We all make assumptions, and many of them turn out to be wrong. But noticing those and learning from them is hard. Maintaining a “Surprise Journal” can make reality clearer and help you improve yourself.
Photo by Walt Stoneburner
Julia Galef of the Center for Applied Rationality says her technique helps you confront your confirmation bias, separating reality from assumptions in a gentle way. In your Surprise Journal, write down anything that surprises you and why. Ignore whether the surprise is positive or negative and simply note what it is.
The Surprise Journal has two benefits. First, you start noticing more odd or unusual things, simply because you looking out for them. Second, it helps your biased brain cope when something goes against expectations:
“People generally don’t want to give in to evidence that they might be wrong — and I include myself here — because it is stressful to admit it, even to yourself… We train ourselves to avoid it.”
On the other hand, looking for surprises in the world can be an empowering or exhilarating experience. “It appeals to my curiosity and it just feels different — it feels like I am getting as clear a picture of the world as I can,” she says.
The end result, as Galef mentions, is that you become more aware of areas where you need improvement. For example, Galef’s ratings as a teacher were lower than colleagues, which indicated over-confidence in her abilities and not taking on feedback to get better.
The conclusions of your Surprise Journal are going to be what you make of them, but the mere act of noticing the disparity should set you on the right path, according to Galef.