I have written multiple posts earlier also, on the Zeigarnik effect. There’s a lot of research on the internet with various people citing the validity as well as the invalidity of this. I will not go into the technical aspects of its validity or otherwise. I will take it as given.
That being said, what happens with this effect broadly is that, your brain keeps alerting you of the tasks that have not been closed. Which means that anything which the brain things is important, or which you inform the brain as in being important , it will keep reminding you.
My mother used to say, “if you want to get up early at a specific time, inform the pillow before you go to sleep and it will wake you up”. For most parts, this was true, and I would get up early in the morning until and unless I was extremely exhausted.
Now that I know why this happens, I don’t tell my pillow, I just think when I have to get up the next day and almost without an alarm clock I get up at the right time . Now this is the positive side of the Zeigarnik effect. In a lot of restaurants you will see some of the experienced servers just take the order without writing down and still deliver the right dish to the right person. This is another positive use of this effect.
On the other hand, this same effect , makes me feel guilty when a task is not finished. It keeps reminding me about it, because of which I am not able to concentrate on the task which I am presently doing. A lot of times, I take a day-off to close some specific items. But at the back of mind there’s some task which has not been closed and my brain keeps sending signals about what could go wrong if I don’t finish the task. After all the brain is designed to protect me, first and therefore creates all the “doomsday” scenarios and the Zeigarnik effect has a major role in it.
That is also one of the reasons why psychologists say that when you take a vacation, it should be for a minimum of 14 days, because the brain takes about 5-7 days to realise that it can wind down. That’s also one of the reasons why you come back relaxed after a vacation. Since the brain does not have to be on alert anymore with your daily tasks, it lets you explore things and those experiences stay with you.
But coming back on everyday tasks, till you close the unfinished tasks, the brain will keep hounding you. One way is to complete a task before moving to the next. But this is easier said than done, especially if you work in an organisation and there’s a dependency on others completing their role before you can again get involved with it.
Now that is something I have not been able to solve and due to that, I keep getting anxious from time to time about unfinished tasks and deadlines. One of the things that I do every once in a while is sit down for about 50 minutes and just list out all the things going on in my brain and dump them on paper. Once there you can then strike them out as you keep closing them.
The biggest advantage of this method is that your brain gets slightly pacified that you acknowledge that there’s unfinished tasks that need to be addressed.
Some people say, with meditation, the brain can be calmed down. I have not tried meditation in its truest sense though with some of the breathing exercises that I do, I have some semblance of order. With the order comes the ability to achieve a higher number of tasks, which in are directed towards your goals can help you achieve a lot in life.
For me the Zeignernik effect has created a lot of havoc, where I have lost track of my goals because my brain was constantly creating fear in my mind of the unfinished tasks.
Let me know your views in the comments below so I know if there are others like me and how you have solved this challenge.
Till next time then.