Ever wonder how a good waiter or waitress can take your order and that of other tables and never write a thing down? And they do this all night never making a mistake. Bluma Zeigarnik wondered the same thing about this phenomena at a restaurant while observing the same thing. She watched them for hours taking orders by memory then seemingly eliminating the memory once the food was served making room for the next order in their memory.
Zeigarnik, a Russian psychologist, was intrigued and proceeded to find out how the short term memory worked. Using participants in lab tests she gave those tasks to complete without interruption and some tasks where she took them away before completing the task. Her discovery showed the people remembered the unfinished tasks twice as much as the completed ones. Understanding the Zeigarnik response it makes sense why difficult, hard to complete puzzles like Rubik’s Cube and TV serial type programs with cliffhangers at the close of each week have such a big following. Short term memory can’t dispose unfinished tasks easily. Like a computer it waits for you to come back and finish.
Understanding the Zeigarnik process can also help prevent procrastination by at least starting even a small piece of a project. If the task seems overwhelming and you are at a loss of where to start you can begin anywhere even with an insignificant action. Once it is in your short term memory, hanging in the air unfinished, you will be driven to complete it. It remains there like the puzzle and the cliff hanger. Although the technique is simple, we often forget it because we get so wrapped up in thinking about the most difficult parts of our projects. The sense of foreboding can be a big contributor to procrastination. If you have a goal you are passionate to reach understanding Zeigarnik could be your road to success.