There is a rule-of-thumb among magicians and mentalists: always perform your strongest routine last. If you have seen my mentalism show or my “From A-ha to Ta-da!” speaking program, you may recall the amazing revelation of an audience member’s secret six digit number at the end of the program. It is my signature routine and according to my audiences, it is truly astounding!
Why save the best for last? Because humans recall the end of an experience more easily than the entire experience. We also tend to remember the strongest moment of an experience as well, rather than all of the moments equally.
This is the peak-end rule at work. It is an invisible mind block that causes us to mis-remember what an experience actually felt like because we only remember the peak moment (either best or worst) and the last moment. We forget the experience as a whole.
Make the end better
Here is an example: For most of us, intense exercising isn’t exactly pleasurable in the moment. However, a 2016 study shows that if you “ramp down” the intensity of your exercise at the end, your memory of the experience is more positive. And that creates a stronger incentive to exercise in the future!
Why don’t we just remember the entire experience equally? Our primitive lizard brain doesn’t want us to because too much data overloads our circuitry. Instead, we unconsciously hang onto the most painful or pleasurable moments so we can either avoid or seek them in the future.
As for the end moment, it is easier to recall because it does not get overwritten immediately by other moments from the same experience.
Memories or experiences?
This points to an interesting philosophical question: Since our memories of experiences are inaccurate, should we strive for better experiences or better memories of our experiences?
In terms of decision making, it is the memories that count. When making decisions, whether large or small, we primarily consult our memories of past experiences. For example, when deciding on what type of car to buy you will recall your past car ownership experiences. You may not buy from a car maker because you remember how that last car you owned of theirs left you stranded out in the boondocks!
The problem is that we often do not realize when our memory is sketchy. Perhaps in the 10 years you owned the car it was problem-free, but that one time the transmission blew out is what you remember most. So you’ll never buy a Toyordrolet again!
Beating the rule and using the rule
We can make better decisions if we take a moment to deliberately recall experiences in their entirety, including the duration. Reflecting on the overall positivity or negativity of an experience instead of subconsciously relying on the peak and end can help inform our choices going forward.
If you are in sales or you run a business, take advantage of the peak-end rule by making your interactions with your customers end on a high note. In any buying decision there are pluses and minuses for the potential buyer, so address the minuses early and try to turn the focus to the pluses at the end of the conversation.
For those of us trying to watch our weight, think about this: The first bites of a delicious meal feel better than the last bites. The more we eat of something at a sitting, the more the yumminess diminishes. Since we remember the end more than the beginning, we should try to make the end bites as good as possible by not eating too many of them.
So eating smaller portions and stopping earlier not only reduces calorie intake, but makes our memory of the meal more positive!
Think well, be well!
- Steve Haffner