Being Smarter by Not Thinking

There’s a popular myth that says we only use 10% of our brains.

It’s simply not true. Studies (including the source of all scientific truth: an episode of MythBusters) have proven that all areas of the brain have a function, and while the percentage that we’re “using” at any given time varies by task it can certainly exceed 10%.


One thing that seems very obvious to me without needing to cite a study about it, however, is that I certainly have unused brain capacity, and it can do amazing things when you leave it to its own devices.

As an example of what I’m talking about, I refer you to a link I posted on this very blog some time ago: Why Great Ideas Always Come in the Shower (and How to Harness Them).

In the brief commentary I added, I mentioned that never in my life have I had a good idea in a meeting. Great ideas come to me while I’m doing other things. Specifically, other things that do not take much in the way of thought and offer little in the way of distraction: things where my brain gets left to it’s own devices and has an opportunity to wander – showering, certainly, but also commuting, trying to get to sleep at the very end of the day (infuriatingly), and when I’m at the gym.

Talking of the latter one, I haven’t been to the gym for quite some time.

When we lived in our apartment there was a gym in the building, and that was great. I could easily fit in a solid 45 minutes there at lunch. Any spare 30 minute window in my schedule could be turned into 20 minutes on the stationary bike.

I want to go back, but now that we’ve bought the house there is obviously not an on-site gym. There’s a gym at the office (20 minutes away) and a Goodlife Fitness close by (10 minutes away) where I’d get a discounted rate, but small though it is even that travel time is putting me off. I will most likely join Goodlife, since I rarely go to the office these days and installing a home gym just isn’t in the budget right now, but I’ve been missing the ability to easily take 30 minutes and get some exercise, and I’m sad that none of the solutions will offer me that. In the absence of a perfect solution, I haven’t done anything at all… until yesterday.

Since the weather here in Calgary is distinctly spring-like these days, I went for a walk before I started my work day. I didn’t go far – a little less than 2km, according to the Google Fit data from my phone and watch – just down the road a bit and then back along the pathways that run through our neighbourhood.

I liked it so much I did it again at lunch time, and then for a third time this morning.

The physical benefits of this, though I’m sure not huge by any means, are probably much needed at this point. Really though what I like about it so much are the mental benefits. I’ve never been much of a morning person and I would never consider going to the gym before work, but rolling out of bed and attempting to be productive more or less immediately is not a recipe for success either. Feeling like my day has already started by the time I sit down to get some work done definitely gives me a mental boost that I’ve been able to capitalize on. More significantly though, there’s a lot to be said for the kind of problem solving that can only come from not thinking about something too much and letting my subconscious guide me in ways that I’d never have come up with if I were sitting at my desk consciously trying to focus on something.

It’s amazing what you can do when you’re not trying to do anything.

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