Back in the wild old days, my best buddy and I used to call going out “looking for trouble”. We weren’t hoping for a punch-up or a little light robbery, but a spontaneous adventure involving music, strangers or just the city at night. All that spur-of-the-moment fun has taken quite a beating since the pandemic began, for many millions of us. First came the lockdowns, social distancing and closed venues, then the cautious reopening when even a trip to the pub or an art gallery had to be booked weeks in advance. And now, just when it seemed the world was finally getting back to normal, Omicron has come wielding its everything’s-off-again sledgehammer, crushing all those dreams of nights out, holidays and raucous parties. Not only does it seem foolish to plan anything, but after two years of frustration and self-restraint, it’s hard to summon up the enthusiasm to do anything off the cuff. And that’s quite a loss. While we often think anticipation is half the fun, in 2016 researchers from two US universities found that people enjoyed activities more when they were impromptu. Scheduling a coffee break or a movie, for instance, made them feel “less free-flowing and more work-like”, wrote the authors. As Jane Austen put it 200 years ago in Emma: “Why not seize the pleasure at once? – How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!” Masks don’t help, says Edward Slingerland, a philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia and the author of Trying Not to Try. “It’s difficult to get into any kind of relaxed, spontaneous rhythm when you can’t see the other person’s facial expressions. Our in-person interactions have been drained of the subtle facial cues that we normally use to tell if the other person is enjoying themselves or if a comment is landing the right way.” This renders even those precious interactions with strangers when out in the world so much harder. Video calls are equally unconducive. “You’re not in the same room. There’s often a subtle time delay that may not seem like very much, but it’s hard for people to know when you’re done talking, when it’s OK for me to start. It’s impossible to relax into natural, really positive social interactions that have spontaneity to them.” The good news is that, as counterintuitive as it sounds, you can work at being more spontaneous. For his book, Slingerland looked at how ancient Chinese thinkers tackled the problem. “It involved things like ritual activities, meditation, breathing practices or just trying to trick your mind into forgetting that you’re trying to be spontaneous.” Because, he explains, if you put your mind to the problem directly, you’re activating the part of the brain you need to shut down – the cognitive control areas. The key is relaxation, not striving. Slingerland isn’t suggesting we moderns start doing Confucian rituals, but, he says, “there’s a very similar function served by doing things like weeding the garden, or going for a walk – using your body in a way where you’re interacting with the natural world”. The early Chinese word for the state these activities bring on is wuwei. “I translate it as ‘effortless actions’,” he says. “A state where you lose a sense of yourself as an agent, and you get absorbed in what you’re doing.” Some modern thinkers might equate this sort of state with “flow”, while there are obvious comparisons, too, with mindfulness. “Look at the sunlight on trees and hear birds and you get absorbed in something bigger than yourself,” says Slingerland. “That takes you out of your head and allows you to relax.” Disrupting routines can help free the mind. Illustration: Leon Edler/The Guardian This isn’t just about enjoying a good night out. We also need spontaneity to embrace change, says the clinical psychologist and writer Linda Blair. “And change is necessary for progress of any sort. Spontaneity makes us happier, too.” In 2016, a team of Austrian and Italian researchers found that people with less spontaneity in their lives experienced greater “psychological suffering”. The best way forward at the moment, says Blair, “is to turn things on their head and instead of talking about trying to be spontaneous, you say: ‘There is no other way to be right now.’” Now is the time for seizing the day and moving with your heart, or your gut. “You want to go to your favourite restaurant?” asks Blair. “Don’t plan it – go there today, while it’s still open.” She points out that disrupting routines can help to free the mind. This could mean switching off your mental autopilot and thinking about what you really feel like for breakfast today. Another spontaneity starter, she says, is having a backwards day. “That’s a lot of fun, especially with kids. Start your day with dinner, say – anything that shakes up the triggers that keep us doing the same things.” Triggers are things that keep us acting automatically. The cookie jar that makes us think we’re hungry. The phone ping that takes us into a rabbit hole and delays making lunch by 45 minutes. Triggers are not spontaneity’s friends. So Blair’s top tip for starting the day free of our inner naysayers and triggers is to write down all your thoughts first thing in the morning, before you do anything else. This process is called the Morning Pages and was devised by the writer Julia Cameron, originally as part of what she called the Artist’s Way – a method for unblocking creativity. “The best way to be spontaneous,” says Blair, “is to clear out the rubbish that mentally clogs you up every day. You get up in the morning and you write anything, whatever is going through your head, even if it’s: ‘Why am I doing this?’” Cameron prescribes three A4 pages, but if that puts you off, Blair says you’ll still benefit from just writing until you run out, “or for five minutes”. Don’t let time pressures stop you. “One person I know gets up at four o’clock to do it, so that the kids can’t possibly bother her,” says Blair. “It is important to have your own time, and to look at what comes out as potential to do things in a new way.” Not only does this boost your propensity for spontaneity for the rest of the day, says Blair, but it often generates spontaneous ideas. “It suddenly awakens you, so for example, you have a dream that you write down about having seen somebody you realise you haven’t been in touch with for ages. So you now call them or email them.” Joe Oliver is a clinical psychologist who specialises in acceptance and commitment therapy – a mindfulness-based behavioural therapy – and has some good solutions if you’ve lost your spontaneity. So many of his clients have a sense of malaise just now, partly from general pandemic pressures, but also, he says, from “the lack of fun that’s available to them. And fun comes so much from spontaneity – doing things and not thinking too much about it, connecting with people, doing an activity and being allowed to take it in unexpected directions.” One of the barriers, he says, “is people wanting to stay in their comfort zones, where it’s safe, predictable, ordered and people know how things are going to go”. The comfort zone can be useful – especially at the moment, when we need to keep safe, but there’s a danger of talking ourselves out of adventuring. “Overthinking is an absolute classic one,” says Oliver. “Getting entangled with worry about the future: it’s going to be terrible, it’s not going to work out, it won’t be fun, it’s going to have bad consequences, you won’t be safe. And when people get caught up with those thoughts, of course, they do that natural thing of retreating into their comfort zone. Or they ruminate a lot.” Part of the problem is living not in the present, but in the past or the future, thinking: “What about the times it hasn’t worked?” says Oliver. But understanding that this is going on is the first step to recovering spontaneity. He reminds clients: “There’s good evidence that unplanned-for opportunities support wellbeing and mental health.” Next time you catch yourself chickening out of doing something on the spur of the moment, he suggests overruling your critical brain and telling yourself: “I’m doing this because it’s good for me. And I like it. It’s fun. Let’s persist through this initial anxiety and see what comes afterwards.” Mindfulness will help you enjoy the moment you’re in, Oliver says, but “it doesn’t have to be a full-on meditative practice”. Just “anchor into your feet, notice your breath for 10 seconds, roll your shoulders back, drop your arms and spend some time coming down into your body”. Catch those limiting thoughts that tell you we can’t draw/skateboard/jog in the rain, he says, but don’t try to argue with them. If you challenge the thoughts, it creates “a bit of a tussle and can inadvertently give those thoughts a bit more power”. Instead, try thinking: “There are those thoughts again,” or even thank them for their feedback – after all, they’re only trying to keep us safe. Oliver’s other tricks include taking turns with a friend or partner to suggest new things to do, “to build in randomness. I’ve got a favourite pub but my partner often wants to go somewhere else, not in my comfort zone. Sometimes, in the interest of spontaneity, we say to the other: ‘OK, you decide.’ Or sometimes we come up with a couple of pubs and flip a coin.” Because, while your instincts might tell you to stay in your comfort zone, there’s actually no way of foretelling which option will result in the most fun on any given day. “As Daniel Gilbert at Harvard has shown us so well,” says Blair, “we don’t accurately estimate what the future is going to be like. We usually think it’s going to be better than it is. And we don’t accurately estimate what the past was like, either. We are hard on ourselves and overly critical about what happened – or we romanticise it. But now … you can be happy right now.” She says her patients often tell her about a recurring pain that keeps them up at night because it’s so bad. But when she asks them how it is right now, they say: “What, the pain? Oh, it’s not too bad.” Again with the living in the future and the past. “Coming to the now,” says Blair, “things are usually OK.” And here, Austen bears repeating: “Seize the pleasure at once.” Take verbal risks Got an urge for pizza – go for it. Don’t want to face another boring, burned-out Friday – consider taking a mental health day off. Don’t really want to vacuum the living room and instead want to go for a hike – try it. And even if you can’t think on your feet in that staff meeting or with your partner, and need time to process, that’s fine. Two hours later. send an email to your supervisor or text your partner about how you feel. But do it more spontaneously – don’t worry about getting it right, don’t obsessively edit; feeling that edge of risk lets you know you’re expanding your comfort zone. What gets in the way of spontaneity is your rational, overly cautious and often-anxious brain: the think-twice, should-you-or-shouldn’t-you, what-will-others-think modes of dealing with the world. We manage to keep a lot of this mental chatter down by simply falling back on set routines and auto-pilot behavior. Don’t worry about planning out the whole day, just focus, then act (unless it involves something illegal…). Do it and sit again. Craft a day of unplanned spontaneity. Start small Time to bring in the verbal, relationship side of the equation. You want to bring this spontaneity to your speech – be less cautious and censoring. Again, small steps. Raise your hand and speak up at a staff meeting when something tugs at you, when you would normally let it go. Tell your partner what is bothering you when your tendency is to say “it’s no big deal.” Some folks are too spontaneous, perhaps: the tattoo at 3 a.m., the $500 pair of shoes, the blurting out the first thing that comes to their minds. But for a lot of the rest of us the dial might be a bit too far in the other direction: even small decisions are as weighty as those of the Supreme Court; everyday life is heavily routinized and breaking out in even small ways can require a lot of planning. Maybe it’s time to loosen up. So these little steps worked out okay. Time to step up. Pick a day when you’re not at work, no major responsibilities. This is a day to do all-gut-all-the-time. Resist the urge to go on Saturday auto-pilot and start cleaning the house. Instead, sit in a chair and see what you feel like doing, what you want to do. Can’t tell? Wait. Resist the urge to march into routines. Spontaneity resides not in this heady stuff but in our gut – the wants and not-wants, the like and not like. You want to become more aware of these feelings, however quiet they may be, in order to learn to tune into them, increase their power, rely on them as a source of information about you and your needs. You can start by simply asking how you feel about something and not dismissing it. Better yet, taking action on it before it fades away. Sorry, drunk shopping doesn’t count. Listen to your gut You may have a sit for a while. That’s okay. What you are looking for is a feeling or strong image that pulls at you. Go to a movie at 1 in the afternoon? Call or go see your aunt in Pennsylvania? Send your college roommate an email about a song that reminded you of her? But as that famous phrase Be Spontaneous Now connotes, it’s not a head thing that you can come at directly, that you can think through. That said, there are planned steps you can take to lighten your stride. It’s about shifting your source of internal info, rewiring your brain through action, and getting comfortable with taking risks. This is not about pizza, or Friday or vacuuming. It’s about acting in order to strengthen these circuits in your brain. Now, what will likely happen the first few times you do this is you’ll feel guilty for taking the day off or not vacuuming, or berate yourself for the pizza because it tastes lousy or your critical brain yells at you, «Hello, you just put on 20 pounds.» That’s to be expected, the old circuits are firing. Pat yourself on the back and keep moving ahead. You still, however, might want to watch out for those $500 shoes and 3 a.m. tattoos… And that’s the goal here – to expand that comfort zone, feel more comfortable with taking risks, develop confidence in your gut reactions rather than constantly relying on your more cautious, rational mind. As you find out that what you fear will happen doesn’t, your own confidence will increase, and your trust in your gut reactions and the bigger world will grow. It’s about practice. Here’s how to get started: Go bigger
- 25 Ways To A More Interesting Life
Maybe you go for a morning jog along the same route every day. Tomorrow, try taking a detour instead of continuing straight ahead. You may be surprised by what happens. Don’t miss the following articles if you want to live your best life: Choose an activity that has always interested you but you haven’t tried, and another pursuit that has never interested you. Locate classes that are being offered on each of your two choices and sign up for them.
- Find & Replace Limiting Beliefs, Part 1: Search Techniques
This section contains a progressive set of exercises to gradually turn you into a more spontaneous individual. If you can follow through on these steps consistently, you can add more joy and interest to your life.
Stop Waiting for the Perfect Time
A Little Spontaneity Makes You Less Boring!
Things like TV and mindless Internet surfing eat up huge chunks of your time. They give you an excuse to be lazy instead of spontaneous.
2. Start Acting Spontaneously Now
Normally, I do my writing while sitting on my couch. But, every once in a while, I like to spice things up and go to a local cafe. Becoming a spontaneous person is not easy, especially if you’ve been conditioned to be a boring person for many years. But you can change if that’s your wish.
Do Something Without Thinking
For example, if it’s raining and you want to dance, don’t let the presence of other people stop you. The rain may have stopped by then! Find these beliefs and then remove them. These guides will help:
- How to Quit Your Boring Life and Start Living an Interesting One
Enjoying activities that you like as well as pursuing hobbies you wouldn’t expect to like makes life just that much more exciting. So, how not to be boring and start to be more interesting?
Get up and Dance, Right Now!
I know it’s silly, but get up and dance. In fact, do it right now. Humans are creatures of habit. We love to establish a routine and stick with it. Then we often put ourselves on auto-pilot. Well guess what? Life doesn’t always work out the way you plan it. You must be able to go with the flow regardless of whether you have a plan or not. My life is not even close to what I thought it would be like a year ago. How could I have known what was going to happen? How can you? It’s scary to let go of your plans because then, you are inviting all kinds of uncertainty into your life. In fact, fear is the root of most spontaneity problems. By conquering those fears, you can become less dependent on your plans and live a far more interesting life. Does somebody look interesting to you? Go up to them and start a conversation. I know this can be extremely difficult. Nevertheless, go ahead and take a step in their direction. Face your fear of uncertainties and start to be more spontaneous. And in this article, I will show you how. If you get a random (non-destructive) impulse, act on it fast. Don’t think about it too long. Otherwise, you’ll second guess yourself.
Look at the World Through a Child’s Eyes
- This Is What Happens When You Move Out Of the Comfort Zone
Check out a new place and see what you have been missing. Children are endlessly curious, and you should be too. You may have much more in the way of experience than a 5-year-old child, but there is still a lot of stuff that you don’t know too. Commit yourself to the activity even if you are hesitating. Got an urge to break out into song? After you reflexively, dismiss the urge, commit to singing the lyrics and follow through on it.
Talk to Strangers
Go Explore a New Location
Being spontaneous involves regularly stepping out of your comfort zone. So, act and move ahead in spite of your fears. I used to be afraid of heights, but one of my friends and I decided to buy a Groupon to go skydiving. Guess what? I faced my fear and it melted away after I made that leap. Nevertheless, many people live lives that are boringly predictable, or live a life where everything is outlined or planned. When I find myself in a situation where I can’t make up my mind, I randomly decide. Routines can be incredibly useful in helping you get things done. However, too much of a routine can also make you incredibly boring. For instance, I used to sit and debate with myself about which of three movies I wanted to watch. Now I just use a random number generator and arrive at a satisfactory answer within seconds.
Let Go of Limiting Beliefs
If you need a little help, here it is: How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward
Add a “Twist” to Normal Activities
Flipping a coin or using a random number generator is very easy. It gets you in the habit of coming to a decision much more quickly.
Ask Your Friends If You Are Too Predictable
You probably don’t have to go too far from where you live currently to find a street you’ve never walked, a town you haven’t explored, or a trail you haven’t hiked. If your friend invites you to a party that you normally wouldn’t attend, make yourself go. Ideally, you should be able to create a plan, execute it, and then deviate from it whenever you wish. Planning is not the enemy. Instead, the culprit is fear. During your life, you have picked up beliefs that may hold you back. If you think it is “weird” to talk to a stranger, or that you’ll mess up if you try to do something differently, you have a limiting belief.
Do Things That Scare You
The only way to develop new insights is by trying new things regularly, much like a child who thrusts himself into the unknown.
Try a New Hobby, Activity or Class etc.
Say “Yes” More Often
As it takes some practice to become more spontaneous, now is a good time to begin. So, play some tunes and get up and boogie down! What’s the worst that can happen? Start taking advantage of the social possibilities that are placed before you. By stepping out of your comfort zone, you’ll also become more spontaneous. It’s not as “scary” as introducing yourself or initiating a conversation, but it does help build the momentum. In fact, I often start talking to someone who interests me once I take that first step.
1. Create an Environment That Fosters Spontaneity
Becoming more spontaneous doesn’t mean putting an end to long-term thinking or planning. Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com Begin living a life where fear does not hold you back. You’ll soon get into the habit of becoming more interesting and less boring.
- Find & Replace Limiting Beliefs, Part 2: Replace Old Ideas
The people who know you well are in a better position to give you this information, and they might see some areas where you can improve that you might not consider yourself. Stop waiting for the perfect time for spontaneity to take hold. If there is something that you want to do, the best time to do it is now. When you don’t rely on these crutches, it becomes much easier to act more carefree. Ask your friends if you are too predictable. It might be awkward to ask, but listen to them closely for the answer. The study reminds us that past research in psychological literature related predominantly to psychological disorders such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Current findings show that rumination relates to somatic problems too, especially intensification of pain symptoms. Rumination results in poor clinical outcomes, too.
Some have difficulty being spontaneous because they have OCD. This mental illness in which people have obsessions and compulsions keeps them in a perpetual state of anxiety, according to The Cleveland Clinic.3 Those with OCD have obsessive fears or thoughts they can’t control.
More Sexuality & Intimacy May Increase Spontaneity
Revitalize your romance by making your relationship a priority. Remind yourself what first brought you to your partner. Doing the following may make you feel less nervous about trying new things, so try these small activities to start getting out of your comfort zone before introducing spontaneity to your relationship:
Try These Things to Be More Spontaneous While we all are guilty of repetitive thinking from time to time, when rumination impairs your ability to function, it’s time to seek out professional help.
Difficulty With Conflict and Vulnerability
This article discuss why you might feel uncomfortable with being spontaneous and how you can begin to introduce more spontaneity into your relationship.
Fear of Rejection
If you have OCD, you might find it difficult to change up your routines with your partner.
If you immerse your mind in all the bad things that happened to you in the past, you will likely opt to maintain the status quo rather than take risks. That means you’ll suggest going for a latte at your local café rather than trying a new sex position with the great person you’ve been dating for a year. Going more deeply with this fear-based thinking, you wonder what if the trip is a failure? You’re afraid it doesn’t pan out, you’ll feel guilt or shame for suggesting it. Because of your partner’s criticism or your own negative self-talk, you are pessimistic. You believe you will suffer the consequences of any misstep. If their significant other says let’s go to the restaurant where we had our first date instead, it’s hard for those with anxiety to pivot and go with another plan. Now that you might be in a bit more of a spontaneous mindset, try to bring some of your spontaneity to your relationship:
- When you feel sexy, devote the afternoon to sex and intimacy.
- If you’re the planner and your partner is the spontaneous one, suggest two days of switching roles.
- Bring home or bake your partner’s favorite dessert.
- Surprise your partner with a gift for no reason.
- Take a spontaneous one-hour road trip.
- Play video games together.
- Take an exercise or cooking class together.
- Learn something entirely new together. Maybe watch a webinar about tiny houses or cryptocurrency.
- Ride a rollercoaster or go bungee jumping. Going on new adventures can boost your bond with your partner.
Creating novel experiences and spicing up your sex life will rekindle feelings of love. It takes us out of our routines and reminds us about our deep ties. It’s a proven way to improve our relationships.
If you’re in a relationship and having many conflicts, constant bickering could increase your stress levels. You won’t be OK with suggesting a spur-of-the-moment picnic on a sunny Saturday if you’ve been fighting all morning, nor will you want to. According to a recent study1rumination doesn’t only negatively impact your mental health and increase your emotional distress. This persistent focus on negativity affects your physical health as well.
Lack of Confidence
Other individuals fear that making a change, even a small one, could mean losing control. If every summer you both visit your family in the south, suggesting a road trip on Route 66 might cause concern. You might worry your partner will not agree to visiting your family again next summer if you do something new this July.
Let’s say you’re in a long-term relationship. You feel like things are getting stale and distant between the two of you. If you’re honest with yourself, you’re bored. But proposing something novel feels like you’d be taking a great risk.
Being spontaneous in a relationship can bring you and your partner closer together. You might, for example, decide in the moment to initiate sex. If your regular night for intimacy with your significant other is over the weekend, surprise your partner on a Tuesday afternoon. Of course, get consent and honor boundaries.
Being spontaneous involves changing up your routine with your partner. You might choose to plan something new or unexpected. Acts of spontaneity heighten the excitement in relationships.
For some people, acting spontaneously can be scary. Individuals who fear a negative outcome can have trouble doing something new. If you and your partner routinely watch TV after dinner, for example, changing that activity might feel uncomfortable. You might feel like you’re risking the loss of your security blanket.
If you obsessively replay negative scripts from the past or overthink things, you might be someone who ruminates too much. This can stop you from taking the next step in your career or deepening your relationship.
Reasons Why You’re Hesitant to Be More Spontaneous
- Shift your mindset: Try to open yourself up to being more spontaneous.
- List your 3 biggest fears: What’s holding you back from being spontaneous? After you identify those, write what you’ll gain by overcoming these fears.
- Act on a spur-of-the-moment thought: Maybe call an old friend or clear out the junk drawer at a random moment during the day.
- Connect with one new person. Try to find someone new to strike up a conversation with. Maybe that’s the cashier at the grocery store or a coworker you haven’t introduced yourself to yet.
- Switch up your routine in a small way. Take a different route to the cleaners or try a different coffee shop. You can try a new activity (instead of yoga, try kick-boxing). Or, instead of catching up on cleaning during your lunch hour, go grab some ice cream or take a stroll in the park.
Over 40 million adults in the US suffer with some form of anxiety.2 Those mired in anxiety struggle with spontaneity. For example, if they’re about to celebrate their anniversary with a special dinner, they’ve gone over the details including what to wear and what to order numerous times.
By Barbara Field
Barbara is writer and speak who is passionate about mental health, overall wellness, and women’s issues.
Those with ambivalent attachment styles might avoid arguments. They might be questioning if their partners even love them. They don’t want to rock the boat and take the initiative by being spontaneous. They feel too vulnerable.
Problems With Rumination
You want to suggest a weekend away from the kids in the mountains to spark things up, let’s say. But you’re afraid. What if your partner thinks this is a terrible idea? You know you’re a people-pleaser or fear rejection. Or you’ve played the role of the person who goes-along-with-things in the relationship since the beginning
Relationships sometimes get dull. It’s natural to even take each other for granted. You can still be genuine and true to yourself by allowing room for spontaneity and possibility. If you have mental health challenges and it’s difficult to be impulsive or let go, speak with a psychologist who can guide you. If you can’t be spontaneous or be yourself, it might be a sign that the relationship isn’t working for you. It could be time to let go of a relationship that is stressing you out.
Learn to Be More Spontaneous
Individuals who can voice their concerns and argue easily as well as individuals who are conflict-adverse might both feel uncomfortable suggesting novel date ideas. Or suddenly showing up for lunch at their partner’s office.
- Those who are anxious
worry about making decisions
- that aren’t perfect, stress about how others see them and are concerned with taking any risks.
- Let’s take a look at some reasons why you might fear adding some more spontaneity to your relationship.
- For example, maybe they’re extreme about germs or have to do things in a certain order. Those with OCD also have repetitive behaviors like washing their hands or counting their money over and over.
- When you have
- , you can more easily and confidently take action. You’re not constrained by fears, conflicts or rigid thinking.
A Word From Verywell
Intimate sex is marked by caring, closeness and connection. Intimacy and sex can be intertwined. Results of a recent study4on male-female relationships showed that higher levels of intimacy were associated with higher levels of sexual desire, which then was likely to lead to sexual activity.
When you’re not powered by trust in yourself and in your partnership, it might be challenging to add spontaneity to your relationship. Those who worry about making a mistake might also worry about what others will think. It’s easier to try new things if you feel good about yourself.
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