Surprise comes in two flavors: disaster and delight. Typically, I’m not the kind of person who enjoys a surprise. Although I’m highly adaptable, I’m not always quick to adapt because I spend quite a bit of time in forethought and planning. I’m more confident in my abilities and performance when I have time to prepare. So I don’t like things that undo my preparation. I don’t like to be unsettled.
However, in situations that do not require me to do anything, I can be delighted by surprise. I’m a very curious person and driven to poking my nose past the veil in search of the normally unseen. In this context surprise means discovery and delight, a revelation of the unimagined: discovering a self-sown flower blooming out-of-place or out-of-season; talking to someone whose observations are fresh and unpredictable, conversations or lectures or books or movies in which I must carefully attend, that mentally take me places I would not otherwise go.
This article has a slightly different take on surprise. It does not ask us to judge surprises on whether the event ended up being good or bad for us, but rather to step back a moment earlier and examine the act of being surprised itself. What does surprise tell us about our assumptions? Surprise should help us flag misguided expectations. Did we expect too little or too much and, most importantly, why? How will we change our assumptions to weave this new tidbit of experience into our base of knowledge of the world? Or will we fail to integrate it and close ourselves off to learning and growing?
Surprise, if we grab the opportunity it presents, enables us to look at the world with new eyes. Paying attention when we feel surprise increases your awareness of our own prejudices. It is the key that can release us from the confines of habit.
We ignore surprise at our own risk.
Lifehack: Keeping a Surprise Journal
The Surprise Journal: A New Technique for Creating More Aha Moments.
Elizabeth Segran in Fast Company
Mee Ming Wong 2014-10-05 12:01:34
A surprise is living an unguarded moment. Once you start examining it, the charm is gone. “The Surprise Journal”…funny.
M Sinclair Stevens 2014-10-05 12:20:18
I couldn’t disagree more, either in definition or reaction. Surprise is a foiling of expectation; never to be surprised is to have no expectations, to live a life unthinkingly, without anticipation.
Curiosity, discovery, and examination are all part of the same arc of wonder and joy. Further examination frequently leads to additional discoveries. To turn away from examination and reflection and analysis is to turn our backs on the wonders of our physical world and our amazing ability to perceive it. To attend, to pay attention, is to be awestruck.
Mee Ming Wong 2014-10-05 12:27:11
Nicely put! Curiosity leads to wonderful surprises.
Introspection: The Surprise Journal
I surprise myself! Today I discovered that I wrote a second GPlus post (Introspection: The Surprise Journal). I must have been reviewing the same set of notes and forgotten that I’d already written my reaction. A year later I sounded less lyrical; I seem to have soured on the concept of surprise. I had to remind myself to follow through with the exercise and examine the reason for being surprised.
Dateline: November 17, 2015
I was going through old clippings and came across a little writing lifehack about keeping a surprise journal. I kept the article initially because I thought the point it made interesting: surprise stems from the confounding of our expectations. So when you notice that you are surprised and go the next step and examine it, you chip away at the mold of your misperceptions and misconceptions.
Surprise, if you grab the opportunity it presents, enables us to look at the world with new eyes. Paying attention when you feel surprise increases your awareness of your own prejudices. It is the key that can release us from the confines of habit.
The article continues in its cheerful, “lifehack” tone to recommend keeping a journal to record and analyze the things that surprise you. To pay attention. Observe. Analyze. Record. These are all things I embrace.
However, the unstated assumption in this advice is that by being more open to the world we are setting the stage to be, as C.S. Lewis wrote, surprised by joy. Do you find this to be so?
Age and experience has taught me to be wary of surprise. Things are very rarely better than I expected. They are almost always worse. (Aside: You see, contrary to popular opinion, people who grouse a lot aren’t necessarily pessimists. We are eternal optimists whose high hopes are frequently dashed. We optimists live in constant disappointment. Surprised?)
So, were I to keep a surprise journal, what would my Monday have held?
- I was surprised that the ivy and other vines put on about four inches of growth, seemingly overnight, due to Austin’s recent torrential rains. (That was nice.)
- I was surprised that the automated call refill system at my pharmacy didn’t work (for the first time in a decade of my using it) and I had to drive in in person.
- I was surprised it took 45 minutes to refill and that because I ran and finished my other errands before the refill was ready, I have to make a second trip today.
- I was surprised that all the toys and board games which I had carefully stored in the garage have become damp and musty. I have now spent two days trying to salvage some of them. Ditto all my folk tale books in the front hallway.
Surprise seems less delight and more a bumpy road, full of potholes ready to take out your axle.
However, the point of this exercise is to push past the frustration and to give our assumptions and biases a good poke.
The incident of the pharmacy reminds me to practice resilience. Systems fail and systems not under my provenance are bound to fail whenever I need them most. Didn’t I learn this from my experience with photocopiers; they always broke down when I needed to make copies for a class or presentation. I can waste time and emotional energy ranting about it. I can devise workarounds and backups hoping to protect myself from future failures. Or, I can accept that failures happen frequently and without warning and build buffer time into my schedule so that I don’t feel rush and anxious.
The incident of my damaged games leads me to wonder why I hang onto things I will never use. I tried (and failed) to preserve them for some future self that never materialized. I’m still not ready to let them go. But, why not?
What’s surprised you today…good or ill? What did the surprise teach you?