Category Archives: Business

Memory and Habits (Part I) — The Power of Habit


I’m savoring The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg in bits and pieces and made these fascinating discoveries.

1) The basal ganglia is central to recalling patterns and acting on them. It stores habits even while the rest of the brain asleep. The process of how the brain converts a sequence of actions into a routine, also known as “chunking” is what allows us to perform most activities in our everyday life without thinking twice.

2) Dr. Larry Squire, a professor of psychiatry, neurosciences and psychology, studied someone named Eugene who had problems with short term memory but could remember events before 1960 due to the effects of a debilitating disease. What kind of life can one lead if you cannot remember it? What Squire discovered was that “the brain has an amazing ability to find happiness even when the memories of it are gone.”

What implications does this have for Alzheimer’s patients, I wonder.

2) What Squire’s experiments with Eugene showed was that it’s possible to learn and make unconscious choices without remembering anything about the lesson or decision making. Habits are at the root of our behavior and it’s possible to form habits without memory. Once they are lodged within our brains, they influence how we act.

3) “Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our ┬álives far more than we realize — they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.”

4) Why are companies such as Procter & Gamble, Microsoft and Google focused on understanding the formation of habits and how they can be changed? Because scientific research shows we rely upon all kinds of cues — visual triggers such as a candy bar or a TV commercial or a certain feeling — to change routines. The picture I’ve posted of a supermodel eating a burger is evidence of the fast food industry capitalizing on the science of habits by using strong visual cues and rewards to create habits that increase consumption of burgers and other fast food. The cues are powerful.

For example, in the case of Eugene, he would go for walks everyday and had to rely on visual cues to find his way back home because he could not depend on short term memory.

In the case of companies — and the examples used in the book were fast food companies — they used visual cues to unconsciously influence people’s habits and make them consume more. Researchers found that everything fro the aesthetics of a fast food chain to what employees say to customers were consistent cues to trigger more consumption. Even the way fries are designed to “melt” the moment they hit your tongue are meant to cause your pleasure centers to light up and compel your brain to lock in that pattern. It’s part of habit formation.

However, different cues and rewards can help us change habits. More to follow on creating new habits…