The Zeigarnik Effect

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Anthony Pica
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The Zeigarnik Effect

The Zeigarnik Effect

Incomplete tasks are annoying. They distract us when we work, they can cause anxiety, and they can keep us up at night. Even something small like needing to buy more eggs can preoccupy the mind. This is known as the Zeigarnik Effect.

"Tasks never completed are better remembered than those completed", according to a study performed by psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik in the 1900s.

There are so many things you have to do for work, family, and friends. And each of the open tasks take up space in the mind until it's complete—no matter how unimportant the task may seem.

How to overcome the Zeigarnik Effect

There's a simple solution to mitigate the negative effect that open tasks have on our minds. When you don't have time to complete a task, write it down in your phone or on a sticky note. You can your brain into thinking the task is complete, and you won't be distracted by it.

"Interruption of a task which has been completed subjectively though not objectively will have the effect of completion", according to Zeigarnik's research.

For example, something as insignificant as having to take out the rest of the garbage will prevent my mind from drifting off to sleep, so what I'd do is create an alert in my phone to remind me at 7am. Magically, I'm no longer preoccupied by it, and I fall asleep knowing at 7am my phone will remind me.

You can overcome the Zeigarnik Effect in all areas of your life by writing down small tasks or creating step-by-step plans for bigger projects.

How to leverage the Zeigarnik Effect

You can also use the Zeigarnik effect to your advantage.

You can instruct your subconscious mind to think about ideas or solutions by intentionally keeping a task open. This is one way to have more of those creative shower thoughts.

The next time you're stuck on a problem or need a spark of inspiration, stop what you're doing and try going for a walk. Let your mind do the problem-solving in the background.

Writing stuff down is therapeutic

I like journaling, because it helps me overcome and leverage the Zeigarnik effect at the same time. Writing helps me get intrusive thoughts out of my brain and primes my subconscious mind to connect ideas in new ways.

As Thomas Edison once said, "never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious."

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