The Key to Creating Memorable (Socially Distanced) Days

The Key to Creating Memorable (Socially Distanced) Days

Throughout our lives, two key types of memories tend to stick out in our minds: peak events (the best part of a positive experience) and endings. Many of these peak moments happen serendipitously—like meeting your future husband at a coffee shop or getting an appealing job offer out of the blue—and it can be difficult to remember the things that don’t especially stand out, even if you’d like to.

We’ve talked to Dan Heath and his brother Chip, the authors of The Power of Moments, about using what we know about peak events and endings to intentionally carve impactful memories out of ordinary days. And because “ordinary” days look quite different now, we asked Dan to share advice on how to create standout, joyful memories in a time where those have been naturally harder to come by.

A Q&A with Dan Heath

What are the key elements of memorable moments?

So often, we miss opportunities to create moments for ourselves. We found that there are four ingredients of a peak moment. And to be clear, you need not have all four. Many peak moments have just one of following:

  • Elevation. They lift you above the everyday, sparking joy, delight, and surprise.
  • Insight. In an instant, you realize something new about yourself or your world.
  • Pride. These are moments when you accomplish things you weren’t sure you’d be able to or when other people recognize you for something you’ve achieved.
  • Connection. Our ties to another person or a group of people are deepened.
  • If we understand the elements that make a peak moment, we can design more of these moments and create a more memorable life.

    How can we work to create meaningful memories during this time at home?

    The one thing I can promise is that the period we’re living through right now will be one of the most memorable periods of our lives. And it will be memorable for different reasons for all of us. We all know people who are enduring tragedy or are putting their life at risk just going to work.

    For the majority of people, they will look back at this time as something unique because it is breaking the script of life and taking us out of our routines. Normally, we wake up in the morning, have our coffee, take a shower, eat breakfast, and commute to work, and all these habits are the same. A consequence of that repetition is that life becomes less memorable. When you do the same thing one hundred times, you stop perceiving it as an experience.

    This self-isolation era that we’re living through is a profound breach of the script in the way we are living, working, and interacting with others. This particular moment has been forced upon us, but we can use the same principle in the future: If you want to create more memories with your family, look for other ways to break the script.

    Create the perfect day. One of my favorite stories came from a guy who approached me at a conference after reading my book. He said he was inspired by the idea of breaking the script. So he challenged his children to create their perfect day. Both kids drew up their plans and this guy and his wife worked together to make it happen for them. The plans turned out to be hilarious and actually quite simple: eat Krispy Kreme donuts for breakfast and Chipotle for lunch, watch The Emoji Movie, take the dog for a walk, and play board games. This is a magical idea because as parents, we often get caught in this trap of thinking we have to dazzle our kids with something extravagant by taking them to Disney or renting a bounce house. But if we just ask our kids, “What does a perfect day look like to you?” they’ll say things we never would have expected.

    Deepen your relationships. Creating vulnerability can open doors in relationships that may have been shut for a long time. Many of us are finding ourselves trapped in the same house with family members, roommates, or significant others, and we’re finding new ways to interact and engage with one another. If we can be intentional about trying to deepen these relationships, we can create meaningful memories and rewarding connection.

    There was a famous psychologist named Arthur Aron who ran an experiment where two strangers would ask each other thirty-six questions, and at the end, they were asked to rate how close they felt to the other person. The ratings these people gave were the sorts of ratings people would normally give to their best friends and parents. (You can look up these questions online by searching “36 questions.”) The idea is that the questions escalate vulnerability. At the beginning, the questions are along the lines of “Given the choice of anyone in the world, who would you want as a dinner guest?” And by question thirty-three, you ask: “If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?” Imagine having a conversation like that with your partner. It’s the kind of deep discussion that gets crowded out by the everyday grind.

    Something else you could do with your family would be going around the table and sharing one thing you love about each of the other people every day. My daughter’s preschool had us do this, and we kept a log of all the positive things that were said. Then, each morning, we would read aloud all the things that had been said before and add a new one. It was a fun and warm tradition. At first, you might feel like a goober—at least speaking for myself as a somewhat skeptical author—but it’s amazing how a little bit of attention and affirmation can make you feel so loved.

    Dan Heath is a senior fellow at Duke University’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship. He is a coauthor of several New York Times bestsellers, including The Power of Moments.

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