Ep. 72 – The (Scientific) Benefits of Spontaneity

Hello all you responsible adults listening out there. I want to honor your everyday awesomeness for showing up in the world and taking care of business. 

And, today, I want to make a case for not making a case for things. I’m referring to the spark of spontaneity and the times when a dash of the unplanned can amplify the ordinary days and lead to memorable moments.

The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that sometimes our spontaneous actions are truly out of character and, other times, they can reveal a glimpse of a more innate part of our character. 

On a personal note, this episode was inspired by a little spontaneity of my own. By the time this is released, I will be soaking in some sunshine in Hawaii. Travel has always been a love of mine, so when I got an email with a special offer on flights to Hawaii a couple weeks ago, my rational brain allowed some delight at the idea and then it quickly shelved it away, reminded me of all my responsibilities and so I went on with all my adulting. 

A couple nights later, I was finishing an intense and exciting business proposal. I was up late adding the finishing touches and suddenly had the desire to look up flights to Hawaii again. This was about 30 minutes before the offer was about to expire. All of a sudden it was click, click, aloha and I am leaving less than a week later.

My personal travel plans aside, this experience got me curious about the science behind spontaneity. Why does it happen and why does it happen at certain times? For this conversation, I’m referring to spontaneity as the ability to act or think without extensive premeditation or planning. 

This can be as quick as an impulse to purchase something on a whim (like picking up something extra at the grocery store) or to do something new or different than planned (maybe when you settle into a midday nap and push aside all the chores). 

Other times though, spontaneity can reveal hidden layers of desire, decisions, and daily delights. These become subtle signals ranging from instinct or emotion more so than measured thinking. 

Spontaneity is different than procrastination. Intentionally avoiding something is more tied to limited motivation or low mood whereas spontaneous action and thoughts tend to tie to positivity and confidence. 

Episode 56 explored the magic of being in a flow state – where ideas and efforts come easily and naturally. Like spontaneity, flow isn’t always available on a schedule. But they can both become more available the more you’re willing to make space for the option of adding options. 

On the science side, the brain has a network of neurons that communicate through electrical and chemical signals. Spontaneity often involves the specific neurons related to creativity, novelty, and improvisation. 

Exploring new and novel ideas and actions that can be a sort of energy drink for the mind, it allows room for ideas and insights that aren’t traditionally connected or tied to practical thinking and regular routines. 

I’ve had several experiences where a solution or fresh thought to a current situation will all of a sudden come to me when doing something completely unconnected. I’ve learned to trust that process, and even to make an effort to step away when I’m stuck on something versus trying to just sit there and work harder to find an answer. Now there’s an element of faith in that, but trusting that a better answer might find me.

There is neuroscience behind this as well. When your mind is more at rest, an area of your brain called the Default Mode Network becomes active. Now this network involves our thought processing, such as when we’re daydreaming, or you find that your mind is wandering, or you’re engaged in creative thinking about something. This network has been shown to be crucial for generating spontaneous ideas in its own way.

Episode 59 talked about the brain and how and why it loves rewards. Spontaneity can often trigger the release of dopamine, that is a neurotransmitter related to reward and motivation and it makes us happy and satisfied. 

One final comment on this is that doing spontaneous activities and making impromptu decisions can be a way to help get out of a mental rut and reduce stress from that over-thinking and over-doing. It can also help you get comfortable with change and flexibility, both things we need in this adult world of ours. 

This, however, is a personal practice. There is no guidebook for how to be spontaneous the right way – and that’s exactly the point. Start to explore the things that are slightly out of your comfort zone – new foods & flavors, going to a new food place altogether, walking or driving a different way than normal, reaching out to someone you haven’t talked to in a while, switching up your entertainment modality like listening to music versus sitting with a screen. 

I was once inspired by a friend who would wander the aisles at a local thrift store until something unexpected caught her eye. “It didn’t happen every time” she said, but when it did it just filled her with joy. I’ve done this a few times myself since and the treasure is really in the hunt so much more than it is in the trinket that you find. It’s a great way to play with mental fingerpaint and see what you create. 

When done at the right times and for the right reasons, spontaneity becomes a playdate with yourself. A chance to explore for the sake of exploration. And the best part is that no reservations are ever required. 

Come as you are, go where you want, and enjoy the view wherever you end up.

Your brain is hungry. Give it some intellectual snacks in the
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I'm Kristin

I left my corporate work and dove further into how to navigate this noisy, digital, exhausted world. The result is a methodology centered on communications, productivity, and culture that blends theory with practice and helps people better enjoy the life they worked so hard to get.