Mostly Forgettable + Occasionally Remarkable = Peak Writing
“If you ask them, why are you not using that latrine? They would tell you, ‘Are you sure I should put shit in that structure…that is even better than my house?’” Kar realised that open defecation was not a hardware problem, it was a behavioural problem.
The argument put forth in the Heaths’ bestseller is simple: our lives are shaped by a few “defining” moments. A few seconds make (or break) us. Our problems are mostly behavioural. Fleeting moments have profound, long-lasting impacts. Manufacturing such moments propels us to greater intellectual and emotional highs. Two hundred and fifty pages of uplifting evidence later, I was convinced. Here’s what I learned about harnessing the power of moments to create riveting content.
1. The Peak/End Rule
We don’t accurately remember experiences. Psychology research cited in the book shows that while recalling an experience, we ignore most of what happened. Instead, we focus on a few moments. In particular, the peak and the end. Peaks are the “highs”– the thrill of the rollercoaster ride, the winning goal in extra time, the bride falling headfirst into the wedding cake. The “end” is how experiences finish — the drive back from the amusement park, rushing past the turnstiles to get to the bar after the match, waking up with a hangover after the wedding party. This is the peak/end rule. Our memories of experiences are mostly forgettable and occasionally remarkable.
Insight: Customers forgive small grievances if some moments in their experience are magical.
Action: Your readers are your customers. They will forgive small grievances — typos, misspellings, stale prose — if some parts of your writing are magical. Having a few top-notch, memorable zingers in your content helps. As does a robust, memorable ending. Everything else is forgotten. Don’t fret about it.
2. Transitions, Milestones and Pits
Defining moments are ripe for creation in three unique scenarios: transitions, milestones and pits.
Transitions mark the shift from the old to the new. Think New Year celebrations, anniversaries, birthdays, new jobs. Turning over a new leaf. Transitions are replete with occasions for creating defining moments.
Milestones are also breeding grounds for defining moments. Acing an exam, hitting 10k steps daily, 1000th day of sobriety.
Pits are the opposites of peaks: rock bottom. Rock bottom is a solid foundation. This is fertile ground for manufacturing defining moments.
Insight: Transitions, milestones and pits are ideal conditions to manufacture defining moments.
Action: Announce your transitions. Making your goals public increases accountability and your chance of achieving them. Aim for learning goals over performance goals. Celebrate small victories (1000 views of your writing, 20 new followers, etc). Celebrating milestones enriches our inner mojo, satisfies intrinsic motivation, and pushes you to flip pits to peaks.
3. Attack or Defend?
We tend to fill pits first and then aim for peaks. Pits are more noticeable, but peaks are more fulfilling. Paving your pits is defensive. Enhancing your peaks is offensive. But do you attack or defend? Do you work on your weaknesses or solidify your strengths? Because of our inherent risk-aversion, we tend to focus on filling pits. This generally leads to a functional service rather than an extraordinary one. These repeated, functional, flat-lined experiences lead to forgettable outputs, as they break the “Peak/End” rule.
Insight: Aim to drop jaws. Don’t play it safe. Attackers love to win. Defenders hate to lose.
Action: Always attack. Play to your strengths. If you are an excellent raconteur but a terrible researcher, let your writing be filled with juicy anecdotes. It’s what you do best. It’s also what brings the fizz. Your verve and style will hit peaks, your readers will enjoy your work and you will produce memorable, unforgettable content.
4. Tripping Over Truths
We are essentially intuition driven information processors who rarely realise our own shortcomings. Making people realise their logical fallacies takes tact. People seldom change their minds even in face of overwhelming evidence or better solutions. They will cling to their perspective, come what may. Graphs and data analytics will not change their minds. But persuasion is an art that’s enhanced by vivid communication. By bringing a person’s biases to life, you can get her to trip over the truth. Where reason fails, persuasion works. Advocating solutions sounds like a sales pitch and is met with scepticism. Instead, bringing the problem to the fore through vivid imagery and persuasion will force people to trip over the truth.
Insight: Persuasion through vivid communication changes minds and overcomes bias.
Action: Persuasive writing isn’t just about methodically stating your perspective and advocating solutions supported by stats and facts. It simply won’t work on readers whose minds are already made up. To persuade your readers, you need vivid imagery that appeals to their intuition. Vivid imagery means passionate writing. Unflinching, honest, no-punches-pulled, visceral, memorable, persuasive writing.
5. Courage Is Contagious
Majoritarianism bends the truth, suppresses diversity, and nullifies perspectives. Our instinct is to cave-in to the dominant, majoritarian voice. Even when we know better. Evidence cited in the book shows how simply witnessing acts of courage, even by a stranger, emboldens us to defy the majority and take up a contrary viewpoint. Courage is contagious. Another reason why diversity always triumphs.
Insight: Courage is contagious. Diversity is the bedrock of civilization.
Action: Write valiantly. As Mark Twain said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” Having a contrarian perspective galvanises your readers who may also be harbouring them but never voiced them. Your moment of courage may be difficult when engulfed in majoritarianism, but it’s rewards are exponential. It's hard to be courageous when you are engulfed in majoritarianism, but let your writing stick it to the man.
So, there you have it — hopefully, you find these insights actionable for your writing. There’s plenty more of such snippets in “The Power Of Moments” and I wholeheartedly recommend you pick it up. It is if you pardon the pun, a momentous read.