While I was a camp counselor, we always felt a surge of energy on the last day of each session. It could’ve been the longest two weeks of your life, but the last day was always a blast. We’d blare music over the speakers in the dining hall, sing the most popular songs from the session, and smile ear to ear. Even the campers who had spent the session rolling eyes and dragging feet would get into the spirit. It was magical. In hindsight, this seemingly spontaneous celebration seems masterfully crafted. Especially now that I’ve learned about the peak-end rule.
The peak-end rule is a theory that we remember an experience primarily by how it felt at it’s most intense moment and at it’s close. When I reflect back on my personal experiences, I believe this to be true.
Once, I led a backpacking trip for eighth graders. We were cursed with bad weather and yet, somehow, the bugs were even worse. However, for all the pain that we endured as a group, what I remember most is how we laughed the entire time. I remember singing as we hiked through the rain and inventing games to kill our entourage of mosquitos. After it poured all night, my co-staff and I would wake up early and walk around the half-collapsed tents with a guitar serenading the campers to wake them up. It was a fun session. On the last day, we proudly told the story of our adventure to the rest of camp as though we had completed some triumphant journey.
Looking back, I realize how easy it would’ve been to write that session off as a failure. As soon as things got bad, we could’ve said to ourselves, “well this one’s a wash.” Or, “these kids aren’t coming back to camp.” But if the peak-end rule is true, then all you really need to do to turn an experience around is make sure that the best moment is more memorable than the worst moment and stick the landing.