How do I plan for surprises?
December 20, 2007 3:37 PM   Subscribe

I saw the movie Dan in Real Life yesterday, and the last line of the movie...

... was "Plan for surprises". How do I do that? I'd like to be more open to situations and people, in particular women. I've been divorced and single for awhile (ok, a long while) and I find I've gotten too guarded and too insulated in my own little world. There's been a number of times where I've blown off signals from women, because either I wasn't expecting it and/or I couldn't make up my mind whether I wanted to take it to the next step (whatever that tired cliche means).

So how do I make room for new people in my life? How do I "plan for surprises"?
posted by PoopyDoop to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Rememeber to say yes more and deal with all that comes with it at a later date.
posted by fire&wings at 3:54 PM on December 20, 2007

not a huge deal, especially because I have no plans to see the movie but can we get the bit about the last line inside after a spoiler warning? I realize it may be trivial, but still.
posted by dhammond at 3:59 PM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

You know what, this is going to sound crazy but based on an old Seinfeld episode I once decided to do everything against my nature for one week (within reason). Whatever my instincts normally would be, I had to try doing the opposite. I was in a rut and I knew I was just going around on autopilot. So one night as I was on my way to see to a play with a coworker I had never particularly liked, we decided to have a fancy dinner together before the show. The headwaiter, an older guy, asked me out. We ended up dating off & on for 7 years and he was a major influence on who I am now in many ways. I would've never given him the time of day before, and I would've really missed out. He was a very, very memorable character.

I learned a lot from that experience. About a year later, I made a list of all of the things I was scared of and decided to check them off one by one. One was skiing, so over one winter I became the first person in my entire family to learn how (and was surprised to find that I'm actually a much better snowboarder). Another fear was singing in front of people, so I took a class at UCLA Extension on "Finding your singing voice." The first class had 40 people, the last class had 6. I always made myself sing first (totally against my nature, I always sat in the back of class in school), and my legs were shaking like you wouldn't believe. Well, surprise surprise it turned out I could actually carry a tune. So I started studying it a bit more, on a dare. What I've learned is that if you do anything enough... even if it's totally out of your comfort zones, it becomes normal to you. Within 6 months I was performing jazz professionally. I could've EASILY gone my whole life never knowing I had that ability, and I would've really missed out on one of the major joys of my life.

I've learned that it's important to keep yourself open in life (also one of the reasons I am addicted to travel. You have to open up when you're trying to exist in a foreign culture). Lately I've realized that I've built my guard back up again and am getting in another rut, so I'm about to force myself to make some changes and take some new risks. It's so hard to keep putting yourself out there, it's freaking terrifying and at times exhausting. But life's too short to keep yourself in a little box, hidden behind giant walls, never taking any risks.

If your life isn't filled with fun surprises... CREATE SOME FOR YOURSELF. The results might surprise you. :)
posted by miss lynnster at 4:00 PM on December 20, 2007 [38 favorites]

BTW, I realize I was answering it on a more broad "surprises" theme (I haven't seen the movie so I don't know the plot), but the first paragraph applies to opening yourself up to new people.
posted by miss lynnster at 4:01 PM on December 20, 2007

Well, you're not obligated to "pick up on their signals" if you don't want to. I tend to think, wait until someone actually interests you enough to make you WANT to, and then you play it by ear.

Really, "plan for surprises?" Hah, that doesn't happen.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:03 PM on December 20, 2007

I take it the same way as the Scouts' "Be Prepared". Just leave your house each morning ready for anything reasonable. Don't have life set up so that you "can't do X, have to go home first". Carry a phone, a watch, credit cards and cash everywhere, and be willing to drop your plans instantly.
posted by bonaldi at 4:06 PM on December 20, 2007

I also think a lot of stuff depends on being aware. Most people wander through life with people throwing signals at them right and left, but they are too focused on looking for specifics to see what's right in front of their faces. Human beings are, at any given moment in life, SURROUNDED by millions of potential surprises. And most of the time we walk right by them.
posted by miss lynnster at 4:19 PM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

They're saying, "Have an open mind and be flexible."

How do you make God laugh? Make a plan for your day and expect it go exactly as planned.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:40 PM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Don't get attached to expectations. Recognize them for what they are: only expectations. Things don't go according to your plan, or anybody's. Plus, since I seem to mention it every few posts or so, take an improv class. I like miss lynster's suggestion of how to stretch your comfort zone, too.
posted by cocoagirl at 4:49 PM on December 20, 2007

The Great Mose Allison said "I don't worry about a thing, cuz I know nothing's gonna be alright."
posted by wsg at 5:00 PM on December 20, 2007 [4 favorites]

Make contingency plans rather than prescriptive ones. Think of activities that are conditional, rather than scheduled. You might want to eat lunch and see a movie; don't decide what you're having for lunch, or which movie you're seeing, until the time comes. Just hang out with people, without making clear plans for what you're all going to do.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:04 PM on December 20, 2007

Miss Lynnster, that is fucking awesome inspiring. Gonna have to try that.

Maybe the movie was trying to convey a Buddhist-style message — you will be surprised, in both good ways and bad, so try not to "expect" what you think will happen and learn how to let things just unfold as they wish.
posted by Camofrog at 5:33 PM on December 20, 2007

Don't hang on to plans as though they're the be-all and end-all of life. My mum is obsessed with plans (or rather, nagging me to make plans for every damn thing in life) but what she hasn't managed to grasp is that plans go awry. And sometimes that's a good thing. A lot of great things in my life came out of plans that had fallen apart. (If the plans had come to fruition, that would be great too, but it wasn't a total loss.)
posted by divabat at 6:16 PM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Don't avoid something because you can't think of how it could possibly be useful.

This is abstract, so I'll give some concrete examples.

Always use your turn signals and stop completely at stop signs, even if nobody's around. While the probability that a negative consequence will occur each time is very small, taking the slightly illegal action sets a personal precedence for doing it every time you think you're in the clear. The probability that there will be a negative consequence eventually is fairly high. Besides, the benefit you receive from breaking the law is so minuscule as to be worthless.

There are several things I carry in my pockets when I leave the house, including a cell phone, keys, a wallet, and a pair of sunglasses. They're actually kind of bulky, so I would occasionally leave something at home when I figured I wouldn't need it (e.g. sunglasses because it was dark outside). I kept getting screwed over by things I hadn't thought of (e.g. I ended up staying the night at someone's house and needed my sunglasses to drive home the next morning).

Yes, I should have thought of this ahead of time, but the fact is that there will always be a circumstance you did not consider. So any easy general preparation you can take should always be taken, even if you can't think of a particular reason for it. It's an extremely difficult piece of advice to actually follow because we're so used to trusting our own judgment above all else. Occasionally I leave my sunglasses at home at night now because the only person I might stay the night with now lives with me. But I know it's going to come bite me in the ass some day, and I'll feel like an idiot for not forseeing it.

As far as social advice goes, my best advice is to never set personal (i.e. for things you will do alone) plans in stone unless you have to. Make lots of them, so that you will have things to do, but always be willing to change them. This goes for both short term and long term planning. For example, don't turn down going to dinner with friends because you've already got a frozen dinner in the microwave. The frozen dinner doesn't care if you stand it up. Another, more long-term example: if you're in college and you don't know what you want to do with your life afterwards, make a temporary decision (e.g. join the Peace Corps, go to grad school, or move to Texas to look for a job in advertising) while planning to change it. There's a good chance that any plan you make for 5 years down the road will get ripped to shreds even if you're dead set on it in the first place, so there's no reason to worry about the immensity of the decision.

Last piece of advice: schedule your less urgent and briefer events (no matter how important) around your most urgent and most time-consuming events (no matter how trivial). Some people advise planning the biggest things first, which is good advice only if you decide "bigness" based on urgency and time required. It might be essential to your job that you get your TPS reports done by Monday morning, but you do have all weekend. On the other hand, your friends might only be all in the same place for one evening only.

Ignore any piece of advice given to you that tries to solve a problem that you don't actually have. It's probably still good advice, but only for people who do have that problem.
posted by ErWenn at 6:29 PM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Get a passport.
posted by user92371 at 6:35 PM on December 20, 2007

Expect that your expectations will not hold. You can plan for the future by planning to be okay when your plans fall apart.
posted by unknowncommand at 7:16 PM on December 20, 2007

Response by poster: Many really great suggestions, so I hesitate to mark any as best answer. Thanks everyone.
posted by PoopyDoop at 8:18 PM on December 20, 2007

I have a friend who makes a point of trying to do "new" things. I know this sounds lame, but of all people, she's taken me up on more random offers, eg, to go on a backpacking trip. Anyway, so I know on the surface, this is the lamest suggestion in the world, but if you make it a goal to do "new" things, you really may be more likely to be on the lookout for the unexpected and to jump at the chance to try something different.
posted by salvia at 10:33 PM on December 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Not lame at all salvia. In fact, I think you made a very direct, easy-to-implement suggestion.
posted by PoopyDoop at 5:32 AM on December 21, 2007

It's in the attitude: being ready to go with the flow, to jump at an unexpected opportunity, to be spontaneous.

In high school (long ago), a friend and I realized that we never made plans less than three days in advance. So we decided to be spontaneous. We'd purposely not make plans so that we had to be creative. When we graduated, we ditched some prom after-party to go back to her house and drag our sleeping bags outside so we could lie under the stars and just talk. A couple years later we decided to live in Boston for the summer and ride our bikes everywhere and just explore. A few times now, I've decided to move to a different place, sometimes on the opposite side of the globe, to push my boundaries. I've never regretted it.

Reset your mind so that you can be open to ideas, talk to a stranger, go somewhere you've never been, try something you're not even sure you'll like.
posted by bassjump at 7:00 AM on December 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

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