Why You Feel Guilty Leaving Books or Games (or TV Watching) Unfinished

Dunno about you, but many of us over at TVWriter™ have this problem. Once we start reading something, or playing a game, or even watching a TV show, we feel obligated to finish…no matter how little enjoyment we’re getting from our so-called entertainment. For years we wondered about our state of mind, our very sanity. Now, at last, it turns out that this is a common phenomenon.

In other words, no need to feel crazy…but the way we’re wired says that, yes, feeling guilty is kind of a must:

k-bigpicby Thorin Klosowski

Ever find yourself feeling guilty because you put a book down halfway through? You’re still on the third level of that game you bought a year ago? Or maybe you left a movie in the middle of it? The guilt’s a strange feeling, and it’s not as much about the lost money as you’d expect. Here’s what’s going on when you’re feeling that odd guilt.

The guilt of walking away from something unfinished isn’t new, but it’s still hard to really pinpoint exactly why so many of us feel bad about not finishing a book or other entertainment. With the Kindle, Steam, Netflix, and everything else, it’s easy to get what we want instantly, and that means it’s just as easy to walk away from it without thinking twice about why we do it.

So, what’s going on? Speaking with the Wall Street Journal, clinical psychologist Matthew Willhelm suggests it has to do with personality type:

Certain types of people are more likely to push through a book. Dr. Wilhelm theorizes that people with competitive, Type-A personalities might be more likely to abandon a book because they tend to be motivated by reward and punishment, and “if there are no consequences or public recognition, why finish?”
Conversely, he says more laid-back, Type-B personalities may never start a book they know they won’t finish. The more important motivator of finishing a book, says Dr. Wilhelm, is social pressure, which is why book clubs are so good at getting readers to the epilogue.

It’s also the fact that stopping something midway is stressful. Whether it’s a book, a movie, or anything else, walking away in the middle goes against our nature. Wilhelm describes it like so:

“There is a tendency for us to perceive objects as ‘finished’ or ‘whole’ even though they may not be. This motivation is very powerful and helps to explain anxiety around unfinished activities.”

While the focus of The Wall Street Journal article is on books, it’s applicable to pretty much any form of entertainment. The anxiety that comes from a book half finished is no different than a game, movie, or whatever else. If you experience this guilt, you can do a few things to keep it from creeping up on you too deeply.

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