This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact
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Why do we remember certain experiences and forget others? Moreover, why do some of the experiences we remember are so meaningful to us? How is it possible that a single, somewhat unimportant event – such as noticing someone you like in a crowd just after getting the boot – can turn an unbearable morning into one of the most outstanding days of our life?
These are all questions that Chip and Dan Heath try to answer in “The Power of Moments.” Contrary to popular belief, they don’t think that most of the defining moments of our lives just happen to us; according to them – we can also be their authors.
So, get ready to discover what makes a particular experience memorable and meaningful, and prepare to learn how to create defining moments for yourself and your loved ones.
Let’s start our discussion of memorable and defining moments in a rather unexpected manner: with a painful psychological experiment comprising three trials.
In the first one, a group of randomly chosen participants was asked by researchers to submerge their hands for 60 seconds in a bucket filled with frigid water at 57 F (13 C). In the second, participants should keep their hands in the bucket for 90 seconds – but, in this case, once the first minute had passed, the water was warmed to 59 F (15 C). For their third and final trial, the participants were given a choice: they could choose which of the trials they wanted to go through once again.
On the face of it, this might seem like an easy question. After all, both trials featured one minute of identical pain, but the second one added another half a minute of slightly reduced pain. “Would you rather be slapped in the face for 60 seconds or 90” is not a dilemma, is it? And yet, two-thirds of the participants opted for the longer trial. How so? Well, for one, because when we assess an experience, we tend to forget its length – something psychologists refer to as “the duration neglect.” And secondly and more interestingly, because our brain never considers the whole experience, but only its peak (i.e., its best or worst moment) and ending.
This is the “peak-end rule” of memorizing moments – the reason why, upon reflecting on an average Disney experience a few weeks after, you’ll forget the scorching heat, the waiting in lines, and the expensive park food, but you’ll remember the dopamine rush after riding the Space Mountain (the peak) and how cute the mouse-ear hats looked on your children (the end). This is also the reason why the participants of the psychological study wanted to go through the second trial: the more bearable ending made the general experience pleasanter in memory. Everything else just faded away.
Now that we know what we remember – the peak and the ending of an experience – it’s time to ask ourselves when are they memorable and when are they not? In other words, what are defining moments made of? Can we create more of them? According to the research done by the Heath brothers – yes, we can, because they are made from one or more of the following four elements: elevation, insight, pride, and connection. Let’s learn more about each of them.
Defining moments rise above the every day: they provoke not just transient happiness (like a joke), but also a memorable delight (like a love letter). To inspire elevated moments, you must focus on three things: 1) boosting sensory pleasures, 2) raising the stakes, and 3) breaking the script.
“Moments of elevation transcend the normal course of events; they are literally extraordinary,” conclude the Heaths. That’s why you have a bunch of them in your treasure chest in the form of ticket stubs, well-worn T-shirts, or haphazardly colored cards from your kids.
Defining moments are epiphanic: they rewire our understanding of ourselves or the world. Though it is very difficult to schedule them, it is not impossible. Two things should help: make others trip over the truth, or stretch your experiences to its final limits to get some insight.
Unsurprisingly, you have numerous markers of insightful experiences in your treasure chest: quotes or articles that moved you, books that changed your view of the world, and diaries that captured your thoughts. They mattered once; they matter still. They always will.
Defining moments capture us at our best – moments of achievement, moments of courage, moments of pride. There are three practical principles to create more moments, such as these to recognize others, to multiply meaningful milestones, and to practice courage. The first principle creates defining moments for others; the latter two allow us to create defining moments for ourselves.
Now, look at the contents of your treasure chest: ribbons, report cards, notes of recognition, certificates, thank-you comments, awards… These are all evidence of defining moments of pride. You haven’t thrown any of them out because they mean something to you: as irrational as it might be, it just hurts to get rid of a trophy.
Moments of connection are special because they bond us with others. We feel warmth, unity, empathy, and validation. That’s why weddings, graduations, baptisms, work triumphs, speeches, and sporting events are such memorable events: they are shared by definition. Fortunately, it’s not that difficult to spark moments of connection: you just need to create shared meaning while deepening the ties.
Now, go back to your treasure chest. All those wedding photos, vacation photos, family photos, and even “Christmas photos of hideous sweaters” – aren’t they one of the first things you’d grab if your house was on fire?
An “immediately actionable book,” according to writer Adam Grant, “The Power of Moments” is well-researched, well-written, and well-intentioned.
In other words, if you are “desperate for blueprints for creating the extraordinary,” you should definitely check it out.
Whether for yourself or others, strive to create memorable moments. After all, they make life worthwhile.
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