• Melinda English

Defining Moments

The following was written by a friend and former colleague in response to a Facebook post I made:


Melinda and Terry had just checked into a hotel for the night. They were not there because of vacation; the power was out in their home, damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas. While Melinda made her way to the elevator her husband (Terry) was still at the front desk. When he got to the room he relayed a series of events that delayed his arrival. While he was registering, a young man (a Harvey victim too) was pleading with another hotel attendant for a lower rate because he could not afford the room. Without hesitation, Terry told the hotel employee to put their room on his bill. A few hours later the man, his wife and baby stopped by to say thank you. The man wanted to shake Terry’s hand.



Ever wonder what motivates individuals like Terry to step into a defining moment? What if we could create defining moments that can help bring meaning to our lives? Before I offer a few ideas, let’s first consider that researchers have discovered how humans use certain “filters” to assess past experiences as defining. Here is how it works, after we go through an experience we will rate it based on two key moments: the best or worst moment; and the ending. Psychologists call it the “peak-end rule.” This is why we look back at family vacations, weddings, or even difficulties our memories will lift up the best/worst moments (a ride, the walk down the aisle, the moment we knew we crashed) and the ending (the purchase of a shirt, the kiss, the rescue). In short, when we assess experiences, “we don’t average our minute-by-minute sensations.


Rather, we tend to remember flagship moments: the peaks, the pits, and the transitions.” The information above is critical in our understanding of how moments link together to bring meaning to our experiences. Terry could have let the moment at the front desk slip away; it would have been just a night away from hurricane annoyances. His decision to step into a “peak” and then the follow-up with the couple (an end) is what changed a transactional moment into a transformational experience. Back to my question, how can we create defining moments in our own lives?

Here are a few ideas (see source below):


ELEVATION: Look for moments that add “peaks” to our everyday flatness that can transform the average into the extraordinary. Do more than observe. Jump in! INSIGHT: Look for meaning in our experiences. These are moments that might reframe our understanding of our world or challenges long held beliefs/values. PRIDE: Look for moments that challenge us toward our best. This would be achieving goals or acting courageously.

CONNECTION: Look for moments that we can share with others that tend to elevate an experience Search for moments that allow us to experience life with friends, families, or strangers. Rarely is a defining moment done in isolation.

The story of the Good Samaritan drips with defining moments. He could have easily walked by, perhaps even said a prayer or dropped some money. But he stopped. “Peak” and “End” were added to his trip and the journey was transformed! He jumped in and helped, added meaning to a trip, acted courageously, and made a connection with a friend. This was a defining moment!


Terry and Melinda did something similar on their “everyday” trip to a hotel. How will you make today a defining moment day? Start by looking for defining moment opportunities in everyday activities; during a fitness class, in an afterschool setting, at home during dinner... then, add one or more of the ingredients listed above. Start today. The opportunities are all around us!

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