In Praise of Spontaneity

If there is one thing adult life has too little of, it is definitely spontaneity.

Frankly, that’s hardly surprising — the unspoken image of success has long been defined by leisure-free days full of plans, meetings and hard work. Time is money, after all, so there is no place for slack.

To be fair, the result sure is an economically productive culture. However, nothing comes for free. Such endless pursuit of productivity has gradually eaten up much of our lives. The very same planning procedures that rule over our work lives have gradually spilled over into the way we approach everything else. 

Most painful for me is how friendships and all relationships in general have increasingly become subsumed by a frustrating wave of precise scheduling. It is becoming less and less possible to say to a friend “hey, let’s go out” and have your social wish met. Just like a premature “I love you”, such an appeal feels strange because it has divorced itself from the normal timing for such things. Indeed, with friends and acquaintances, these days you have to plan early. You just cannot be spontaneous. Moreover, you have to have a reason why. 

Personally speaking, inside of me the reason has always been clear. “I want to spend time with you”. But saying that rarely works. Spontaneously starting to miss somebody is simply not an acceptable reason. So, all of a sudden, I really want to see that new movie. Or I am dying to go ice-skating, but, oh well, I would feel too lonely on my own. In other words, I make up a reason and go with it. Otherwise, I risk staying alone.

Now, I hate the above dynamic so much. Why should there be a reason for a meeting in the first place? At the workplace, I get it. You don’t want to waste time because money is at stake. Moreover, having reasons for this and that provides accountability and allows for a rational post-game analysis. Business is rational and it’s all about efficiency.

Yet, few of us are too sad if our relationships aren’t efficient enough. We don’t lose sleep over suboptimal interactions. What’s more, sometimes all we want from relationships is to turn our brains off, to stop thinking and start feeling instead. 

The trouble with feelings, of course, is that they are fleeting and often unpredictable. Indeed, our whole day may be ruined by some mean stranger in the subway. Alternatively, seeing a cute baby with its mother on the way to work could become a source of joy for the rest of the day. 

In other words, it’s difficult to plan for feelings. Yet, by planning meetings and foregoing spontaneity, we attempt to do exactly that! 

Man jumps into water

Jumping is one of the most relatable expressions of spontaneity

Plans not only over-rationalize human friendships and connections, but also force us to separate ourselves from our present feelings. After all, once we have made a plan, we must go through with it. And if it so happens that our feelings at the time are not in sync with our two weeks old expectations, then too bad for the feelings. Yay for efficiency!

The upshot of such overly planned humanity is more frustration and less satisfaction. It is also a tyranny of the past over the present, a denial of what is current in favor of what was planned and long ago decided. 

Bird flies in front of the setting sun

Animals have amazing spontaneity. Birds, in particular display it in an especially beautiful way

A skeptical voice might say: “but surely plans are necessary when you have many friends you want to see and too little time?”. 

Still, my answer would stay the same. There is an undeniable efficiency that reason provides. However, acting out of spontaneity is what enables true expressivity and creativity. Plus, spontaneity is fun!

For instance, say you feel social and in the mood for people. Then you can always call your friends and set up a dinner together. And if time is a constraint, forget small groups. Invite many and introduce them to each other. And if somebody asks for a plan and a reason and all that, well,  you can do without them. And in case everybody wants a plan, then embrace the spontaneity of the moment and do whatever feels right then and there. Maybe it’s going to a bar or a club. Maybe it’s going to play a sport or dance. Or maybe it’s starting a conversation with a stranger and making a new friend. That’s where your creativity shines through…

If, on the other hand, you are in a more solitary mood, that’s fine too. Pour yourself a glass of red, open up an exciting book and start reading. Alternatively, watch a movie or go for a walk. Or play with your pet. Whatever you feel like at the moment.

A woman with her bike at night

Spontaneous decisions can start at any moment. Feel like a night time ride? Go for it!

The more each of us chooses spontaneity, the more fun, pleasant and free of unnecessary commitments our lives become.

However, achieving this requires a certain change of mindset.

Firstly, “work/life balance” should stop being measured in hours and minutes. If we spend the same number of hours on personal life as we do on our work, but we are never spontaneous, then  there is little real balance to speak of. 

Secondly, we should become comfortable with spontaneity itself. In other words, we should (re)learn to enjoy doing things without a reason and at a whim. Moreover, we should attune ourselves to the present moment so we can pay more attention to what feels good instead of what is optimal, efficient, etc. Finally, we should not be afraid of free time. Quite the opposite. We should purposefully dedicate blocks of time to spontaneity and plan-free living in the moment.

Lastly, we should embrace spontaneity in others as well. Most plans are not and should not be set in stone. If a friend says “hey, let’s hang out”, there is no need to ask for a reason. “Yeah, let’s go” is enough. Like Nike says: “just do it”. You won’t be disappointed.

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  1. […] the merits of “education”, both academic and cultural. In fact, one of the reasons why I wrote about spontaneity (and why I loved that part of Impro) is precisely because of certain cultural lessons which I have […]

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