The ‘Peak-End Rule’ Is Your Fix For a ‘Meh’ Week
June 29, 2018
“Andddd it’s a bad week.” Even before the sun sets on Friday, we’re quick to make that declaration (or, tweet it out) when things just aren’t going our way.
But the truth is, we have up until bedtime on Friday to change the tone for the entire week. Yup, even if your phone broke on Monday, alarm didn’t go off on Tuesday, dinner fell on the ground Wednesday, etc.—you can still make it a good week. How: By owning the power of endings.
You’ve probably experienced the power of a good ending without recognizing it.
For example: That last time you had a meal that was mediocre at best—the chicken was cold, the bread a little too crusty—but it turned into the best meal after a mind-blowing dessert.
I know for me, a mini two-tier strawberry shortcake with light, fluffy sponge cake, homemade whipped cream, and fresh strawberries once made me completely forget about a nosy waiter who got a little too chatty while serving.
That sweet phenomenon? It’s something called the “peak-end rule” in action, and we can use it to make our worst weeks end better.
Find Your Peak End
The peak-end rule, popularized by psychologist Daniel Kahneman, states that the way an experience ends determines how we look back on it.
“An event makes its mark in our memories more by what happens at its end than at any prior point,” Susan Whitbourne, Ph.D., explains in a Psychology Today post.
Research shows that a good ending has the ability to energize us, help us better remember experiences later, help us focus on what’s most important, and elevate us emotionally.
The peak-end rule is a tendency we can use to our advantage. When Friday rolls around, instead of focusing on how your week has gone so far, think about how you can end it on a high note.
Maybe it’s doing something spontaneous like hitting that new day-glo yoga class, booking a massage, or grabbing drinks with that friend who makes you sound like a Friends laugh track.
Actively try to end your week on a feel-good note—and you’ll be more likely to remember the week as feel-good overall.
Or, Flip the Peak-End Rule on Its Head
But let’s say you make plans for the perfect peak ending—but then you leave your phone in an Uber and your boss calls asking you to finish up something ASAP. Fear not: You can actively work around the peak-end rule to still feel better about your week.
Instead of focusing on the ending—which is our tendency—try remembering all the good that happened along the way.
Maybe that includes you waking up early two mornings in a row or cooking that Chrissy Teigen-style meal on Tuesday. Those little victories at the beginning or middle of your day still happened—even if the ending is what feels most memorable. Write down those small wins to help override that not-so-great ending to the week.
When your week doesn’t go as planned, it’s important to remember to not be so hard on yourself. Phones break. Pasta falls on the floor. Alarms hold a silent protest. We can't control those things—but you can control how you view the week, whether it’s by soaking in all the good that happened early on or creating a great finale. Peak end—then, weekend.