This procedural system has often been equated with habitual behavior—and with the deployment of heuristics. We have long known that habits are hard to break. We know now that the procedural brain and the habits that this brain maintains are very powerful. In their book, Switch, Chip and Dan Heath (2010) describe this procedural system as an elephant that is being controlled (with minimal effect) by the rider (the expository brain). The rider of an elephant can use all of his or her energy in trying to control the elephant but will often end up exhausted and minimally influential. The elephant will go where it wants to.
It seems that the resistance to breaking up habitual behavior is based in large part on the requirement that we move our cortical operations from one system (procedural) to another (expository) – and this is very difficult. We will be deskilled for a period of time (often extended period of time) while we learn a new way of behaving and while we establish new habits that can eventually be turned over to our procedural brain. Thus, inertia in human behavior is based not in some superficial resistance to doing something new, but rather in a much more profound requirement that we shift from one operating system in the brain to a different operating system.
So, where is this vital – but often problematic—middle burner located. As the name suggests, it is located between two major areas of the human brain. Actually, it is not located in any specific location. It is instead an elaborate system of neural links between an older part of the brain (the limbic system) and the newest part of the brain (primarily the prefrontal and other frontal areas of the brain). Given its middle position and the vital role it plays as a conduit between two big-time cortical systems, the middle burner should never be ignored. It often tells us what to do, even when the advice it provides isn’t of benefit to us. The challenge for us is to discern when we should follow the advice being offered by this middle-burner expert and when to freshen up, get unstressed and become reflective practitioners—so that our front burner expert is once again offering us valuable advice. Good luck—for the food being cooked on the middle-burner often complements the food being cooked on the back burner. A tasty (but often toxic) stew can be served when the middle-burner and back-burner fares are combined.
This brings us to the back burner – which is the most fascinating of the three sets of burners. It has been the subject of many novels, movies and TV programs (especially soap operas). Psychoanalysts and many other mental health practitioners have made their living trying to help their clients (patients) learn something about and find ways to work with (if not manage) the culinary fare being produced on these burners.
Part of the fascination and charm of the back burner is its free-flowing nature. While the front burner tends to operate in a systematic, rational manner and the middle burner operates in a rigid, habitual manner, the back burner is almost fiery in its spontaneity and flickering manner. We find in the processes of our back burner the interplay of order and chaos that is the focus of many contemporary studies of complex systems. Put simply, the processes of the back burner are highly dynamic and certainly complex. This means that these burners are potent sources of rich insight—as long as we are careful and circumspect in our review of and potential use of these insights. We must inquire about the true nature of anything that is threatening (will this really harm me?) or “shadowy” (what is really going on here?). We must also dig deeper into that which gives us hope (what really are the chances that this will work?) or that which motivates us (why does this really appeal to me?).Download Article 1K Club