Dan Heath is a Senior Fellow at Duke University’s CASE center and co-author of Decisive, Switch, Made to Stick, and most recently The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact.

What We Discuss with Dan Heath:

  • Why we remember certain defining moments over others across the countless experiences of a lifetime.
  • How we can use the defining moment formula to create such moments for ourselves and others.
  • The opportunity most companies miss when hiring a new employee and how one organization goes over the top to get it right.
  • Action leads to insight more often than insight leads to action.
  • Why time seems to go faster as we age.
  • And much more…

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Life is made up a countless sequence of experiences; much of it is forgotten over time, but certain memorable moments can endure for as long as we live.

In this episode we’re joined by Dan Heath, co-author of The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, to explain why these defining moments stand out above all other experiences and how we can cultivate these moments in ourselves and others. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

Please Scroll down for Full Show Notes and Featured Resources!

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More About This Show

Imagine visiting Disney World with a Fitbit equivalent that counted our level of happiness throughout the day rather than steps.

“If we looked at the data that popped out at the end of your park visit, for the outright majority of those moments, you would have been happier sitting on your couch at home,” says Dan Heath, co-author of The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact. “Because parks can be a pain in the butt! There are long lines, it’s inevitably 95 degrees and humid, everything’s expensive, there’s crowds everywhere. There’s a lot of nuisance involved. But then, six months later, you look back on your year, and you’re like, ‘You know that trip to Disney? That was one of the highlights of the year.'”

So how can something that wasn’t so great in the moment be looked back upon as the highlight of one’s experience?

The Peak-End Principle

Psychologists talk about the peak-end principle, which says that when we remember our experiences, ultimately what we remember are moments — not a beginning-to-end, second-to-second playback, but a highlight reel of moments.

There’s a logic to which moments we remember — often the peaks, the end, and the transition points.

“What we remember when we’re remembering Disney is the great adrenaline rush after a roller coaster or that cute moment when Goofy came over to your little boy and patted him on the head and gave him a treat,” says Dan. “Those moments stick to memory, and all that moment-by-moment sweatiness and irritability just fades out.”

Accentuate the Positive

While not all defining moments are positive, Dan (and his brother Chip, the other co-author) accentuate the positive for the purposes of The Power of Moments to teach us how to use these principles of psychology in a way that’s helpful to ourselves and others.

“Nobody in the world is looking to create more of these negative peaks!” says Dan.

Nobody we would want to encourage, anyway.

The Defining Moment Formula

When categorizing the defining moments we tend to remember, Dan and Chip came up with these four to create the defining moment formula:

Elevation. Moments that lift us above the everyday. They spark positive emotions like joy, delight, and engagement. Think birthday parties, athletic competitions, cocktails with friends at sunset.

Pride. Most of us tend to collect a souvenir or two of moments we associate with pride in our lives. Think certificates, awards, trophies, letters of approval, or things we’ve created — ways of commemorating great work we’ve done or talents we have.

Insight. Moments that rewire our understanding of ourselves or our world. Think epiphanies, realizations, and “ah-hah!” moments.

Connection. Moments that tie us closer with other people. Think personal relationships, or bonding moments like product launches or deep conversations.

We reversed Dan’s presentation of insight and pride to spell out EPIC for ease of remembrance — just in case this part of the podcast doesn’t make it into your long-term roster of memories.

Peak Moments Don’t Create Themselves

“Great experiences hinge on peak moments,” says Dan. “So when we talk about experience, what we’re actually talking about are moments. But peak moments don’t create themselves. We have to invest in them. We have to create them.”

When we’re trying to create these defining moments for ourselves or others, Dan stresses it’s usually something personal that prevails over the flashy and overproduced.

Dan relates how Spanx founder Sara Blakely’s father would ask her and her siblings this question at the dinner table when she was growing up: “What did you guys fail at this week?”

“She said he would be disappointed if they had nothing to tell him,” says Dan. “That seems like a weird question. It’s almost like he’s encouraging failure. But of course the point was he wanted them to try the things they wanted to try and not be paralyzed because they may not be good at it at first or because they may not succeed. So he was trying to, in a sense, inoculate them against the sting of failure.

“A moment like that is, to me, a peak moment for kids. Just a question at the dinner table that gets them to look at the world — to look at the chance of failure in a slightly different way.”

Ritual as a Chapter Divider

Ritual is another powerful way to create peak moments we remember, as grief counselor Kenneth J. Doka demonstrated when giving a widow an elaborate un-marriage in front of an assembly of loved ones as a way for her to move on.

“A lot of the way we make meaning in our lives is precisely these kind of chapter dividers,” says Dan, “these moments that divide the old us from the new us. What was so powerful about the ceremony for her is it provided a specific day — a specific moment — when she could say, ‘Okay. As of this day, I’m ready.’ And that’s a great example of a peak moment that was created from scratch.”

On a larger scale, culture uses rituals to instill a sense of importance to events we want to remember, such as birthday parties, weddings, and funerals.

On a corporate scale, there’s often a conspicuous absence of ritual surrounding what might otherwise be a peak moment — like the first day of work in which the receptionist isn’t expecting us to arrive until the next week and maybe there’s not even a desk set up for us yet. Dan says this is how most companies miss out on an easy way to generate immediate goodwill and loyalty with new employees — and then he tells us how The Motley Fool does things the right way.

Listen to this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show in its entirety to learn more about how smart gamification can create peak moments even for people (like Dan) who think they’re immune, how to start thinking in moments by using your calendar, filling pits and building peaks, how a seemingly nondescript hotel in Los Angeles uses the power of moments to outrank its swankier competition, how much of an effect on customer loyalty Southwest’s unique announcements really have, the oddball effect and how surprise stretches time, the ignition moment a social scientist uses in developing countries to influence sanitation policy, why getting someone to understand the need for a solution to a certain problem on their own beats explaining it to them, and lots more.


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