In Life Is a Verb, her book about living intentionally, Patti Digh writes that lack of spontaneity has more to do with concerns about being judged than about not being in control. Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. supports Digh's statement, explaining in his Psychology Today blog post that those who eschew spontaneity worry about how others will judge them; they fear failure, rejection, guilt and shame. Those who act spontaneously, on the other hand, trust their past experiences and their own judgment. Their spontaneous actions align with their personal values and interests.
Seltzer's blog post also identifies connections between spontaneity and creativity. In his recipe for creativity, he lists spontaneity and inspiration, pointing out the elements of newness and freshness in both ingredients. (For ten ways to see things differently in order to jumpstart creativity, see my earlier post Explore: Seeing Differently.) In addition to fostering creativity, acting spontaneously can improve self-confidence and adaptability to change.
How to Increase Spontaneity in Your Life
A couple behavior choices I have blogged about lend themselves developing a habit of spontaneity. Not taking things personally limits the control we give others over our lives and frees us from worrying about being judged. Letting go of expectations frees us from thinking we can control outcomes.
Zen blogger Leo Babauta quotes Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu: "Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes." Babauta writes about going with the flow and about living without goals. Improvisation expert Patricia Madson similarly writes that "life is an improvisation." Madson's book outlines 13 maxims for improving improvisation in everyday life. Babauta and Madson offer this parallel advice:
- Be aware of what is happening instead of thinking about what might happen.
- Do things for the fun of it; laugh at yourself.
- Take simple risks (like trying a restaurant that’s unfamiliar to you) and accept mistakes as learning experiences.
Further, Madson suggests to pay attention to only one thing at a time rather than multitasking and to change where you do a familiar activity (for example, eat lunch or hold a regular meeting in a different location). Babauta mentions the importance of taking things slowly and remembering that new habits take practice. Finally, Babauta advises not to assign judgment to your new experiences. "It’s all good," he writes.
Without realizing it, many of us stick to comfortable routines and choose experiences we know over those we don't. We act without thinking, without awareness. My own challenge is to learn to pay more attention and actively seek out different experiences, to take an extra moment of consideration to make sure I'm open to what's out of the ordinary. What will you do to invite spontaneity into your life?