(photo credit: Bloomberg)
How would you like a lead sentence like this: Don’t bother reading this article,
because you have more important things to do, like...
Look, it’s high
time that you understand a bit about the inner workings of your and your
You, I and most other people consider ourselves to be
smart people who can smell when someone’s fibbing. We also consider ourselves to
have good mental recollection of past events, and we are folks who don’t fall
for “simple stuff,” to part us from our heard-earned money, right? You don’t
consider yourself more likely to buy something simply because the price is
$14.99 and not $15.00, right? Whoa. Before you read on, be aware that you are
probably shaking your head to agree, or mentally saying “yes!” to the questions
I’ve just asked. It’s quite surreal to realize that while reading an article,
you can become involved in a one-to-one conversation with the writer... I mean
I’m not standing next to you as you read this, and yet, you and I are having a
Yep, so fascinating is the human mind. But read
I’d venture to say that this article, and especially the sentence
above, is not one that you’d usually expect to see in The Jerusalem Post
all, it’s improper grammar and bad form. So why is it there? Why have I finished
(or rather, left unfinished!) a sentence in that manner? Meet Bluma.
the 1920s, Russian psychologist Dr. Bluma Zeigarnik did research on a
fascinating topic: How and why could waiters in a restaurant so easily remember
the orders of patrons without writing them down – but a mere 20 minutes later
had no recollection as to what the orders were at all? What her research
ultimately discovered was that the human mind hates unfinished tasks. This is so
because as long as a task is unfinished, the brain is forced to carry thoughts
of the task. Every so often the brain needs to trigger the tasks on its plate,
to finish them off and be able to relax and get comfortable again.
more tasks the brain has to juggle, the more the mental stress on the brain. So
the waiter’s brain had no trouble remembering the orders, because the brain had
the capacity to handle them. However, once they were no longer relevant to the
brain, the mental notes were dismissed to give the brain less stress until such
mental memory power was necessary for the next group of
Similarly, if you are in the middle of doing something
unimportant, such as sorting coins, and you get called to do an important task.
You might find yourself saying, “I’ll be finished this in five minutes, and then
I’ll get right to that.” The Zeigarnik effect is the reason you cannot bear the
thought of leaving this task only partially complete, even though a more
important job awaits.
Humans love to collect things. One of the most
powerful things that writers and many other types of businesses can do to
increase sales is simply to add the words “volume one” to the book or product –
because humans, by nature, love to collect things, and when you have volume one
of a series and then you see volume two, the hoarder and collector mentality
wakes up and wants you to have the complete set.
(That’s why numismatic
collectors end up with complete sets of coins out of circulation. And the same
goes for stamp collectors – which incidentally is a great source of revenue for
the post office because the stamps are bought at full price and are never
actually used!) So back to the subject of this article. You read the lead
sentence, but the “loop” did not finish. By ending the line with an ellipsis
rather than a period, as you would expect, you would feel the same way you’d
feel when you take a bite of a plate at a dinner and the waiter whisks away the
plate before you are done. Your mind wants to read until the end of something
before it locks the subject with a closed circuit. This is also why newspaper
articles often finish on another page – to get you to find the ending, and by
looking for the ending, you page through the paper, coincidentally, looking at
other stories and ads.
That’s why in many publications the end of an
article will have a little black box or logo at the end of each
This lets your brain know it’s done with this information and
can move on.
It’s fascinating to realize how giving away too much
information in your headline or email subject line can work against you. Yes,
you want to hook your reader on moving deeper into reading what you are
offering, but think about this: If your reader already knows the gist of what
you want to say, whether it’s about some new breakthrough or about a sale, when
you mention it in the headline, the rest of the message can have less of a shot
at being read.
This is because even though you might be providing
tremendously valuable information to the recipient, if that subject line is
something that he checks off as “I already know about this,” or “I’m not
interested in donating to this organization right now,” his or her brain has
just decided that this is not worth his time. You can’t break through the
clutter enough to get your reader’s attention to whatever you are
Stay tuned for next week’s Purim column...
Okay I’ll be
nice and not leave you hanging.
Here’s the end of the column. Think of it
as a mental piña colada – a brain-release gift from me to you!
firstname.lastname@example.org Issamar Ginzberg is a rabbi, businessman, public speaker and
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