The other night I met a gentleman named Curt. “Mind you that’s Curt with ‘C’,” he said as he reached across the table and took my hand. I was having dinner with Curt and his lovely bride Jean, both of whom I was meeting for the very first time that evening. I also met Jim and Lynn who my wife and I would also break bread with. One more couple, Greg and Angie, good friends of ours, completed our group of eight. After the introductions, a number of us attempted to read the MoosePie times. I say attempted because the low lighting and our advancing age had us all manipulating the one page newsletter to find the right angle and distance to maximize both light and focus. Entertaining to watch I’m sure for those a little younger in the room. Along with the ‘times’, our place setting also included a fake $20 bill that could be used to bribe one of the cast members for a clue.
As you may have guessed, we were all at a whodunit comedy dinner theater, The Mystery Café (cue Toccata and Fugue in D Minor). This particular show was a spoof on the X-files, and our challenge was to solve the mystery of how last Tuesday had disappeared from everyone’s memory. And, as it turned out, this evening’s show was the last of this production and the cast was especially engaging. They story was hysterical and entertaining (yes, I’m now at the age where these are things I enjoy doing. I’m sure the buffet at Golden Corral is soon to be next on my hit list), but the highlight of the evening was meeting Curt.
You see, once Curt learned that I worked for Medtronic, he proudly informed me that he was now on his second Medtronic pacemaker. Throughout the evening during the various breaks in the show, he appreciatively informed me about his journey that started with his first implant in 1992 and his later diagnosis of atrial fibrillation which required his new pacemaker to use only one of his two leads he had implanted. He was current on recent technology advances, informed about his care and disease, and he kept track of all the research and business practices of the company I work for. He was so proud to not only have his device but also so appreciative for it keeping him alive – “I’m pacemaker dependent,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here enjoying each and every moment if it wasn’t for this,” he said tapping his chest and smiling at his wife. When the show was over and as we put on our coats to leave, Curt grabbed my hand, pulled me close and whispered conspiratorially, “after I had my first pacemaker replaced, they cleaned it up and gave it back to me with my named engraved on it.” He squeezed my hand, pursed his lips holding the emotions in as his eyes welled up, and then turned and left.
Curt with a ‘C’, his name engraved on his pacemaker and forever in my heart.
As you can imagine, this not only made my day, but Curt’s story will always be with me. Then again, as time passes, Curt and his story are at risk of becoming distant memory. And on those work days when nothing seems to be going right, Curt and his story are far from my conscious mind which is when I need it the most. I need that reminder of the positive impact of what I do can have on the the previous and future Curt’s.
How can you keep similar experience close to your heart and mind and have the emotional charge that stories like Curt’s are there when you need them? Below, I’m going to share some of the things I do for just this purpose.
External Mental Hard Drive
Years ago, a good friend and I were talking about the power of stories in teaching. The problem I had was anytime I was preparing for a talk, I couldn’t recall any relative stories to share. That when she suggested I start a “story box” so that each time I read or experienced something that might prove to be a good story to share later, I could capture the story in Evernote along with tags that describe the essence of the story (e.g., teamwork, leadership, change, creativity, etc.). Then, in the future, I would have a ready library of stories easily searchable in the cloud. Since that time, I have amassed over a thousand stories in Evernote, some from web pages I’ve clipped, books I’ve read, discussions I’ve had with others, or experiences I’ve had personally.
Then I realized I could expand my external hard drive to also capture those stories of thanks, gratitude, attaboys, and other experiences that impacted me no matter how small (more on that in a minute). If I have pictures or an illustration, I include them as well and put all of these in a special folder in Evernote. I make sure that at least once I week I look through this folder and pick a few items out and not just read but take the time to revivify with the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that I can recall to feed my soul. More importantly, on those days that have gone particularly poorly, I’ll take a fifteen-minute break and reopen this folder to recharge my emotions and reset my perspective.
Frequency is More Important that Size
Dr. Ron Friedman writes in The Best Place to Work, that “Small, frequent pleasures can keep us happy longer than large, infrequent ones.” Researchers, Dunn, Gilbert and Wilson reported in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, on several studies on this phenomenon –
- “Another advantage of small pleasures is that they are less susceptible to diminishing marginal utility, which refers to the fact that each unit increase in the magnitude of a pleasure increases the hedonic impact of that pleasure by a smaller amount than did the previous unit increase. Eating a 12 ounce cookie is not twice as pleasurable as eating a 6 ounce cookie because the first X% of a cookie’s weight accounts for more than X% of its hedonic impact. People can therefore offset diminishing marginal utility by ‘breaking up’ or ‘segregating’ a pleasurable experience such as cookie-eating into a series of briefer experiences (Kahneman, 1999; Kahneman & Tversky, 1979; Mellers, 2000; Thaler, 1999).”
- “Nelson and Meyvis (2008) asked participants to sit in a chair equipped with a massage cushion. Half the participants experienced a continuous 180 second massage, while the others experienced a massage of 80 seconds, followed by a 20 second break, followed by a another 80 second massage. Compared to participants who experienced one longer massage, those who experienced two briefer massages (interrupted by a break) found the overall experience more pleasurable and were willing to pay about twice as much to purchase the massage cushion.”
What was also found in this last study was that the participants had all predicted prior to their experience that they would enjoy the one long massage more than the discontinuous massage.
This finding is so key, because like those participants, most of us think we need that big experience, car, or trip to ‘make us happen.’ When research repeatedly shows that frequency wins over size every time. That means that you should fill your hard drive with as many experiences and thank you emails, large and small throughout the day. The other benefit of this practice is that the more you do this, the more you start looking for these little positive nuggets. We train what is called the reticular activating system to focus on these experiences, much like when you buy a new car and suddenly find that everyone else on the road has the same car.
Pay It Forward
Finally, pay it forward. Who knows, you may be someone’s Curt and transform their day when they most needed it!