The Power of Habit - Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
Charles Duhigg
Contributed by Roseanne Meinecke
Chapter 1

This chapter concerns itself with enhancing the understanding of how habits emerge. Eugene Pauley is introduced in section I as the individual who shaped peoples understanding of habits (Duhigg, 2012). Eugene suffered an attack by viral encephalitis whose early symptoms were vomiting, fever, and dehydration.  Despite the condition Eugene had, the doctors were not able to give any treatment except antiviral injection to reduce the spread of the virus to other parts of the brain (Duhigg, 2012). Scans that were later done on the brain revealed that the grey matter in his brain was destroyed by the virus (Duhigg, 2012). As recorded in section one, Eugene completely lost memory, and could not remember anything even when he returned home from the hospital. An instance is when he saw a computer in a rehabilitation center, and he kept on repeating the words “…when I was in electronics there would have been a couple of six feet racks holding this thing” several times to the same audience. In section I, however, it is noted that while at home he could go for a walk alone in the evenings, and come back home without getting lost, yet he could not locate his house on a mental map. This motivated Squire, his doctor, to study why he could come home after a walk yet he could not describe the location of his house, or the rooms in his house.

In Massachusetts Institute of Technology, scientists conducted research with rats to study their behavior when their memory was deliberately erased. They found out that rats with damaged basal ganglia had problems remembering how to run in a maze, and had to scratch the wall as they move from point to point (Duhigg, 2012). It was found that as routes become automatic the rats think less, and less (Duhigg, 2012). It was then concluded that the brain converts sequences of actions into routines, and this is the root of habits formation.   Connecting the research findings with Eugene’s case, Squire concluded that through his basal ganglia, Eugene was able to connect the cues such as the location of mailboxes, and trees at corners to find his way home (Duhigg, 2012). He had thus formed a habit of following cues to find his way home. As recorded in section three, one forms a habit loop, and anything outside the habit loop does not make sense (Duhigg, 2012). It is noted in section four that some of his habits especially relating to eating, and watching television were detrimental to his health.


The grey matter only affects one’s memory but is not concerned with one’s ability to form habits (Duhigg, 2012). The basal ganglia, on the other hand, is concerned with the development of habits (Duhigg, 2012). Therefore, the two processes of habit formation, and memory development are associated with different parts of the brain, and one does not affect the other. It is also important to note that habits are important as they allow the brain to rest (Duhigg, 2012). Memory is also as important because it helps one remember what is outside the habit loop. Therefore, one does not substitute the other but only complement it.  Some habits are however detrimental to one’s health, and as noted in section two, can be reformed by consciously developing new habits.

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