16 October 2020

Understand and Amplify Peak Experiences

Have you ever felt like time stopped? Have you ever been so engaged in an activity that the very meaning of space and time, the usual laws of your experience, your usual limitations and your usual fears seemed to somehow not apply anymore? If so, you may have had a peak experience; how did it make you feel?

The experience economy is huge

The experience economy has boomed in the last 20 years as restaurants, festivals and events have achieved a scale never before seen. The COVID pandemic is wreaking chaos and destroying businesses, but an insatiable appetite for rich experiences is still there.

Product creators must think pro-socially

Wealthy industrialized societies will actualize their need for deep, visceral experiences through any means available. As product creators, we will answer the call. And as product creators we have a responsibility to deliver experiences that act in a prosocial, humanistic way; and preferably ones that allow as broad a swath of humanity as possible to experience the wonder of being.

Is deep experience what makes us human?

As individuals, are we not compelled to experience the fullness of our consciousness? If I told you you could feel at one with the people around you, feel totally absorbed in your work and deepen your perceptions, and that you don’t need to take any substances or even download an app to do it, would you give it a go?

Peak experience as an empathic tool

During peak experiences people move beyond their sense of self, they feel connected to the world around them in a way that is usually not accessible, they feel accepting and at one with their existence. The experience of a peak experience is not limited only to the experience. That sense of transcendence remains present in some way after the experience.

We have an ability accessible to almost everyone - particularly those of us in wealthy, stable, industrialized nations - than can boost our empathy and our feeling of connection to others. Shouldn’t we use that ability to empathize, connect with and transcend with the people who need it most - not only others in our own social bubble?

As a coach, I am training to help people identify and connect with peak experiences, and then help them figure out how to deepen and expand those experiences.

Want to experience more? Here’s the background.

Peak experiences are experiential human phenomena first described by Abraham Maslow in 1957. The key characteristics of peak experiences Maslow described are:

  • Complete absorption in the experience
  • Richer perception
  • Disorientation in physical space and time
  • The intrinsic reward of the experience
  • Ego transcendence (the feeling of moving beyond or being liberated from one’s usual sense of self)
  • Dichotomy transcendence (a feeling of moving beyond typical limiting dichotomies of the human condition, such as our desire to share our experience with others, whilst our entire consciousness plays out in our own heads, making us existentially alone.)
  • Momentary loss of fears, anxieties and inhibitions
  • Greater acceptance and forgiveness of oneself and others
  • Heightened aestheticism, wonder, awe and surrender
  • The fusion of the subject with the world.

Exercise: Define and amplify your peak experiences

Sit comfortably, take a few deep breaths and ask yourself these questions. Go slowly, invite yourself to ruminate and think deeply about each one.

  • What are you like when you’re at your best?
  • What are you doing when you lose track of time and feel totally immersed?
  • What is your vision for your perfect future?
  • Have you ever been struck by the awe and beauty of something (nature, art, music)
  • Have you ever had an experience after which you felt like everything changed?

For your answers to the questions above:

  • Can you write down what you were doing?
  • Who were you with?
  • What does it look like?
  • What does it feel like?
  • What frame of mind were you in?
  • What are you like?

Now take your answers to the questions above and start to ask yourself:

  • What do you want to do more of?
  • Which people do you want to be with more?
  • What is it about these experiences that makes them so memorable, poignant and meaningful?

Your goal is to explore the ingredients for peak experiences so that you can experience more in the future.

Dive deeper

I run a half-day workshop in which I take individuals and teams through a series of exercises that generate memories of peak experiences. We start with a version of the exercise above and conclude with OKRs (or whatever objectives your organization uses). Get in touch to find out more.

These resources helped me develop my ideas on this subject:

  • Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman’s book Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization (Amazon)
  • Wellmind’s discussion of peak experiences.
  • Maslow’s original paper on peak experiences.

Cover photo by Wallace Chuck from Pexels

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