Zeigarnik, do you know this word? Do you love words too? I mean what's behind them, and where they come from?
Zeigarnik is a word whose origin comes from a Lithuanian psychologist named Bluma Zeigarnik. It means psychological fixation on unfinished tasks.
It is based on Zeigarnik's observations that we are distracted and less effective in whatever we are trying to accomplish, when we go from one thing to another, without the sense of having completed anything. Her discovery was in the 1920's, before "multi-tasking" was a common phrase. She noticed, for example, that skilled waiters could remember a series of elaborate orders, and once the food was delivered, and the information was no longer needed, this knowledge vanished– making room for other orders.
Our brains are unable to fully focus on the task at hand when unfinished ones are intruding. It seems that these unfinished tasks nag at the edges of our mind and create anxiety and stress. This brain activity contributes to ineffectiveness. The answer is to do what you already know to do: Begin something you can finish, or some part of a task you can complete, and dedicate all your attention to this one thing. Break down a big project into something with a small part, and have a focused amount of time for finishing this one fragment.
Below are some images from my pocket sketchbook, Not a Day Without a Line:
A waiter has the advantage of the time structure being provided- his job depends on getting orders out while the food is still hot. I have to create my own time restrictions by setting a kitchen timer: for example, now I will write for ten minutes. This daily structure helps disarm my endless complaints about not having anything to say, etc. Procrastination is broken by finding a place, any place, to begin. So today I began with this word, zeigarnik, that is at the heart of procrastination, and holds the secret to breaking through. These studies have proved to increase productivity by doing one thing at a time.
I was reminded of this subject as I was sorting in my studio and found a scrap of paper with zeigarnik scrawled on it. It brings to mind the paradox I am presented with in teaching: In class I strive to create an atmosphere for us all to arrive in the moment, without rushing to some end product– forgetting about time and schedules– and yet feel we have finished something in the end. How can we step fully into the process of creating, which is where magic and discovery lie, and still have a sense of closure when the class is done? This is why we combine time in silence and not knowing where we are headed–with documentation in a book that is stitched together, giving a sense of resolution. The task of binding together notes to oneself gives a feeling of accomplishment and deepens memory.
In terms of tasks, and many years of being a self-employed artist, how many lists have I made?! I write daily in my Moleskin calendar, and put events in my phone. I am glad when I can check something off my list. Here is a poem from Esther Cohen I discovered this morning:
Some people make lists
what they did what they’ll do
some people know exactly what they
want when they shop.
I have been collecting
strangers lists for years.
Sometimes they leave them
in their shopping carts.
A person once wrote
milk eggs orange juice
divorce. Maybe this year I’ll
write a list. Not of intentions.
Just a few good words.
Days of Awe (Friday) by Esther Cohen
Just a few good words. This last line called to mind the difference it makes to begin the day with stillness, or an attempt in that direction... The morning time of meditation or prayer that is not about asking, but listening. Listening instead of asking or listing or doing. Or judging. A sublime relief. Listen for a few good words, and put something on your list that has nothing to do with should or duty. Then give it the time is deserves.
Leisure is not the privilege of those who have time. It is the virtue of giving each thing you do the time it deserves.
– Brother David Stendhl–Rast
Have you discovered any new words? Or ways to break through procrastination? I 'd love to hear from you.