Last week, we talked about how a sense of completion can help us let go of a situation or relationship on which we are currently spending a lot of emotional pennies. Our tendency to obsess over things that we do not feel are complete is called the Zeigarnik effect. We can free ourselves from the hamster wheel of negative thoughts by creating a sense of completion around relationships and situations.
We can also use the Zeigarnik effect to our advantage. It can be a powerful motivational tool. Screenwriters and authors use it to their advantage to keep us engaged. Think about a soap opera or a season finale of a TV series. They often end with cliffhangers that leave us wondering about what is going to happen next. The story is incomplete, and we are hooked.
When reading a book, I often decide to read one chapter before bed. However, when I get to the end of the chapter, the storyline has just started down a new trajectory, and I end up starting the next chapter.
I’ve noticed that advertisers are using the Zeigarnik effect to get us to go online to their websites. The Geico commercial about Pinocchio going on a blind date is the first one that comes to mind. At the end of the commercial, we are invited to go to their website to see how the scenario ends. I have taken the bait on a couple of those types of commercials and gone to the website to see how the situation is resolved.
Now that we understand its power, how can we use the Zeigarnik effect? We find a clue in the proverb “Well begun is half done,” which means that a good start gets us halfway to the finish line.
I have noticed this effect when I am trying to convince myself to start working on my taxes. The task feels daunting and overwhelming, even though I know that it will only take me a day or so to get it done. However, if I do one small task to start the job, like download this year’s forms, I am engaged in the task and want to go on to the next step. Once I start, the job is begun but not complete. That feeling of incompletion urges me to move on to the next step and get the taxes finished.
This blog is another good example. I hem and haw about starting the next one, but if I can convince myself to get one sentence down on paper, I am motivated to write the whole thing. I am also motivated not to miss a week. I have a great track record! I haven’t missed a week of writing my blog for about three years. I want to go on saying that I haven’t missed a week. It makes me feel like it’s a complete job.
Here is an additional consideration. I read about the motivational use of the Zeigarnik effect in several places, but I am curious about its effectiveness for Myers-Briggs Perceiving types. There is no doubt that we Judgers will be motivated by an unfinished task.
If we Judging Types do something that is not on our to-do list, we will write it on the list for the satisfaction of checking it off. We like to complete stuff! However, Perceiving Types don’t like finishing things because it means that they’ve lost some options. Once it’s done, they can’t make it better.
So, I’m curious. Any Perceiving Types have some insights to share? Does starting a job help to motivate you to finish it? If not, do you have any suggestions? As a Judging Type, I can only guess at what helps to motivate Perceiving Types, but I did find some suggestions here.
It is important to remember that a Myers-Briggs Type is a preference, not a definition. Great leaders learn to do whatever is useful in a certain situation. I might be a Judging Type, but I don’t get to make snap decisions all the time and complete tasks quickly. Sometimes, I must slow down and do more research than I am comfortable with.
The bottom line for using the Zeigarnik effect to motivate ourselves is to begin something in a way that encourages us to finish it. It might be a structured list or a mind map sort of plan.
When I offer tools in my leadership workshops, I often say, “Give it a shot!” It doesn’t hurt to try a new way of thinking about something. If it works for you, great! If not, there are lots of other leadershippy stuff out there to try.
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