"Courageous care partners recharge with self-care, striving for peaceful pinnacles
in patience, persistence, and positive 
changes, knowing when to conquer and when to comfort."

So what’s the harm if we don’t quiet our thoughts?

Dec 07, 2022 by Eileen Adler

In the 1920s, Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik (1901-1988) made a note-worthy observation while sitting in a café in Vienna observing waiters in a café. Once the meals were served, the waiters forgot what was ordered but were able to remember what new diners were waiting to be served. Over years of continued research, it has been determined that people remember unfinished tasks better than completed ones. If the person is unable to complete the task, they will continue to ruminate about it.

If soap operas are your thing or reading a thriller or mystery book, you are experiencing the Zeigarnik effect. With the yet-to-be ending unknown, the story line is easily remembered. That’s why movie trailers are so enticing! Even unfinished puzzles, or my case, unfinished knitting projects spur me on to finish. Zeigarnik suggested that failing to complete a task creates underlying cognitive tension. When I feel that I don’t have time for “that” (fill in whatever that is for you) this only adds to my cognitive tension. These incomplete tasks (filling daily medicine dosages, laundry, meal prep, medical appointments that must be scheduled) exacerbate my frustration and the negative script rushes in to fill the void, you know that negative self-talk.  

What has this got to do with being a care giver? These unfinished tasks plague us and may result in insomnia. We ruminate or contemplate or chew on unfinished tasks, thinking repeatedly of all the things we must complete. Read to the end. 

The take-away is to establish a plan toward completion. Begin with making a list of all the tasks you need to address. Then, create your 139 to-do list by evaluating your list items. Organize your tasks into four levels, based on importance and priority:

  • 1 very important task
  • 3 somewhat important tasks
  • 9 less important tasks
  • the rest of your tasks

Begin with the number one very important task and complete it. Then move onto the three somewhat important tasks and prioritize them and tackle the next pressing issue. Why is this preferable to a generic to-do list? I call this divide and conquer. By setting priorities, completing a task before moving on to other tasks, your time is more wisely spent, and that cognitive tension mentioned earlier, becomes cognitive capacity, a sense of accomplishment. Well done, now moving right along.

Life Lesson: Please know that as care givers, we will always have a to-do list, but with system in place, we can tackle our tasks and take pride in our accomplishments. As my father used to say, sit down and we’ll chew the fat.