Some of us are naturally spontaneous. Some of us take it far too far, getting piercings on a whim, blowing our monthly budget on one outfit, or speaking first and thinking later.
On the other hand, some of us just aren’t. If we’re not naturally spontaneous, our lives tend to revolve around routines and planning, and one day normally looks much the same as another.
However, even those of us to whom spontaneity doesn’t come naturally can see that doing something on the spur of the moment now and again can really spice up your life.
And no one’s asking you to get a tattoo. Breaking the mold or disrupting your routine in even the smallest way can make you feel alive.
Now, making plans in advance is a wonderful thing, and routines most definitely have their place. A lot of things simply wouldn’t happen if we didn’t plan ahead.
In fact, most humans thrive when they have a certain amount of routine in their lives, so I’m not advocating living your whole life in a constant state of spontaneity.
However, it’s when you start finding that you simply have to plan out your time, you struggle to mix things up, and you never say yes to opportunities that present themselves out of the blue that you start missing out on the beauty of spontaneity.
A lot of people seem to think that being spontaneous is about the big things. About turning up at an airport and buying a ticket for the first plane to anywhere.
The truth is, although it can be amazing to do something a touch more radical now and again, we can be spontaneous every day in so many little ways, just by shaking things up a little.
Doing things that are as simple as striking up a conversation with someone new or changing your route on your morning run means you’re breaking out of your comfort zone little by little.
And you’ll soon find that it’s true what they say, that life really does begin at the edge of your comfort zone.
If you can appreciate the advantages of spontaneity but struggle to actually embrace it, here are a few tricks for injecting a bit of unplanned excitement into your life.
If you’re very set in your ways, it might not be easy to embrace these to start with, but sooner or later you’ll be able to retrain your brain and appreciate the magic of spontaneity.
1. Notice how routine-based your life is.
The curious thing about the things we do every day is that we often don’t even realize we’re doing them. We don’t think of them as routines at all. We do them subconsciously, without analyzing the whys.
In order to figure out just how routine-based your life is, you need to pinpoint the routines that make up your daily life.
A great way to do this is to write down the things you do consistently every day and that you never vary, even though you easily could. Things like the route you take to work, the café you go to in the mornings, and what you have for dinner are all great things to note down.
2. Consider the reasons why.
Now that you’ve identified the routines you’ve developed over the years, it’s time to consider why they exist. When you consider each of them, are you nervous about doing something different?
What is it about getting your coffee from a different café that worries you? Why have you held off from trying out that new exercise class?
Try to pin down the reasons why departing from your routine is a bit of a scary thought.
3. Choose a few parts of your routine you can easily mix up.
The old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is extremely relevant here. Just because you’ve identified something as a routine, does not mean you need to stop doing it!
After all, we develop many routines because they make life easier and mean we can get more stuff done. Though it’s true that we develop others because they’re comforting and familiar or help us to avoid scenarios that make us anxious.
If you take a certain bus to work because it’s the only way you can get there on time, keep taking it. If you go to that cafe because it genuinely does serve the best coffee you’ve ever tasted, keep drinking it.
Pick a few things that you can easily start changing up that will have a positive effect on your life, and focus on those.
It can be as simple as changing your workout routine, or ringing a friend and asking them to hang out one evening rather than binging on Netflix every night of the week.
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4. Stop over-analyzing.
If you suddenly have the urge to do something a bit out of the ordinary, don’t question the wisdom of it or whether it’s really worth it. Be spontaneous!
We often fall into routines because they mean we don’t have to have a daily internal battle about the wisdom of something and analyze the pros and cons.
The next time you feel like going to the cinema, taking a long walk, having a Chinese takeaway, or starting an evening class in Mandarin, don’t allow yourself to mull it over and talk yourself out of it, just do it.
Learn to follow your gut and listen to your cravings now and again, rather than telling yourself why you shouldn’t do it or that you don’t have time for it.
I’m not saying you should be chowing down on chocolate bars or signing up for a new class on a daily basis, but don’t deny yourself everything that takes your fancy, whether it’s food, a change of scene, a new experience, or even a chat with an interesting person.
5. Start saying yes, and no (to the right things).
So, we’ve all seen the movie Yes Man and know how that worked out, but, when used within reason, the word yes can be magical. And so can the word no.
Say no to the extra work that you really can’t fit in, and give yourself the time you need to actually make the most of life.
Say no to the button on Netflix asking if you’re still watching X program, because maybe it’s time you watched something else, read a book instead, or even left the house.
Say yes to invitations. Say yes to offers that come your way. Say yes to things that scare you just a little, as even if you don’t enjoy them, you’ll learn something new.
6. Make concrete, immediate plans.
Planning things isn’t always a result of a lack of spontaneity. Making a plan and committing to it on the spot can really spice up your life.
Do you often find yourself saying to a friend or your partner, “we should *insert fun/exciting/new activity here* sometime soon,” and never actually do it?
Next time this happens, get it straight in the diary, for as soon as possible. Book the restaurant, the activity, the hotel, the flight, whatever it is, without thinking too much about it. Take some kind of concrete action that means it’s definitely happening.
7. Or make no plan at all.
On the other hand, if your problem is that you over-plan, like you can’t go away for a mini-break without a 5-page word document containing full itinerary, then for your next trip, do nothing but book the flights and accommodation and just go with the flow once you’re there.
If that’s a little daunting, which it may well be if you normally like to plan hour by hour, start with a day trip to somewhere you’ve never been that you make up as you go along, and build up from there.
Don’t Let Fear Hold You Back
At the end of the day, it’s not planning and routine that are the problem, it’s allowing those plans and routines to be formed and sculpted by fear.
As Elizabeth Gilbert said in her book Big Magic, our fear should be allowed to come with us on our journey, as it can keep us safe, but it should never be allowed to drive the car, or hold the map, or even choose the music.
When fear is forced to take a back seat, we can finally listen to and respond to our urges, impulses and desires, and that’s when we really start to shine.