Understanding the power of moments

Have you ever wondered about how special moments can shape the memory of our experiences? As I was reading The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, they discuss both how moments shape our experiences and how to create more of these special moments. The book defines what makes a moment special, the impact special moments can have on individuals and groups, and gives clear directions on how to create special moments of your own.

Photo by Muhammadh Saamy | Accessed on Unsplash.com

Main impacts

Some of the key things I learned from this book are:

  1. Experiences are defined by moments
  2. Four elements of a moment
  3. We can create moments

Note, there’s so much more information and examples in the book. If this sparks your interest, I would encourage you to check out the book.

Experiences are defined by moments

Often times we remember our experiences, not as a sum of what has happened but rather defined by the moments we had or based on key parts of the experience (like the ending).

For instance, a trip may be remembered not by the long waits or hot weather, but rather by the joy of connecting with family or friends and the special shared experiences. When considering a family trip to Disney, there may be uncomfortable or inconvenient parts, but they can be overshadowed by the joy felt and shared with family, or the excitement of your children going on rides and meeting their favourite characters.

Having an experience evaluated on key moments is described as the “duration neglect”, meaning that an experience is defined by either the best/worst moments that happen or the ending. One example of this is the pain experiment, where people are asked to do three trials:

  1. Put their hands in very cold water for 60 seconds.
  2. Put their hands in very cold water for 60 seconds, and then their hands in slightly less cold water for 30 seconds.
  3. Then they got to pick which of the previous two they wanted to repeat. What do you think they picked?

For each of these, they were not told how long they had to wait in each water (only the researchers tracked the time), and had to go simply based on their experience.

Interestingly, for the third trial, 69% chose to repeat the longer experiment (#2)! The choice for the longer option was usually due to the fact that the second one seemed a little more comfortable than the first based on the ending. Even though it was longer, the slightly warmer water made it seem less painful.

Four elements of a moment

The moments that make an impact on us tend to have similarities, with common traits that affect us. Understanding what makes a moment special, helps us identify them and even consider how we can create more moments.

These are the four key elements that make a moment special:

  1. Elevation: moments that transcend the normal
    • These are extra-ordinary, exciting, memorable, and standout from the mundane.
    • It could be anything that differs from your normal life/routine. Anything special that we experience and can even change how we perceive time, for example, driving or walking somewhere new can seem longer, as we’re experiencing it for the first time.
  2. Insight: may reframe our understanding of ourselves or the world
    • It could be a moment of insight, such as it’s time for me to start this (like a new career) or to stop doing that (like smoking).
    • Generally, something triggers a change, which leads to realizations & transformations either on a personal level or greater.
  3. Pride: captures us at our best
    • A moment that highlights some kind of achievement or milestone.
    • Usually, it’s focusing on what you’ve accomplished, maybe landing a big client, finishing a project, or graduating from school.
  4. Social: connecting with others
    • These are common moments society often finds important, such as weddings, graduations, vacations, team achievements, events, etc.
    • Whenever others are involved in a moment, it has a stronger impact because it’s a shared experience.

All key moments will have at least one of the elements above, and some of the most impactful will have all of them. But usually it’s a combination of more than one.

For example, at graduation it’s usually a mix of social, pride, and elevation. It’s not part of your normal routine (elevation), you usually invite people you care about to join and your friends from school are there (social), plus it’s spotlighting your academic achievement (pride). All these elements come together to make it a memorable moment.

We can create moments

The more that we understand about what makes a moment special, the more likely we’re able to create moments to make experiences more memorable. We can create moments for ourselves and for others.

These three situation types are great opportunities for creating moments:

  1. Transitions: natural moments of change throughout our life
    • For example, coming of age, weddings, first day of work, or any moment that denotes a life change or when starting something new.
    • A lot of these are commonly celebrated, but you can also highlight smaller changes, or put more emphasis on existing changes that people experience.
    • For example, when a new employee joins a company, this is a great opportunity to create a moment and build a connection with the employee.
  2. Milestones: moments of significance, usually based on amount of time or a type of achievement
    • For example, a 10th anniversary (work or relationship), graduation, beginning or end of a school year, or a promotion.
    • There are lots of typical milestones we celebrate, but you can also look for new opportunities, like the 100th day of class or work.
  3. Pits: negative moments, which should be filled
    • For instance, by making long waits more interesting using displays, TVs, or decorating the area where you’re waiting. Disney does a great job of this by having the line go through areas decorated based on the ride’s theme, with videos and other things to capture your attention during the long wait.
    • If done properly, pits can be flipped into peaks. The best feedback from service surveys were often the result of employees reacting to a pit (such as delayed flights, lost baggage, etc.), and making it better. By giving your employees the freedom to provide special accommodations when disaster strikes, you’re allowing them to turn pits into peaks and create some of the most memorable experiences.

Example of a pit turned into a peak

One of the best examples of flipping a pit into a peak was when children had to use an MRI machine. When designing the machine, they forgot to consider the experience of children, and it was too scary for them. They hated going for an MRI and it usually took a long time to convince them to get into the machine.

So with a diverse team of experts, they came up with a creative solution to make it more playful and an exciting experience for the children. They developed a whole story for them that went along with using an MRI machine. For instance, one experience is that the children are told they’re going to ride a rocket ship, and the whole experience from start to finish is based around that theme. They made it feel like an adventure, not just a hospital visit, and they created a different adventures that focused on areas of kids’ anxiety (loud noises, small spaces, etc.).

These adventures with the MRI machine drastically changed how the children felt about the experience. They were actually excited for their appointment, and would ask, when can we go again? Which made the appointments go smoothly, with a better experience for all involved, and they were even able to increase the number of individuals served by reducing the time needed.

Final thoughts

I found this book really interesting. Some of the information is not that surprising, as we all have special moments in our lives, but the power in this book is reframing our general knowledge to understand the impact these moments have and how to create our own moments.

One of the impactful parts of this book is all the examples of moments that people have either intentionally or unintentionally created, along with the impact on those experiencing it. I included very few examples in this post, but if this peaked your curiosity at all, it might be worthwhile to read the book or listen to the audiobook.

Another valuable part of this book was that the knowledge provided by the authors can be so widely applicable, either to your own lives, to a company trying to improve their customer or employee experiences, or for an organization trying to impact those they help. The lessons learned in this book can be useful to anybody.

Personally, I want to create more moments for myself and those I care about.