Will is not free

consciousness is no more than a passive machine running one simple algorithm — to serve up what’s already been decided, and take credit for the decision.

Rather than a sage conductor, it’s just a tiny part of what happens in the brain that makes us “aware.” All the real work goes on under the hood — in our unconscious minds.

The Passive Frame Theory goes like this: nearly all the decisions and thoughts that need to be made throughout the day are performed by many parts of the unconscious brain, well below our level of awareness.

When the time comes to physically act on a decision, various unconscious processes deliver their opinions to a central “hub,” like voters congregating at town hall. The hub listens in on the conversation, but doesn’t participate; all it does is provide a venue for differing opinions to integrate and decide on a final outcome. Once the unconscious makes a final decision on how to physically act (or react), the hub — consciousness — executes that work and then congratulates itself for figuring out a tough problem.

consciousness doesn’t debate or solve conflict in our heads; consciousness needs to be “on” in order to relay the final outcome — so it is essential — but it doesn’t participate in the nitty-gritty of decision-making.

Why did consciousness emerge in this way? Morsella thinks the answer is evolution.

Like all animals, humans try to conserve mental energy and automate our biological processes. Most of the time we run on instincts, reflexes and minute-to-minute immediate thoughts. Take breathing as an example — it’s completely automated, to the point that consciously trying to maintain a steady rhythm is surprisingly hard. In this case, conscious thought just bogs the process down.

When you speak, you’re only consciously aware of a few words at a time, and that is only so you can direct the muscles around your mouth and tongue to form those words. What you’re saying is prescribed under the hood; your conscious mind is simply following a script.

Why the 8 hour work day doesn’t work

86% of the subjects who didn’t know about the reward chose to return to the task after they were interrupted, while only 58% of the subjects who were expecting the reward returned to the task. As the study was over and the reward was there, they found no reason to return to the task. What’s more, the subjects who were expecting the reward actually spent less time on the task once they did return to it.

Compare this to the 8-hour work day. The end of the work-day is just like the interruption in the study: once the 8 hours are done, the task is interrupted. And the pay for the 8 hours of work is the expected reward. The above study shows that reward expectancy actually undermines the Zeigarnik effect, and that rewarding task performance can lead to early task disengagement. In other words, the 8 hour work-day actually makes us unattached to our work. A great way to fight this sort of complacency is offering flexible work arrangements for your employees and offering rewards in the way of a healthy work-life balance.

Zeigarnik effect

It turns out that adults remembered the interrupted tasks 90% better than the completed tasks, and that children were even more likely to recall the uncompleted tasks. In other words, uncompleted tasks will stay on your mind until you finish them!

It is especially used in media and advertising. Have you ever wondered why cliffhangers work so well or why you just can’t get yourself to stop watching that series on Netflix (just one more episode)?

As writer Ernest Hemingway once said about writing a novel, “it is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.” But the Zeigarnik effect can actually be used to positively impact your work productivity.

Getting a task done means peace of mind, while the intrusive thoughts mean that you will experience anxiety when leaving a task unfinished to focus on something else. Since multi-tasking is simply diverting your attention from one task to another (basically making the new task an interruption), your brain won’t allow you to fully focus on the new task because you have left the previous one uncompleted. That is why productivity techniques such as the Pomodoro technique work so well. Of course, another key element is adapting the time spent on focused work to the task at hand; some tasks will require a longer period of focused work than others.

You’re more inclined to finish something if you start it.Start with what seems manageable in the moment. You’ll be more likely to finish the task simply because you started.