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How to Create a Moment You’ll Remember for Life

Arts & Culture Career
How to Create a Moment You’ll Remember for Life


  • What the “Disney paradox” teaches us about memory
  • Which country’s citizens largely ignore their own birthdays
  • Why your first day on the job should include giving away free beer

Dan Heath is a Senior Fellow at Duke University’s CASE center, and the co-author, along with his brother Chip, of four bestselling books: Decisive, Switch, Made to Stick, and their latest, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact. Jordan Harbinger recently hosted him on The Jordan Harbinger Show to discuss how to design meaningful, memorable moments, and why you should finally take that big trip you’ve always fantasized about.

Jordan: I love the idea that we all have these defining moments. Are these things that just happen to us, or do we create them somehow?

Dan: It all comes back to experience—if you run a business, you’re thinking about the customer experience. Or if you’re in health care, you’re thinking about the patient experience. And anybody who’s a parent is thinking about their kid’s experience. So [The Power of Moments] is really about, “How do we shape people’s experience in a way that is meaningful and memorable?”

One thing I like to offer as a thought experiment is the “Disney paradox.” For the majority of your moments at an amusement park, you would have been happier sitting on your couch at home. Because parks can be a pain—there are long lines, it’s 95 degrees, everything’s expensive, there are crowds everywhere. But six months later, you look back and you’re like, “You know, that trip to Disney was one of the highlights of the year.” How could something that wasn’t that great in the moment become a highlight of your experience?

This brings us to something that psychologists talk about as the “peak-end principle,” which says that when we remember our experiences, what we remember are moments. If you think about a vacation you took last year, or a semester in college, or a project at work from a couple years ago, it’s pretty obvious that you don’t remember the whole experience from start to finish. You just remember certain scenes, certain moments—and there are certain moments that you disproportionately remember.

One of the moments that we tend to recall is the peak, which is the most positive moment in a positive experience. So when we remember Disney, we remember the adrenaline rush after a roller coaster, or when Goofy came over to your little boy and gave him a treat, and your son just smiled with delight. Those moments stick to memory, and all that moment-by-moment sweatiness and irritability fades out.

Jordan: You have the defining moment formula, and the acronym for it is EPIC.

Dan: We were looking at memorable experiences of all kinds, ranging from your wedding day, to some fine dining experience, to more personal things—like when a teacher in school took you aside and commented on some talent you didn’t even know you had. And what we found is that there are four elements that recur again and again.

“Moments are what we remember in life. When you’re 85 years old, sitting on the front porch, reflecting on your life, your wealth is those moments.”

The first is Elevation. These are moments that lift us above the everyday—they spark positive emotions like joy, delight, and engagement. So think of birthday parties, athletic competitions, cocktails with friends at sunset. That’s elevation.

The second is Pride—these moments capture us at our best. Everybody has a stash of personal mementos from life, and they’re things that would be valueless to everybody else, but to you they’re priceless. A lot of those things that you keep, that you just can’t bear to throw away, are mementos from moments of pride in your life. Maybe they’re certificates or awards, or plaques, or nice letters that someone wrote you—ways of commemorating great work that you did, or talents that you have.

The third is Insight. These are moments that rewire our understanding of ourselves or our world—think of epiphanies and realizations and aha moments.

And then finally, these memorable moments tend to be moments of Connection, moments that tie us to other people. Sometimes that’s in a personal relationship, other times it’s groups that are bonded together. They work on something really big or important, and find themselves stitched together for life. So think of product launches, or deep conversations with someone that you respect.

The number one danger we’ve got to protect against is ignoring moments. Peak moments don’t create themselves—we have to invest in them, we have to create them.

Jordan: You [talk] about the idea that cultures and societies have these moments, too. In Western culture, things like birthdays, funerals, and weddings happen kind of organically. We don’t think about them that much. But when I went to North Korea, I noted that most people didn’t celebrate their birthday at all. They only celebrated the birthdays of the Leader, the Leader’s father, and the father before him.

Dan: You can learn a lot about a culture from what it celebrates. And what’s interesting is [how much] different cultures have in common. Virtually everywhere on Earth, a wedding day is a huge deal—and let’s remember how unreasonable a wedding day is. We blow a lot of money on flowers and food, and we obsess about the playlist. Even in the poorest places on Earth, families will save for months, if not years, to make that wedding day special. And that’s diagnostic of the fact that, for human beings, moments are the thing. Moments are what we remember in life. When you’re 85 years old, sitting on the front porch, reflecting on your life, your wealth is those moments.


But in a lot of organizations, those moments are mystifyingly absent. Think about the first day of work—most organizations treat this with a kind of benign neglect. The employee shows up, and the receptionist didn’t think they were starting until the next week. You get shown to your desk, and there’s a computer there, but it’s not set up. They give you an ethics binder to review. Somebody finally takes pity on you and shepherds you around, and you meet 24 people in 10 minutes, and you forget all their names. That’s the way the first day works in most organizations.

But this is a classic transition moment! In the same way that we naturally spot and celebrate transitions in life—wedding days and graduation ceremonies and so on—in organizations we’re missing a really obvious transition moment, a moment that deserves attention.

But at Motley Fool, the financial advice website, they do these fascinating things. Before you even start, you get advance emails from them, telling you how excited they are about you joining, and giving you this questionnaire so they can learn a little bit about you. You come in the first morning, and your desk has been completely tricked out with all of this stuff that is specific to you! You mentioned you grew up in New Orleans, and there’s a Cafe Du Monde beignet mix on your desk. You mentioned that you’re a Chicago Bears fan, and there’s a Bears jersey with your name inscribed on the back.

The afternoon of your first day, they have you push around what they call the “Fool Cart”—“Fool” for “Motley Fool”—and the cart has a bunch of free snacks and free beer. So you’re going around the office basically as Santa Claus, giving out free snacks and chips and beer to your colleagues, so you’re the most popular person in the office on your first day. It’s a great chance for you to meet people in a fun way.

And they only start new employees on Fridays, so that your first week is one day long. Then on your way out the door, just before you leave for the weekend, your boss takes you aside and gives you a $100 gift certificate to take your partner or a friend out to dinner over that weekend to celebrate your new job. How would you feel, after that day? Just amazing.

Jordan: That is pretty phenomenal, and I would imagine that it gets people pretty excited about being there. I love that these are all milestones, and some of them are pretty common-sense, right? But are you encouraging us to also create new milestones? Like, “Hey, you’ve been here for a hundred days—congratulations”?

Dan: So if you want to create a better experience for anyone, including yourself, you should think in terms of moments. And then the next question is, “When is the right time for a moment?” One of the answers to that is transition points. Organizations have a pretty good instinct for celebrating time-based milestones, like your 25th anniversary with the company, or your 40th birthday. But organizations don’t do work-based milestones. Shouldn’t every sales rep be celebrated for their millionth dollar in revenue earned?


I’m a Fitbit junkie, and Fitbit does this cool thing where they email you with these badges. One of the badges was an India Badge, which meant my lifetime miles walked was 1997 miles, which is the length of India. They told me, “You have walked the equivalent of the entire nation of India.” And for the rest of that day, I was kind of puffing my chest out.

They manufactured a moment of pride for me out of thin air. I had no idea how many miles I’d walked—I wasn’t paying attention. But they were. And they drew my attention to that, and held that up as a reason to feel pride. That’s powerful, and think there are a lot of organizations that aren’t looking for moments like that.

Jordan: How do we transition from being on autopilot to thinking about our lives in moments?

Dan: It’s very simple actually. The first question you’ve got to ask is, “Whose experience are you interested in improving?” It might be your own, it might be your kid’s, it might be your customers’. Then look ahead in your calendar for the next six months—do you see an obvious peak moment coming? If the answer is yes, then good for you—you’re already doing this naturally.

If the answer is no, it’s worth fighting for that peak moment. [Say] you’ve always had the fantasy of seeing the Northern Lights with a certain friend, but with each year that goes by, it gets complicated, and every now and then, you bring it up and joke about it, but you know that you’re not really going to do it, because you’ve got partners now, and kids, and you’ve got to get time off from work.

Yes, peak moments take some forethought and some investment, but they are absolutely worth it. Because ten years from now, you’re not going to remember, “Oh, it was a nuisance to get a babysitter and get time off work.” What you’re going to remember is, “By God, we saw the Northern Lights!” You’re going to have that photo of you and your friend with your arms around each other with a spectacular sky in the background. You’re going to have that mounted on your wall, and it’s going to be one of those things that becomes a lifetime memory. The tragedy is that a lot of the grind of everyday life deters us or distracts us from investing in peaks. [It’s time] to fix that.


This conversation has been edited and condensed. Click here to listen to the full version on The Jordan Harbinger Show.

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