The Zeigarnik Effect

The Zeigarnik effect is ‘the tendency to experience intrusive thoughts about an objective that was once pursued and left incomplete.’ Or, in other words, we remember better that which is unfinished or incomplete.

We sometimes experience this effect when we are interrupted while doing a task (such as writing a report). After the interruption we have the tendency to return quickly to what we were doing to finalize our unfinished business.


Here are several ideas how we can use the Zeigarnik effect to our benefits in achieving our business and personal goals.

  • Plan your next day in advance and clearly define the first task you wish to accomplish the next morning. This will not only create a sense of urgency to get going the following day, but will also trigger the subconscious part of the brain to come up with surprising new and different ideas about the task you are working on.
  • When working on a longer task and breaks are necessary, plan your breaks just before completing a subpart of your task. After this, you will have no problem to get back to work and pick up where you left.
  • When facing a difficult task, start with some easy steps first. This will trigger your brain to get going and complete what you started. It is like picking holes in a piece of cheese and is therefore known as the ‘Swiss Cheese Strategy for achieving Big Hairy Audacious Goals.’
  • Use the Zeigarnik effect as a cliff hanger in your communications. If you, for instance, announce 5 points, discuss three points and promise the audience to return to the final two points later: they will listen with more focus and intensity en will be much more engaged with what you have to say. Make sure, however, to follow up on your promise (people remember unkept promises very well: This is unscientifically known as the ‘Elephant effect…’)

The Zeigarnik effect is a powerful mind hack to motivate yourself and others to get going and take action.

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