Moment Spotting: A Habit for Life

Moment Spotting: A Habit for Life

We must learn to think in moments, to spot the occasions that are worthy of investment. - Chip & Dan Heath, The Power of Moments

Tomorrow, thirty-five years ago, when the sun was in the same position of the sky 35 cycles ago, I was born into this world. My eyes mucky, the cold air on my skin frightening. I was alive and in my own body. Tomorrow will be my birthday. A special day. A prideful day.

In the past I let birthdays happen, let them unfold. At times this means I stumble into a half-assed birthday dinner. Other times, since I love my daily routine and see no reason to break it, I work. But recently after a conversation with a friend, I realized I have changed and this year I want something different.

A week ago he told me, "I just signed a contract for a house."

"Whoa! How do you feel?" I asked.

He snickered. "Not much. Years of playing poker have done damage to my emotional system."

I relate, I struggle to feel these meaningful moments. A year ago, I would not have even thought to ask that question to him, instead I would've cut to the chase, where, when, how much? But over the years of therapy, my therapist has shown me the value of it.

One time I had said to her "Ever since I was 16, if anyone asked me about my parent’s divorce I just told them, 'My parents weren't happy and now they are happy, so I'm happy.' But I realize..."

"Hold on," she interrupted, "How does that make you feel Arthur?" Suddenly instead of being irked by this question, thinking not this bullshit again, like the hundreds of times before — the question forced me to pause and see what just happened. My admission of self-harming behavior, something I've never admitted to another person before.

A wave of tears crashed on top of me as I slunk into my chair and hid my face.

Because of my therapist's ruthlessness with this irking question — over time my reaction to it shifted from snickering, to annoyance, to finally hearing it. And only in that space, do I recognize and feel the meaning of the moment.

I realized meaningful emotional moments don't arise from the big, extravagant trips or buying your dream home. Meaningful moments emerge from five-second moments where you pause and feel the significance of what's unfolding. It's not the act of buying a house, but rather it's standing over the contract, with a pen in hand, as you pause to look up at your wife who lifts one hand off her stomach, places it from feeling the kicks of your unborn daughter to the heartbeat of your back, and you return to the contract where you sign the dotted line.

That's the creation of a memory, a moment in your life you'll never forget.

How tragic is it — that I am — without one clear memory like this of my birthday.


Recalling a book filled with practical advice to spot these moments — I stand up from my desk and rush to my bookcase. I pluck out 'The Power of Moments' by Chip & Dan Heath. A life is built from these moments, all of your memories come from these single moments in time, I remember the author saying. I fling it open as the golden white pages twist around the spine, whacking against my desk.

Four categories of memorable moments. (paraphrased)

1. Moments of Elevation¹, when we're struck with delight that you'll remember for a long time after, like a first kiss or a stranger buying you a coffee. 2. Moments of Connection², when we attend a social ritual, be that a wedding, graduation, or the Pittsburgh Steelers football game. 3. Moments of Insight, when we discover something new about ourselves and our places in this universe, like a man learning he's never processed his parent’s divorce and the consequence of that. 4. Moments of Pride, when we achieve something above the crowd and are honored for it; awards or genuine thank-yous or notes of recognition.

Not only does this book help us recognize five-second moments in our lives but with a little bit of planning, we can heighten the emotion of that moment.

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

I can author a moment for my birthday!

Tomorrow — on my birthday — I will take my partner down a light, easy nature trail, fairly secluded with lots of resting points and running waters and trees and critters. And to spice it up, to make a moment out of it, I will bring my speaker, filled with music we love and we will dance bachata in nature. Two things we both love.

And I will pause. And feel that moment. I will hug her. As we breathe together, present, with the memory as it animates in front of us. No matter what the following days bring, I will never forget my 35th birthday.


Hello Dear Reader,

From my therapy practice, I have begun to recognize what a meaningful moment feels like, but that journey isn't for all of us. So here's another interesting path towards that skill and awareness, from the book Storyworthy, by Mathew Dicks.

It's a habit that if you commit to on a daily basis, you will start to recognize moments. He says, at the end of each day ask yourself if you have to tell a story at dinner about the day, what moment would you tell?

If need you can even prompt yourself to find the most emotional moments by checking in with what prideful moments did you have today? What moments of insight, elevation, or connection? Then you 'stretch for insight', a term coined by Chip & Dan Heath, by looking for the five-second moment and asking, why was that moment important to me? What inside me changed?

If you do this as a daily habit — over time you learn to recognize these moments in the moment. And then you can push into it. And you can pause afterwards and feel how that makes you feel. Your life will change.


10 Oct 2021

¹ when designing my birthday moment, an elevated moment, I used the author’s three criteria. First, Boost sensory appeal, add meaning to an event, like a wedding filled with flowers from your grandma’s wild garden or in my case listening to music in nature. Second, raise the stakes, add pressure to success and potential rejection. Creates nerves and discomfort so that the payoff will be so tasty. Third, break the script, add the unexpected.

² moments of connection I see as moments of awe and wonder, moments when you transcend yourself. The book focuses on the connection on mass groups of people, like-minded people such as attending a Pittsburgh Steelers game as a fan or a Trump rally as a supporter or a concert of your favorite band. But I believe these moments of connection also happen when you look out into something so vast you can't comprehend like the grand canyon or the ocean. At that moment, you lose yourself and connect with the world.