Embracing spontaneity

Published: 27 Jun 2019

Spontaneity is the opposite of striving, and in our high-achieving culture, it can be difficult to achieve that balance between goal-setting and letting things just come naturally.

But the key is to relax! The dictionary defines spontaneity as something which arises naturally and without effort or premeditation.

Doesn’t that just sound happy, in itself?

The difference between spontaneity and impulsivity

Spontaneity is an easy co-operation of all conditions. For example, a ‘spontaneous’ round of applause implies that everyone is in agreement, almost miraculously, in a beautiful display of timing. An impulsive reaction is a bit more aggressive – it’s a response to something without thought to the consequences. It’s a subtle difference, but spontaneity comes from a calmer place.

Taoist philosophers coined a term which refers to effortless action: wu-wei. By embracing a life with more wu-wei, we can become happier and more spontaneous.

Stress kills spontaneity

When was the last time you did something spontaneous?

If you can’t remember the last time you took a spontaneous trip, created something from that sense of flow and ease, or even found something you were searching for without really trying, you may need a bit more wu-wei in your life.

In Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity, Edward Slingerland blends examples of artists, athletes and artisans to show how spontaneity is really just inspired action which strikes the balance between action and non-effort. Paradoxically, when we’re too focussed on striving, what we want to achieve becomes even more elusive.

Get your brain in an alpha or theta state

To live in a more spontaneous state, you need a certain level of calm. Studies on brain function show that certain techniques can alter your brain patterns from a beta state (average waking state) to a more relaxed state, which can improve your access to that spontaneous, relaxed feeling.

  • Meditate
  • Practise mindfulness
  • Listen to binaural beats recordings (messages designed to get the brain into a theta or alpha state)
  • Have a massage or other bodywork such as shiatsu or acupressure
  • Try a float tank
  • Have a hot bath and get some shut eye. The best way to reduce stress is to sleep more.

The benefits of spontaneity

Whether it’s a sudden answer to a problem (when you’re not consciously thinking about it) which leads to success, or a spontaneous trip or chat with a stranger that results in a number of other positive experiences, spontaneity injects fresh ideas into our lives, and makes us much happier. And, it’s actually pretty fun.

Happiness studies show that a fulfilling life comes from those moments of ease and coincidence – when we achieve miraculous things without striving and stressing.

Even if you work in a job that’s quite repetitious, you can find ways to be spontaneous. Spice things up by trying a different café for your latte each day, walking a different way to work, or playing different music each time you settle in to write something. Bonus? You’ll stay fresh, creative, and flexible. And, you’ll be much happier.

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