Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

How to Be Spontaneous

We can't plan for spontaneity, but trust can help it happen.

Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Calling a friend on a whim. Taking a detour through the park on a sunny afternoon. Spotting a surprise gift for your partner Are these a few of your favorite things? The delights of spontaneity are among the simplest but most valuable of pleasures. And in our stressed-out, over-scheduled, over-committed lives, it’s easy to feel wistful about how elusive those simple pleasures can be.

Easy to feel wistful, but harder to know what to do about it. You can’t just schedule a window for spontaneity every Monday at 7:15 pm, or demand that your partner plan something spontaneous for next weekend. Planning for spontaneity is like deciding to be less decisive, or daydreaming about being more pragmatic: some self-improvement projects are doomed from the outset.

Philosopher Jason D’Cruz of the University at Albany (SUNY) has explored the intriguing elusiveness of spontaneity. We often think that good decision-making involves a careful weighing in the balance of all the relevant pros and cons. To be sure, time doesn’t always permit a thorough investigation, but even when we’re rushing, we try to fit in what we can.

Yet, as D’Cruz shows, the value of spontaneity cannot be weighed in our decision-making scales, since it evaporates under scrutiny. Carefully noting that a stroll in the park would be spontaneous, and that spontaneity is important to you, is a sure-fire way of killing the fun. So the weigh-scale model of good decision-making is a bad fit for these sorts of decisions.

Instead, it can be helpful to think in terms of trust – trusting your partner, trusting yourself, even trusting your sunny afternoon whims. Trust often takes time to develop, and wise trust is built on an appreciation of strengths and weaknesses, of habits and temptations, both our own and those of the people around us. But once trust is established, it can free us from the weigh-scale approach to decision-making, at least once in a while.

Trust lets you react with enthusiasm rather than skepticism to your partner’s spontaneous suggestions, allowing you to value the fun of doing something fresh without performing an exhaustive check on all the other options. This requires trust in your partner, but it also requires you to trust yourself, confident that you can go with the flow and cope if things go a little haywire.

Trust in yourself is also crucial for taking advantage of those little moments of freedom when opportunities arise, knowing that you’ve got the important things covered, and can afford to cut loose in small ways without your schedule and responsibilities crashing around your ears.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have all the important things covered, of course, whether financial, emotional, or health-wise. The stress of uncertainty and vulnerability can make it tough to achieve self-trust, making spontaneity seem like just a dream.

But for those who are more fortunate, planning, insurance, and all that unspontaneous stuff can support spontaneity after all. Knowing that you have your foundations in place, that a small mistake or misjudgment isn’t going to get you or your loved ones into real trouble – that’s what provides the secure background for self-trust and spontaneous fun.


Jason D'Cruz: Volatile Reasons, Australasian Journal of Philosophy 91 (1):31 – 40 (2013). Pdf here.