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Embracing the Unknown

by Beth on May 23rd, 2017

Some people handle the unknown better than others. I am not a big fan of surprises. My fondness for making plans is directly linked to my desire to know what to expect. Yet I know through my research on the science of well-being that learning to accept and even embrace the unpredictable has a number of psychological benefits. Engaging in new experiences helps us learn, grow, and form relationships. Accepting that there are things we don’t know and things we can’t control reduces anxiety and increases resilience.

In their book, Surprise, Tania Luna and LeeAnn Renninger identify four types of surprise: ambiguity, novelty, uncertainty, and vulnerability. Ambiguity occurs when there is no single right answer. People who tolerate ambiguity are open to different viewpoints and love to learn. Novelty refers to new experiences. People who like novelty enjoy trying new things. Uncertainty is when there is one right answer, but it is unknown. Not knowing can make it hard to prepare. People who tolerate uncertainty are less stressed about not knowing and are more open to change and taking risks. Vulnerability is a willingness to be yourself, despite what others may think. People who are comfortable with vulnerability take emotional risks, which can improve their relationships.

Learning about the different types of surprise has helped me to see that I am much more comfortable with unpredictability than I thought. I’m pretty OK with ambiguity and vulnerability, and I’m very open to novelty. The only type of surprise that I really have a problem with is uncertainty.

I see that my love of travel is due to the fact that I like being exposed to different ways of doing things (ambiguity), I love seeing new sights and trying new things (novelty), and I’m comfortable meeting new people and opening up to them (vulnerability). But I also find travel to be stressful due to my lack of tolerance for uncertainty. I’m getting better about focusing on the things that I can control and trying not to worry so much about what I can’t control. But it is a constant work in progress.

What about you? Which type of surprise are you comfortable with? Which one do you need to work on?

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