We at Surprise Industries speak of surprise so lovingly that it may seem like we believe all surprises taste like cookies and smell like hot cocoa. On several occasions people have stopped us mid-sentence and said: “But what about the bad surprises?!”
So let’s talk about the bad surprises.
In NYC we’re recovering from a big, wet, windy one named Sandy. Seeing my friends’ gutted houses and floating cars, it’s hard to step outside wearing my I <3 SURPRISE tee-shirt. Of course not all surprises are positive. In fact, just as surprise intensifies happiness by about 400% it also intensifies fear and anger to the same degree. This is why we instinctively tell our friends to “sit down” and we break bad news to them gradually, with as little shock value as possible.
Bad surprises hit us much harder than bad things we expected (think: getting dumped out of the blue vs a slowly deteriorating relationship). And there’s another consequence of bad surprises that I want to talk to you about today: we cope with them by convincing ourselves that the surprise was predictable. (This is a part of what’s known as the Black Swan Theory.)
We respond in this way to major surprises (like terrorist attacks) and even minor surprises (like mistakes at work). The powerlessness we feel triggers us to grasp our pitch forks and start the witch hunts: “Who’s responsible for this? You should have seen this coming! We have to fire somebody!” And the seemingly logical but rarely helpful: “How can we prevent this in the future?”
Being ready for the worst is nice, but here’s the thing: by their very definition, surprises will always take us by surprise. We can prepare for the predictable but not for the truly surprising.
Instead, we have to learn to Float with the Black Swans and respond to surprise. Unlike the “always prepared” Boy Scouts who are trained to handle particular situations, we have to train ourselves to act in the face of uncertainty. How?
When bad surprises strike, ask yourself these 5 questions:
- What do I need?
- What are my options right now?
- What are my resources? And how can I stretch them?
- Who can help me get what I need?
- How can I help others right now?
Breathe. Stay in the moment. And then remind yourself:
- There was no way to predict this and no one to blame.
- We’re doing the best we can.
- We’re all in this together.
Will taking these steps turn your ugly duckling of a Black Swan into a beautiful new surprise? Probably not. But accepting bad surprises for what they are rather than pretending we could have seen them coming gives us power and a chance to make the best of the surprising situation.
How about you?
How did you handle the hurricane? What helped you get through it?
P.S. To all of our friends who are still coping with the aftermath of Sandy, our thoughts are with you. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to help (we meant it).