Do You Leverage the Zeigarnik Effect with Your Blog?

One of the things that I’ve realized I enjoy is taking the time to study psychological theory and socio-anthropological studies of how we interact and behave as humans. Even philosophy of all eras and epochs finds a home in my heart in more ways than one – and it shouldn’t surprise you then to believe that I took Post Modern Philosophy as part of my undergraduate degree!

Call me crazy but they have helped me understand not only myself but also the many functional things that I enjoy doing, like building software and blogging.

One recent psychological ideas that has taken up a  lot of mind space is the Zeignarnik Effect which is the idea that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks.

It was first discovered by the Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik who realized the phenomenon after noticing that waiters seemed to remember orders only so long as the order was in the process of being served.

The story goes that while sitting in a restaurant in Vienna Bluma Zeigarnik noticed that a waiter could remember a seemingly endless number of items that had been ordered by his customers. However, once the waiter had delivered the orders to the waiting diners, he no longer remembered what he had just served!

Zeigarnik thus theorized that an incomplete task or unfinished business creates “psychic tension” within us. This tension acts as a motivator to drive us toward completing the task or finishing the business. In Gestalt terms, we are motivated to seek “closure.”

Does the Zeigarnik Effect Impact Your Blog?

What I’ve discovered is that I use (or suffer) this disposition often as a software engineer, blogger, and starter as I cannot seem to get rid of any thought related to an incomplete task and I quickly forget any task that has actually been completed!

This can be a helpful thing for a starter (entrepreneur) since we can become obsessed with the progress and growth of an organization (which is needed for a startup) but also unhealthy since it can incapacitate our abilities to concentrate on other valuable things in life as well.

But it has become somewhat of an epidemic in the blogging world as bloggers, whether they realize it or not, have discovered that their job of growing an audience, creating amazing blog content, is never completely done and they simply cannot concentrate on much else during the day other than the number of pageviews their blog has gotten in the last hour!

Sadly the advantages of the Zeigarnik Effect are lost when they are misused and misapplied into obsession with hit counts, stats, number of comments, social proofing figures like Facebook shares and Twitter retweets.

I think when it is aptly and strategically used it can impact a blogger and their blog to the utmost. Here are a 5 ways that I’ve seen this happen in my own life and with my own blogs:

  1. Never fully finish a blog post. This creates tension in you to create more content (or blog post) on the topic to expand your understanding and your readers.
  2. Never feel like you’ve “made” it with your blog. You can interpret this in many different ways but it ultimately reminds you that you’re work is not done nor is it finished and there is no glass ceiling when it comes to blogging (just the ones that you create for yourself).
  3. Always have a long-term vision for your blog that might even border on the audacious and wild.
  4. Always have short term goals in tandem with your long term vision so as to create momentum without you losing the larger growth strategy of your blog.
  5. Partner and find mentorship with people who are much farther than you in terms of shared long term goals. I talk about finding the right models to follow here.

These are just some positive and more beneficial ways that you can capitalize on the Zeigarnik Effect as a blogger!

Love to hear your thoughts on this! It might be a bit different of a thought process so I’d love to hear your candid gut reaction to such an idea!

[Image via Creative Commons, will.]

  • Meghan

    I am an anthropologist, entrepreneur, and blogger, so I found this post super interesting. I can definitely see this “tension” in myself and I’m also prone to serious anxiety, so that doesn’t help. I start hyper-focusing on ways to measure the “doneness” of my work, thinking if I can just reach some bench-marker, I’ll be able to relax. And of course it’s never going to be done! I guess it all gives me my drive as well though. =)

    • John Saddington

      yes, it can definitely help with drive!

  • Kent Faver

    Very interesting – I will have to research this phenomenon more. I have way too many incomplete blog projects, not sure if this is true for me or not, but found it fascinating.

    • John Saddington

      cool kent. let me know your thoughts!

  • Dustin W. Stout

    As a former server, I can totally confirm the truth in this theory. I have suffered (and benefited) from this effect for a while. I hate leaving things unfinished, and I’m not very good with interruptions. This is definitely something I need to harness more in a positive way, and not let it harm the things that matter most.

    Great post John!

    • John Saddington

      i was a server for a while as well… this didn’t help me though…!

  • Loren Pinilis

    I think this is most powerful when applied to short-term goals like posting a blog post or updating your theme. I think for longer term goals, different methods would also need to be brought in like visualization or reviewing. It’s definitely a journey :)

    • John Saddington

      perhaps. i’m not one to study it deeply… but i know the affects (and effects) for sure!