“Defining moments shape our lives, but we don’t have to wait for them to happen. We can be the authors of them.”
The Power of Moments is the Heath brothers’ fourth book—their first in a little over four years. Like their prior books, it is a combination of easy to grasp (and remember) frameworks combined with often surprising and counterintuitive findings, brought to life with terrific storytelling. They are uniquely talented at bringing academic studies to life—their own and the ones that they reference.
Another feature of all prior Heath brother books—and of this one—is that they are highly actionable. It’s easy to apply the insights and strategies both at work and at home—as a boss, an employee, or a parent.
We Can Create Defining Moments
"We can be the designers of moments that deliver elevation and insight and pride and connection. These extraordinary minutes and hours and days—they are what make life meaningful. And they are ours to create."
Defining moments stand out, they influence us, cause us to rethink our direction, re-shape the trajectory of our lives. Many, but not all, of the moments we remember are ones the authors call “flagship moments”—the peaks, the pits, and the transitions.
The big idea that the authors put forth in this book is that we can engineer these moments—or at least create the conditions for them to emerge. If we were to be more mindful in the way we thought about and created “defining moments,” our lives and the lives of those we work and live with could be richer, more meaningful, and more engaged.
The authors propose four elements that create defining moments. A defining moment must include at least one of these elements—it does not have to include all four.
These four elements are:
Elevation: They rise above the everyday.
Insight: They rewire the way we understand ourselves—or the world.
Pride: They are moments that find us at our best—in terms of achievement or courage.
Connection: They are social—we share them with others.
To create more and more powerful defining moments, we need to become “moment-spotters”—learn to spot occasions to invest in. Our focus on goals can blind us to the possibility of a given moment—even as moments can support the achievement of goals. (Although the authors emphasize that moments are an end in and of themselves—they do not have to support a goal to have value.)
Creating defining moments often requires us to do, think, say, and be things that might seem bigger and less practical than normal. The authors talk about rejecting the “soul-sucking force of reasonableness” when we design memorable moments. We may need to spend more time, money or attention to create a memorable moment than seems “logical.”
I’ll now share just two of the many insights the authors provide for creating each of these elements—specifically related to creating pride. Both can be applied as easily to individual as team or organizational pursuits.
"Success comes from pushing to the finish line. What milestones do is compel us to make that push, because (a) they’re within our grasp, and (b) we’ve chosen them precisely because they’re worth reaching for. Milestones define moments that are conquerable and worth conquering."
The authors argue that, too often, we take a goal and add supporting plans, and we expect that to be enough to get us to where we need to go. The problem? That’s an accountability strategy but not a motivational one. It doesn’t change or improve our experience when we are working towards this goal. And it doesn’t, in the construct that the authors work with, deliver on the element of Pride.
If we were, instead, to do what the authors describe as “leveling up”—we’d take a goal we were working on and ask ourselves, “what’s intrinsically motivating?” We’d come up with different things that we could achieve (and celebrate) on the way to the goal we were working towards. Some of these might be linear, and some not. Think of these like boy scout badges—they celebrate the journey and are inherently valuable and motivating to achieve. They also build pride.
The authors especially recommend applying strategy at home, when we have full control of how we plan to reach our goals. Rather than “lose 10 pounds in 2 months”—really take that apart and create a set of fun, achievable and motivational milestones. How can we create multiple “finish lines”?
This strategy is embedded in many of the apps we use. I have come to appreciate Fitbit’s reminders about where I am in my quest for 10,000 steps—and to appreciate the texts I get throughout the day—not too many to be annoying but enough to remind me of what I’m trying to achieve.
Stepping back and creating these milestones, rather than simply pursuing goals and supporting steps, can turn something mundane into something more memorable and engaging.
"From historic protests to everyday acts, from the civil rights movement to an employee asking a tough question, this is the lesson we’ve learned: It is hard to be courageous, but it’s easier when you’ve practiced, and when you stand up, others will join you."
Courage, the Heath brothers argue, is not (only) something that shows up, in a moment. We can multiply moments of courage by practicing in advance—so we know what to do in the moment.
The authors remind us of Peter Gollwitzer’s “implementation intentions.” (One of my favorite tools of all time.) If we pre-load a plan by having a strategy that says: “If I am asked if I want a second drink, I will ask for sparkling water,” we are far less likely to break our resolve to drink more than we intended, because we’ll have a plan, on hand, for how to act in the moment. This seemingly small and personal example, can lead to smaller and larger acts of courage.
Did you know that the people who participated with now Congressman John Lewis in the lunch-counter sit-ins that took place in 1960 in Nashville demanding desegregation, now a classic example of non-violent protest, were practiced in advance? Makeshift lunch counters were created, and the participants practiced responding to the types of reactions they might face in the moment.
Similarly, how about, rather than talking about how we might respond when ethically challenged (e.g., someone makes a racist joke in our presence, a colleague says or does something unethical,) we practice what we would say. Pre-loading our responses can be the difference between doing nothing because we’re at a loss for words or actions and creating a moment of real courage.
We also learn that courage is contagious—when one person speaks up, others follow. So, start practicing.
I encourage you to read the book and find your own favorite strategy—as well as inspiration in the many stories the authors share.