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Seize the Moments

A new book offers advice on how to make the everyday extraordinary

Chip and Dan Heath
Authors Chip Heath (left) and Dan Heath (right)
Henry Medina

Why do some memories remain vibrant while the rest of our days whirl past in a blur of dullness? Brothers as well as business and leadership consultants, Chip Heath, 54, and Dan Heath, 44, answer that question and more in their new book, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact. It follows previous best-sellers, including Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, which offers examples of successful ideas and analyzes what made them work, and Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, about how to overcome the conflict between our rational and emotional minds that's an obstacle to change in both our business and personal lives.

While the authors are university academics at Stanford (Chip) and Duke (Dan), The Power of Moments is aimed at all who are looking to deepen connections through memorable experiences, whether between boss and employee, business and customer, teacher and student, or grandparent and grandchild. It's a book about making the most of the moments and the transitions of our lives, whether they are major or minor.

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We talked with Dan Heath, who offers a few tips:

Break the Script

Ask yourself, why are the years between the ages of 15 and 30 so memorable for most people? Because they are filled with firsts, says Heath. “First kiss, first time away from parents, first job, first apartment, first marriage, first baby.” Although routines can be comfortable, novelty makes moments memorable. That’s why time seems to slow down when we travel. “New place, new bed, new food, doing new things. … When you disrupt your normal routines, you lay down a richer set of memories.”

'The Power of Moments' by Chip and Dan Heath
Courtesy of Simon and Schuster

Heath’s advice: Mix up your usual weekend routine or tweak your holiday traditions. If you usually go for brunch and take a nap on a Saturday, consider a day trip to a nearby city. Contact old friends. Find a new park to visit. “It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should be different.”

There's no need to take memory making to extremes, however. "A little bit of variety can go a long way," he says. "You want enough novelty to keep things fresh and to keep creating new memories without feeling the need to generate some kind of dislocation. ... It would be very easy to create a really memorable experience by divorcing your spouse and moving to Botswana and herding cattle, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea."

Avoid the Reasonable

Peak moments do not arise naturally, says Heath. “What makes moments special is precisely that they buck or contradict the things we think of as reasonable.” He writes about a hotel in Los Angeles that features a Popsicle Hotline. You pick up the phone, choose your flavor, and voilà, it is delivered poolside on a silver platter. The more sensible idea: a cooler full of Popsicles. “But that turns a peak moment into a speed bump.”

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It's Not About You

If you want to create special moments with people you love, you need to be responsive to what they want and how they see themselves. “One size doesn’t fit all,” says Heath. For example, if you have an adventurous young person in your life, plan an overseas trip together, or meet an outdoorsy person for a hike. He points to a grandmother who took her 18-month-old granddaughter to a show starring Barney the dinosaur, complete with a backstage pass. "For this little girl it was magic, " he says. Be attuned to the other person, not yourself.

Say Thank You

The absolute best way to create an incredible, unforgettable memory? “Conduct a gratitude visit." Think of a person who made a difference in your life; then write a letter to the individual expressing thanks for what he or she has done for you. After you write the letter, visit the person and read the letter aloud. The result will be a deeply moving experience for both the recipient and the letter writer. “You will be on cloud nine after the visit for a month,” promises Heath.