Inspiring thoughts about Memory, Completing Tasks, Marketing, and Anorexia, learned from a habit of the Ba’al Shem Tov.
The Zeigarnik Effect
In her 1927 doctoral thesis, Bluma Zeigarnik stated that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. There are many implications to what is now known as the Zeigarnik Effect, but recently I was discussing with a friend the implications according to Kabbalah.
Locating the Jewish Source
After being introduced to this theory, I looked up a class on memory. As Zeigarnik’s theory relates to the successful completion of tasks, this indicated a correspondence with the sefirah of netzach (victory) discussed in this class. Netzach’s Hebrew root nun-tzadik-chet (נ-צ-ח) shares the same root as “eternity” (nitzchiyut – נִצְחִיּוּת) and “orchestration” (nitzuach – נִצּוּחַ). Thus netzach indicates the initiative and persistence necessary to overcome opposition and complete tasks successfully. And this is also the focus of the Zeigarnik Effect.
Now let’s quote from this class:
“If I give up, I stop eating, like in certain psychological diseases when people have no motivation to do anything, so they also don’t eat. When a person has no motivation, the segulah (spiritual remedy) is to eat because it’s an opportunity to make a blessing. The blessing is valuable in and of itself, but it’s about remembering the future, having a destiny, an objective in life. Keep on eating, as the Ba’al Shem Tov said. Especially simple Jews, they have to keep on eating. Like the Ba’al Shem Tov sent his students to see simple Jews eating. If you love your friends, your spouse, you remind them to make their blessings. In the Oral Torah, the laws of blessings, is a segulah to strengthen memory.”
Zeigarnik Effect 2.0
What we are adding to the theory as a result of our quote is that a person with a low desire to live will have a low Zeigarnik Effect. Therefore in marketing, a marketer should promote material that encourages people to live happy and fulfilled lives (In the spiritual source quoted above, this was indicated by saying a blessing both before and after eating).
But there are implications to the Zeigarnik Effect beyond marketing; for instance is it a good idea to compile daily to-do lists or not? According to what we have now presented it all depends on what’s on the list. If thinking about completing daily tasks leads a person to feel happy and fulfilled, then it’s a good idea as his or her memory/recollection will increase until these tasks are completed. But if the list is comprised of things that don’t lead to these feelings, then it would be better either not to create lists, or better yet, attempt to make tomorrow’s list vastly different.
Since the section quoted above mentioned eating disorders, specifically anorexia, we will also mention this eating disorder in brief.
The role of a counselor, specifically a counselor trained in the psychological healing approach of Ba’al Shem Tov, is to isolate the spiritual root of addictions, disorders, and other psychological issues, and explain in a caring and compassionate manner the proper tikkun (spiritual correction). Given the correspondence between anorexia and the above teaching, there are several elements that a counselor should convey (even a hundred times) to a patient experiencing this trial:
The first is that their each and every bite is precious to God because their lives are precious to God. Each of us has a specific destiny and objective to fulfill in life.
The second is to relate this very story of how the great tzadik and founder of the Hasidic movement cherished the bites taken by simple Jews (this thought should be expanded to include all those who care for this person).
About the Author: Yonatan Gordon has spent most of his past 13 professional years in the world of Jewish publishing. He was the Marketing Manager at Kehot Publication Society (publishing arm of Chabad) for the better part of six years. He is founder of the website Community of Readers.
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