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From Doctor to Emotions Engineer, Part 1: The Power of Micro-Experiences

In medical school, we heard about “building rapport” with our patients and developing a good “bedside manner.”

Sick Season 4 GIF By The Simpsons

What’s more difficult is actually teaching or learning “good” versions of any of these. I was lucky to attend a school that brought in excellent standardized patients or actors who would give us real-time feedback on things we did or said in mock clinic visits.

“I really liked how you brought up your personal struggles with your own father.”

“I don’t think you should bring up personal details — it feels unprofessional.”

But these teaching experiences were few compared to the thousands of informal lessons we learned by watching our superiors, who often had no formal training around bedside manners. Different doctors also all have different opinions of what’s right.

“I introduce myself by my first name — it makes me more approachable.”

“As a female doctor, I *never* introduce myself as anything other than Dr. XYZ. Patients disrespect us enough as it is.”

“Address your patients as Mr. or Ms. ABC. You don’t know them personally — it’s only respectful to call them by their last name.”

“We wear suits in this healthcare system because a survey of our patients showed they’re most preferred by our patients.”

Sterling K Brown Pain GIF By Saturday Night Live

As a result, a budding doctor is often left to their own devices when it comes to developing an emotional connection with their patients quickly and adeptly. I’ve always been a people person (I score about 97% extroverted on most personality-type tests). As a result, I generally love talking with and getting to know my patients. In the world of back-to-back clinic visits, I have also had to learn the incredible skill of making someone like and trust me while simultaneously helping them in 5 to 15 minutes.

“How are you doing?” vs. “Nice to meet you.”

“I got your note about your blood pressure question.”

“Why don’t you tell me the story from when you first started getting symptoms?”

I have learned through experience to intentionally choose my phrases according to the situation.

So why am I telling you this? What does this have to do with Curio? Constantly building relationships on a time crunch made me realize just how important micro-experiences are.

Micro-experiences are precisely what they sound like — small experiences within the whole experience which are complete yet shorter than what you’d normally describe as an experience.

Micro-experiences are precisely what they sound like — small experiences within the whole experience which are complete yet shorter than what you’d normally describe as an experience.

I’m not saying we should be obsessed with every single detail of a person’s experience. After all, do you remember every object in a scene? No — we lose our eidetic memory (photographic memory) because all that extra information is not actually meaningful, but is rather distracting, in most situations.

The true wisdom is in recognizing which micro-experiences will be the ones to greatly impact the other person’s memory about the interaction. When we store memories in our brain, we associate them with being either positive or negative, to put it simply. This association is based on how we felt when we walked away from the experience, not on a full recap of what ensued throughout.

  1. Emotions are affected by the smallest micro-experiences.
  2. Some micro-experiences matter a lot, others not at all.
  3. Focus on the significant micro-experiences and you can overcome unintentional effects of less significant micro-experiences.

So yes, making a beautiful visual design for your medical office or app will help your patients feel trust. But so will the jokes you make, or the facial expressions you display, or how you phrase your messages between visits. These all combine to make micro-experiences, which then combine to create a full experience.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou

This is why we infuse humor into our content. You may not remember what the GIF said, but you will remember laughing when you saw it. This sends a dopamine hit to your brain, which causes that instance (aka the thing you just learned) to be stored in the “happy memory” section of your brain instead of being forgotten into the abyss. That micro-experience in your day positively and powerfully inserts an emotional learning into your head.

This is also why we focus on delivering content through media — IG reels, memes, etc.- versus a 5-page essay. Images — particularly socially and culturally significant ones — have an instant emotional impact, thus making them more memorable.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a GIF is worth how many? A million?

Audience Applause GIF by Giphy

Emotions are complex, beautiful things, and we haven’t spent enough time focusing on them.

It’s time to change that.

Until Part 2…



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Hillary Lin, MD

Hillary Lin, MD


Co-founder and CEO of Curio, a psychedelic online mental health clinic. Stanford BS, MD.