Peak-End Experiences Matter Most

by Stephen Mills on October 5, 2009

Happy Ending

Here’s an interesting fact of human psychology.  It seems it doesn’t matter how long an experience, good or bad, lasts.  What matters is the intensity (not length) of the peak highs, lows, and ending.  That’s how we remember experiences  You can use this wonderful fact to your great advantage by manipulating the ending of your experiences.

You can change your experience of what you consider routine, monotonous, or unpleasant experiences by creating a situation where the very last moment is a pleasant (or less unpleasant) ending.  You can have an hour long painful and uncomfortable colonoscopy, but if the physician leaves the tube in for an extra few minutes at the end, this few minutes of reduced discomfort will result in you reporting a much better experience than someone who had a 10-minute procedure without the better ending.  This is known as the peak-end rule.

You all are better suited than I am to come up with ways you can use this wonderful trick in your own lives, but there is one obvious thing that jumps out at me.  End your work day on a good experience.  What a simple little trick to change your experience.  Don’t waste it!

Make it a point to always end your work day with a positive experience.  The worst thing you can do is give up whatever you are working on and leave in frustration thinking you will get back to it tomorrow.  That might be a good strategy to solve the problem, but it is a bad strategy in the psychology of how your mind experiences your day.

Go ahead and stop struggling with your problem, but find something else to accomplish at the last minute before you go home or stop working if you work at home.  It can be as simple as having a pleasant chat with one of your colleagues or accomplishing some small task.  Try clearing the clutter in your workspace and experience that peace that comes from looking at your minimalist setup.

End your vacation with the best day as the last.  End your rabbit food meal with a piece of sweet fruit.  End your argument with a sweet kiss.   End your boring exercise routine with a free and fun dance.  You get the point.

It is a big mistake to ignore these little tricks we can play on our minds.  Don’t let your stubborn habits or skepticism rob you of such a simple way to change your experiences. Whatever you are doing, get creative and end it on a high note.  I’m definitely adding this tool to my tool box.

What ideas do you have on creating peak-end experiences?

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{ 3 trackbacks }

Shaping lasting experiences: The peak-end rule : blog.intuity.medialab
November 25, 2009 at 9:02 am
How to Have a Wonderful Day
December 24, 2010 at 8:51 am
Balancing Short-Term and Long-Term Thinking– Part II–Your Health
February 16, 2011 at 8:16 am

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

BunnygotBlog October 5, 2009 at 5:09 am

This is great advice. I like the idea of finishing work with a happy experience. This makes for a pleasant start to the evening.
.-= BunnygotBlog´s last blog ..The Hidden Dozen: How Bunny Blogs =-.

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Stephen Mills October 5, 2009 at 8:12 pm

Thanks Bunny!

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Gordie Rogers October 5, 2009 at 5:24 am

I’ve never heard of this peak-end rule before. It makes sense to finish something on a high note. I like to get the worst things out of the ways first, now I just need to focus more on saving the absolute best to last.

Thanks Stephen! 🙂
.-= Gordie Rogers´s last blog ..The Lifestyle Design Anthem: “My Way”. =-.

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Stephen Mills October 5, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Hi Gordie, I love it when somebody says that they’ve never heard of something before that they read here. So much in personal development is a repackaging and a re-emphasis of what we’ve heard before. That helps, but it is great for someone to say “I never thought of that.” or “I’ve never heard that before.” Thank you!

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Greg October 5, 2009 at 6:02 am

Sounds interesting! Probably an effective way to improve your memory of experiences.

But not sure your chosen example would help much!!! Hilarious!
.-= Greg´s last blog ..Is Running On The Treadmill A Recipe For Injury? =-.

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Stephen Mills October 5, 2009 at 8:16 pm

Greg, the example is unpleasant of course. I think that is why they chose it for the study. The overall experience for those with the “tube left in” is of course objectively worse, but they have a better experience because of the ending. Pun intended 🙂

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Jay Schryer October 5, 2009 at 8:11 am

Fighting against my trouble-making nature here. Trying really, really hard not to talk about “Happy endings”….oops too late 😀

On a more serious note, I think this is a really great idea. I also think it goes against the natural inclinations of a lot of people. Especially in happy situations, such as vacation, I think we have a natural tendency to feel upset and a little negative when we know these positive experiences are coming to an end, and that can lead us to “color” the experience as more negative than it was.

So thanks for showing us that there’s a better way! I think this will really help a lot of people enhance their positive experiences, and (somewhat) negate the negative ones.
.-= Jay Schryer´s last blog ..These Dreams =-.

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Stephen Mills October 5, 2009 at 8:17 pm

Hey Jay, I know exactly what you mean. The whole time I was writing this I had to resist all kinds of impulses to make side comments about many of the terms I was using. I wondered who would bring it up!

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Vin - NaturalBias October 5, 2009 at 8:24 am

What an interesting concept! It reminds me of the influence that your thoughts just before bed supposedly have on your sleep.

I was thinking exactly what you mentioned – leave work on a good note. I’ll have to give it a try. 🙂
.-= Vin – NaturalBias´s last blog ..Trans Fat: What the Food Industry Wants to Hide From You =-.

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Stephen Mills October 5, 2009 at 8:19 pm

Hi Vin. What I like about all of this is that it isn’t gut feeling. They’ve actually conducted studies to show that the phenomena is real. Have a great ending to your work day 🙂

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Miche - Serenity Hacker October 5, 2009 at 8:39 am

Wow, I like this a lot! When I think about it, our lives in general, when you look back at them, seem to be defined by peak highs and lows… at least that what stands out the most in our memories. Now, to break that down and do it consciously, on a micro-level, in your day and at work? I think it’s brilliant! I’ve got a few not-so-fun- projects at work right now that can’t be finished in a day. I’m definitely also going to add this to my tool box, too, and work on something more fun before I leave.

I like being “done” with things before I end work for the day, so I usually tackle the longer projects after lunch and do the lighter, easier-to-finish stuff first thing in the morning to get it out of the way. But then I leave with the bigger stuff on my mind. Today I think I’ll my routine in reverse and see how it goes when I leave. Thanks! 🙂
.-= Miche – Serenity Hacker´s last blog ..Put Your Dreams in Your Routines (Simply) =-.

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Stephen Mills October 5, 2009 at 8:21 pm

Hi Miche. I love your blog name. Thanks for stopping in here to offer your insights. I’m heading over to your blog to check it out.

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Miche - Serenity Hacker October 5, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Hey Stephen, thanks for both the compliment and stopping by… I’m honored, really!! I just started Serenity Hacker this fall, after mostly writing for myself for a long time. Rat Race Trap Rocks Totally. I love coming here!!

BTW, I did this today, and I left work feeling a lot lighter, which was nice! 🙂
.-= Miche – Serenity Hacker´s last blog ..Put Your Dreams in Your Routines (Simply) =-.

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NomadicNeil October 5, 2009 at 8:47 am

This is a cool mind / life hack. I’ll give it a go!
.-= NomadicNeil´s last blog ..Personal Branding =-.

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Stephen Mills October 5, 2009 at 8:22 pm

Hi Neil. Why not give it a go right? It’s so simple I think we’re crazy not to put it to use.

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Deb Owen October 5, 2009 at 11:15 am

Reminds me of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work (and books) on ‘the optimal experience’. So as I try to create peak-end (or optimal) experiences, I keep the 8 components he’s compiled in mind. Some of the 8 includes knowing you have the skill to complete the task, but that the task should stretch your skill level and challenge you at the same time.

Thanks for the great post!
All the best!
deb
.-= Deb Owen´s last blog ..take the leap to success =-.

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Stephen Mills October 5, 2009 at 8:24 pm

Hi Deb. I’ve never read Csikszentmihalyi’s work directly. I’ve picked up his book in the bookstore but for some reason never pulled the trigger. Thanks for stopping in again!

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Tracy October 5, 2009 at 1:18 pm

Ha! Maybe that’s why women go on to have more than one baby, you get to hold a cute one at the end of it all!
.-= Tracy´s last blog ..Who wants to be rich and happy? =-.

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Stephen Mills October 5, 2009 at 8:25 pm

Hiya Tracy! I think my brother’s wife did it to get the girl! She’s was cute too 🙂

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Christa October 5, 2009 at 3:21 pm

About 10 day ago I got the quantum mind power system. It is about litening to a recording once a day. Ever since the first time I listened to it my life is not the same anymore. I feel happier, more energetic and act a way I always wanted and never got me to do so and with this recording things happen without effort.
You can have a look at it and get a free sample: http://www.quantum-mind-power-system.com/cmd.php?af=1054204
It is more and more proven to me that it is absolutely true that it is not about what happens to us, but what we think and make things happen with our thinking. Even things which one might believe they happened by chance.
I have decided to be happy some time ago and thanks to this recroding feeling good and happy got kind of part of me.

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Stephen Mills October 5, 2009 at 8:28 pm

Hi Christa. Is this similar to Holosync? I’ve considered that one, but I am also wondering if they is something similar that uses isochronic instead of biurnal beats. I’ll have to read up on it. Thanks for commenting.

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Suzanne October 5, 2009 at 5:33 pm

Something I would believe to be true if told about but not anything I’ve ever thought of using in my life on purpose. Hmm, I’ll definitely be looking for times in my day when I can use a little trick like this to end on a good note. Thanks for the tip.
.-= Suzanne´s last blog ..Quote to Reflect Upon (Oct09) =-.

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Stephen Mills October 5, 2009 at 8:28 pm

Suzanne, I thought the same thing. It makes sense, I just never thought of it before. Thank you!

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Robin Easton October 5, 2009 at 7:42 pm

This is GREAT advice Stephen and something I know to be true from firsthand experience. So on that note I am going to stop what I’m doing, which is wading through StumbleUpon shares and go sit on the couch away from the computer and make a list of everything I need to do this month and prioritize it. Believe it or not that is a much more soothing experience that finding the nuggets in my Stumble share like you, Jonathan, Steven A and a few others whom I just adore. This post could not have come at a better time for me. It is something that I am going to apply to ALL my days from now on. Thank you!! Robin 🙂
.-= Robin Easton´s last blog ..Bizarro Week =-.

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Stephen Mills October 5, 2009 at 8:29 pm

Hi Robin! Thank you so much. I am soooo glad that you liked it 🙂

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Armen Shirvanian October 5, 2009 at 9:07 pm

Hey Stephen.

This is a cool thing to talk about. We don’t often think about the effects of little things we do, like something positive at the end of something.

I will remember this next time I see an endpoint where it could use an upswing. I do use this when working with others at times so that we end on a good note and can connect the next time from a positive start.

Thanks for this message. I like your consistency.

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Stephen Mills October 9, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Armen, thank you very much for the comments!

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills October 5, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Stephen, great strategy for increasing the pleasure balance on our experience meter. Somewhat along the same lines, I like to tackle my least enjoyable tasks early in the day, and progress toward the most enjoyable as the day winds down. So here I am at almost 8 PM commenting on your blog. What’s that tell you my friend?
.-= Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog ..What It Takes to Accomplish Your Dreams =-.

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Stephen Mills October 9, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Hi Jonathan, thanks for taking the time to stop in a leave us with some of your thoughts.

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dianne lien October 6, 2009 at 7:01 pm

“Whatever you are doing, get creative and end it on a high note. I’m definitely adding this tool to my tool box.” Your writing is very insightful. This is my way of saying Thank you – also “ending on a high note”. “I’m definitely adding this tool to my tool box”. Stephen King, “On Writing Memoir of the Craft”, explained about his tool box. This concept will be added to ‘my tool box’. I am a newbie and eager to learn.

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Stephen Mills October 9, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Hello Dianne! Nice to have you here on the rat race trap. 🙂

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Sibyl - alternaview October 6, 2009 at 8:40 pm

I think this is great advice…definitely new advice for me, but it seems to make so much sense. I think once we really start really subscribing to the theory that perception is reality, we will understand the importance of always doing whatever we can to ensure we are forming the most helpful perspectives. We are creating our own reality. We really can have an impact on how we view things and sometimes we can change our perceptions by making changes to how we do things. Once we figure out the things to do to improve our perceptions, things really do get better.
.-= Sibyl – alternaview´s last blog ..Doing the right things really do lead to a better life =-.

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Jonny October 6, 2009 at 9:16 pm

Peak-end rule. Interesting, never come across it but will try it out. Thanks Ste.

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Walter October 7, 2009 at 9:05 pm

I love to apply this kind of attitude at the end of the day. however how can I push this if I’m surrounded with negative people. 🙁
.-= Walter´s last blog ..Crippling habits people embrace =-.

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Christa October 8, 2009 at 5:08 am

Walter,
You wrote: “I love to apply this kind of attitude at the end of the day. however how can I push this if I’m surrounded with negative people.”
Why not apply this attitude the whole day through? When someone is surrounded by negative people, he is attracting them. The moment you choose to be a happy person, you will be surrounded by happy people. Have a look at this program:
http://www.privatedimension.at/mind_power_perfection_d.html
All you have to do is to listen to a recording once a day and soon things in your life will change.
Reading this article you are in the know and this is, as you mention here, what very few people achieve. Though this knowing has to also be in your unconscious.
Christa

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Steve October 8, 2009 at 8:58 am

I love this post, but I would also add that you can apply the practice of “Savoring” from positive psychology to your various moments throughout the day. This is simply choosing to savor simple details of your day from moment to moment. Over time, this can become a positive habit that cultivates mindfulness and gratitude.
.-= Steve´s last blog ..Have You Made These Same 3 Mistakes On the Road to Greatness? =-.

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Christa October 8, 2009 at 9:59 am

Steve,
I like your comment. Couple of years back I have decided to be happy and in good humor. In the meantime I lost all my savings, had an operation which went wrióng and I am living with permanent pain and then an auto-immun sickness broke out. I can only work from home. Still I am happy, even with things the way they are.
Now comes the but: Sometimes, I ask why all this happened. I believe one creates his own life, maybe not consciously, but there are so called mental blocks or the like which work without your conscious knowing. So there are moments in life, where you need help, which I get thanks to the Mind Power recordings. When I listen to them, all tension there is in me, goes and I feel great.

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Thomas October 8, 2009 at 8:35 pm

I’d never thought of it like that. But now that you’ve pointed it out it seems so obvious. Cheers!

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Bradley Gauthier October 9, 2009 at 11:18 pm

Great post! I never thought of this concept in a formal sense but thinking about it now, I always try to end conversations on a good note. For example, when I have a business call I feel it is ultimately successful if the other side is smiling or laughing as they hang up. Has always worked for me and has made followup calls easy to attain since they remember previous conversations as positive.
.-= Bradley Gauthier´s last blog ..One Word Can Change Your Life: The Importance Of When, Not If =-.

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Kramer October 23, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Is this why many women become conditioned not to enjoy sex? Often, they don’t get an orgasm at the end.

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