The Three Highlights

This isn’t a magic tip, it’s a life tip. The purpose of the technique is to make essentially anything (a night out, a vacation, your entire life) more enjoyable and memorable.

It’s a simple idea that has paid big dividends in my own life, so some of you may find it valuable as well.

Imagine you’re going to see a band you like. It’s at a small club and you walk in and see a bunch of people recording the show and watching it through their phone cameras. “Ugh,” you think. “These buffoons. Can’t they just be present and enjoy the show? Does everything have to be recorded for posterity?”

Perhaps you don’t feel that way, but that’s always been my somewhat superior attitude. But I’ve had an evolution in that thought process as well, because I realized I was missing out on something. To continue with the concert example, I would find myself a few years later thinking back on some show I saw and—while I had a generally pleasant feeling about it—I had no real concrete memories from the night. I might not even be able to name a single song that I was 100% sure they played.

So yes, I was enjoying the experience more in the moment, but a lot of the particulars of the experience were left in the moment.

On the one hand, I wanted to have more long-term memories from the experiences in my life, but on the other hand I didn’t want to be so caught up in recording and documenting those moments that I became an observer and not a participant.

Is there as a way to get the best of both worlds?

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Here was the route I took for finding out how to retain more of the details of my experiences, while still being immersed in them.

My first thought was, “I should keep a journal. That way I can write down my experiences and relive them later.” My second thought was, “Fuck that noise!” Because there was no way I was going to be doing that. I write this site. I write newsletters and books. And all my “real work” is writing related to. Not only that, but I’m a pretty slow writer. I stop between every sentence and think. I don’t want to do more writing. I wince when people romanticize writing. (“Ah, the sweet sound of graphite scratching on paper as the sun comes up and I record my hopes and dreams for the day on the cream, parchment pages of my hand-sewn journal.”) Almost nothing you have to do for 60 hours a week is going to be enjoyable in your spare time as well. So yeah, I didn’t want to tie myself to the idea of coming home late after a show and then writing a couple formless paragraphs about what just happened.

But then I thought, What if I just kept my mind engaged with looking for three highlights of any experience?

This, as it turned out, was the key. So now, when I would go to a show, I would be on the lookout for these three highlights. And perhaps I would end up with something like this:

  1. When they played [my favorite song] acoustically.

  2. Dancing with the red-haired girl.

  3. The way the drunk guy at the foot of the stage was playing the air drums.

Then I would go home and write down those three highlights in a small notebook with each page dedicated to a different experience.

The writing takes less than a minute. I’m just putting down those three peak moments. I don’t really elaborate on them (unless I feel the need to).

And, as time passes, I can flip through that notebook and remind myself of the highlights of each event. “Ah, yes! That song sounded incredible when performed acoustically. Who would have thought. Oh… shit. That red-haired girl!” Etc.

You might say, “Yes, but doesn’t the act of constantly being on the lookout for ‘highlights’ of an event also pull you out of being in the moment and just experiencing the event?” No. It’s the opposite. It keeps me 100% engaged. I’m fully there. I’m not thinking of anything outside of the event. If it’s a concert, I’m hearing the music, I’m taking in the crowd, I’m observing details about the venue. Every sensory experience: sound, sight, smell, taste, feeling is noted as my brain collects potential highlights. That, in my opinion, is kind of the definition of presence.

Not only that, but it keeps you focusing on the good around you. Which has to be a positive thing for your mental health.

But here’s the best part of this practice…, it’s not just a way for you to enjoy some particular event. It’s something you can apply to your entire life. It’s fractal in nature. You can pull out or zoom in as much as you want and still look for those three highlights

For example, I view my life this way. What are the three highlights of your life? Maybe it’s the family you created, some professional accomplishment, and some personal goal you reached—writing a screenplay, or visiting every continent.

Zoom In

I keep my mind open to identify the three highlights of my year. Perhaps it’s a trip I took, a person I met, and a book I wrote.

Zoom In

I keep track of the three highlights of every week. Last week itwas a little party/get-together at my friend Bella’s house, going snowboarding, and visiting a new Thai restaurant.

Zoom In

I keep track of the the three highlights of any “event” in my life (that I want to remember): any show I see, any party I go to, any holiday spent with people. What were the three highlights of the gathering at Bella’s? The response to the magic trick I performed. This extended riff my friend John went on about us re-making A Christmas Carol that gave me literal stomach pains from laughing so hard. And watching/commenting on the schlocky 1986 horror movie, Chopping Mall.

Zoom In

I keep track of the three highlights of any media I consume. When I complete a series of TV I note my three favorite episodes or scenes. When I read a book I keep track of my three favorite parts. When I watch a movie I try to come away with three highlights: favorite scenes, memorable quotes, cool visuals, or whatever. This has completely changed how I consume media. I used to think, “Did I read that book or not?” “Did I see that movie?” Now I’m paying more attention in the moment and remembering more afterwards. What were the highlights of Chopping Mall? The weird sex-party in the furniture store. The dumb scene where the kids were calculating how much they’d have to pay the mall back because of the destruction the malls security robots caused tying to kill them (why would they be liable for that?). And when the girl’s head exploded.

If that sounds like a lot of work, it’s not. It’s just one minute per thing. So for me that’s one minute per year/week/event. It’s a couple minutes a day, a few times a week at most.

Now I have a bunch of small notebooks, that I can peruse and see the highlights of all these experiences from the past few years. Small moments I might never have recalled otherwise. A joke someone made. Something I ate. A compliment. A kiss. A weird coincidence. Or whatever. But you don’t have to make an endless list of these things, just the three highlights on whatever scale you want to do it on.

As I said, it’s maybe two minutes a day of actual physical effort (the writing). The real “work” of this comes in giving things your rapt attention. But, honestly, after a while it just becomes like a game you play in your head where you’re collecting these “highlights.”

And what you get in return is that you’re in a constant mindset of presence, appreciation, and adventure. Presence because you’re always engaged. Appreciation because you’re focusing on the positive. And adventure because your mind is concentrated on finding new highlights. Highlights of this afternoon at an amusement park, or [Zoom Out] of this 3-day road-trip, or [Zoom Out] of this week, or [Zoom Out] of this year, or [Zoom Out] of your life.