Your memory of an event is shaped disproportionately by the most intense part of the experience and it’s ending rather than the entire duration of the experience.
That reality of how we remember experiences has been so well researched and documented that it even has a name! It’s known as the Peak End Rule.
Here’s an example from Atul Gawande’s remarkable book, Being Mortal…
Have you ever watched a football game in which your team played wonderfully, but at very end they lost the ball and wound up losing the game? Those disastrous last few minutes will overwrite your memory of the entire game.
Endings Matter More
Put simply, the way you feel at the most intense moment and at the end plays an out-sized role in the way you feel about the entire event.
So I think it’s worth paying special attention to the way you end things. Don’t just let them dribble away. Design experiences so they conclude with strong and positive endings.
If you organize a party, end it with a group toast or something special rather than just letting the guests fade away.
When you develop an agenda for a meeting, don’t let it close with simply, “It’s time to adjourn.” Instead, find a way for each person to highlight something specific they are taking away from the meeting.
If you go out to dinner with your friend or partner, find a way to end the evening on a high note. Perhaps sing a song together or take a moment to remember something special you’ve shared.
Apply the Peak End Rule to Your Year
I’ve decided to apply the Peak-End Rule to 2015.
This year, I will turn 70 and my husband, Tyko, will turn 75. And rather than having this year just come and go, I’m planning to create peak experiences with birthday celebrations throughout the year. And then, at the end of the year, we’ll go someplace special. Perhaps a trip to Cuba.
While making the most of every hour of every day is an admirable goal, perhaps your life will seem brighter, fuller, and more exciting if you take the time to plan experiences with intense peaks and memorable endings.
I think it’s worth a try.
For more about happiness and endings, take a look at this post by Professor of Psychology Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne.
End Your Experiences with a Bang, not a Whimper
Think about ways that you can apply the Peak End Rule to the things you do so that you and your friends and colleagues come way with positive memories. Try shaping a meeting, a party or some other activity so that people feel great at the end. It won’t take much effort, but it will leave a lasting and enjoyable impression.
How did the end of something you’ve experienced color your impression of the entire event? Please share your story in the comments section.