Have you ever heard of the Zeigarniker effect? I’m sure that to the vast majority of you this term means nothing yet it is something we all experience on a daily basis. The Zeigarniker effect is none other than that sort of disquiet mixed with anxiety that we feel when faced with unfinished business.
We watch a film and if an “interrupt” distracts us and prevents us from seeing the ending we get paranoid. A person on the phone is telling us something interesting and at some point the line goes dead? You swear at our telephone operator and then go on to ring back until we can get back on the line. And like this I could give many other examples.
But be careful not to underestimate the extent of the Zeigarniker effect. It is clear, the examples that I have given you so far refer to “unfinished business” which, however annoying they may be, “shouldn’t” upset anyone’s life.
But there are unfinished business capable of doing it. It’s the unfinished projects, the personal ones, as well as the work ones. Faced with these construction sites of life that are never closed we easily feel like failures or even guilty because, in the anxiety of always having to always get to the end of everything, we do not accept the unfinished and we need to pin the responsibility on someone. And who are the first scapegoats? Ourselves.
And so we live lives in which the unfinished business ends up, over time, to become the greatest regrets of an entire existence. And they make us suffer. “Ah if only I had…. “. Phrases like these leap frequently into our thoughts and each of us, each of you, can feel free to conclude it in the many (unfulfilled) endings that life has given him.
It is said, speaking of the Zeigarniker effect, that in our brain unfinished situations (which, mind you, do not necessarily coincide with the unresolved ones) create forms of “cognitive ambiguity” the worst smoke and mirrors for a brain, the human one, which instead has need to catalog and put things in order. But that is not always what happens to us, and when facts, meetings, dialogues, events, relationships (etc etc) are not closed in a definite and definitive way we suffer, sometimes without even realizing it because perhaps they are not so important in our lives, but not having seen them close leaves in us that thread of anxiety that we would gladly do without.
For others, however, it is not a question of threads of anxiety but of real burdens with which it is not always easy to deal with. We would all like to live in an ideal world where the Zeigarniker effect does not exist, where what begins finds its natural end without leaving any ambiguity. But is not so. And a first way to mitigate the anxiety or worse still the suffering that can come from the Zeigarniker effect is precisely to understand that life is not exactly a succession of perfect phases, which open as they close. Human relationships themselves are far from perfect from this point of view because almost never two people, beyond what is the nature of their relationship, really say everything to each other.
There will always be something in others that we won’t be able to decipher, even in those who share life with us day after day. There will be initiated sentences and attitudes that will not be concluded, endings that will never see the light… But that’s okay too! Our life is not the screenplay of a film where plot and scenic sequence must always converge to a well-defined ending. Life is full of ambiguity like the leaves of trees in a forest are soaked with moisture. But that doesn’t mean they lose their charm and value, life like leaves. It is simply that way, and it has always been that way since Neanderthal times. We just have to make an effort to recognize the value of every second lived, also appreciating its imperfections as we appreciate the curves of our face looking in the mirror (or at least we should). And we learn to accept, great mantra of life, what didn’t end, or didn’t end as we would have liked, because it obviously didn’t have to go like this. Because, as they say in these cases, if it had to be it would have been.