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;

  1. Physical activity.  Aim for 150 minutes of physical activity a week. 
  1. Hydration.  Drinking water and juices can help keep our brains in good shape. 
  1. Novel challenges.  Confronting ourselves with learning opportunities that are new and interesting.
  1. Living a Mediterranean lifestyle.  Eating fresh vegetables and fruits, especially those with vibrant colours. Getting out and socializing with others.
  1. 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 ( 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!

Brain Space

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.

The Rules For Creativity?

Rule 1: Feel safe to explore.

Rule 2: Never stop searching for stimulus.

Rule 3: Allow time for open meditation rather than focused meditation. One allows the mind to wander creatively and the other focuses the mind on one thing such as the breath.

Rule 4: Everything is an experiment.

Rule 5: Fight the inner interference that stops you working. Remember P = p – i (Performance equals potential minus our minds imposter syndrome interference)

Rule 6: Nothing is a mistake, there is only make

Rule 7: Don’t create and analyse at the same time, they’re different processes

Rule 8: THE ONLY RULE IS WORK. If you work it will lead to something. Its the people who do the work who catch on to things.

Rule 9: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself, its lighter than you think.

Rule 10: ” We’re breaking all of the rules. Even our own rules, and how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities’ John Cage

Apapted from the work of “Sister’ Mary Kent, who revolutionised graphic design and encouraged the creativity of thousands of people.

5 Objects and Some Flowers

If you were to prepare a still life using 5 objects that symbolize what was most important to you in your life so far what would they be?

How would you arrange these objects or metaphors?

Flowers bring colour and a need for light, they offer beauty, smell, seasonality etc. and evoke memories.

Would you photograph them, paint/draw them, make a model of them, just write prose/poetry about them – maybe I’ll draw something from the prose/poetry? The objects are few but the possibilities are up to you

The last sentence is the clue. I’m interested in you sending photograps or documents to me,( to see how they collectively emerge and what is evoked in me as an artist when I receive whatever you offer.

This idea is based on an original idea of Charles and Elizabeth Handy

Some Great Sites For Inspiration Today . Promoting the arts in schools and communities . Great website full of her aura paintings of the famous “We give nature freedom to experience its strength and beauty and use environmental art to educate and challenge us on climate issues and natural solutions. . Newly launched site full of great things happening in and around Bristol UK. . Home of the wonderful that offers great events from classical to pop and contemporary music, ideas and spoken word etc. . The Cube is a Microplex Cinema, Arts venue, adult creche, independent museum, and progressive social wellbeing enterprise in Central Bristol, UK . A great site to, “Mobilize your inner resources when facing cancer, chronic illness or crisis.” Actually lots of great creative ideas. . Lucy Willis RWA is an award winning painter ( BP Portrait Artist of The Year) and printmaker living and working in the West of England. Great painter of light.