Digress Fast, Digress Often

Remember, when I told you to switch textbooks or activities as often as possible? Here’s the link to the post to refresh: Learn Just for Fun.

This technique is somehow counter-intuitive and contradicts common knowledge about focus and effective work.

Don’t worry, it’s backed up by science.

Zeigarnik effect

This effect was discovered by a Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik a long time ago — as far as 1927, when, according to Wikipedia, her professor noticed that a waiter had better recollections of still unpaid orders. Later studies confirmed that the effect really existed.

What exactly is Zeigarnik effect? It is “the tendency to experience intrusive thoughts about an objective that was once pursued and left incomplete”.

Use it to rock your studies

You must have guessed already that Zeigarnik effect can — and should — be used to boost the speed and intensity of study. The greatest thing about it is that it’s imlicit and happens whether we want it or not. Isn’t that nice?

How can we benefit from this effect in our language studies? Let me show a couple of examples to get you started:

1. Valery Kourinsky uses it as highly combustive fuel for interest. His theory, proved by his own experience, claims that you can stretch study time as long as you want, if you manage to keep interest burning. What he is doing is switching material every few minutes or so to stay motivated to continue.

2. Start from the end. If you’re reading and learning poems or song lyrics, don’t start from the beginning, start from the end and slowly work your way upwards. Drop the song midway up and start on another. The lyrics of the unfinished song will stick to your memory like glue, and when you continue with it, you’ll be motivated to finish.

3. Your own way of utilizing the effect! It’s very easy to use it, and I believe you’ll quickly find a way which fits your speed and methods of work.

As you see, Zeigarnik effect doesn’t fit well into the picture of conventional studies, where you have to concentrate on the same thing for long periods of time. We now know that dropping an unfinished work and taking on another may be the best choice.

I’m inclined to count this effect responsible for famous scientists’ insights, like the discovery of the structure of benzene by August Kekulé: concentrating heavily for a long time on just one thing and then dropping it for another activity, while the brain continues work on an unfinished thing; sounds similar?

Hope you liked the post.

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