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The Zeigarnik Effect and How To Do Many Things At Once

The Zeigarnik Effect and How To Do Many Things At Once

I was reading a book “The Art of Thinking Clearly” (Rolf Dobelli) and came across a topic that sparked my interest.

According to research, and named after the Soviet psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik who discovered it, the Zeigarnik Effect states that humans tend to remember outstanding tasks better than completed tasks. It works the same way for remembering facts as well. And that once we complete the task, or no longer have the need for the facts, we check it off from our mental list and then they are erased from our memory.

How many of us had this experience that the history facts (replace history with the subject you hated in school)  that took days to memorize were quickly erased from our minds once the exams were over? I bet your kid (if you have one) drives you mad once in a while when he forgets to clean his room after getting the ice-cream. So remember…reward your kid only after the efforts were made. 😀

But Zeigarnik found anomalies in her test subjects. While a majority of people succumb to the Zeigarnik Effect, she discovered that some people managed to keep a clear head while juggling with multiple projects at the same time.

ConfusingEver had the experience that you could only remember X number of tasks in your head and any more sudden injects start to make your head spins?

You then wished that you could complete a few tasks, so you can clear some space in your mind for new tasks. Until then, every new task is supposed to be on hold. Am I right? 😀

Coming back about why some people keep a clear head amidst a number of tasks….

This was finally explained by a later group of researchers, Baumeister and his team at Florida State University. In their research, they set up a test where they divided a group of students who were going to be taking an exam at the end of the semester.

In the first group, the team asked the students to focus on a party that’s going happen within the current semester. In the second group, the students were told to focus only on the exams. And in the last group, the students were told to focus on the exam as well as a study plan for the exam.

Later, the researchers presented a few letters such as “pa-” and asked students to complete the word under time pressure. Some students came back with “party”, some came back with the word “panic” or “Paris”. This is a simple psychological test to find out what’s going in their minds. The consolidated results for Group 1 showed that the group were relaxed in their state of mind. Group 2 were anxious about the upcoming exams.

The results for Group 3 were very interesting. Although this group were also told to focus on their exams, the test showed that their minds were clear and free from worry. Later repeated similar tests yielded the same results.

It led the researchers to draw an interesting conclusion that humans can remain clear-headed when they have a good plan of actions for all their tasks at hand. In other words, Zeigarnik believed that it is necessary to complete the task at hand before you can erase it from memory, however, this is not necessary. All you need is a good plan of actions to take the gnawing task off your mind.

All along, even now that I’ve learnt about the Zeigarnik Effect, I amazed at my mentor’s ability to juggle so many things at once and yet don’t feel overwhelmed with stuffs. I asked him once how he did it and he said that was because whenever he felt that way, he’ll start to draw mind maps and then everything will become clear. He uses Mindmeister for his mind map ( and that’s his secret. Shhh! :Þ

So there you go…If you want to do more stuff…you know what to do now!

2 Responses to The Zeigarnik Effect and How To Do Many Things At Once

  1. i know who is your mentor.. and i am also amazed by his work ethics, capability, integrity and many more .. amazing but humble guy huh?