Why your brain can’t stop thinking about that unfinished task?

Yesterday, I completed three important tasks on my to-do list. I should have been content but I was constantly thinking about the tasks that remained unfinished. When I thought more about it, I realized this is not an uncommon phenomenon.

If there’s an unread email in my inbox, I constantly wonder what it might be about. If I have to reply to a client’s email, I constantly think about its content. And of course, the next episode of Money Heist.

Turns out, this phenomenon has a name. It’s called the Zeigarnik effect.

The reason our brains keep holding on to unfinished tasks is that our brains are constantly working to keep this information active in our short-term memories. Once you’re done with it, lo and behold, they disappear.

Now that you know about this effect, you can learn to use it to your advantage. How? I’ll tell you one way I use it. When I am procrastinating on a task, I start doing a small step of it. This effect will then come into play and until you finish this task, your brain will keep nudging you to remember it.

Can you think of any such hacks with this effect?

Siddhita ❤️

  1. 1

    The brain only has a finite amount of "resources" available.
    Look at it as a CPU of a PC. When it is filled with all these small tasks (reminders), eventually you'll hit 100% usage.

    When your brain hits 100% usage, your life will be more unorganized, chaotic and it'll feel bad in general.

    Keeping this in mind made me very aware of these small things in life. They pollute your brain and "destroy" useful resources. Knowing this made me way more actionable, made me wine less about problems, and made me do the things I used to postpone.

    1. 2

      "CPU usage" describes my brain exactly. Discovering this fact about myself completely changed my life.

      This model doesn't just apply to our todo lists. I had been a huge, constant consumer of digital content -- news, social media, blogs, podcasts, etc. All this junk was saturating my brain with stuff that didn't matter, leaving me distracted from the goals I really cared about.

      My solution was to dump the lot. It was wildly successful. Overnight, my productivity and happiness soared.

  2. 1

    This phenomenon of our brains holding onto things outside our current focus is why taking breaks is a productive way to spend time. You need to clear your mind sometimes in order to start fresh.

    It is common for people to enter into an endeavor with 50% of their brain already occupied by something else. That means that you are less able to accomplish the task at hand.

    Same thing with starting each day. You have a whole day of your life to spend on anything you want. Instead, we use a huge amount of our energy picking up the heavy weight of the past and we are tired before we begin.

    Renewal is an important part of cultures and religions going far back into history. Renewal, and starting fresh, is the secret to achievement because it lets you dedicate your entirety to the choice you've made for the task at hand.

    Good post! Thank you for the reminder!

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