In the Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath call us to think in moments “to recognize where the prose of life needs punctuation.” Chip and Dan help us understand that,

“Our lives are measured in moments, and
defining moments are the ones that endure in our memories.”

Today, you have 1,440 opportunities to create meaningful memories for yourself and others. That’s how many minutes are in one day.

This article looks at how we can begin thinking in moments for a great life.

Defining moments with Bob

Bedtime with Nana always included reading three books and hearing a Bob story. Bob is a butterfly, but he used to be a caterpillar. He lived in Poppy’s garden. Bob had many other friends who lived along the lake and munched on the delicacies in the garden.

These bedtime stories became a ritual that continued into their pre-teen years. When I thought about writing down the stories, I asked the children which Bob stories they enjoyed the most. Their favorite, by far, were the adventures of Bob and Curly, the Killer Cow. Pressed to give me the details, they hit the highlights, then surprised me with this statement.

“Nana, the stories were always funny, and we liked adding to them with our ideas and imagination. But that wasn’t what made them special. We remember all the bedtimes with you, laughing, hugging, and begging for one more adventure.”

“We remember all the bedtimes with you.”

Without any planning, I created defining moments, meaningful memories. Those fits of laughter with Bob and his friends weave into the fabric of their lives.

What are your defining moments?

You probably thought of several. Our first recollections might include births, weddings, graduations, or our first paycheck. These memories often mark significant milestones in our lives. Other events might seem small but equally significant in the course of our lives.

My husband recalls the moment he first saw me, tall, walking up the steps of the university religious center in kelly-green slacks. As he puts it, all legs.

Sitting on the beach, we held chips in our hands for the seagulls to grab. Each child holding tight to their morsel for the swooping birds. Great fun, until one decided to send a gift onto the top of our daughter’s head.

Screeches of indignance filled the air. We howled with laughter. She howled at the nastiness stuck in her tousled blonde hair. To this day, she shudders at the sight of a seagull.

Every evening, we sit on the swing under the conversation tree by the lake. I can’t look at that swing and not feel deep connection and love. My husband and I create defining moments—by design.

Four ways to create defining moments

You don’t need to wait for some special event. Exceptional experiences shape your life, but you can create defining moments in everyday routines. Right now, today, you can take a few of those 1,440 minutes to add kindness, comfort, or laughter.

Every day, I read from a broad array of articles on diverse topics. The authors bring their defining moments to the page and allow me to glimpse into the richness of their lives.

As I considered this topic, several articles crossed my path. These stories exemplified defining moments

No 1. Elevation

Experiences that rise above the everyday.

These moments come to us as peaks and make us feel joyful, excited, or motivated. You may not expect them, but the moment comes as an extraordinary surprise.

Teachers create defining moments daily—sometimes without any awareness of the impact on a child. Not every defining moment is positive. We have a choice of how to use our 1,440 minutes.

Our oldest son had such an experience. He learned as a preschooler that coloring in the lines reflected his adherence to boundaries. The teacher scolded him and told him that for a good grade, he must color in the lines.

Gregory never colored within the lines for anything. In our house, lines in a coloring book represented options. Free drawing far surpassed the narrow restrictions of pre-drawn art. Blank paper and crayons invited imagination and creativity.

What the teacher did not know, nor did we at the time, was that Gregory couldn’t see the lines. He had severe vision problems that required patches and thick lenses. The damage complete. He still remembers that day.

Many teachers, most of the time, generate magical moments of inspiration. These teachers motivate learning by understanding the deepest emotional and physical needs of their students. They conjure up experiments. Design activities that enliven learning and defining moments that last a lifetime.

I found a wonderful article by James Salach where he describes the work of teachers, our superheroes. In Real Heroes Only Sometimes Wear Capes, James recognizes the extraordinary role of teachers.

The real heroes are those who have inspired us to learn. To challenge what we think we know about ourselves and the world in which we live.

Yes, indeed, teachers can elevate the ordinary into an extraordinary moment.

No. 2 Insight

Events that rewire our understanding of ourselves or the world.

A friend sends you a message about a need in your community. You recall how your mother helped others and now it’s your turn to give back to the community. A simple message alters the course of your life choices.

Serendipity? Yes, but you can also create or lay the groundwork as a catalyst to inspiration or social change.

Mike Schoenhofer looks for insight during his walks in the woods. Mike constructs opportunities to use a few of his 1,440 minutes to immerse himself in defining moments.

The woods are teaching me a lot about how to live in this moment.”

As Mike walks through the woods, the light, the sounds, the colors change as evening closes in on his solitary walk through the trees. By the end of his short journey, he gains insights on how to live in this moment, today.

No. 3 Pride

Times that capture us at our best, moments of achievement or courage.

Pride in this sense refers to those milestone moments that we accomplish on our way to a bigger goal. Breakthrough experiences show up in the small acts of courage that pull out of us a strength we didn’t know we possessed. Michael Ritoch shows you why we need a better way to win.

Michael tells his story to help us understand how he took a step, the next, and then the next as his daughter faced a life-threatening brain tumor. Because he and his wife did not give up, their daughter is a beautiful 27-year old. He gives us other examples of making decisions that reflect his values. Along the way, he shares the four best ways to win.

And a story of my own about connecting.

No. 4 Connection

Social gatherings mark our love and commitment to one another, weddings, baptisms, holidays.

Big social events usually involve food, a lot of it. In my family, every meal seemed to look like a celebration. My cousins and I talk about these meals in the same way you might describe a wedding, Christmas, or a graduation party.

With ten adults and 20 children, plus any extra invited family members, you can see how a meal resembled a party to a child. Snippets of 1,440 minutes spent at the large wooden table at my grandmother’s house loom large in my memory.

They saturate my understanding of family with the thick smell of bread, fried chicken, and love. Because food and family do make the best memories.

In summary, your turn

Today, and every day, you have the same 1,440 minutes. You can elevate the day for others around you or mark the moments with boredom and disdain.

Reaching for insight, you can look with new eyes at the world around you. Take a walk with a child, parent, or friend to better understand each other.

Define milestones that measure your achievements. Celebrate the fifth day you survived without sugar. What about the 100,000th step you took walking around your house for exercise? Or the moment you found out the cancer was in remission.

Connect. Grab the paints and paper and create a family masterpiece. Pack a picnic and sit on your driveway to visit with the neighbors. Laugh together, share stories.

Defining moments? They are waiting for you somewhere in today’s precious 1,440 minutes.

“Moments matter. And what an opportunity we miss when we leave them to chance!”
—Chip and Dan Heath

And always—

Be kind. Be brave. Be you.

Photo: The Clock in the Musée d’Orsay © Kathryn LeRoy