Surprise: How Embracing the Unpredictable and Engineering the Unexpected Leads to a Richer Life

In Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected Tania Luna and Leeann Renninger say that while most of us when faced with choices pick control and predictability, research shows that our best memories are full of surprise.

Our aversion for surprise stems from the ambiguity of the present and the unpredictability of the future:

“We see at lest two reasonable reasons that surprise aversion has always been a part of the human condition and is particularly rampant today: emotional intensification and vulnerability.

[…] Unlike other emotions, surprise has no valence: it is inherently neither good nor bad. In this sense, surprise isn't an emotion so much as it is an emotional intensifier.”

This is true of both positive and negative emotions. Luna and Renninger say surprise makes you -er.Yet for many people, emotional intensification is uncomfortable.

The other reason surprise has a bad rep is that it is results in a feeling of vulnerability. When we ask our students and clients why they dislike surprise, they often describe feeling on the spot. When things happens just as we expect, we know how to respond. We feel comfortable and competent. When things go off script — especially when bad surprises attack — we feel unprepared. This feeling triggers frustration, fear, and sometimes shame. Occasionally a lack of preparedness has tangible repercussions, but most times the real threat is just a blow to our ego.

To have a richer life, we need to adapt to more surprise brought about by a faster rate of change and learn to inject some surprise back into our need to control the future through prediction.

The book is divided into four parts, starting with understanding surprise in the brain and its role in the world and reviewing how to embrace the unpredictable by building resilience, reframing vulnerability and practicing skillful not-knowing.

In part three, Luna and Renninger take a look at how to engineer the unexpected by getting creative, wielding attention, designing delights, and making experiences. Everyday surprise is about cultivating relationships and surprising yourself.