Wisdom//

When It Comes to Memory, Not All Moments Are Created Equal

Consider the "peak-end rule" when leaving an impression.

peak-end-rule
Illustration by Tom McQuaid / Character Lab

Even now, I have vivid memories of my last day of high school. Do you?

In my mind’s eye, I’m cleaning out my locker, then staring at the emptiness for a few extra beats before slamming it shut for the last time. I’m roaming the halls with my best friend, blissfully ignoring the bells going off every 50 minutes on schedule because, just today, we’re allowed to break the rules. I’m sitting on my desk, swinging my feet, and shooting the breeze with my English teacher Mr. Carr in a way that makes me feel almost grown up.

It’s maybe my favorite day of the whole year. And like the final layer of watercolor, the freedom and lightness I feel seeps into the rest of my memories of that day and turns them just a shade rosier.

If the school year hasn’t yet ended for your kids, consider what you can do to make the finale count. Why?

Because when it comes to human memory, not all moments are created equal. Instead, our remembered experiences are disproportionately influenced by peaks (the best moments as well as the worst) and endings (the last moments). Nobel laureate Danny Kahneman, who discovered this phenomenon, dubs this the peak-end rule of hedonic experience.

I took advantage of the peak-end rule years ago, when my girls were young enough to want a bedtime story each night. I remember thinking that whatever strife and stress had occurred that day, I could make the last moments count. I could end on a note of calm and act like the patient mom I hadn’t quite managed to be just hours before.

Don’t mistake all moments as equal in significance. There’s a reason why yoga classes end with savasana. There’s a reason we eat dessert last.

Do orchestrate endings. As Seattle Seahawks coach and (Character Lab advisor) Pete Carroll might say: Finish strong. Last impressions are especially lasting.

With grit and gratitude,
Angela

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