Do you prefer when things go according to plan or when the unexpected happens?
Most of us pick control and predictability. Yet research reveals a counterintuitive truth: Our best memories are the surprising ones. We feel most comfortable when things are certain, but we feel most alive when they’re not. Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected is also the little-known key to growth, attention, and connection.
Embrace the unpredictable:
Surprise operates on a spectrum. As much as it can delight, it can disappoint. As much as it can bring joy, it can trigger anguish. Death, illness, war, financial loss, relationship difficulties, and natural disasters are all more devastating when they take us by surprise. Given how severely bad surprises strike and how long the consequences last, it’s no wonder many of us are surpise averse.
Why resilience matters?
If we don’t have nets below us and caretakers beside us, resilience becomes our strongest net. It assures us we’ll be okay no matter what. It tells us we can handle falling. It lets us take risks and poke around in unfamiliar territory without dashing back to home base.
Resilience building tools
Through our research, interviews, and the work we do to help companies and individuals build resilience, we’ve identified four critical resilience-building toos: set stable ground, reframe, make struggle sandwiches, and pivot.
- Set stable ground: Consider your own sources of stability. Who are the individuals in your life who will always be there for you? What small (healthy) rituals give you a sense of comfort and stability? Where can you go and what can you do when life spins out of control?
- Reframe: When you reframe a situation, your brain processes it differently. To train yourself, ask these four questions when bad surprises happen: 1) Wgat are the bright side effects? 2) What have I learned? 3) What do I want? 4) What’s the solution?
- Make a struggle sandwich: The road ahead is getting more unpredictable. It is demanding more of our courage and creativity. So first, set yourself up for success by creating a small, realistic goal. Relish the victory. Next stretch the goal and let yourself struggle. Cheer for mistakes and moments of misery.
- Pivot: When we move with change instead of moving against it, we don’t just recover from bad surprises, we pivot into new opportunities.
If we perceive vulnerability as weakness and the possibility of pain, unpredictability will always be a threat. But when we reframe vulnerable as open, unpredictability becomes an opportunity. When we are open, we connect more deeply with others. They can see us as we truly are. We earn their trust. We like ourselves more because we see that we have worth even when people see us fully. We learn. And we experience life more fully.
- Own your mistakes: Invite connection by talking about your mistakes and weaknesses (without subtly blaming them on someone or something else).
- Next notch: reveal just one notch more than you feel comfortable revealing.
- Ask for help: find small ways to ask people to lend you a hand.
Practice skillful not-knowing
We feel uncertain when we can’t predict what will happen. We experience ambiguity when there are too many options. Our brains are wired to eliminate both types of unknowns. We avoid them or we rush to reach a sense of certainty. Neither approach is adaptive. Instead of following our instincts, we can become skilled at not-knowing.
- Call it an experiment: making a final decision can feel paralyzing. Instead, call your decisions experiments and repeat them until you life the result.
- Scenario plan: devise several stories of possible futures and create a plan that is flexible enough to fit any of them.
- Improvise: focus on others instead of on yourself and don’t be attached to outcome.
- Get to the pot of gold on the other side of awkward: collect awkwarness the way you would collect stamps. Remind youself that you have to wade through awkwardness to reach connection, fulfillment, and growth.
- Engage in reverse debates: select views that seem very different from yours and spot all the ways in which they are actually similar to what you believe.