Zeigarnik Effect: The key to completing an unfinished business

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Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

A FARMER was walking down the road carrying a sack. His neighbor who was driving his pickup truck pulled alongside and asked him what was in his sack. “Chickens,” the farmer answered. The neighbor then asked how many were in the sack. The farmer replied with a challenge: “You guess how many chickens are in this sack and I will give them both to you.”

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Guess who got the chickens?

Sometimes, we don’t know why we do stupid things. Maybe that’s part of human nature. We can’t simply hide the truth. Someday, somehow, the truth comes out without us realizing it. That’s the way it goes. But what’s important is we learn from mistakes.

OK, the neighbor guessed it correctly. But suppose, the farmer objected and claimed he was only joking? What would you do? The potential answers are brimming with either conflict or concord. It could be a pressing problem that could go on and on between neighbors who want to fight for the “principle” rather than practicality, as they litigants tell us in the barangay (community) and small claims court.

Assuming the neighbor insists on claiming what’s due to him. He maintains his right and filed a claim before the barangay captain. Also, the farmer insists he was only joking and dares his neighbor to elevate the matter to any court of justice. The conflict can go on and on. Now what? Let’s elevate the discussion to a higher plane.

Last year, you wrote the best New Year’s resolution in your life. Part of it was an objective that you wanted to write a book. The plan was complete with a timetable for six months ending July 31. The trouble was that you’ve been waylaid by many obstacles and other important pressing matters that you missed the deadline.

It’s New Year once again and you remember your book project. Are you going to try writing that book once again against all odds? If your answer is in the affirmative, then that feeling is called the Zeigarnik Effect. Most of us are pitifully ignorant of that term. We know the situation but we can’t simply describe what it is all about.

Since this space is all about buzzwords, then let me tell you that it is called the Zeigarnik Effect or the “tendency to experience intrusive thoughts about an objective that was once pursued and left incomplete.” Every time we missed out doing something, that goal remains on our mind as long as we commit to finishing it to our satisfaction.

This buzzword was named after Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik (1901-1988) who contributed much to the development of “experimental psychopathology” in the Soviet Union after the war. Zeigarnik pursued the idea after his mentor Gestalt psychologist Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) was impressed with the excellent memory of waiters to remember numerous names of customers who had not yet paid their meals in a restaurant.

Obviously, Lewin’s waiters pale in comparison with our kristo sa sabungan (cockfight bet callers).

The Zeigarnik Effect describes an unfinished business or goal. This thing is an interesting stuff if you’re serious in your career, but I’m not recommending that you continue understanding the meaning of Zerigarnik Effect without seriously doing something to accomplish anything.

Understanding the Zeigarnik Effect is one thing but completing a personal goal or assigned mission is more important. So I’m telling you to move out of your comfort zone now to do what it takes to accomplish something. The New Year is always a good time to hope on anything—good health (both bodily and spiritually), excellent relationship with people, and of course prosperity to everyone.

That’s why I’m taking the New Year as a good start to complete my third book, with a tentative title 60 Irreverent Stories You Should Read Before Your Retirement. That was my 2012 New Year’s resolution that remained unfulfilled up to this hour, and I’m hoping it will be released before April 2014, in time for my 21st year anniversary as a management journalist.

I enjoy writing as a hobby. It’s always a refreshing activity for me to see my columns in print the following day in both BusinessWorld and The Manila Times. It’s more than an outlet for me. I’m generally shy, but when my articles are published I often find myself imagining having intellectual discussion with total strangers.

With Zeigarnik Effect, there is no telling how far you can go reminding yourself of an unfinished business unless you decide to abandon it. But then if you decide to abandon it, what buzzword can you think of to describe it? Give me a hint and I’ll endeavor to write an article for it.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant on human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to lbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random thoughts.

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