Why do unresolved issues linger in our mind, making us ponder them for days on end? Why are cliffhangers so successful in getting viewers to tune in to the next episode? How can we overcome procrastination? These questions can be answered by learning about the psychological concept/theory known as the Zeigarnik effect.
‘Discovered’ by Soviet psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik back in the 1920s, the Zeigarnik effect states that we remember incomplete or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks.
And so, to those questions. It’s easy to see how the Zeigarnik effect could be responsible for the success of suspense as a dramatic device, but for overcoming procrastination? Use the effect to your advantage and start at the simplest, smallest part of your task. After that, the unfinished nature of the larger task will push you toward action.
Beware, though: the effect has been shown to diminish if we don’t expect to do well on the interrupted task (or are otherwise completely not motivated).
Managing time effectively is a matter of cultivating a consistent and deliberate habit through a number of easy steps, says Peter Bregman, suggesting a three-stage process: detailed planning, refocussing (scheduled breaks) and reviewing.
I’ve dabbled with The Pomodoro Technique and GTD and neither have really helped me (granted, I don’t have chronic time-management issues and instead just harbour a desire to be more efficient), and I’m unsure whether Bregman’s suggested technique would help those in need of help.
However, what I did like from Bregman is the idea of creating an ignore list in addition to a to do list, and this brief look at studies showing the importance of creating detailed schedules and plans:
In their book The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz describe a study in which a group of women agreed to do a breast self-exam during a period of 30 days. 100% of those who said where and when they were going to do it completed the exam. Only 53% of the others did.
In another study, drug addicts in withdrawal (can you find a more stressed-out population?) agreed to write an essay before 5 p.m. on a certain day. 80% of those who said when and where they would write the essay completed it. None of the others did.
If you want to get something done, decide when and where you’re going to do it. Otherwise, take it off your list.
It is a natural desire to strive for self-improvement andÂ seek knowledge about oneself, but until recently it has been difficult or impossible to do so objectively and quantitatively.
Now, through self-tracking systems and applications that are becoming prevalent in many of our lives thanks to a number of technological advances and sociological changes, we can, at last, find the answers to questions that were once beyond us.
That is the essence of Gary Wolf’s comprehensive study of the self-tracking phenomenon, looking at how we are heading toward ‘the quantified self’ and a ‘data-driven life’â€¦ and what this means.
When the familiar pen-and-paper methods of self-analysis are enhanced by sensors that monitor our behavior automatically, the process of self-tracking becomes both more alluring and more meaningful. Automated sensors do more than give us facts; they also remind us that our ordinary behavior contains obscure quantitative signals that can be used to inform our behavior, once we learn to read them. [â€¦]
The goal isn’t to figure out something about human beings generally but to discover something about yourself. Their validity may be narrow, but it is beautifully relevant. Generally, when we try to change, we simply thrash about: we improvise, guess, forget our results or change the conditions without even noticing the results. Errors are possible in self-tracking and self-experiment, of course. It is easy to mistake a transient effect for a permanent one, or miss some hidden factor that is influencing your data and confounding your conclusions. But once you start gathering data, recording the dates, toggling the conditions back and forth while keeping careful records of the outcome, you gain a tremendous advantage over the normal human practice of making no valid effort whatsoever.
In a short article summarising six “surprising insights from the social sciences” we are told how those in powerful positions show little restraint when presented with food and are informed that the perceived “attractiveness advantage” of more sociable people is there simply because they groom themselves better.
However I feel that the only constructive insight is to be found from the short look at how we can stop procrastinating by forgiving ourselves for previous transgressions (the lack of guilt limits any further procrastination):
Recent research has suggested that forgiveness is good for your health. But it may also be good for your study habits. Students who procrastinated in studying for an exam â€” but forgave themselves for doing so â€” procrastinated less and got a higher grade on a subsequent exam. One might normally expect such a self-forgiving student to keep on procrastinating. However, self-forgiveness mitigated the guilt and rumination â€” and desire to procrastinate further to avoid these negative feelings â€” that resulted from the initial bout of procrastination, making it easier to study for the next exam.
Thinking about whether we will do a task or not (“Will Iâ€¦?”) rather than focusing on actually performing the task (“I willâ€¦.”) has been shown to increase both the probability of us eventually undertaking the task and how successfully we will perform it.
The idea seems that “interrogative self-talk”, rather than declarative statements, leads to more internal motivation due to a greater feeling of autonomy.
Voter turnout in an election increased to 86.7% in people who had been asked to make a prediction about whether they would vote, compared to 61.5% in those who were not asked the question.
When a restaurant changed the receptionist’s script when taking a booking from ‘Please call if you have to cancel,’ to ‘Will you call if you have to cancel?’ the no-show rate dropped from 30% to 10%.
Professor Richard Cialdini attributes this effect to our need to act in ways that are consistent with our previously established views of ourselves. Asking ourselves questions that draw attention to our motivations force us to define who we are and what is important to us. Having defined these things, we have to act in accordance with them or face cognitive dissonance.
Those two anecdotes (voter turnout, restaurant cancellations) are taken from chapter 16 of Robert Cialdini’s Yes! (previously).
Will you tweet about this study?