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Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast for EPISODE #159 with Dr. Michael A. Rousell, PhD[i] a teacher, psychologist, and professor emeritus at Southern Oregon University who has studied how random events transform us. After studying formative events, which are moments that define us, or strongly influence us, for over three decades, Michael Rousell discovered that most of them took place during a spark of surprise and serve as a mechanism to instantly change our beliefs.

Watch the interview on YouTube here.

Learn more about Michael Rousell and The Power of Surprise Book (coming out Sept.15)

I’m Andrea Samadi, author, and educator from Toronto, Canada, now in Arizona, and like many of our listeners, have been fascinated with learning and understanding the science behind high performance strategies in our schools, our sports, and workplace environments with ideas that we can all use, understand and implement immediately.

In today’s episode, we will speak with Michael Rousell about his new book, The Power of Surprise: How Your Brain Secretly Changes Your Beliefs.[ii] Michael will show us how surprising events produce invisible influence because they open a window to spontaneous belief change with no warning or conscious awareness. You’ll see how a seemingly minor feature of surprise can be devised to strategically enrich someone’s life (personally or in the workplace) and create positive mindsets, for students or employees while maximizing your influence for those in leadership roles.

You can dive deeper into The Power of Surprise by watching Michael’s TED TALK.[iii]

30% DISCOUNT ON The Power of Surprise BOOK use CODE RLFANDF30 (by Sept. 30, 2021)

Here’s what people are saying about Michael Rousell’s new book:

“Fascinating read chock full of lots of truly novel information and ideas. A must-read for anyone interested in enriching their lives and finding new ways to expand their mind.”—Andrew Newberg, MD, best-selling author of Why We Believe What We Believe.

“A fascinating book. The Power of Surprise shows what most of us miss about moments that change us.”—Jonah Berger, New York Times best-selling author of 3 Books, The Catalyst, Contagious, and Invisible Influence

In today’s episode you will learn:

  • What happens in the brain when we experience surprise?
  • Why random events transform us, and how they secretly change our beliefs.
  • How to use this understanding of surprise at the brain level to enrich/transform someone else’s life dramatically and instantly (in the workplace or classroom environment).

As you are listening to this episode I encourage you to think about where surprise has shown up in your life. Has someone ever said something to you that caught your attention, and made you think? What did you do with this new information? Did you use it? Did that moment change or transform you in some way, like Jonah Berger’s testimonial offered or did you just dismiss it, never to think about it again? And finally, have you ever wondered “what just happened there?”

I hope that we can dive a bit deeper and see if we can uncover some meaning behind the element of surprise in your life and offer you a framework to intentionally impact those around you, on a deeper level, with the Power of Surprise.

Let’s meet Michael Rousell.

Welcome Michael, it’s wonderful to see you again–thank you so much for speaking with me today. We set this interview up months ago, and August seemed so far away at the time! Doesn’t time fly!

Q1: I know that if we all think about it, we can come up with a time in our life where we experienced a surprise that had a profound impact on us, but most of us don’t think that deeply about something like this. We plan surprise parties, love surprise gifts, but what makes a surprise so special?

Q2: What drew your attention to study the impact that surprise has on someone’s life and belief system? Was there an experience that surprised and changed you? When did you first notice The Power of Surprise?

Q3: What can we learn from The Power of Surprise? Are there Aha Moments of learning that can be revealed to us if we are self-aware, or paying attention? Are surprises like epiphanies?

Q4: What does emotion have to do with surprise? (Positive or negative emotion?)

Q5: We all know how powerful the neurotransmitter dopamine is, and its connection to the motivation centers in the brain, but when did science discover the role of dopamine when we experience surprise?

Q6: Can you give an example of how to use the element of surprise in the workplace to transform one of your team members who you notice might be having a difficult time. Can we really transform someone’s life with surprise, and will we notice the impact immediately?

Q7: Can you give an example of how an educator could use surprise to change a student’s mindset in the classroom and how surprise can impact a student’s ability to learn?

Q8: What’s the difference between being startled and surprised?

Q9: Can I surprise someone and impact change if they have a strong belief?

Q10: Have I missed anything about the Power of Surprise? Any final thoughts?

Today’s listeners will receive a 30% discount on the purchase of Mike’s book, The Power of Surprise: How Your Brain Secretly Changes Your Beliefs. Just hit the link for the discount that you’ll find it in the show notes.

For those who want to learn more about Mike and the Power of Surprise, go to, or find him on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

For a FREE EBOOK on The Power of Surprise in the Practical NeuroWisdom series, click the link below.

Surprise: The Neurological Spark to Personal Transformation

Thank you very much for speaking to me today, and sharing your decades of research of formative events to help us to all impact change, and transform those around us, whether we are a teacher in the classroom, looking to impact our students, or those in the workplace, the understanding of how we can use the element of surprise to influence others is something I know could positively influence others, as we watch those around us flourish, with an understanding of the unexpected. Thank you!


Wolfram Schultz

2017 Brain Prize Award Winner Wolfram Schultz




[iii]Surprise! How Your Brain Secretly Changes Your Beliefs| Michael Rousell TEDxSalem Published on YouTube March 18, 2019