The Power of Moments Summary - Chip Heath

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The Power of Moments

The Power of Moments Summary
Psychology and Self Help & Motivation

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 1501147765

Also available in audiobook

Summary

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.

The peak-end rule of memorizing moments

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.

The four elements of defining moments

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.

Trait No. 1: Elevation

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.

  • Boosting sensory appeal is all about “turning up the volume on reality. Things look better or taste better or sound better or feel better than they usually do.” This is why weddings have flowers and food and music and dancing, and why students remember extracurricular activities much more than they do their lessons – even though they have spent disproportionately more time in the classroom.
  • Raising the stakes means adding an element of productive pressure, such as “a competition, a game, a performance, a deadline, a public commitment.” Everything becomes more memorable when it is a game; games are much more interesting when they encompass an objective. Playing an actual tennis match is much more memorable than tossing the ball from one side of the net to the other; keeping score raises the experience even more!
  • Finally, breaking the script means adding an element of surprise. It’s not only that surprises warp our perceptions of time – the less expected the information to your brain, the longer the experiences last – but they also keep the elevation afloat. Think about it this way: if you, as a CEO, decided to give away presents to your employees every Friday, you would have added only a few defining moments to their lives because, after the second or third repetition, they’ll start expecting it (it will become a part of the script). It will no longer be memorable: on the contrary, it will be a disappointing experience if it stops. 

“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.

Trait No. 2: Insight

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.

  • Tripping over the truth is “an insight that packs an emotional wallop,” a sort of visceral realization. As an example, the Heaths offer one “unforgettably disgusting story” that tells how WaterAid facilitators convinced Bangladeshi villagers to use their new latrines instead of the village’s outdoor spaces for defecation. There was a clear and obvious reason why this was necessary: outdoor defecation led to numerous infections and diseases. To paint a clearer picture of the problem, the facilitators produced a map of the village and made every villager sprinkle a little yellow chalk over every place where someone had emptied his bowels during the previous year. In just a few moments, the entire map had turned yellow. Then, the facilitator asked the members of their audience to drink a glass of water – but not before swirling in it a hair dipped in a pile of excrement. Everyone refused, of course. And then came the trip-over-the-truth moment: the facilitator now pointed out to the Bangladeshi villagers that flies pick up far more excrement than a human hair. Since flies were all around them – and since excrement was as well – the community suddenly realized something awful: for years, they had been eating each other’s feces! This was the objective – the “ignition moment” for change.
  • Stretching for insight is another way to induce epiphanies. In essence, it encompasses placing yourself in new situations that expose you to the risk of failure. Not sure if your book is good enough? Publish it and wait for the feedback. It doesn’t matter whether it will be positive or not – by stretching yourself to the risk, you guarantee an insight either way. “The promise of stretching is not success,” write the Heaths, “it’s learning.”

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.

Trait No. 3: Pride

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.

  • Why recognizing the others results in memorable experiences for them is self-explanatory; yet, we dramatically underinvest in recognition. For example, even though 4 out of 5 supervisors say they frequently express appreciation for their workers, only one employee will agree - out of 5. It’s important to note here that effective recognition is personal, not programmatic: employee-of-the-month awards, for example, are part of a script that needs to be broken. Tailored rewards make all the difference – as anyone who ever got the birthday gift they always wanted knows full well. “Recognition is characterized by a disjunction,” say the Heaths. “A small investment of effort yields a huge reward for the recipient.” For example, the life of a middle-school student can be irretrievably changed by a caring music teacher who doesn’t shy away from telling her that their voice is beautiful.
  • Turning to yourself, multiplying milestones is one of the best strategies to create more defining moments of pride in your life. Reframing the marathon that is your life in a lane featuring many “finish lines” is what makes life worthwhile. Imagine if your life consisted of Mondays only; now, imagine if it featured three-day workweeks. Strive for the latter!
  • Finally, practicing courage results in memorable and meaningful moments of pride as well. Just as importantly, courage is contagious: your defining moment of courage can be a memorable moment for someone else as well. Just think about that one time you stood up to the bully in your school. It altered the life of your best friend as well, didn’t it?

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.

Trait No. 4: Connection

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. 

  • Creating shared meaning can be accomplished with the following strategies: 1) creating a synchronized moment; 2) inviting shared struggle; 3) connecting to meaning. Think of church congregations or just-cause protests; even better, think of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings: sharing experiences of pain and sadness is one of the best “social technologies to bind in-groups together.” However, there’s a difference between inviting and forcing: people welcome shared struggles and connect to their meaning only when “it’s their choice to participate, when they’re given autonomy to work, and when the mission is meaningful.” 
  • Connection is also about deepening ties. And what deepens individual relationships most is “responsiveness.” Responsiveness, in turn, consists of three things: mutual understanding, validation, and caring. Lose any of them, and you loosen up the tie.

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?

Final Notes

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.

12min Tip

Whether for yourself or others, strive to create memorable moments. After all, they make life worthwhile.

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Who wrote the book?

Dan Heath is a Senior Fellow at Duke University’s Center for t... (Read more)

Chip Heath is a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business. The Heath brothers have so far co-authored four books - their first book “Made to... (Read more)