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Have you ever wondered how to access your full brain power? If you’ve ever heard the (false) saying that most human beings only use about 10% of their brains, we’re here to reassure you: That is a complete myth. The fact is, we already use 100% of our brains and science proves that. Specifically, an article from the publication “Scientific American” notes that while not all 86 billion of our brain’s neurons are firing at the same time, all of these neurons do exist fully electrically charged in a continuous state of resting potential.
In other words, these clever little neurons are sitting there in your gray matter all day long ready to jump into action when needed.
Table of Contents
- The Origins of the 10% Myth
How to Access Your Full Brain Power
- 1. Enjoy a Full Night’s Sleep (and Maybe a Nap!)
- 2. Eat a Solid Breakfast
- 3. Make the Rest of the Day’s Meals Equally Nutritious
- 4. Get Some Physical Exercise
- 5. Dance Like Your Brain Is Watching
- 6. Ace Some Logic Problems
- 7. Engage in a Debate
- 8. Play Sudoku
- 9. Socialize
- 10. Meditate
- 11. Juggle
- 12. Practice Yoga
- 13. Put Together a Jigsaw Puzzle
- 14. Increase Your Word Power
- 15. Work Crossword Puzzles
- 16. Play Card Games
- 17. Engage Your Senses (All of Them)
- 18. Learn Something New
- 19. Play a Musical Instrument
- 20. Listen to Music
- 21. Go Off the Beaten Path
- 22. Learn a Foreign Language
- 23. Cultivate Ambidexterity
The Origins of the 10% Myth
The article referenced above is supported by a TED-Ed talk by Richard E. Cytowic. In his TED talk, Cytowic notes that a full two-thirds of the population believe that they’re being mentally lazy because they’re not using their whole brain all the time. Although it’s difficult to find the genesis of this silly legend, the wrongful notion has sometimes been linked to William James, an American author and psychologist, who made the case for our collective mental laziness in his book, “The Energies of Men.”
Regardless of the origins of this urban legend, one thing is clear. It’s time to put it to bed. The human brain is a complex, fascinating organ. Every minute of every single day, our brains perform millions of somewhat mundane acts, along with composing concertos and coming up with elegant solutions to problems large and small. With that said, there are definitely some ways you can boost your brain power.
How to Access Your Full Brain Power
Everything we do affects our brain, including how we eat, what we read, how much sleep we get, and even how we spend our free time. Let’s dive into some ideas and strategies that will help us all access our full brain power.
1. Enjoy a Full Night’s Sleep (and Maybe a Nap!)
We live in an ambition-driven society and for some people, that means sacrificing sleep. However, it’s impossible to have your brain firing on all cylinders if you’re sleep-deprived. The Sleep Foundation says that most healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep every night.
In addition to getting a full night’s sleep, taking a nap can make your mind sharper, too. However, most experts recommend taking short power naps. Long naps can lead to decreased productivity, and worse, they might interfere with your nighttime sleep. NASA’s sleep researchers found that when an astronaut takes a 26-minute nap, their alertness increases by up to 54%. Moreover, their job performance improves by 34%.
2. Eat a Solid Breakfast
In regards to eating breakfast, it comes down to three different things:
- What you eat
- How much you eat
- When you eat
One thing you definitely want to do is avoid sugar breakfasts. For example, eating “breakfast candy” (sugared cereals) isn’t going to boost your brain power. It may actually have the opposite effect. Instead, eat a small breakfast that’s full of beneficial whole grains and protein. If you must have something sugary with breakfast, eat the protein first.
A lot of people don’t eat breakfast. In fact, some of the world’s greatest minds don’t eat breakfast, including Malcolm Gladwell, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk. However, it is important to feed your brain, so even if you just down a protein shake, you’re giving your powerful brain something to work with.
3. Make the Rest of the Day’s Meals Equally Nutritious
Most people seem to understand that a good breakfast can make your day more productive and your brain more active, but that doesn’t mean you can neglect the rest of the meals you eat every day. Consider a healthy lifestyle change when it comes to your food. For example, the Mediterranean diet or the whole-food approach has shown promise in slowing cognitive decline.
You can also talk to your health care provider about supplements that may help fill the gap between your diet and the nutrition your brain and body need.
4. Get Some Physical Exercise
Besides oxygen, something else gets our brains working overtime: blood. The best way to get the blood moving all throughout our bodies and into our brains is via physical exercise.
You don’t have to be a gym rat to experience the mental benefits of exercise. Even a brisk walk can get your blood moving up into your brain cells. Also, the exercise needs to be regular. Studies have shown that people experience the mental benefits of exercise when it is done a few times a week.
But what if you don’t like “exercising”? You can do anything that involves physical activity, including dancing and playing golf. These days you can even get physical activity from playing video games. For example, the Oculus Quest allows you to work up a sweat with virtual reality boxing, bowling, golfing and so much more.
5. Dance Like Your Brain Is Watching
Dancing can provide additional brain benefits besides getting the blood flowing. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) suggests that when you learn new dance moves, you are increasing your brain’s memory and processing speed.
How can you get more dancing in? You can simply watch some YouTube videos every day to learn new dance moves. Consider a salsa, contemporary dance, or hip-hop. Alternatively, you can join a jazz exercise or Zumba class. Have a partner? Surprise them with some ballroom dance classes.
6. Ace Some Logic Problems
Much like crossword puzzles and other games, working through some logic problems like the ones you find on Logic Lovely is an excellent way to stimulate your brain and increase your mental skills.
7. Engage in a Debate
Another way to exercise the prefrontal cortex that includes the frontal and temporal lobes is by debating. When we debate, we are calling on all of our brain’s powers to help us drive points home and (hopefully) win the debate.
Note that there’s a difference between debating and arguing, so forget about all of those political arguments on Facebook. Instead, take a debate class or engage in some public speaking opportunities.
8. Play Sudoku
It seems like everyone is doing sudoku these days, and that’s a good thing. When you play sudoku and similar math games, you are exercising the brain’s GPS: the parietal lobs.
Parietal lobes are located at the back of the brain and they’re responsible for our ability to know the difference between right and left, as well as our sense of direction.
Believe it or not, staying social can play a huge role in your mental alertness. Here’s the good news: Online social networking counts, too. That’s not to say you should waste hours a day on social media, but if that’s how you get most of your social interaction, feel free to indulge yourself.
Anytime you can interact with the people you care about in person, taking the time to do so will make you healthier overall, but it will definitely have an effect on your memory, language, and other areas of cognition.
When you meditate, you’re not just relaxing your mind. The act of meditation itself has been shown in studies to fundamentally change the brain. Meditation can help you improve focus, judgment, executive function, and even impulse control.
To meditate, you can use an app like Headspace or Calm, or you can find some free guided meditations on YouTube.
When you juggle, you’re exercising your brain’s parietal lobes. Who knew that math problems and juggling worked the same part of the brain, right? Juggling gives you some good physical activity as well, so you’re getting a double bonus. Need another good reason to juggle? It’s lots of fun and can be a fun activity to do with friends and family.
12. Practice Yoga
This could have been included in the exercise section, but one thing you can do to get your brain working harder is yoga. It’s not just the physical movement that affects the brain. Yoga is an activity that encourages deep breathing, so you get the increased blood flow and oxygen that comes with yoga.
13. Put Together a Jigsaw Puzzle
Are you loving the idea of doing all of these fun activities and puzzles? If so, you’re going to be delighted to learn that you can add jigsaw puzzles to your brain activity toolkit. When you put together a jigsaw puzzle, you are enhancing multiple cognitive abilities, as it turns out. Specifically, working a jigsaw puzzle serves as a protective factor in terms of visuospatial cognitive aging.
14. Increase Your Word Power
When you have a rich vocabulary, you sound smart, but that’s not all. Learning vocabulary is actually good for your brain, so you actually are smarter if you continuously learn new words. Studies show that several regions of the brain are involved in tasks relating to vocabulary.
To work on your vocabulary, keep a notebook handy when you’re reading. When you encounter an unfamiliar word, jot it down and then look up the definition in a dictionary or on the internet. After you’ve zeroed in on the word, try to use it five times the next day.
You can also build up a robust vocabulary with word search puzzles here. Every puzzle has a word list which helps reinforce words and other words you may curiously look up.
15. Work Crossword Puzzles
Perhaps the best-known area of the brain is the prefrontal cortex, also known as the brain’s CEO. The prefrontal cortex is involved with analyzing and integrating the sensory information we use to make decisions. Thanks to the prefrontal cortex, we can learn from our mistakes and plan for the future.
The best way to exercise the prefrontal cortex is by working crossword puzzles. If you need an excuse to play Words with Friends with your coworkers and your family members, you officially have it. Scrabble and Boggle count, too.
16. Play Card Games
Do you like playing hearts, spades, or gin rummy? Good news: Playing cards is good for your brain. A 2015 study conducted by researchers demonstrated that card games that are mentally stimulating exercise areas of the brain that are in charge of thinking skills and memory.
If you don’t have a partner to play cards with, that’s totally OK. You will derive the same benefits from playing solitaire by yourself or crazy eights with your kids.
17. Engage Your Senses (All of Them)
When you’re thinking about improving your brain power, maybe you think that it’s only specific senses that matter. According to a 2015 research report, using all of your senses helps to build your brain power. Consider activities that use all five of your senses. Some examples would be baking cookies, trying a new restaurant (and new foods), and visiting a farmer’s market.
18. Learn Something New
It’s almost a no-brainer. When you learn something new, of course, you’re exercising your brain, right? However, it’s not just about learning a new skill so that it can be applied in something that life demands of us. When we learn new things, it actually changes the structure of our brains.
Research has shown that when older adults learn new things, their memory improves. For example, you could learn a new language, a software program, or even horseback riding (which is also physical activity).
19. Play a Musical Instrument
Do you already play a musical instrument? If so, your brain is already light-years ahead of most people. The act of learning to play a musical instrument also changes the structure of the brain. However, playing music has the same effect.
On the other hand, if you don’t play a musical instrument, there’s no time like the present to get started. Thanks to YouTube, apps, and the rest of the internet, learning is easier than ever. Whether guitar, piano, or even the drums, let the beat move you (and your brain) to an optimal state.
20. Listen to Music
The good news is that you don’t have to play a musical instrument to benefit from music. Your brain will respond to just listening to certain types of music.
21. Go Off the Beaten Path
One reason we seem to decline mentally as we age is that we get “set in our ways,” or “stuck in a rut.” This doesn’t mean that routines are bad. Having schedules and routines help us to be more productive. However, when you take a different route to work, it causes your brain to work harder (a good thing).
If you’re retired, apply this same concept to going other places like the grocery store or on a daily walk.
22. Learn a Foreign Language
Learning new languages is like applying a power charger to your brain. A 2012 research review proved overwhelmingly that being able to speak more languages has significant cognitive benefits. Want to access the full power of your brain in a hurry? Start learning a language.
23. Cultivate Ambidexterity
Most of us are either right-handed or left-handed. A small percentage of the population is ambidextrous, which means that can do everything equally with both hands. Although most of us will never learn to write neatly with our non-dominant hands, learning to do some things with our other hands is a good brain exercise. For example, try brushing your teeth or eating with your left hand if you’re a right-handed person. Start with opening doors or cabinets with your opposite hand.
This post hopefully taught you a thing or two about using your brain more intelligently and keeping it sharp for years to come. Please share with a friend if you enjoyed this.