Bring Back That Sense of Surprise In Your Life
Enhance your creativity by staying open to the unpredictable and unexpected
Once upon a time, I was thunderstruck by a creative idea for a book. The very second before this sudden inspiration set my mind afire, it wasn’t there, which only added to its instant, magical pull. It felt ephemeral and otherworldly — a moment of serendipity that held the power to change my life. I had no choice but to act and follow wherever it might lead.
But today, the same hair-prickling moment signaling that fate is calling might be a minor blip on my radar. I’ve become jaded. And the culprit that erases that sense of surprise is the algorithms in our tech-driven world.
Let me explain. Say out loud that you need a vacation… your eavesdropping phone immediately serves up possible resorts. Consider the purchase of a car and targeted ads for your dream vehicle appear in a nanosecond on all your devices.
AI promises to further blur the lines. We can debate whether this might actually be a good thing — to have faith in signs could be the height of superstitious nonsense, after all. Yet those of us who have experienced a serendipitous sensation — and have been called to action by it — want to keep it coming. We want to bring back that sense of surprise to our lives.
Most of us crave those thunderbolt moments that make us feel as if our lives are on the right track or that our passion project is meant to be. So how do we find this sense of surprise in the digital age — and tune into the signs and signals that allow kismet to function in our lives? We do it by adopting a new way of thinking in order to stay open to what is unpredictable, unexpected, and unknown.
Embrace the Search for That Sense of Surprise
Enter what I like to call the “plot twist mindset” — a flexible, adaptable, counterintuitive approach to life that allows you to be delighted by surprise, remain curious about different perspectives, stay excited by the new, and even be jazzed by the unknown. In fact, you eagerly anticipate the reality of not knowing where the road may lead.
Embracing this mindset provides a path forward. Not only does it empower you to overcome life’s inevitable challenges, it provides the dots for you to connect in order to better discover the new. It anoints you both the hero/heroine and the author of your story — the one who creates the exciting, twisty plot and subplots, and then lives them.
6 Ways to Find a Sense of Surprise in the Digital Age:
1. See technology as a companion. Being the protagonist means you can be your own puppeteer. Technology wants to control your thoughts, dictate your actions, and determine what is relevant or irrelevant to you. AI will amp-up the power to control — you’ll now have a new best friend who you might trust a bit too much. To be the muse, writer, director, and producer of your script, you’ll have to view technology as a collaborator at best.
2. Challenge the search engines. What might appear new and unexpected is really just an algorithm built upon your user data. This narrows your worldview and feeds you more of what you already know… and want. So, be unpredictable — think of little SEO gremlins scratching their heads trying to figure out just who you are. Confuse the search engine by varying your interests, connecting with new people, and challenging yourself to search for new and different things every day. Follow the sparks, keep refining what you’re searching for, and always ask: What am I missing? In other words, don’t allow yourself to be put in a box.
3. Embrace a growth mindset. For a writer, the editing is never, ever over. And that mindset directly translates to life. Everything is in a state of continuous improvement as new information floods in, so we must constantly reassess, rewrite, and edit. Be comfortable with being unsure, doubt certainties, and avoid the absolutes that lead to a fixed versus growth mindset. As you keep editing, your chances of discovering the unintentional happy accident that serendipity provides increases.
4. Be objective. Like a true journalist, try to get as close as possible to the elusive whole truth. Dig deeper with clarifying questions, seek substance over sound bites, turn everything upside down and inside out. Writers know that there are always co-existing truths, and embracing this paradox allows you to expand beyond your own preconceived notions. So, step into the foggy unknown and explore the gray matter.
5. Embrace the possibilities. Beneath all the data and technology is basic binary coding that can be read by machinery. But the best writers know that in real life, very little can be reduced to this or that. So, make space for chance encounters, magic, and mystery. Strive to generate a constellation of possible pathways. For each, look for what might be adjacent to it to expand the web even more. And when you finally need to narrow your choice and decide between path one or path two, ask yourself what’s in-between — the third pathway may be the right way forward.
6. Create a strong narrative. Great stories show instead of tell; the best performances often have plot twists and unexpected endings. Without twists and turns, stories would be uninspiring and boring. Move from predictability to possibility by adding nuance to your story — and a surprise or two. Give yourself permission to seek the unconventional and the counterintuitive to help you see problems in a new light, and solutions down unexpected pathways.
That out-of-the-blue idea — the one that came out of thin air while I was strolling through a museum — ultimately did transform my life in remarkable ways. That single sign propelled me into action to write that first book, and then two more. It was a sign that ultimately redefined who I am, what I know, and how I give back to the world.
And through it all, I stayed in charge as the dot-creator and decision-maker with technology as my assistant, at-the-ready to connect the dots and speed my decision-making progress. This arrangement brings out the best in what technology has to offer — and brings out the best in me.
Deborah Burns is a consultant helping companies reinvent and is an award-winning author of Authorize It! Think Like a Writer to Win at Work & Life and Saturday’s Child. Her latest, THE 7 DAYS: A Classic Nursery Rhyme Made New, introduces children to the traits they need for emotional wellness and growth. Connect with Deborah through her website or on Instagram @deborah_l_burns