by: Scott Hogue
How Much Of Your Brain Do You Use? It Doesn’t Matter, There Is A Better Question.
There is a popular statement about brain power: “The average person only uses about 10% of their brain.” We are not sure where that statement got started, but there are some scholars that think Harvard psychologist Dr. William James started the idea when commenting about a child prodigy sometime in the 1890’s.
Dr. James made the comment, that based on the accomplishments of the child prodigy he had studied, most people only achieved a small fraction of their true mental potential. In time mental potential became brain as the comment was repeated and eventually someone put a number to it. 10% is a popular number quoted, so is 5%.
Before you could say “I am a sleeping genius,” the statement was popular and often quoted by reporters, common folk, even doctors in their practice and lawyers in court. In the self help world this idea became particularly popular and there was a lot of talk about unlocking the hidden potential of your brain and using a higher percentage of “your thinking organ.”
The implication was, if you could do that then the effect would be you could do more, have more, all from being more, much like the example of child prodigies and even idiot savants that often couldn’t hold a passable conversation, but could add huge numbers in their head, even multiplying them in seconds or tell you what day of the week a certain day would fall on centuries in the future, all without pencil or paper.
It was a nice idea, that you could simply open a door and you had a much larger life. Opening the door to the 90% of the mind you weren’t using would open the way to a life ten or even more than ten times richer in every way, but there is always someone that comes along hoping to burst your bubble, much like my grandson enjoys busting those packing bubbles in the protective packing wrap that comes with some of my mail order packages.
Enter the research scientists, oh how they enjoy popping bubbles… At one time the only way scientists could interact with your brain was when you were through using it. At the autopsy for example or as in the case with Einstein, by looking at recovered slides of brain material under the microscope. By the way, if you want to hear a true and somewhat spooky story, get on the internet and do some research on Einstein’s brain. It traveled more without him than it did with him, but back to our story. Scientists were eventually able to scan your brain with equipment while you were still living.
They could actually see you use your brain in close to real time. They can now actually see the result of a thought, although they still can’t read your mind, some will tell you what they think you should be thinking. It was just a matter of time until some excited bubble popping scientist, after looking at these scans, with no idea of what they were actually seeing, just had to come out and say, “It is a myth that we only use 10% of our brain, we now have proof through the brain activity we see from live image scanning that you use all of your brain.”
Well, talk about a wet blanket and a damper for the self improvement party. It made a lot of people madder than a hatter or even a wet hen. You even had counselors, psychologists, even ministers up in arms for taking away hope from us poor slobs living a miserable life as a result of only using a fraction of our brain. How were we going to change our lives if we were already using all the resources we had? Now let’s take a little detour for a moment and hopefully, when we come back we will be better for it and be able to see through all this brain fog stuff.
I once saw a computer geek take an old, stumbling, slow Windows based computer and remove the Windows operating system and then install Linux the open source operating system. The result made me wish I knew enough about Linux to run my own Linux computer. This old system that was just creeping along under Windows was running at race horse speed. What happened? We hadn’t changed the hardware. It was the same hard drive, processor, video card, memory, even mouse, keyboard and screen. This fellow had changed how we were using it.
It wasn’t what we had, it was how we were using it. You might say in this case that Linux was skinny and focused where Windows was fat and distracted. With Linux we were running a smaller, more focused operating system and smaller, more focused software. Now think brain equals hardware and mind equals operating system and software and we will go back to our story… It turns out if we didn’t use all of our brain, the parts we didn’t use would become unusable and even dead in some cases. Think about putting your arm in a cast for six months and then trying to use it.
Don’t plan on playing two handed tennis for a while. That arm that was healthy when you immobilized it will be weak until you start using it again and it becomes active. On the other hand, there is a lot of difference in how you can use something. It isn’t all about just showing some activity, I use all of my body throughout the day, so does a champion soccer player, but the way we use our bodies and the results are quite different. It turns out the hardware or our brain is not all there is when it comes to living our life, there is an operating system and software involved too.
Enter the mind. It would take a course on the mind, actually I think there are probably an unlimited number of minds you can have, I know I have helped people create a fifth one and people with multiple personality disorders sometimes have a dozen or more, so it would take a course on the minds in the plural to give you a good understanding about why the mind is where it is at when we are talking about self improvement and living at a higher level, but I hope with my little computer example and true story you can see how it isn’t the hardware alone that makes the difference and since we aren’t likely to change our brain too much, the mind is where to focus our efforts.
I know with exercise we can increase the blood circulation to the brain and there are a few true brain hacks, but most of what we are talking about when we say brain hacks are actually mind hacks, which is the same in computers. When we talk about computer hacks, it is seldom hardware hacks, it is about something to do with the operating system or software.
For our purposes, if you don’t have a brain injury, a brain disease or are a research scientist, then just forget that you have a brain. You will never see it. You are pretty limited in what you can do to change it, I believe in neuro-plasticity, but for now even that is an indirect process. Let’s just focus on the mind. I think It is a true statement that most people only use 10% of their mind. I think it is actually safe to say 5% or even less.
In keeping with that I have two questions: How much of your mind are you using? And Could you build a better mind so you would have access to even more mental resouces? I found that most people don’t even do what they know to do. Take weight loss. Who doesn’t know that you eat less and are more active to lose weight?
We have that knowledge, but we don’t use it as a society. Obesity has become an epidemic. I think examples like not using the knowledge we have to lose weight and other examples like it shows beyond all doubt we only use a small portion of our mind. Now, what about building a better mind, can we really do that?
Why do we send our children to school? Is it in hopes that they will have a better nose? Maybe a better foot? What about a better brain, do they do well in life based on an analysis of their brain? CAT scans, x-rays and FMRIs? No, life doesn’t care if you have a brain, it is your mind that determines your quality of life. Circumstances can be hard, but if you have an active mind you can change and even make your own circumstances.
We send our children to school to build better minds. If thousands of years of education hasn’t proved we can build better minds and education matters, then let’s give up. Now, how can you use more of your mind and even build a better mind? The first way you can’t avoid, it is through use. How much memory and skill have you lost since your school days because you just don’t use those memories and skills? Turn it around and what have you gained from practice and use? Use it or lose it, but use it and gain more. Another thing is something psychologists call “Positive Transfer.”
Learning a new language, playing chess, working puzzles, even painting are all forms of learning and gaining new skills that have proven to positively transfer into other areas. Learn a new language and you can almost think with another mind in a different way. I know a woman that now says she can actually split her mind and think in the new language she learned and the results are often quite different than she gets when she practices her “native tongue” thinking.
Learning to play chess has shown to help people with several forms of problem solving. People that solved crossword puzzles were found to be better at assembling models without instructions. They could see how things fit together better and what connected. Just like turning words over in their minds to fit the crossword matrix, they could turn model pieces over in their minds. Imagining you are good at something actually makes people better at it.
Not only that, but imagining you are someone that is an expert at something can improve your ability and performance even more. It is like your mind is borrowing those skills and qualities and projecting them through you. Teaching others is an incredible way to move to higher levels of thinking. When you have to teach something it is like it turns on another set of gears in your mind. You have to understand something at a higher level to be able to teach it.
There are actually dozens of ways we have discovered to use more of your mind and even create a better mind, even create more minds to have at your command and use. So the next time you hear a research scientist say, “It is a myth we don’t use all of our brain” just smile and know that doesn’t matter, it is the mind over the gray matter that really matters. Your horizons are limitless.
Be blest, Scott Hogue CChH
Scott Hogue is a Strategic Life Coach. He builds bridges from people to the things they want. You can find his latest project at www.threestepstowealth.com