urprises come in many shapes and sizes. The unexpected can delight, startle or freeze us in our tracks. But surprise is more than a short-lived shock to our system. Be it joyful or dreadful, surprise triggers brain processes that help us gain new perspectives. And the brain’s chemical response helps focus our attention.An article
by Jill Suttie in Greater Good Magazine
looks at Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected
. The book by psychology researchers Tania Luna and Leeann Renninger points out that surprises, good or bad, bring vibrancy to our lives. The two encourage “engineering surprise.”
First, we “freeze.” We simply stop momentarily (about 1/25th of a second). Next, we enter the “finding” stage. We try to figure out what is happening. In the third stage, depending on what we “found,” our perspective “shifts.” In our last stage — the “sharing” stage — we let others know about what’s surprised us.
The authors point out that we can engineer each of those stages to invite more surprise into our experience. For instance, actively engaging curiosity during the “find” stage. Instead of just looking for explanations, asking questions may result in seeing a person or situation in a new light.
Life serves all kinds of surprises. Unwelcome scenarios like sudden pricey repairs or a tough medical diagnosis can’t be avoided. Building coping skills can help. One method is finding the positives in negative circumstances. Nurturing our relationships day-to-day makes it likely we’ll have the support we need when faced with harsh surprises.
Some people prefer to never experience surprise. They’ll do anything to avoid it. But that’s a recipe for stagnant existence, “So long as we fear vulnerability, we play it safe and stop ourselves from exploring,” write Luna and Renninger.
Luna summed it up in an interview with WNYC’s The Takeaway, “I think about surprise in two perspectives: Embracing it and engineering it,” she says. “You have to train your brain to be more comfortable accepting surprise…being comfortable with uncertainty, ambiguity and change. Especially these days, that’s an incredibly important skill.”