The Ovsianka Effect state that’s an interrupted task, even without incentive, values as a quasi-need. It creates intrusive thoughts aimed at completing that task.
Let’s say you start some work, a blog post, and midway through your phone chimes letting you know you’ve received a text. It’s rather simple question, your friend is asking you where you wanted to go for dinner; Chinese, Mexican, Italian. Obviously you’d like to give a decisive response, but you couldn’t care less and you end up have a short pointless conversation. Eventually you make that decision, but now you’ve been on your phone long enough to trigger your thoughts towards other distractions and start entertaining yourself.
Around dinner you remember your work and start beating yourself up for getting distracted. You should have finished your work before going out with your friends. And worse yet, it’s the second time you’ve done that this week. Your actions aren’t aligning with the values you’ve set. It’s those darn intrusive thoughts, or what psychologists call cognitive dissonance.
These thoughts won’t just disappear. Our brain works to stop cognitive dissonance, after all it’s literally mental stress and that’s unhealthy. If we couldn’t do simple mental gymnastics we’d constantly beat ourselves up for all the missed opportunities and procrastination.
Initially we’d consider the right thing to be going home and completing your work, but that’s not likely to happen. You’re having a good time, and you suspect your friends will mock you if you leave to do work.
So, how do you get closure? One of the common mental outs is a change in beliefs or values.
You tell yourself that you’ve worked hard enough this week, you’ve spent plenty of time being productive and you’ve earned this break. After all, how can you be expected to keep going if you don’t recharge every once in awhile. This tiny lie allows your beliefs to fit your actions. Poof, no more stress, what you’re doing is perfectly acceptable.
Worse yet, what if you convince yourself what you’re doing wasn’t even worth your time? Maybe that blog post wasn’t going to be well written anyway, you’d have given up on it, the topic was no good Your excuses are endless and the impact is long lasting.
Research suggests you’ll go so far as to seek the feeling of closure elsewhere. After your night out, you come home and see your laptop still on. You’re reminded of the work you’ve left yourself and start the process over again. But this time, you’ve realized there’s no way you’re going to write. Instead you take your energy and focus to another task, doing the dishes or cleaning your room. It’s almost the same right? And all the time you’ve saved here will let you write get straight into writing tomorrow.
If only it were that easy.
More likely than not you’ll have to start your writing process over. The work you’ve done today was for naught as you didn’t leave yourself in an easy spot to pick up from and your mental gymnastics affirmed that your writing wasn’t worth the time anyway.
Best to start completely over. At least, that’s what you’ve convinced yourself.