How We Can Put “The Power of Moments” to Work in Our Lives

Cathy GassenheimerIntentionality. It’s a powerful and meaningful word. And, intentionality is one of the themes of the new book by the Heath Brothers, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact.

Chip and Dan Heath are masterful storytellers. They explain the idea behind powerful moments with an abundance of stories you’ll enjoy. The book chronicles insights and occurrences of people from all walks of life that lifted their spirits and often caused them to change their direction or goals.

What is a Defining Moment?

Early in the book, the authors explain defining moments. These moments “shape our lives, but we don’t have to wait for them to happen. We can be authors of them” (p. 5). Surprisingly, our cherished or tortured memories come back to us, not as a whole story, but focused on what the Heath brothers describe as a “few particular moments.” And, this twist of memory has a title: “Duration neglect,” and it works this way:

When people assess an experience, they tend to forget or ignore its length—a phenomenon called ‘duration neglect.’ Instead, they seem to rate the experience on two key moments: (1) the best or worst moment, known as the ‘peak’; and (2) the ending. Psychologists call it the ‘peak-end’ rule (p. 8).

EPIC: Four Key Elements

Defining moments have four key elements:

  1. Elevation—Lifts people out of their normal routine or thinking. For example, The Magic Castle Hotel in Los Angeles has a “Popsicle Hotline” located at the pool. Guests can pick up a red phone and order a popsicle that is delivered free-of-charge on a silver tray.
  2. Pride—That’s a word that, when I saw it, evoked quite a negative reaction. The Heath brothers invite us to look at pride in a different way. They point to the pride that comes from a job well done. Or, they suggest, the pride may occur the moment our skills or actions are noticed by someone else. Pride is particularly an area in which educators can and should focus. I’ll say more about that later in this blog.
  3. Insight—Provides clarity or “rewires our understanding of ourselves or the world” (p. 13). As an example, the book refers to cult members who realize they need to “escape” or people who realize, through an observation or specific moment, that their job is not for them.
  4. Connection—Defining moments are social and often happen at events, parties, vacations, and other public occurrences. These experiences oftentimes create lifelong memories that we recall often.

The Power of Moments is organized around these four elements. Each chapter includes several stories relatable to the work of educators and offers suggested steps the reader can take to create more defining moments.

Tips for Teachers and Principals

Teachers and administrators will discover stories that inspire them and, at times, make them cringe. You’ll notice the theme of pride flows through each of the stories.

  • Signing Day at a previously low-performing high school where the faculty adopted a practice usually limited to athletics. Each spring, the school holds a public celebration where each senior takes the stage, unfurls a t-shirt or banner, and announces the name of the college they will attend.
  • Just Pretend to Sing, where an 11 year-old student who loves to sing and wants to become a country singer is told by her chorus teacher that her voice “sounds…different…and it’s not blending in with the other girls at all.” She’s told to lip sync instead. Crushed, the girl follows the teacher’s “command,” until several years later. While attending a camp for gifted kids, a teacher notices her beautiful and distinctive voice and mentions to the student that she “could have been the love child of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez” (p. 143). And—wait for it—the student had never heard of Joan Baez (that part was hard for me to read!), but she rushed to learn everything that she could about her! And, singing became her passion once again.
  • Seeing a Student Through New Eyes. A student, labeled as a low-performer, is lucky enough to have a new teacher replace the current one who goes on maternity leave. The new teacher decides to look at all of her new students with a “clean slate.” As a result, the student seizes the moment and works harder than ever before. The result? She excels and is recognized by the teacher who asks her to read her paper to the class.

In all of these cases, these students’ perspectives are changed because they’ve been recognized and praised. And, look at the impact of a simple, defining moment!

Using the Ideas

Chip and Dan Heath encourage their readers to use the ideas in the book by targeting a specific moment: Make it a defining moment by asking what can be done to elevate it, or spark insight, or create connections?

And, they provide tools to help the readers create those moments. The following resources are included on their The Power of Moments website:

  • One-page overview
  • Book Club Guide
  • Recommended Reading List
  • More Stories: The Power of Moments for Friends and Family
  • Podcasts

Being Intentional

As I close this blog, I’m going to act on an idea I read in the book. I’m going to write a note to someone who, during the early days of the Alabama Best Practices Center, encouraged me to step in front of a group and facilitate.

I argued that I hired people to do that. She simply smiled at my answer and told me that she knew I could do it and she believed in me. And, I guess, after facilitating professional learning sessions for more than 15 years—and loving every moment—she was right!

So, I’m going to pull out a note card and write her a note. And, with any luck, perhaps that will be a defining moment for her. It certainly will be one for me.

How can you create a defining moment in your life (or someone else’s) today?


Want to explore defining moments more deeply?
Read this interview with Dan Heath at Heleo.