Although you may not have heard about the Zeigarnik Effect yet, it is almost certain that you have. This psychological phenomenon, which causes us to recall incomplete tasks better than those that have been completed, is something you may have experienced if you've ever stayed up late thinking about the day's unfinished business or unable to shake the earworm you had a few hours ago.
Bluma Zeigarnik, a Lithuanian psychologist named the effect. In the 1920s, while sitting in a Viennese café, she noticed something unusual: her waiter was able to recall the orders of customers in great detail. This ability continued until the bill was paid.
Zeigarnik returned to the lab and decided to continue her investigation. Zeigarnik set up simple tasks for children and adults, such as stringing beads, solving puzzles or math problems. After this, Zeigarnik asked participants to share their experiences. Simple.
Here's the twist: Only half of them were allowed finish their task. Zeigarnik also found the same effect in that cafe: People who were interrupted were twice as likely as those who finished their task.
What's the secret to this effect? Zeigarnik explained that the phenomenon was a manifestation psychological tension. This term is a result of her training in Gestalt psychology, and that it dates back to the 1920s. Psychologists believe it is down to how our brain processes memories.
Kendra Cherry, VeryWellMind, explains that the Zeigarnik effect can reveal a lot about memory.
"Once information has been perceived, it is stored in sensory memory for a short time." She writes that information moves into short-term memories when we pay attention to it. Many of these short-term memories can be forgotten quickly. However, active rehearsal can help some information to become long-term.
Now that we have a better understanding of the situation, we can make use of it to our advantage.
"Procrastination is the worst when we are faced with a large task we are trying to avoid starting," said Jeremy Dean, a psychologist and author of PsyBlog.
He said, "It could be because we don’t know where or how to start." The Zeigarnik effect teaches us that procrastination can be defeated by starting somewhere, anywhere.
Try something simple first before you start with the most difficult. He wrote that if you can get started with any portion of a project, the rest will follow.
Research into the Zeigarnik Effect has shown that it is stronger in certain situations. We are better at returning to complete tasks when we know what we need to do. Ernest Hemingway once said that "the best way to write is to stop when things are going well and know what's coming next." You will never get stuck if you do this every day while you're writing a novel.
Studying can be especially beneficial when the Zeigarnik effect is used. Scheduling strategic breaks during your study time can help you remember information later. Stephanie Wright, PsychCentral wrote that many students may think it's better to cram right before exams. However, the Zeigarnik effect suggests that it might be more beneficial to split your study time into smaller segments over a longer time.
Perhaps the most important thing is that we can use the Zeigarnik Effect to improve our mental health. Realizing that you will always have unfinished tasks in your mind, even if they are completed, will make it easier to manage your mental stress.
Make a list of things to do, and then tackle the more difficult tasks first.