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The Curse of Zeigarnik

There is a concept in psychological research known as the Zeigarnik Effect. The basic idea is that people have a drive to complete tasks rather than leave them unfinished. It’s why loyalty cards are effective. It’s why we loathe having an inbox full of unread emails. It’s why we feel a sense of accomplishment when we check something off our to-do lists. It’s why we don’t like to be interrupted when we’re in the middle of something.

The Zeigarnik Effect is key to being a functional and productive person. Can you imagine how little we would accomplish without this drive to finish things? We would probably never take out the garbage, remember to go grocery shopping, or bother with any of the less exciting tasks necessary to living as a properly socialized adult.

However, this blessing can quickly become a curse.

You see, the Zeigarnik Effect impacts what we do, but can also blind us who we are – and who we are becoming.

We can easily become more focused on productivity than people, more concerned with results than relationships, and more taken by completion than character.

To put what we do ahead of what we are is to put the cart before the horse. What we do ought to flow out of who we are, not the other way around.

Maybe we need fewer to-do lists. Maybe we need a to-be list. Maybe we need to spend less time on tasks – important though they may be – and spend more time on cultivating generosity, walking in faithfulness, exercising patience and making peace with others.

Don’t fall victim to the curse of Zeigarnik. Resist the urge to measure your life by your productivity. Resolve to spend time on who you are.

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