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Wednesday, 14th November, 2012, 02:02 PM #1
Spellbinder (Lvl 16)
Experience Point: The Zeigarnik Effect
Do you know who Bluma Zeigarnik is? Well if you don’t then you should totally click on that link because, in addition to be awfully pretty (as Russian scientists go), she did some really fascinating research back in the early 20th century. The “Zeigarnik Effect” came out of that research, which is basically how your brain won’t let something go if it got interrupted in the middle of doing it.
As the article goes on to discuss, this is used to great effect by TV shows that have the Cliffhanger Ending. When we’re posed a mystery or twist like that at the end of the show, it gives us something to think about and discuss until the next episode rolls around. If done well then we have a hard time letting go and are much more likely to tune in next week to discover how it all plays out.
Even though I had no idea that I was implementing the Zeigarnik Effect, I see it happen in my weekly game sessions. Although I have to say that while I’m really good at pacing for one-shot games, I don’t always do a great job of it during my regular sessions. Sometimes we end at what seems like a point of closure and other times we have to quit right when it seems like we’re about to have a big, important scene (battle or otherwise).
I gradually came to notice games which ended with the big reveal for what was going to happen next time were followed by sessions where we really hit the ground running and got a lot done. Frequently my players would engage more between sessions and had already planned out exactly what their first moves would be. It’s because their brains had been chewing on the puzzle to come for quite some time leading up to the session.
As I’m sitting here typing this, I realize that I should be using it more for my one-shot games too. There again I have a tendency to take breaks right after defining scenes in the mid-game. We break for several minutes to hit the bathroom or get drinks and stuff like that. Then people return to the table and it takes a few minutes to move things forward toward what happens next.
Instead I should be carrying them through the closer part of the earlier scene and right into the setup for the endgame where the BBEG is revealed or the big set-piece battle will unfold. And right when the hook is set say, “Alright let’s take a 5 minute bathroom break.” I bet we’ll return to the gaming table with more momentum.
Getting past that starting point is, as the article suggests, often the hardest part of getting something done. Once we’re in motion then we tend to stay in motion unless something acts on us to keep us from finishing (yes this is a broad generalization - get used to them because I make them a lot). It’s something I hear from my coaching clients quite a bit because “procrastination” is one of the more common problems people approach me with.
I’m hardly one to be casting a lot of stones in this area. I find that I can be a terrible procrastinator (my good friend Riggs says the kinder management term is “pressure prompted”) at times. And one of my worst areas for this is something I should be doing a lot more regularly: Exercise.
Exercise is important for everybody but it is especially important for me because I’m a Type 1 Diabetic. My body makes no insulin so I need to incorporate my exercise routine into my blood sugar control regimen. Even though I am not somebody who enjoys exercise just for the sake of exercise, I always feel better having done it. So why is it so damn hard to get started?
Recently I started using the Zeigarnik Effect to my advantage. I’ve removed most other barriers to my primary form of exercise (running) by virtue of having a treadmill. It’s sitting about five feet from where I’m typing this and it’s available rain or shine in a climate controlled room with ample music and other entertainment easily available. And yet I still manage to find ways to avoid it.
Lately when it is time for me to get off my butt and run I can feel my body wanting to resist what is good for it. What I do is say to myself, “I’m just going to put on my running shoes. If I still don’t feel like running then I will give myself the day off.” As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, I virtually ALWAYS run once I’ve got my shoes on. If I sit around now with my shoes on I get fidgety as my brain keeps after me about this unresolved task. I’ve started and that’s all I needed in order to be able to finish.
I’m also trying to apply this to my writing. Lately there has been lots of writing to do including but hardly limited to this column. I do my best to write when inspired and not try to “force” it. But I am finding that it is a bit easier if I get down the opening paragraphs even if I don’t write all of what I’m working on right then. My brain tends to keep writing even if my fingers aren’t and fairly soon I’m rushing back to the computer to type it all out.
I think I was utilizing some of these methods long before I knew who Bluma Zeigarnik was. But I am a big fan of having terminology for things because it makes me more aware of them as well as giving me a way to talk about them more easily. So welcome to the Zeigarnik Effect! Use it wisely.
Do you find that you are leaving cliffhangers in your life or gaming that help you move to the next phase with momentum on your side?
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Wednesday, 14th November, 2012, 06:58 PM #2
Thaumaturgist (Lvl 9)
Good observations and something I have done at times without thinking about it. I think I will make a more conscious effort to incorporate it into my gaming structure.
Slightly different than a cliff hanger is the escaped BBEG. A recurring villain has driven my players to distraction in the past. I rarely have planned these or cheated to have them survive - it just happens. Players seem very driven to "finish the job" when one of the villains gets off the hook.
Wednesday, 14th November, 2012, 09:54 PM #3
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
I find myself procrastinating all the time. Exercise is indeed one of those areas but another would be writing. I love writing stories but even as I sit at my computer typing this I have little urge to open a Word document and write down some ideas. It's like my own personal Berlin wall in my brain that I can't tear down.
A Harper holds peaceful sharing of the lands above all other goals.
Thursday, 15th November, 2012, 10:13 AM #4
I had never heard about Bluma Zeigarnik before but this is really interesting. I'm definitely suffering from the Zeigarnik effect. If I'm working at something and have to stop to do something else, my mind can't let go and I often find myself unable to rest until I've completed the job.
On a related note: When getting stuck because of a problem it's usually more effective to take a break, do something else and have your mind working on it subconciously. Time and again a solution that eluded me when mulling over it singlemindedly occured to me while driving home from work or over the weekend.
In a sense, the D&D game has no rules, only rule suggestions. - Tom Moldvay
Friday, 16th November, 2012, 08:19 PM #5
Spellbinder (Lvl 16)
Sorry I didn't make it back to comment sooner. Been sick all week and it has kinda sucked.
I like your notions of not to push for a villain to survive. But when it happens, it can be a huge opportunity to have the players sink their teeth into your plotlines.
I'm an evil genius like that.
Saturday, 17th November, 2012, 07:12 PM #6
Grandmaster of Flowers (Lvl 18)
An interesting article and interesting thoughts based upon it.
I know that my most terrible procrastination is not about starting things, it is about finishing them. I'm a rubbish completer (and I think I know why).
Maybe I can think about how to start the completing of a thing
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I'd like things to go back and forth from "ARGH!" to "WOOO!" more frequently. - Kamikaze Midget
Sunday, 18th November, 2012, 06:28 PM #7
Novice (Lvl 1)
I've done a version of this as a 4th grade writing teacher. Many times, it kickstarts those students who just sit there. I have a fancy bag with random starting sentences. They pick one and write it. It gets the struggling student with writer's block started. When they are finished, I let them go back and change their starting sentence if they want.
Once "something" is down on their paper, they are over the hump.
In role-playing games, simply train your players to DESIRE that cliffhanger or "reveal" before they pack up and leave or before you take a break.
Treasures "reveals" work exceptionally well. Give them the pile of treasure, let them play with it a bit, then reveal as they get ready to pack up that a note is engraved into the bottom of the golden box that says , "Do not release the genie." See ya next week!
Sunday, 18th November, 2012, 08:38 PM #8
Interesting article. I've actually been doing that a lot without actually knowing it had a specific name. The cliffhangers work exactly as you say in T.V. shows and game sessions alike. Sometimes the players talk about what's going to happen next all week!
I also employ it for writing. Simply forcing yourself to sharpen pencils/sit down with a notebook or open word document can often work wonders for getting your brain ready to 'chew up material' as you say.
When I was writing my ten novel series, creating the 'habit' of writing every day was probably one of the most highly effective tools I could have used to get the job done. It's amazing what the brain can do when you get it involved in thinking about something all the time whether game, writing, work, or otherwise.
--David L. Dostaler: Author, Challenger RPG