How to Create Defining Moments

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Take a quick mental inventory of your “keepsakes.” Most of them are physical reminders of moments; love notes, quotes that moved us, baby shoes, trophies- they help us to remembers moments of significance in our lives.  But what ingredients turn an experience into a defining moment? How do we create more defining moments in our lives? In the book “The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact,” authors Chip and Dan Heath delve into answering these questions.  After exploring the nature of defining moments, they outline how we can create more of these memorable and often powerful, experiences in our lives- something I think we would all like more of! Defining moments have such an impact on us- Why wait for them to come around, when we can shape our experiences to encourage more moments?

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What Makes a Moment? 

The authors discovered defining moments need to have at least 1 of these 4 elements: Elevation: Memorable delight; often sensory pleasure Insight: Suddenly seeing things as they really are; they rewire our understanding Pride: Capturing us at our best; moments of achievement or courage Connection: Experiences that we share them with others, that have a shared meaning Not all defining moments are positive though; they can come from peaks or pits- sometimes is takes a negative experience to create a “crystallization of discontent,” when it really hits you that you need to make a change and you know there is only one way forward. Even experiences that embarrass us, or are traumatic can cause us to be hit with an insight that transforms us. So what if instead of waiting for these elusive moments (the positive ones at least) to fall upon us, we cultivated them? What if we thought in terms of moments; understanding when special moments are needed, and transforming run-of-the mill occasions into peak experiences?

Creating Moments

As the authors beautifully explain, “We can reorganize where the prose of life needs punctuation, and give shape to time.” Transitions can be marked, milestones commemorated, and pits filled; they are experiences that deserve punctuation- an exclamation mark, a pause, all bold caps, or maybe the start of a new chapter.  These punctuations not only cause experiences to stand out in our memories, but they also allow more opportunities to create meaning in our lives. They propel us forward by helping us to recognize our own growth or the need to move on. The authors go through each of the elements that makes up defining moments, (elevate, inspire, pride, connection) sharing ideas for how to cultivate each of them; teaching us how to shift toward thinking in terms of moments.


The Heath brothers share 3 ways to elevate a moment:
  • Boost sensory appeal (create a pleasurable experience)
  • Raise the stakes (add an element of pressure; competition, deadline, performance)
  • Break the script (defy expectations about the experience)
One of my favorite quotes from this book is “When it come to elevating a moment, be aware of the soul sucking force of reasonableness!” Many of the things that elevate an experience from good to wonderful, are not practical or cost effective.  If they were, everyone would be doing them and they would not be novel, special or surprising. The goal here is to create an emotional response.


To encourage moments of insight, you need to create an environment that allows people to discover truths for themselves.  What you want to do is help a person “trip over the truth,” or lead them to a self discovery that packs an emotional punch. Creating moments of insight can be really powerful when teaching. Instead of offering students problems and solutions, dramatize the problems and let them discover the solutions so that they can experience the aha moment that uncovering the answer allows for. Another great quote from the book: “It may be counter intuitive, but self-discovery rarely comes from staying inside our heads.” Reflecting or ruminating upon what is already in there, usually doesn’t lead one to answers. Studying our own behavior can be a effective way to get insights.  Actions lead to insights more often then insights lead to action.  Getting outside your comfort zone, and acting in ways that challenge you, can lead to crystalizing moments, which cause you to stretch and reach for even more insights. moments quote


When it comes to achieving goals, hitting milestones invokes feelings of pride.  Milestones compel us to keep pushing forward because they are within our grasp and are taking us closer and closer to the greater goal.  We experiences bursts of pride, and the motivation to continue on.  Adding and celebrating milestones on the way to a loftier goal is a great way to create moments.  Sharing these moments with others can introduce the elements of connection and inspiration too! Being courageous can spark moments of pride.  “Practice courage,” by having pre-determined responses to different situations, for example saying “NO” to a social engagement you really are not interested in.  You can also practice courage by reaching out to others and expressing yourself in ways that make you feel vulnerable.  For example, instead of writing that thank you note, set up a visit, and express your gratitude in person.


When having experiences with others, shared meaning is what creates defining moments.  What binds you together, and supersedes your differences? When people feel united, they will persist in working through challenges, and will embrace struggle when they share a mission. The conditions that create this are: meaningful work, autonomy in carrying it out, and the choice to participate or not. When we are able to willingly share our gifts and work towards a shared goal with others, beautiful moments are bound to happen. Not only can we connect with other humans, but we can also connect with our work by giving it meaning.  Who is the beneficiary of your work, and how does your work contribute to their well-being? Reframing your work in this way can lead to a shift in perspective that connects you to a more meaningful relationship to the work that you do. What matters to you? If you want to connect with others, and create more responsiveness, this is the question to ask.  Disconnection comes from a lack of responsiveness.  Being responsive to others, in a dance of connections that includes moments of vulnerability, is an excellent way to create more shared defining moments.


Just being aware of the power of moments can help you to spot opportunities to cultivate them in our day to day lives.  Just stay alert to the promise that moments hold.  As the authors say so well “These extraordinary minutes and hours and days, they are what makes life meaningful.  And they are ours to create.” Link to purchaseI highly recommend this book!  It is an easy read, packed with though provoking content, and actionable ways to create moments in many different facets of life.  Not only is the work useful for self-growth, and seizing opportunities for more personal insights, but it is also applicable to creating a better experience for students, clients, customers, and staff.  I can honestly say that everyone is bound to benefit from the content! One of my goals for the You:Guru membership community is to create a place that is ripe with potential aha moments, a garden with fruits of insight ready to be picked. The “Power of Moments” is helping me to bring that into being. Thanks for reading! ❤ With Gratitude, Aimee O’Neil LLMSW        
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Aimee O'Neil LLMSW

Aimee O'Neil LLMSW

Founder of Wisdom Cultivators

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