The Zeigarnik Effect: It’s How We’re Wired!

zeigarnik effect

What is The Zeigarnik Effect?  You probably never really considered what it is and how it haves an effect on your mind power. You never even thought about it, but it’s been shown time and time again to have a big will power draining affect.  The effects that I’m talking about is valled the Zeigarnik Effect.  I recommend we do to preserve our mind power is called Closure to unfinished tasks.  Before I go into discussing what that actually is let me give you the story about what the Zeigarnik is.

The story of the Zeigarnik Effect starts with a psychologist named Bluma Zeigarnik (Bluma Zeigarnik. (1901-1988) a Soviet psychologist and psychiatrist, a member of the Berlin School of experimental psychology and Vygotsky Circle), was in a restaurant one day with a group of friends. They were having lunch and the waiter came to take all their orders and he somehow managed to take everybody’s orders even though there were 15 people around the table.  Bluma was surprised how somebody could remember 15 orders without taking notes.  So the meal came and went and Bluma had left the restaurant and 15 minutes later she realized she left a bag in the restaurant.  She ran back in the restaurant and went up to the waiter and said “I left my bag here is anybody handed it in or is it at my table”?  His response surprised her because he didn’t know who she was!  He didn’t remember her. Bluma thought to herself, this is the same guy with the super memory, how could that be that he didn’t remember her.  And that struck her as odd.  And because she was a psychologist she couldn’t let this go. How could man remember all of those orders and then only 15 minutes later not even remember who she was?  What happened there?  How come he managed to remember all the information for the orders so fast but despite having such a keen memory.  So being a psychologist she pondered this and did some research and developed what’s now called the Zeigarnik Effect. The initial hypothesis for the Zeigarnik Effect is if we have tasks that we need to complete, our brain just can’t seem to let go of that and just keeps nagging and nagging us until we get it completed.

That was the initial hypothesis but then when her research was complete, it was revealed that it wasn’t quite so simple.  It’s not whether we get a task done or it’s not whether we get a task finished, it’s actually if we have a plan for finishing the task. In other words if we have a task we need to do but we don’t have a plan for completing it our subconscious mind knows that.  It constantly nags us saying – you go to do this -you go to do this – you got to get a plan in place.  It consumes valuable brain resources, it consumes a lot of our mind.  So how does this relate to will power.

“Our minds quickly forget finished tasks, however, they are programmed to continually interrupt us with reminders of unfinished tasks.  These intrustions constitute the Zeigarnik Effect.”  Dr. Zeigarnik Effect 1927

The Zeigarnik Effect has two big consequences. 

First, unrelated to will power is that if we have a tas k that we don’t have a plan for completing, but we do need to complete it, then I’ll brain will continuously nag us and we’ll also remember more about that task. That’s why the waiter could remember the orders of everybody who’d ordered up until the point the meals were served and the customers paid the bill.  At that point the task was finished so the details were forgotten.  Before the task was finished he could remember all of the details he could remember all of the orders.  The second point about the Zeigarnik Effect in this is the important point is that if we have tasks that we need to do but we don’t have a plan in place for doing them – that drains our will power.  This has been shown time and time again.  So if you have tasks that you keep putting off, all those times you keep pushing it back and you keep putting your head in the sand and say I’ll worry about it later, I’ll come back to it later or I will take care of it or I don’t know what to do about this so I will think about it later.  All of those unfinished have been draining your will power and that’s the important point here.  When a big bill is due and you not sure how you’re going to get the money together to pay it. Or that time where your tooth has been aching and you’ve been putting off going to the dentist for months.  Or when your boss gives you a task and you’re not sure what to do about, it so you just keep pushing it back.  Or when you need to give a presentation and you don’t know or aren’t sure what to talk about so you just procrastinate and leave it.

Training Your Mind

All of these things are examples of things that are training your mind power and you don’t really know about it.  It’s just going on in the background just taking up mind share, putting you in a state of anxiety and stress and causing ego depletion draining your mind power.  So the question is – what do we do about this.  I think it’s pretty clear that we need to put in place systems that when tasks are thrown at us, so that when things happen in our life that we have a system in place. This way we don’t have to keep remembering because we have a system in place.  One great way is to put these nagging tasks on a to-do list.  Or we put it in a certain email folder or have whatever process in place that works for you.  We put a system in place that takes it out of our mind so won’t have to think about it, then when the task crops up again, there is a system in place for them to get done.  that’s it that’s what your brain needs.  Your brain just needs to know that it’s going to get done and I don’t need to worry about this anymore.  You don’t have to do everything you just need that system.  Of course it’s going to be easier said than done.  There are different types of tasks, with varying timelines.  Some things go on the want to do list, some things go on the need to do list.  Some things have timelines.  Some things are important, some things just aren’t important.  If something keeps coming to mind, you probably ought to do it or write it down, freeing up your mind.  When new things crop up in your life you can put them into your system.  You put them on a list or you file them away whatever system you have in place.

The next one is Source.
This might be the easiest to come up with because you’ve already seen this in your Google analytics reports.  It’s just a URL where that campaign tagged URL resides.  So from Facebook ad this might be  If it’s a placement that doesn’t have a website associated with it, you could use something like press release or just some description of where that URL resides.

Give your brain some love!

Your brain just can’t let it go by itself. So don’t exhaust it by keeping all these things in there.  I’m going to preserve my brain power by using a system that frees up all those little tasks that have a tendency to annoy us and keep us thinking about them!

You can release your mind of those things  that you’ve been putting off for so long, so your brain doesn’t have to try to remember them subconsciously and nag you all the time to get them done.

Imagine all those things and what kind of effect it’s having on your really valuable mind power and imagine how much that stopping you from doing the things you know you need to do.  The things that  give you the bigger results in the long-term.  So the key take away from this post is to come up with a system so that when things come up in your life, no matter what they are you can just offload from your brain and put them into the system that you have developed.  So your brain can stop worrying about it your brain can free it’s resources and your mind power levels will be preserved so you can get back to doing the hard stuff that you know you need to do to bring you the big results in a long term.

The Zeigarnik Effect says your brain wants closure

The Zeigarnik Effect also has to do with your brain wanting closure.  We are obsessed with things that are not complete.  We need to have finalization to our daily tasks.  We have to finish what we started.  If we don’t many of us will be miserable and have it nagging at us until completion.

So when we have unresolved things our brain wants to find the answer.  This is the Zeigarnik Effect and this is also used with online ads you know with click bait, they use really emotional headlines but to just give you a partial bit of that information  You’ve seen these ads popping up all over the place.  It makes you want to click on them because it’s either shocking or presents a question that you weren’t even thinking about a minute ago, but now you need to know the answer. You need finalization to the equation. With these ads you get to see almost all of the picture and you want to fill in that blank and get the rest of that picture.  You see this in television shows where they cut to commercial break just at the cliffhanger moment!  Or you’ll be watching a show and right at a climatic moment, a screen comes up and says those three nasty words that nobody likes to see  “to be continued”!  You just want to finish the movie.  You want completion.  That’s the Zeigarnik Effect.

Key Points for the Zeigarnik Effect

  • Make a list – divide into want to do, need to do, should do
  • Put timelines on tasks – today, tomorrow, next week, next year, in my lifetime
  • Don’t beat yourself up – Free your brain
  • Just Do It!

Now you have a campaign tag link!  The power of tracking is in your hands.  Make sure you use it for whatever email or ad that you designed it for!  When you view this data in Google analytics you will be able to draw conclusions about how your marketing efforts are doing. is more than a web designer.  We understand many of the different facets of what makes a web site tick!  We build what you need to help you with what you need help achieving.  We are not just another web site designer!

Give us a call to discuss your needs.  We design websites for companies in Kansas.  We also do business on a National level and work with companies in many other Countries.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *