beautiful, a beauty perceived through the eyes of fashion which all too often brings pressure and increases anxiety, giving our inner critic a field day. I am arguing for appreciating the beauty that surrounds us.
Start with an appreciative question, what beauty can I see in this moment?
In Appreciative Inquiry The things that we focus on becomes our reality.
On a summer day I sat with a small sketch book in a garden and began to draw. I had around half an hour. It soon became clear to me that I needed all day! The more I looked the more I saw and at times I caught myself just looking and marvelling, rather than sketching. At the end of my half an hour I felt full of appreciation for nature and a great sense of calm energy. Now, when I look at my little sketch I find it easy to take myself back to that moment.
What beauty can you –
How does that beauty positively affect your body? And if you breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth like a smoker as you appreciate the beauty, how do you now feel. Capture the moment it will keep you feeling younger!
All too often when we consider the future whatever we dream is crushed by a voice saying it’s impossible.
In group sessions searching for creative ideas I have often observed people hold back for fear of looking silly and being laughed at. The ‘normal’ reaction to an idea is to dismiss it as being silly or impossible – people are easily threatened by the merest whiff of anything outside of their experience.
As I have said before, when Apple introduced the IPhone the Microsft MD dismissed it out of hand. Had you heard of Zoom before Covid? Did you think you would be using Zoom, Teams etc. as easily as you once made phone calls?
Landing a man on the moon with less computing ability in a spaceship than you have in your mobile phone sounds crazy! Yet back in the 1960’s the challenge to do so was made and it was done within 10 years.
As David Shaked says, one of the most powerful questions is, ‘what is possible?’
What is possible right now?
What haven’t I considered?
What are my resources?
What might be the first step?
And if I make that step what might the next one be?
And the next?
Who might support me, even if it’s only with a few kind words?
Retirement is not a time to sleep, but a time to become truly awake. To be truly awake is to have a real sense of your past, what is happening now and what might be.
If you have been busy all of your working life you can opt to live a busy active life but are you swopping business for another busyness to drown out the silence?
Once many cultures were mindful of the knowledge an elder had acquired, but now knowledge is instantly available through technology. Retirement means yo are no longer in competition with others, now is the time to distill your wisdom. You don’t have to be like anybody else or worry about what they think of you, only what you think of yourself.
There is no need to retire in the same way as every other soon to to retire or retired person. Retirement is a time to discover who you were meant to be now, because what you did has, or will soon come to an end. No longer is your identity is based on what you do, now its’ about who you are.
How many sliding doors confronted you up to today?
Which doors did you choose to walk through and why?
What enhanced your identity?
What enhanced your self-esteem?
What have you learnt about yourself?
What do you need to do now?
Do you need some creative space to explore?
How can I help you now?
Whilst retirement doesn’t seem to be a hot topic unless it’s about financial advice, yet it is a vital part of living one’s life to the fullest. When do you think about retirement? Does the question occur when you have successfully made a fortune by forty or is it when your pension falls due? Do you plan to work on past a ‘normal retirement age’?
Experience shows me that people begin to question what their life has become or could become at different points in their lives, my focus is on retirement because it provides an important focal point.
Childhood is the prologue, the career the first act, retirement the second act and death the third act. Once upon a time retirement generally meant one had perhaps five or six years left but today we are not too suprised when people make one hundred. So that could mean another forty years, pretty much as long as one’s working life!
Growing up as a child the questions are around what you will be. During a career the questions are around what have you become, what do you do, with possible sub-questions around what that involves, and with status around complexity, challenges, status and rewards. That whole structure disappears with retirement, so who then are you?
The questions we ask can be all important. The opportunity to use creative explorations can bring new insights.
What will you become?
I have brought together a range of creative tools and techniques to allow discoveries to be made and reflectively marinated to allow new positive approaches life.
As your coach on this journey I look forward to working with you.
More workshops are planned and I continue to coach one to one..
If you have questions please let me know.
New courses coming in 2023
I have two heros of mine from a story I wrote for my grandchildren. Recently I got the idea to record some music at home (lockdown will do that to a person), and then I decided to experiment with a short movie. Here are the results so far.
As a child I was frequently told off for “being a dreamer.” As a consultant I would ask managers how busy their diaries were and they would fall over themselves to tell me how busy they were, and laugh when I would ask them what percentage of the week was allocated for thinking. “I don’t have time to think.” When I suggested that they must spend all their time firefighting, they would nod in agreement. Then I would ask where in their job description did say anything about firefighting ? A question then for the bosses as to why all their managers were employed on the wrong contracts.
Problem solving requires space, time and great questions. Innovation requires space, time, great questions and iterations. Art requires space, time, great questions and iterations too.
Keep letting your mind go for spacious explorations.