There are many views about how people make sense of experiences and have positive or negative memories. One approach is outlined by Daniel Kahneman in what he termed Peak-End Theory.
This says that, when looking back, people do not necessarily recall their feelings throughout an experience. Instead, they remember the way they felt at:
* The peak times – the intense times – in the experience.
* The end of the experience.
The peak times may be pleasant or unpleasant. These are the memories that stay with us; as does the way we felt at the end of the experience.
Daniel Kahneman developed and tested the Peak-End theory in a variety of situations. But it can also be applied to how we remember, for example:
A job we performed at some point in our career.
A sporting event, musical performance or other experience.
The Peak-End theory has implications for the way we work in our chosen fields.
We can obviously see how it can be used by educators, performers and others who must reach an audience. But it can also be applied by people in many different professions. The old performance rule still applies, of course.
Start Big – Give Lots of Highs – End Big
Great educators, for example, often follow the process of the 3 Is: inspiration, implementation and integration.
They create an inspiring environment and provide implementation tools that work. They then enable people to integrate the learning into their life and work.
Such educators make learning enjoyable and effective. They also encourage people to clarify their experience as they go along. After 30 minutes or so, they may say to their students:
“So far we have covered the following topics: 1) _______. 2) _______. 3) ________.
“Before we go further, I would like you to take a few minutes to clarify your own experience. Take a paper and write down:
Three things I have learned – or
relearned – so far today have been:
“Write these down and then share them with a colleague. We will then go on to the next stage. Over to you.”
Great educators create stages where people clarify the peaks – the intensity of the learning. They then conclude the learning session by inviting each person to clarify:
The specific steps I can take to
apply what I have learned today are:
The specific benefits of
doing these things will be:
Great educators use some of Daniel Kahneman’s ideas in their own way – even if they have never heard of Peak-End theory.
and Positive Memories
So how does the theory apply to positive memories? Many of us know people who say things like:
“I have had a fantastic life.
“My partner and I have had a wonderful relationship. Certainly we have had our ups-and-downs, but we have always come through. Our relationship has sustained us throughout our lives.
“I have been fortunate to have had some tremendous jobs. Even the tough ones provided lessons that I could use in the future. Looking back, I have had a very fulfilling career.”
So where does this approach come from?
One theory is that stems from the Positive Scripting that a person may have learned in their family. Alternatively, a person may consciously choose to adopt a more positive script at some point during their lives.
The scripts we internalise influence the way we look at and interpret events. Looking back on their childhood, for example, one person said they remembered their parents saying things like:
“We have so much to be thankful for. We have good food to eat, good friends and, most of all, we have each other.
“Do what you enjoy and help other people. You will find that by giving to others you also receive a lot.
“Life is for living. You can learn something from every experience, even if you don’t want to repeat it. So count your blessings at the end of each day.”
Positive Scripting influences how people recall events and this builds up their bank of positive memories.
“But what about negative events,” somebody may ask. “How do such people react to pain, injustice and other difficulties.?”
People with positive scripts tend to reframe such experiences. Al Siebert, author of The Survivor Personality, said that such people are often Positive Realists.
Resilient people often focus on how they can use difficult events to make the world a better place – either for themselves or for other people.
Daniel Kahneman’s work helps us to understand how people make sense of experience. It also has implications regarding how individuals feel towards the end of their lives. It may influence, for example, whether they die feeling at peace.
This obviously has implications for people who work in palliative care. But it also has lessons for everybody who aims to encourage people in their work.
It is to remember that Positive Scripting plus applying Peak-End Theory can create Positive Memories.
* Daniel Kahneman.
Here is a link to Daniel’s talk at TED, where he outlines some aspects of the Peak-End Theory.
* Positive Scripting.
Here is an article on positive and negative scripting.