The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

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Get out of the trap of defining a successful day by tasks achieved. Looking back on our lives, it’s the meaningful moments that stand out. Those exhilarating times that transcend the norm, that left us in awe, and made us feel alive. Let’s elevate our lives and maximise these experiences – we can’t leave then to chance –  we must work to  actively create them instead.


  • Defining moments boost sensory appeal, allow people to connect, deliver insight and/or break the script.
  • Defining moments are peaks, pits or transitions.
  • People want to feel more, they want to be surprised and delighted.
  • Feeling trumps thought – engage the senses.
  • Purpose trumps passion – purpose connects through a shared goal.
  • We remember meaningful moments, not tasks achieved.
  • We age because our lives become routine – we need more peak moments.
  • We can actively create defining moments – stop leaving them to chance.


  • Think about the moments over the last year when you felt truly alive? What were you doing? Who were you with? Why do those moments stand out?
  • Were they rich in emotion? A social event? Something unique? Something fun?
  • Our lives are measured in moments, and defining moments are the ones that endure in our memories”. It’s the significant moments that stand out in our lives, rather than the tasks achieved or ticks on an action list.
  • A defining moment is defined as “a short experience that is both memorable and meaningful”. These are moments that capture our imaginations, moments when we are fully absorbed by the experience.
  • Such peak moments are vital in our lives. “No one reflecting on their life has ever wished there had been fewer.”
  • “Spot the occasions that are worthy of investment”, more than the standard birthday or graduation celebration. “Recognise where the prose of life needs punctuation.”
  • Instead of waiting for them just to happen spontaneously, we can set about actively creating them.


There are 3 types of defining moments: 1) PEAKS, 2) PITS, and 3) TRANSITIONS.


  • A peak defining moment is one of positivity, awe, and delight.
  • CREATING MAGICAL MOMENTS EXAMPLE At the time of the book’s publication, Disney’s Magic Castle was considered as one of the top 3 rated hotels in L.A., with over 93% of guests scoring it excellent or very good. It was by the no means the plushest hotel to stay at – its rooms were dated, furnishings were spare, walls bare – it looked like “a respectable budget motel. So how did it achieve such a high positive rating? It excelled in creating simple but unique, unforgettable magical moments that surprised and wowed its guests.  Popsicles were delivered on silver trays by waiters wearing white gloves. “Hello, Popsicle Hotline” was the greeting anyone received when ordering these fun treats, using a specially designated phone. Magicians performed tricks at breakfast three times a week. Unlimited laundry could be dropped off for washing, and was delivered back wrapped in butcher paper tied with “twine and a sprig of lavender”. And all of these services and treats were delivered for free. Disney excelled at creating a little drama and magic, a little pomp and ceremony around seemingly mundane and standard tasks. They created surprise and unexpected delights.
  • The key learning from this example is that it isn’t about making every detail perfect – “customers will forgive small swimming pools and underwhelming room décor, as long as some moments are magical”.
  • Peak moments can be simple and small – it’s about creating one or two unforgettable awe-filled moments.
  • How can you create some simple but magical moments this week, for your friends, family, colleagues and love ones?


  • Pits lie at the opposite end of the spectrum to peak moments.
  • They are defining moments in life, but normally unwanted experiences. They include an element of pain or hardship e.g. the death of a loved one, finding out about a terminal illness or missing out on a promotion.
  • “Pits need to be filled.”
  • DISNEY EXAMPLE Disney “fills the pit” of long lines for rides and attractions by creating interesting distractions e.g. performers entertain and interact with guests whilst they queue.
  • The best approach to pit experiences is finding appropriate opportunities to transform them into peak experiences.
  • EXAMPLE MRI SCANS – a designer of MRI machines transformed the negative, fearful and claustrophobic proves experienced by children needing scans, by redesigning the experience into one in which children took part in an adventurous storyline. Hospital rooms were transformed into engaging adventure scenes, such as an adventure jungle where children would hop over stickered rocks on the floor to a hollow canoe that floated through the jungle – a disguised MRI machine. The friendly designs put the children at ease, engaged their imaginations and transformed a pit experience full of anxiety and tears to one of fun and delight that they actually looked forward to.
  • Tackling pit experiences is important, however, most organisations get trapped in a cycle of filling pits. They get caught up in never-ending complaints management, attempting to fix minor problems and annoyances. But they forget to also create peak moments – to create those extraordinary moments which make people remember them and want to come back.
  • Customer experience researchers have found that the happiest customers tend to spend more – so it’s more strategic to focus on making the experience of those customers better, rather than on efforts to please the most unsatisfied customers. Moving a customer rating from 4 (mid-range) to a 7 (upper range) leads to more additional spending than moving a customer from a 1 (lowest score) to a 4. The study found that there’s nine times more benefit from elevating the experience of positive customers, than from eliminating negative customer experiences.
  • The above findings can also be applied to ordinary life issueswe tend to focus on our problems and negative moments more than our more positive moments. We focus on the times we’ve failed more than our successes. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t tackle our most pressing problems – it’s just the amount of focus and bandwidth we dedicate to them versus the opportunity to create positive peaks needs to be shifted to derive greater benefits. “In the short term, we prioritize fixing problems over making moments.”
  • “In life, we can work so hard to get the kinks out that we forget to put the peaks in.”


  • Transitions mark dividing points, between Before and After, between Old You and New You – a move from one stage of life to another e.g. getting married, graduating from university, starting a new job, getting a divorce.
  • Transitions are opportunities to create meaning – they should be marked.
  • For example, oftentimes, the first day at work is treated like a bureaucratic task-list to get through  – what if instead it was celebrated and given the importance of a first date, making the new person feel truly welcomed and important? It’s an opportunity to create a memorable experience and reflect the culture of an organisation rather than being a mere additional task to complete.


  • One or more of the following four factors are involved in a defining moment – 1) ELEVATION, 2) INSIGHT, 3) PRIDE, 4) CONNECTION.


  • Defining moments must transcend the everyday experience and stimulate our senses.  They should elevate us above the flat humdrum of life, and boost us above the norm.  Perhaps they also have an element of surprise.
  • How can we create elevated moments?
    • You are looking for those involved – your customers, your employers – to feel something. To engage in their senses. This is about motivating your staff above and beyond lifeless goals, statistics and numbers. What provides meaning for them in their work? What excites them enough to work towards those goals?  
    • CHURCH FIRST-TIME VISITOR EXPERIENCE EXAMPLE – A church reverend wanted to breathe life into monthly meetings with the church board, which had started to feel like an administrative burden. He noted that the first-time visitor experience was a key transition moment in the church experience, and he wanted the board to look for ways to improve this. Instead of sitting around and discussing ideas, he asked the board to roam the church grounds whilst asking them to imagine visiting the church for the first time. He asked them to consider what they noticed. They came back with a number observations – that the church held bilingual services but all signage was in English (which led to an idea to add additional signage in Spanish), that they were not aware of how popular the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting was (and this lead to a suggestion to invite other community groups to use the church’s facilities). The “roaming the grounds” exercise was powerful – “People are still talking about the things they saw that day”. Boosting sensory appeal was a key part of creating that defining moment.
    • To “Break the Script” is to “defy people’s expectations of how an experience will unfold”.
    • SOUTHWEST AIRLINES EXAMPLE – This airline breaks the script by introducing a sense of fun and spontaneity on some of their flights, where cabin crew deliver funny safety announcements. The impact it has had on customers and business is clearly evidenced –  loyal customers on a flight with a funny safety announcement flew 1.5 more times over the next year than customers who hadn’t heard one.
    • How do you break the script frequently enough to rise above monotony but to avoid setting a consistent expectation that customers adapt to? One solution is to ensure randomness.
    • PRET A MANGER EXAMPLE – This café chain is known for giving out free drinks and items to customers they like. if this had been a loyalty card it would have become a standard part of the script – an expected perk.
    • You can also avoid setting an expectation when you “Break The Script” by only doing so every so often e.g. holding a business meeting in a new setting every 5 out of 10 meetings.
    • “We need to break the script in our own lives – we “feel older” not because we age but because our lives become more routine – we start to reminisce about the past instead of looking forward to the future because we stop creating and experiencing enough peak and meaningful moments.
    • We feel most comfortable when things are certain, but we feel most alive when they’re not” (authors of the book “Surprise”).
    • We can raise the stakes of an experience by adding an element of atmosphere and pressure to make it more meaningful e.g. a competition, a deadline, a public commitment.
    • The aim is to stop doing what is reasonable and start adding some flair, drama and excitement.
    • INTERVIEW EXAMPLE – including a role play as part of an interview process adds some pressure and excitement to the process for both the interviewee and interviewers, moving away from the standard question and answer approach.The role play allows the interviewee to experience what it might be like to work in the role,  and makes the experience more memorable.


  • Defining experiences include moments of insight that change our understanding of ourselves or our perception of the world. Sometimes the insight is delivered in an instant – we experience a revelation. It could be a quote or book that changes you, or a realisation that this the person I am going to marry. Ex-cult members tend to recall a specific moment when their bubble burst and their previous and elevated view of their cult leader could no longer be sustained.
    • You are more motivated to act on an insight when it is an insight you have realised for yourself, rather than something that is told to you.
    • CHURCH EXAMPLE ABOVE – the board members, in roaming the church grounds discovered insights for themselves by seeing the church from the perspective of a first-time visitor, but through their own eyes. Had they instead discussed suggestions made by means of a congregational suggestion box, the exercise may not have been as effective or engaging for the board members – they may have been more resistant to ideas that they themselves did not generate.
    • These moments of insight can be created – by creating situations and experiences that allow for a person’s own self-discovery. Vocation Vacations is a business that allows people to gain insight into a  potential new career or vocation by engaging in a “day in the life” experience – by shadowing people who are living that lifestyle. Such experiences help transcend navel gazing and go beyond limited mental visioning to experience what it might actually be like in a tangible way.
    • Studying our own behaviour in a situation is more fruitful than merely thinking about that situation. It’s better to try something new, to get out of our comfort zone and stretch ourselves – even fail, and gain insight from an actual experience. “Action leads to insight more often than insight leads to action”.


  • “Defining moments capture us at our best – moments of achievement, moments of courage”.
  • Often, these are moments of recognition by others – a promotion, an award. Therefore, the simplest way to achieve this is to find more opportunities to recognise the impact and difference others make, to show them that they matter.
  • Surveys show that one of the top reasons why people leave their jobs is a lack of praise and recognition. This need not be done through a scheduled and standard employee of the month process – it should be spontaneous, meaningful and personal. “Effective recognition is personalised, not programmatic”.
  • Recognise the progress a person is making towards their goals to instil a sense of pride e.g. you could video record a new basketball player when s/he first starts training and compare it to a recording of their skill 6 months later to show their development and improvement.


  • “Defining moments are social”. They are special because we share them with others.
  • Relationships deepen, and bonds are created because of shared meaningful moments or shared experiences of struggle, not mere time spent together.
  • People experience connection when they are committed to a common purpose. There’s a sense that “We’re in this together”. We have seen evidence of this numerous times during the COVID-19 pandemic – people uniting together to help their neighbours and vulnerable community members.
  • “If you want to be part of a group that bonds like cement, take on a really demanding task that’s deeply meaningful. All of you will remember it for the rest of your lives.”
  • “Purpose trumps passion.” Purpose unites us with others around a shared goal, creating something greater than the individual parts involved – there’s a sense of mission. Passion is more individualistic – “it can energize us but also isolate us, because my passion isn’t yours”.
  • LIFEFGUARDS EXAMPLE – Paid lifeguards were divided into two groups. One group (the Personal Benefit Group) were given four stories to read that that described how other lifeguards had benefited from the skills they acquired through lifeguarding. The second group (the Meaning Group) read four stories detailing the rescue of drowning swimmers by other lifeguards. Afterwards, the Meaning Group voluntarily signed up for 43% more work hours. Additionally, their “helping behaviours” – voluntary actions to benefit others – increased by 21%. There was no increase in hours or helping behaviour from the Personal Benefit Group.  Clearly, having a sense of purpose matters.
  • Why you do what you do matters. Beyond your task list – it’s your ultimate purpose that keeps you carrying out the tasks and actions that contribute to that meaningful outcome.
  • We all want to do something that matters, and creating peak experiencesmeaningful moments to elevate and delight the lives of others – no matter how small – is what we are remembered by.  

The book is filled with plenty of examples that reveal the power of defining moments. Click here to get the book and gain inspiration to create more peak experiences in your life – the moments that matter.

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