Escape from the trap of unfinished business

Do you remember that movie about ghost boy named Casper? He became a Ghost and could not leave the Earth because of his unfinished affairs. In a sense, this metaphor is also true for people: we remain a part of our attention where there are unfinished tasks, actions and plans.
Let’s see how unfinished business can box us in and what to do to get out.

The effect of the interrupted job

Psychologists know about such a phenomenon as the Zeigarnik effect. Once a well-known psychologist Kurt Levin sat with his students (among them was Bluma Zeigarnik) in a restaurant. They probably took their time drinking wine and, as usual, psychologists watched people. Levine has emerged the hypothesis that he was not slow to verify on the spot. He called the waiter and asked him to list what the company had ordered at the second table. The waiter listed almost a dozen dishes without a hitch. Then he was asked to recall what the couple who had sat at the other table had ordered about ten minutes ago. The waiter thought and could not remember anything, explaining that the couple paid the bill and left, so he had no need to keep in mind their order.

After a while, Zeigarnik conducted an experiment and the results became known in the psychological world as the effect named after her. In the experiment, the test subjects performed different tasks. The experimenter at some point interfered and interrupted part of the tasks, explained it by lack of time and offered to move on to the next. At the end of the experiment, the test subjects wrote a report where they recorded the tasks they remembered. It turned out that unfinished actions were remembered by 90% better than completed ones. Subjects mentally returned to them, sought to finish and could not forget. What’s the meaning of that? The results of the experiment were explained as follows: any action begins with effort and tension on our part.

When we are interrupted before completing the work, the tension remains, finding no way out. This undischarged voltage creates deep traces in the memory that are easily activated reminding you of themselves again and again. That is, our memory keeps the history of unfinished tasks, and attention jumps off the current tasks and returns to the unfinished ones.

Clean up memory and improve focusing

Can you imagine how much memory and attention a person who has a lot of unfinished business spend on the Zeigarnik effect? Unwashed dishes, a friend asked me to call back, no time to write an article and a film downloaded a week ago failed to watch….It is a familiar story. How many of our resources can be wasted?
To get out of the trap of the Zeigarnik effect and release these resources, you need to get the job done. The conclusion may be different depending on actions.

Complete the work

Simple unfinished business is easy to complete: go and finish the job. Finish reading the book, the movie, write the article, call friend and wash dishes. Sometimes the priority of these tasks decreases over time and approaches zero. There is no motivation and sense to finish them, but incompleteness still requires a lot of energy and attention. Then you need to make an audit of plans and strike the irrelevant points off the imaginary list. “Yes, I did not finish this task, but now it is not important, and I will not return to it.”
This is important: instead of “I will do it sometime later” to put an end and withdraw from the commitment made earlier.

End the affair

There are unfinished conversations, unfinished relationships that are not easy to close. It also draws a lot of forces and does not give rest, forcing to remember it again and again. Sometimes finishing affairs is not possible: the former went to another city, or you just do not want to communicate with him, or the person is no longer alive…In this case, the situation can be completed symbolically, without the participation of the second party. Write him a letter, expressing what is left inside.

Do not restrain yourself — write everything that comes to mind. You need writing this letter to close your own sense of incompleteness. You can end a relationship or a conversation in your imagination. Go back mentally to the beginning of the action, remember how it was in details. And then continue the story imagining in the detail what would happen next. If imagining is not enough, put an empty chair instead of another person and say out loud what was left unfinished in reality. It works. Check it right now: complete a pair of small cases and watch your condition. You will feel better and have energy for something new.