The Power of Moments – Chip Heath, Dan Heath
Defining moments stand out, they influence us, cause us to rethink our direction, re-shape the trajectory of our lives.
Transitions should be marked, milestones commemorated, and pits filled. That’s the essence of thinking in moments. Defining moments shape our lives, but we don’t have to wait for them to happen. We can be their authors. We can engineer these moments—or at least create the conditions for them to emerge. To create more and more powerful defining moments, we need to become “moment-spotters”—learn to spot occasions to invest in. Our focus on goals can blind us to the possibility of a given moment—even as moments can support the achievement of goals.
The Peak-End Rule of Defining Moments
Research has found that when we recall an experience, we ignore most of what happened and focus instead on a few particular moments.
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When people assess an experience, they tend to forget or ignore its length—a phenomenon called “duration neglect.” Instead, they seem to rate the experience based on two key moments:
1. The best or worst moment, known as the “peak”.
2. The ending.
Psychologists call it the “peak-end rule.”
Elements That Create Defining Moments
A defining moment must include at least one of these elements—it does not have to include all four.
- Elevation: They rise above the everyday.
- Insight: They rewire the way we understand ourselves—or the world.
- Pride: They are moments that find us at our best—in terms of achievement or courage.
- Connection: They are social—we share them with others.
Thinking in Moments
Three situations constitute natural defining moments and deserve our attention:
- Transitions seem so natural that they are almost always marked with some sort of “coming of age” rituals: weddings, promotions, the first day of school and the end of projects, etc.
- Milestones. Birthdays are the most obvious milestones, followed by anniversaries (18th, 21st, 30th, 40th, 50th, 60th, and 100th), retirement, and unheralded achievements (such as, say, a salesman’s 10 millionth dollar of revenue).
- Pits are the opposite of peaks, i.e., negative defining moments, moments of hardship or pain, or anxiety.
Peaks don’t emerge naturally. They must be built.
To elevate a moment, do three things:
- First, boost sensory appeal.
- Second, raise the stakes.
- Third, break the script. (Breaking the script means to violate expectations about an experience.)
Moments of elevation need not have all three elements, but most have at least two.
Stretch for Insight
Moments of elevation lift us above the everyday. Moments of insight spark discoveries about our world and ourselves. Moments of pride capture us at our best—showing bravery, earning recognition, and overcoming obstacles.
To produce moments of self-insight, we need to stretch, placing ourselves in new situations that expose us to the risk of failure. The promise of stretching is not success, it’s learning.
Moments of Pride
There are three practical principles we can use to create more moments of pride:
- Recognize others
- Multiply meaningful milestones;
- Practice courage.
- The first principle creates defining moments for others; the latter two allow us to create defining moments for ourselves.
Hitting a milestone sparks pride. It should also spark a celebration—a moment of elevation. (Don’t forget that milestones, along with pits and transitions, are three natural defining moments that deserve extra attention.) Milestones deserve peaks.
To identify milestones, ask yourself: What’s inherently motivating? What would be worth celebrating that might only take a few weeks or months of work? What’s a hidden accomplishment that is worth surfacing and celebrating?
It is hard to be courageous, but it’s easier when you’ve practiced, and when you stand up, others will join you.
Managing fear—the goal of exposure therapy—is a critical part of courage.
Moments, when we display courage, make us proud. We never know when courage will be demanded, but we can practice to ensure we’re ready.
Purpose, Responsiveness and Passion
- Purpose is defined as the sense that you are contributing to others and that your work has a broader meaning.
- Passion is the feeling of excitement or enthusiasm you have for your work.
Responsiveness encompasses three things:
- Understanding: My partner knows how I see myself and what is important to me.
- Validation: My partner respects who I am and what I want.
- Caring: My partner takes active and supportive steps in helping me meet my needs.