How the Zeigarnik Effect Helps You Build Habits

Who will win the Iron Throne in Game of Thrones? 

Nobody knows! 

We have been following the series for the past 7 years and finally, we will get to the end of it. We have this gnarly feeling in the back of our head which keeps us wondering about the ending of GoT. Until we get to the end of the show, the feeling will remain there, prompting us to think (and obsess) over it. 

Until we receive cognitive closure, we will have the desire which will push us back to incomplete narratives, unresolved problems, unanswered questions, and unachieved goals.  

That’s why one of the most hated sentences in the entire universe is “To Be Continued.” 

The first person who figured this out was a Lithuanian young woman called Bluma Zeigarnik back in the 1920s’. But what the Zeigarnik effect tells us is not only why we crave cognitive endings, but how we can use them to our advantage, especially when it comes to habits which are notoriously “hard” to build. 

So here is how the Zeigarnik effect is connected with building habits. 

The Habits and the Zeigarnik Effect

When we have unfinished business looming around, whether it is stopping two episodes from the season finale or stopping right in the middle of a book or in the middle of a sentence, our minds crave to come back to it to receive completion. 

When I started learning about the habits of famous writers, one thing kept repeating itself. When they explained their daily routines, there was a big number of writers who would stop their work in the middle of a sentence even though they perfectly knew what they needed to write onward. 

They did this because they knew that the next day, they will sit back at their laptop and continue working without any procrastination or what Steven Pressfield called “The Resistance.”

Then, I noticed the same thing when it came to book reading habits. Certain people used to stop their readings without finishing the chapter or even that sentence even though it was interesting and the book kept calling them back to finish it. This ensured that they would that book in their mind and get back to it the next day. 

The same rules applying to the “to be continued” section of series and movies (Avengers anyone?). 

Heck, you have probably experienced this in the dating world where you didn’t know if the other person liked you or not so you kept thinking about them day in, day out until the matter was resolved.

So we know that Zeigarnik effects works, but how to actually prompt it to start working? 

Will watching one episode of the first season of Game of Thrones make you obsess over the show until you watch all the episodes? It probably won’t. That’s because there is something I liked to call a Hook Point in Zeigarnik Effect. 

When Will The Zeigarnik Effect Kick In?

My longest relationship in life is with a Japanese anime called One Piece (yes, I know it’s lame, but it’s the truth). The anime was started back in 1999 and it still has around 9 years of run time, according to its creator Eichiro (G)Oda. The story revolves around a pirate group which is on a quest to find One Piece, the biggest treasure in the world. 20 years into anime, we still don’t know what the One Piece is. It’s a giant mystery which needs to be resolved.

But if you’ve asked me when I became hooked to the anime, I would say after an arc called Water 7 (after 250 episodes). It took me 250 episodes of watching it to become completely hooked on the anime and keep watching it every single Sunday. 

The hook point is the most important of the Zeigarnik effect because it prompts you to think about the matter and crave cognitive ending. You need to close the loop. 

Different habits (and shows) have different hook points. Some come naturally, some are planned to the details. 

When it comes to habits, we can consciously plan our hook points and that’s what I did with my habit building system. 

The rule of 40 days

One of the biggest studies done on habits has shown that it takes anywhere between 18 to 264 days to create a habit. The average is taken as 66 days, but in my example, I’ve found that it takes around 100 days to make a habit stick.  And my system is built in 100 day long intervals which you can see from a picture of it. 

We only need motivation until our habit kick in. The behavior then becomes almost automatic. But we can make that even easier with the Zeigarnik effect. 

If you push through the first 40 days of a habit (2 verticals named “DONE” in my system), the third vertical takes you into 41-60 days interval. Which means that the third vertical pushes you above 50% of doing the habit (the system is based on 5, 20 days intervals where after 100 days, you have a soft reset). 

So the Zeigarnik effect of my habit building system kicks in on day 41 of building a habit. This is where you’re so far in that you simply have to finish that interval. The motivation and the momentum are at your side so you just keep pushing it. 

Systems are there for a reason

Zeigarnik effect is a great addition to a habit building system, but as in with any human system, it is susceptible to personal preferences and contextual situations. So if you need additional help when it comes to building life-long habits, subscribe to my weekly newsletter and I will send you valuable info regarding habit building. 

Remember, motivation gets you going but a habit keeps you going. 

Oh, and when it comes to the Iron Throne, the one who will be on top is:

To Be Continued…

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