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How to Be More Spontaneous

Spontaneity, like a lot of things, is all about learning to trust your gut.

Some folks are too spontaneous, perhaps: the tattoo at 3 a.m., the $500 pair of shoes, the blurting out the first thing that comes to their minds. But for a lot of the rest of us the dial might be a bit too far in the other direction: even small decisions are as weighty as those of the Supreme Court; everyday life is heavily routinized and breaking out in even small ways can require a lot of planning. Maybe it’s time to loosen up.

But as that famous phrase Be Spontaneous Now connotes, it’s not a head thing that you can come at directly, that you can think through. That said, there are planned steps you can take to lighten your stride. It’s about shifting your source of internal info, rewiring your brain through action, and getting comfortable with taking risks.

Here’s how to get started:

Listen to your gut

What gets in the way of spontaneity is your rational, overly cautious and often-anxious brain: the think-twice, should-you-or-shouldn’t-you, what-will-others-think modes of dealing with the world. We manage to keep a lot of this mental chatter down by simply falling back on set routines and auto-pilot behavior.

Spontaneity resides not in this heady stuff but in our gut – the wants and not-wants, the like and not like. You want to become more aware of these feelings, however quiet they may be, in order to learn to tune into them, increase their power, rely on them as a source of information about you and your needs. You can start by simply asking how you feel about something and not dismissing it. Better yet, taking action on it before it fades away. Sorry, drunk shopping doesn’t count.

Start small

Got an urge for pizza – go for it. Don’t want to face another boring, burned-out Friday – consider taking a mental health day off. Don’t really want to vacuum the living room and instead want to go for a hike – try it.

This is not about pizza, or Friday or vacuuming. It’s about acting in order to strengthen these circuits in your brain. Now, what will likely happen the first few times you do this is you'll feel guilty for taking the day off or not vacuuming, or berate yourself for the pizza because it tastes lousy or your critical brain yells at you, "Hello, you just put on 20 pounds." That’s to be expected, the old circuits are firing. Pat yourself on the back and keep moving ahead.

Go bigger

So these little steps worked out okay. Time to step up. Pick a day when you’re not at work, no major responsibilities. This is a day to do all-gut-all-the-time. Resist the urge to go on Saturday auto-pilot and start cleaning the house. Instead, sit in a chair and see what you feel like doing, what you want to do. Can’t tell? Wait. Resist the urge to march into routines.

You may have a sit for a while. That’s okay. What you are looking for is a feeling or strong image that pulls at you. Go to a movie at 1 in the afternoon? Call or go see your aunt in Pennsylvania? Send your college roommate an email about a song that reminded you of her?

Don’t worry about planning out the whole day, just focus, then act (unless it involves something illegal…). Do it and sit again. Craft a day of unplanned spontaneity.

Take verbal risks

Time to bring in the verbal, relationship side of the equation. You want to bring this spontaneity to your speech – be less cautious and censoring. Again, small steps. Raise your hand and speak up at a staff meeting when something tugs at you, when you would normally let it go. Tell your partner what is bothering you when your tendency is to say “it’s no big deal.”

And even if you can’t think on your feet in that staff meeting or with your partner, and need time to process, that’s fine. Two hours later. send an email to your supervisor or text your partner about how you feel. But do it more spontaneously – don't worry about getting it right, don’t obsessively edit; feeling that edge of risk lets you know you're expanding your comfort zone.

And that’s the goal here – to expand that comfort zone, feel more comfortable with taking risks, develop confidence in your gut reactions rather than constantly relying on your more cautious, rational mind. As you find out that what you fear will happen doesn't, your own confidence will increase, and your trust in your gut reactions and the bigger world will grow. It’s about practice.

You still, however, might want to watch out for those $500 shoes and 3 a.m. tattoos…

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