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  • Steve Nguyen, PhD

Defining Moments - Short, Memorable, and Meaningful Experiences

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

“Our lives are measured in moments, and defining moments are the ones that endure in our memories.” -Chip Heath & Dan Heath

In The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath talk about defining moments. A defining moment is a short experience that is both meaningful and memorable. We tend to remember flagship moments: the peaks, the pits, and the transitions.

  • Peaks: Moments that make us feel engaged, joyful, amazed, motivated.

  • Pits: Negative defining moments—moments of hardship or pain or anxiety. Loss of loved ones, negative feedback, etc. “Business leaders who can spot their customers’ moments of dissatisfaction and vulnerability—and take decisive action to support those customers—will have no trouble differentiating themselves from competitors. Offering to help someone in a difficult time is its own goal and reward. It also has the side effect of being good for business.”

  • Transitions: classic occasions for defining moments. Ex: graduations, retirement, getting married, promotions, first day of school, end of projects, buying a house, first paycheck from a new job, etc.

Milestones: Milestones are similar to transitions in that some milestones mark transitions, such as graduation or birthday milestones (e.g., 18th, 21st, 30th, 40th, 50th, 60th, 100th birthday). Other milestones include job retirement, 25th anniversary trips, 30th-year-on-the-job plaques or gold watches, salesman's $10 millionth dollar of revenue earned, a manager who has had 10 direct reports promoted, etc.

Even though many of the defining moments in our lives are often the result of accident or luck, we can still create positive, meaningful, memorable moments*.

* NOTE: The Heath brothers explained that although defining moments often bring about positive emotions, there are also negative defining moments, such as embarrassing or bitter experiences or even trauma. However, the authors did not explore moments of trauma in detail because the focus of their book was on creating more positive moments.

“Defining moments shape our lives, but we don’t have to wait for them to happen. We can be authors of them.” -Chip Heath & Dan Heath

The Big Ideas
1) We tend to remember flagship moments: the peaks, the pits, and the transitions.
2) A defining moment is a short experience that is memorable & meaningful.
3) Defining moments are created from one or more elements: (i) Elevation; (ii) Insight; (iii) Pride; (iv) Connection.

We can be the authors of defining moments by building them from one or more of the following four elements: Elevation, Insight, Pride, and Connection. Defining moments possess at least one of the four elements above, but they do not need to have all four.

The four components of memorable moments are known as EPIC:

Elevation - a moment that rises above all others in a day. Moments of elevation are experiences that rise above the routine. They make us feel engaged, joyful, surprised, motivated. Ex: wedding ceremony (e.g., fine food and dancing and fancy clothes). To create them, we can (1) boost the sensory appeal; (2) raise the stakes; and/or (3) break the script.

Pride - a moment that happened while we are at peak performance. Moments of pride commemorate people’s achievements. We can use three strategies to deliver pride: (1) Recognize others; (2) Multiply meaningful milestones—reframe a long journey so that it features multiple “finish lines;” and (3) Practice courage by “preloading” our responses in advance, so we’re ready when the right moment comes.

Insight - a moment that changes how we see our environment. Moments of insight deliver realizations and transformations. To produce moments of insight for others, we can cause them to “trip over the truth” by revealing (1) a clear insight; (2) compressed in time; and (3) discovered by the audience. To produce moments of self-insight, we must stretch, placing ourselves in situations that involve the risk of failure.

Connection - a moment that is part of our cultural fabric. Moments of connection bond us together. Groups unite when they struggle together toward a meaningful goal; they often begin their work with a “synchronized moment.” In individual relationships, it's responsiveness that deepens our ties. A responsive interaction can bring people together very quickly.


When I think back to the defining flagship moments in my career, memories of the sixteen Thursday evening dinners celebrating participants completing the 5-day in person Service King* Leadership Academy (throughout 2019) come flooding back.

* NOTE: Service King is an auto collision repair service provider in the United States, with 330 locations in 24 states and the District of Columbia. On July 14, 2022, it was publicly announced that Service King had merged with Crash Champions, a competing national auto collision repair service provider. Crash Champions would retain the name, and its management team would lead the combined company and manage over 550 locations in 35 states once the deal closes.

Service King Leadership Academy [due to COVID-19's impact on the U.S. economy and the auto collision repair industry, Service King discontinued the program in 2020] was an in-person leadership development program designed for frontline managers. It focused on equipping frontline managers with the mindset and skills necessary to lead with greater accountability. Frontline Managers were held accountable for executing on the strategies of the Service King organization as well as those specific to their markets and shops. The Service King Frontline Leadership Academy was aimed at providing these frontline managers with the skills, tools, & strategies to help them better manage their business and lead their people.

These Leadership Academy graduation dinners were so memorable because they were moments of elevation (experiences that rise above the routine; special occasions with fine food and fancy clothes), moments of pride (moments that commemorate achievements), and moments of connection (moments that unite & bond people).

The graduation dinners were held at a nice restaurant and participants were served a multi-course dinner, with their choice of filet mignon, chicken, or fish. They had dinner with their fellow classmates (30-35 participants), along with three Service King C-suite leaders: CEO, President, and CHRO. For many of the men, it was one of the few times in their lives that they purchased and wore a suit! A few of these men still had tags on their jackets and dress shoes!

Participants were presented with a graduation certificate displaying their names and signatures of the University of Texas at Dallas facilitator and the Service King senior leaders. They also had their pictures taken with the Service King CHRO and the class sponsor (the SVP or VP of Operations).

The occasion occurred at a peak time as the excitement and camaraderie from being in a cohort the entire week culminated in their graduation dinner before the workshop wrapped up the next day and they'll each go their separate way and return to their home markets. In fact, the entire week was designed to make each cohort/class and each person in the class feel special. Thus, the entire week can be thought of as a weeklong defining moment, with a peak moment on the night of graduation.

This graduation dinner was unique to each of the 16 cohorts because no other class had the same classmates. The connections among and between the participants and the pride that they felt (as well as the pride that I felt being the Service King Leadership Academy Program Manager) filled the night air with such incredible electricity, and if you were a part of that experience you didn’t want it to end!

Many of them said, “I will never forget this experience!”

“Moments are not created equal. Our experiences are mostly forgettable and occasionally remarkable. But those remarkable moments don’t create themselves. What if we didn’t just remember the standout moments of our lives and work but made them? We can be the designers of moments that deliver elevation and insight and pride and connection. These exceptional minutes and hours and days—they are what make life meaningful. And they are ours to create.” -Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

Organizational & Leadership Development Leader


Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2017). The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact. Simon & Schuster.

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2017, October 3). The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact.

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2017). The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact (J. Bobb, Narr.) [Audiobook]. Simon & Schuster Audio.

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2017). The Power of Moments 1 Page Summary (EPIC).



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