“Surprise” Book (Unexpected Is Actually a Good Thing)

How’s this for a witty and concise book review—about Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected, Seth Godin states, “This book isn’t about what you think it is.”

No doubt authors Tania Luna and LeeAnn Renninger are pleased Godin feels this way. As “surprisologists” they believe the following (Surprise Industries website):

  • Surprise intensifies our emotions by about 400% (making special occasions even specialer)
  • Our happiest memories contain an element of surprise
  • Surprise deepens and brightens our relationships
  • We feel most comfortable when things are certain, but we feel most alive when they’re not

They admit that too little or too much surprise can be a problem, however. Too much can lead to anxiety, too little to understimulation and boredom.

And for some, it doesn’t matter the quantity. As we all know, there are those among us who just don’t like surprises. In a Psychology Today post, Luna explains that the main factors making for less tolerance for this type of uncertainty are fear, stress, and insecure attachment in our relationships.

In another post she lists three variables that affect our responses to surprise: culture, sensitivity, and tolerance for ambiguity. (Click on the links to both articles for details.)

What about the fact that many surprises aren’t likely to be readily welcomed by anyone? Reviewing the book, Jill Suttie of Greater Good:

Of course, negative surprises are much more challenging than positive ones—receiving a devastating diagnosis, having a car accident, or losing your job will not be a welcome change of pace. But, as Luna and Renninger argue, that doesn’t mean we can avoid them—they are a natural part of life. It is better to find ways to cope with negative surprises than to resist them. Being open to uncertainty, learning how to reframe negative experiences in more positive ways, and nurturing stable relationships are all tools we can use to recover from negative surprises more easily.

In sum, Suttie lists six things suggested by the Surprise authors that can increase our overall acceptance of this emotion:

  1. Reframe vulnerability as openness and take deliberate steps to be more vulnerable…
  2. Practice engaging in activities where you don’t know how things will turn out, such as inviting a colleague out for a drink or asking for a raise…
  3. Make a “struggle sandwich.” In other words, try taking bigger risks sandwiched between taking smaller risks that are more likely to go well, so that you learn to associate risk-taking with positive outcomes.
  4. Become more curious about your surroundings…
  5. Mix things up in your routines…
  6. Delight other people by giving them small, unexpected gifts, “under-promising and over-delivering” (e.g. promising to do the dishes and then cleaning out the fridge, too), or just doing something nice without explaining why, to create mystery and increase happiness…

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