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Why Your Brain Dwells on Unfinished Tasks

The brain is obsessed with unfinished tasks

The brain is obsessed with unfinished tasks

When we have unfinished tasks, we think about them continuously. But the moment they are completed, we forget about them. If we have unread email, we constantly wonder what it says. But once it has been dealt with, we often cannot recall the details of it.

The name for this phenomena is called the Zeigarnik effect and named after Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik.

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The Zeigarnik effect and memory

It reveals a great deal about how memory works. Zeigarnik suggested that failing to complete a task creates underlying cognitive tension. This results in greater mental effort and rehearsal in order to keep the task at the forefront of awareness. Once completed, the mind is then able to let go of these efforts.

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This effect describes our tendency to remember incomplete or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. Each unfinished task takes up some of your attention, splitting your focus. It also interferes with your sleep.

What you can do about it:

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