The Zeigarnik Effect is named after the Russian psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik (1926), who noticed an odd thing while sitting in a restaurant in Vienna. The waiters seemed only to remember orders which were in the process of being served, but little recollection of the completed orders.
Zeigarnik went back to her lab to test out a theory about what was going on with the waiter.
More than fifty years after the Bluma Zeigarnik study, Kenneth McGraw and his team returned to conduct the same study. The conclusion in both studies was that once people start something, they are more inclined to finish it.
There is, however, one exception to the Zeigarnik Effect; it won’t work unless you are actually motivated to complete the task or achieve the goal.
The Zeigarnik Effect says our brains hold-on to unfinished tasks; in other words, we like to finish what we start.
The Zeigarnik Effect is about the human tendency to remember uncompleted tasks more than the tasks already completed.
When people manage to start something they’re more inclined to finish it. What the Zeigarnik Effect teaches is that one weapon for beating procrastination is starting– something, sometime, somewhere… anything.
Don’t start with the hard task, try something easy first. Once you’ve made a start, however trivial, there’s something drawing you on to complete the task.
Zeigarnik ascribed their results to a ‘state of tension’, akin to a cliffhanger ending: Your mind wants to know what comes next. It wants to finish.
In conclusion, memory is a good indicator as to whether people continue to be interrupted by thoughts of incomplete tasks. Constant thoughts of incomplete task components cause it to be retained in memory better. Interruptions that cause a person to fall behind in their objective also cause anxiety that brings about constant thoughts of unfinished business.