“We use 10% of our brain” implies that there is an unused 90% of our brain. This brings up the question: how can we use 100% of our brain? Does this untapped potential explain our mental shortcomings? What happens when we activate our entire brain?
In mainstream media, there is this fantasy that humans can achieve superpowers with their mind like telekinesis or ESP (extra-sensory perception). There is also a misconception in the real world that we can harness the “unused” part of our brain to become geniuses who can solve complicated problems and remember an insane amount of information.
Movies perpetuate this idea when they have fictional characters take special drugs and become powerful or rich. It is also perpetuated by marketers who try to sell miracle products that improve cognitive efficiency.
However, this myth is false. According to neurologists and neuroscientists, we are using all parts of our brain. Even when we are resting, we are actively using a majority of the brain.¹
Contrary to Morgan Freeman’s character in Lucy, we don’t need to “access 100%” of our brain.
“The other 90%” of our brain is made up of glial cells. In the past, they were considered useless parts of the brain since they aren’t involved in the electric signaling that neurons do.
(Recently, it was discovered that there is actually an equal amount of glial cells to neurons, rather than a 90/10 composition.)²
But glial cells aren’t useless. In fact, they do more things than neurons. They support neurons by giving them structure, nutrients, and insulation. Also, they fight off infection and are involved with synaptic pruning, the process of getting rid of useless brain cells.³ In short, they regulate, rather than communicate.
Full Brain Potential and Brain Damage
In some cases, brains are not physically whole. Brain damage patients show that lesions to the brain don’t stop them from being alive and functioning, albeit disadvantaged and dysfunctional to an extent.
Brain plasticity is a feature of our favorite organ. Some chunks can be removed, and the brain will have a way to adapt. Injuries could damage the brain, and it will find a way to reorganize itself.⁴ So, even if the brain isn’t 100% intact and fully functioning, it figures out how to perform to the best of its ability.
Normal brains do this all the time, every second of the day. We continuously learn and take in new memories, which means the brain is always reorganizing itself. Keeping our brain healthy and encouraging new synaptic growth maximizes the capacity of knowledge and information.
One way to do this is to get into nootropics.
Use of nootropics
Some people turn to certain substances to enhance cognitive functions. Many entrepreneurs seek to “unlock their true brain potential” and do so by taking nootropics.
Many people in the tech industry and entrepreneurial industry consume chemical substances, herbal blends, or “smart drugs” to feel like they’re using the full capacity of their mind. It comes from a belief that the dormant possibilities can be tapped into with special pills or formulated powders.
What nootropics do is regulate the mood, boost energy, and improve focus. What they can’t do is make people more intelligent or reveal abilities unbeknownst to us.
They don't have to be synthesized chemicals, though. Perfectly natural ingredients can be combined to boost mental functions:
L-Theanine in tea increases focus
Bacopa Monnieri, a tropical herb, can improve memory
Ginkgo Biloba, a Chinese tree, can increase mental performance
and many more...
How to better your brain
If you come across mental blocks and it feels like there is something in your mind that isn’t fully activated, there is hope. Practices like mindfulness meditation can rewire your brain to perform better. These blocks can be a case of cognitive burnout, of which there are solutions. Physical exercise does wonders for the brain’s ability. It can clear the mind and refresh any mental fatigue that makes you feel like you are limited by your brain.
Cabral, J., Kringelbach, M. L., & Deco, G. (2014). Exploring the network dynamics underlying brain activity during rest. Progress in Neurobiology, 114, 102–131. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pneurobio.2013.12.005
von Bartheld, C. S., Bahney, J., & Herculano-Houzel, S. (2016). The search for true numbers of neurons and glial cells in the human brain: A review of 150 years of cell counting. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 524(18), 3865–3895. https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.24040
Fields, R. D., Araque, A., Johansen-Berg, H., Lim, S.-S., Lynch, G., Nave, K.-A., Nedergaard, M., Perez, R., Sejnowski, T., & Wake, H. (2013). Glial Biology in Learning and Cognition. The Neuroscientist, 20(5), 426–431. https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858413504465
Levin, H. S. (2003). Neuroplasticity following non-penetrating traumatic brain injury. Brain Injury, 17(8), 665–674. https://doi.org/10.1080/0269905031000107151