Seven Ways to Regain your Spontaneity
Life can be too planned, but it is possible to add in some impulsiveness
When was the last time you threw your plans to the wind and did the unexpected? If you’ve come back to work from a long Easter break to an inbox overloaded with emails, you may be tempted to hit “delete all”... but chances are, you won’t.
These days, most of us have little room to express our spontaneous selves, beyond the instant hit of 1-Click online shopping. But rather than scheduling more and more on our electronic calendars and starting more to-do lists, what’s the worst that could happen if you dropped the urge to plan absolutely everything?
Here are seven ways to try to recover your innate spontaneity.
1. Plan your spontaneity (yes, really...)
This may sound contradictory, but one of the best ways to challenge the need to plan everything is to turn it against itself by planning your spontaneity. Take out your diary and put in some blocks of time for spontaneous action. I like to schedule in spontaneity between 3pm and 6pm on Sunday afternoons. When the time comes, I have no idea what I’m going to do, and make myself invent something out of the ordinary - like having a picnic up a tree with my kids. During the week, set aside a lunch hour to do something you otherwise wouldn’t.
2. Try experimental travel
Jump on a bus to an unknown destination, go for a walk taking every second turn, or draw a love heart on a city map and follow its route. Alternatively, you might devise a sensory itinerary, spending a day following scents or sounds and seeing where they lead, or you could be particularly courageous by talking to strangers wearing hats. The point is to develop the habit of improvised, unplanned living as a stepping stone to bringing it into your daily life.
3. Reclaim the carnival spirit
We used to be far more spontaneous. Think back to medieval carnivals, which were full of dancing, boozing, feasting and games. The amount of free, spontaneous living people enjoyed in the Middle Ages “is almost beyond our imagining”, according to cultural historian Barbara Ehrenreich. Sure, there was drudgery and destitution in daily life, too, but it was punctuated by pulses of exuberance and revelry that make contemporary life look dull. So recover that carnival spirit and get yourself to a modern equivalent like an outdoor music festival, or put on your own neighbourhood mardi gras.
4. Start a digital diet
In our age of digital distraction, we’re so busy tapping and swiping with our eyes on the screen that we can barely notice the possibilities for spontaneous action around us. The remedy? Put yourself on a digital diet. You could use an app like Checky (checkyapp.com), which records how often you check your phone each day to help deter you from doing so; the results can be frightening. Or try the Freedom app (freedom.to), which blocks your internet access for set time periods. When friends come to my home, I sometimes invite them to leave their phones in a box in the hallway - just like medieval diners were requested to leave their weapons at the door.
5. Practice your passion
Spontaneity is not just about unplanned random actions; it is also borne from practice. Picasso spent years mastering traditional drawing techniques before he felt able to break free and be more spontaneous, drawing a dove or centaur with a single line. When I play tennis, my ability to do an unexpected cross-court volley has grown out of 30 years of honing my game. So ask yourself, is there a particular craft or skill that I can nurture and practice to the point where I feel liberated enough to break the rules?
6. Go on an improv course
Sign up for an improvisation course run by an acting expert, such as one based on the work of British improv guru Keith Johnstone. You will learn about breaking out of the mould of your personality and responding spontaneously to others on the stage around you. You can translate what you learn into acting in a more improvised, less inhibited way in your own life.
7. Learn from children
Most of us had plenty of spontaneity in our youth, so we would be wise to get inspiration for spontaneous living by following the example of children. The other day my eight-year-old daughter saw a grassy slope and immediately ran over and started rolling down it. I followed her lead and rolled down after her. I have her to thank for granting me that moment of radical aliveness.Too much spontaneity can make life chaotic, so don’t overdo it. But if you happen to notice there’s a spontaneity deficit in your life, stand up to “Just Plan It” culture and seize the now.
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