Zeigarnik – The Don’t Stop Me Now! Effect


graphic of person frustrated at desk with words leave me alone
Signals Are Being Sent. Any Getting Through?

The boss says CURB your activity.

Hammer on the delay, Ray.

Slap it on the back burner, Turner.

Grind it all to a halt, Walt.

I think you get the message.

But do not fret.

You will return to your project when the time is right. Heck, don’t even give it a second thought… Don’t.

A Million Things Half Done

At this very moment, thousands of floors are being paced, back and forth, forth and back. Upset folks are shaking their heads, mumbling when they should be listening and sweating buckets when they ought to be sleeping – all due to the ceaseless haunting of tasks undone.

This is the outcome predicted by a heroic human and wonder woman, Bluma Zeigarnik, the Russian psychologist who in the 1920’s figured out that the human mind is better at recalling things that have not been completed than it is at remembering those that have been finished.

One of the interesting traits of scientific minds like Madam Zeigarnik’s is the degree of curiosity with which they approach life. Besides an incredible drive to overcome the plentiful challenges that mere existence presented her, Bluma Zeigarnik’s penchant to learn more about reality compelled her to research an interesting capacity which she noticed was possessed by all good restaurant servers.

She discovered that waiters and waitresses were able to recall unfulfilled orders to a much greater degree than those orders which had already been satisfied.

When we extrapolate the understanding garnered from this finding, it is quite comprehend-able how this human tendency might create both positive and negative circumstances in our lives. In B’s life for example, this effect had negative results because she ultimately ended up destroying most of her personal records to likely focus attention on the unfinished understandings rather than the finite explorer who had discovered them.

Me? I say humans before ideas but Mrs. Z’s history and findings beg to differ.

Bluma Bends Belief

“The pleasure of expecting enjoyment is often greater than that of obtaining it, and the completion of almost every wish is found a disappointment”   Samuel Johnson

Being aware that this compelling program is continuously influencing our perspective allows us to adjust for its effects and employ this trait for our benefit rather than submit to its control.

Here are some practical applications of The Zeigarnik Effect:

Twilight Zone Before End Zonealways consider the need for completion. The vast majority of humans possess an innate desire to finish what they start. Allow people to complete projects and empathize / compensate when task completion is not possible.

Do Not Finish The Culturally Important Stufffolks focus on things undone so important projects must never culminate. Safety programs, personal development and knowledge enhancements should have celebrated milestones yes, but must be never ending to reap the benefits of  idling in the back of everyone’s mind.

Remember That Day We Were All So Smartcelebrate  completed achievements long term because these events are quickly forgotten in the rush of life and few people actually take time to bask in that Good Winning Feeling (especially true in difficult times). If we remember our incomplete tasks easier, let’s even the odds by hanging out at our accomplishment’s home more often.

Mrs. ZEE’s studies also showed that when the tasks of adults are interrupted they have a 90% better chance of being remembered while most children could recall only those assignments which were hindered. To me this points out that we have a societal focus on failure rather than achievement and this is exactly why so many folks are looking for champions to emulate.

Ghost In The Machine

graphic of man celebrating and words whoo hoo and lest we forget
A Healthy Mind Forgets Well


All people are driven by forces beyond their awareness but the Ziegarnik Effect is one of those unseen guides we can tame simply through acknowledging its existence.

Hopefully, someday we will learn to strive out of earnest commitment to Kaizen rather than being held hostage by  projects that are THIS CLOSE to being complete.

And I can tell you right now we are not done with this. 😉

Thank you, friend.

Barry out

PS. Learn more about this facinating subject by visiting the links below and listen to one of my heros clear his throat.



Article about Bluma Zeigarnik


Amount of time invested in this article: 10 hours to write

Research: 6 hrs recent, 10 years awareness and accidental

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