In this chapter of, “The Power of Habit,” Charles Duhigg shows us, through case studies, that our minds do not have to be fully intact for habits to continue to influence our lives. In fact, regardless of how badly the human brain may be injured, so long as the basal ganglia is unharmed, it has been found to be entirely possible for a person suffering severe memory loss to continue performing tasks without consciously remembering how to do them. It has also been found to be entirely possible, through repetition, for people with severe memory issues to develop new habits without consciously being aware of having done so.
The basal ganglia is a clump of tissue located near where the brainstem connects to our spinal cord. In terms of our evolution, it is considered to be one of the more primitive parts of the human mind.
In, “The Power of Habit,” Our brain is described as being layered like an onion; the more recent evolutionary layers being on the outside of the brain and where conscious thinking takes place. However, it is said that automatic things like breathing and heartbeat are regulated/controlled via the more primitive, less active, structures in the center of our brains.
The basal ganglia, according to Duhigg, is where patterns are stored and are accessed in a manner that gives the mind an opportunity to ramp down or perform tasks that require more mental capacity. These patterns are accessed via chunking. This is where the mind identifies which automatic pattern (habit) to use based on perceived cues. Once a cue is identified the conscious mind then triggers the associated habit before relaxing until the stored behavioral pattern is complete. Then the mind ramps back up at the end to insure that the automatic behavior it initiated produced the desired result/reward.
The cue/trigger, the routine/action performed and the reward are all steps in what some call the habit loop. Because we are aware of these steps, habits can be broken down and modified in order to change certain behaviors we deem to be undesirable.
Is this easy to do? “No!” Why? Because sometimes the habits we develop are so ingrained that they can override common sense.
Charles tells us here, too, that scientists aren’t the only folks over the past twenty years or so who have been highly interested in how our habits are formed, either. Corporations have invested their own resources to discover more about habits since they, like the scientific community, know that habits are at the route of just about everything we do. This means others could easily exploit us by figuring out which cues are most likely to trigger some of our automatic habits.