Be more, effortless and free
I believe that life is more fun and more interesting when we add spontaneity. When we think and act out of the box, and out of our comfort zone. It’s from my spontaneous endeavors that I’ve learnt a lot and grown even more. Spontaneity exposes us to new experiences, and thereby new opportunities to grow and expand our being.
When we’re spontaneous, we just are, in that spontaneous moment. One could argue that this actually is our truer self, surfacing. In discovering the truth of ourselves, we’re discovering spontaneous existence (Moo-Young, 2017). Because when we’re spontaneous, there is no time for rehearsal. No time to overthink, plan, look good, worry, and there’s no one to blame. It just is, and we just are, being spontaneous, in the moment. Being like this makes me feel alive, light.
Exactly one week ago, I was lying in bed at around 11PM. I’d finished a busy day of work and was contemplating what to do in my upcoming days off. Then, suddenly, it hit me. Why don’t I climb the Kilimanjaro?! The idea alone was enough to feel a burst of energy and excitement rush through my body. But I had to sleep! I have no experience with mountaineering, or with being at such an altitude. Also, I didn’t have a clue about what I needed in terms of gear and abilities to succeed in reaching the summit. Hell, I didn’t even know the height of Mount Kilimanjaro. I flipped a coin. The coin told me to do it. I checked for flights and learnt there is a direct flight from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro airport. I locked in the fare and tried to sleep. But I was too excited…
The next day I booked the flight. There was no way back. I also learnt that Mount Kilimanjaro is actually 5.895 meters high. Oops! I didn’t even have hiking shoes, nor anything else I realized when researching what’s required for such an endeavor. With a week before my departure, a somewhat frantic search and shopping spree started for equipment. First thing I bought were hiking shoes, as I definitely had to break those in. As I learnt, when looking around for a good guide, I’ll be hiking for 7 days straight, with at the end my arrival at summit. I’m already imagining being both cold (around -20 Celsius is expected) from the altitude, but hot from excitement and adrenaline at the same time, and in awe of the views. There will be sun. Lining of silver clouds in the distance. Bright snow. Blue skies. On top of Africa. I’m seeing it now, with my eyes open, writing this.
The interesting thing, about this spontaneous endeavor, is the following. My energy has been so high. I feel alive. Inspired. Excited. Grateful. I’ve connected with some amazing people already, in the outdoor shops, sharing stories, learning from their experiences. I’ve learnt so much in such a short time about mountaineering. About the required gear. About packing (extremely) light. About the importance of going slow, ‘pole, pole’, which means ‘slowly, slowly’, in Swahili. Walking slow is extremely important as a very gradual exposure to altitude helps prevent acute altitude sickness. I also learnt how important it is to drink water, and breathe evenly, and deep into your belly. I’m intending to wear a bracelet on my right wrist for exactly this; to remind me to go slow, breathe deeply and drink regularly. Yesterday, I went on a long hike to break in my new shoes with a friend and his dog Goofy. We talked about the upcoming adventure, and about spontaneity. As he said, I’m sprinting with my learnings, through this blog, and by spontaneously trying new things and diving in deep. I like that concept, taking a sprint with my learning and growth.
Spontaneity and the noblest kind of action; inaction
Spontaneity isn’t a new concept. It’s been studied and practiced for centuries. In fact, when we investigate early Chinese strategies for attaining ‘wu-wei’ we come across the importance of spontaneity around the 4th and 3rd century bce. ‘Wu-wei’, literally means ‘no action’, or ‘effortless action’ in Mandarin. It teaches the practice of taking no action that is not in accord with the natural course of the universe, according to philosophers of early Daoism. This concept is considered the noblest kind of action according to this philosophy. It’s about recognizing the forces of nature and the universe and moving and going accordingly. A clear example of ‘wu wei’ is the cutting of wood; if you go against the way the tree grew, the wood is difficult to cut.
As these ancient Chinese thinkers tell us; ‘If we can just get into a state of complete spontaneity and unselfconsciousness, everything else will work out’ (Slingerland, 2014). This state of ‘wu-wei’ seems by its very nature unattainable through conscious striving. However, it’s through real spontaneity that one can get there. In our interview on the topic, Valerie McTavish defined spontaneity as ‘acting without any premeditation’ (McTavish, 2021). It’s when we’re truly spontaneous, when our deep and true self comes forth. It’s then when we can be free, and fully emersed in the present moment. Moo-Young, or Mooji speaks about this process in this highly entertaining video about a centipede, dancing at an insect rave in the forest. Worth the watch!
Inviting destiny and letting go of expectations
Spontaneity is about giving up control to chance and destiny. It is therefore about ‘letting go of expectations and releasing yourself to the moment, to whatever presents itself to you’ (McTavish, 2021). When we become attached to a desire, we become tight, and lose that sense of spontaneity (Moo-Young, 2017). On the contrary, when we can let go of our expectations, life becomes a completely different experience. As Valerie so rightfully stated, ‘disappointment is always preceded by expectations’. Through intentionally creating space for spontaneity, we can leave things up to chance, and be surprised to experience what the universe has in store for us instead of trying to control things from the limited reality of our ego. Our natural state is the easiest way to be. Being our ego is way more difficult (Moo-Young, 2017). When we can give up some of the imagined control we think we have on our lives, we can invite destiny and learn to flow with what emerges. By not trying, and not having expectations, but instead just being spontaneous, we can get closer to ‘wu wei’. I imagine life to be wonderful if I can fully let go of having expectations, and if I can flow effortlessly with what is, spontaneously. Reflecting, I think I’ve grown in this regard. Where I used to force a lot, and try to control both myself and my environment, I’m noticing myself more and more to surf the waves of life, relationships and what wants to unfold within myself. It’s probably because of that, that I’m very comfortable with giving into faith and destiny through the flip of a coin. Thereby, instead of me trying to rationally control everything, flipping a coin allows me to let destiny take over, while I, and especially my ego, sits back and relaxes.
Benefits of spontaneity
We have roles and responsibilities, so we obviously can’t leave everything to chance. There are societal rules and expectations, and inevitable consequences to our impulsiveness. However, being more spontaneous has a wide range of benefits for ourselves, our relationships and or love- and work life. ‘Spontaneity is something that we can use to increase our creativity, connection, reduce stress, and to inspire us’ (McTavish, 2021). Spontaneity helps us solve problems and be more creative. Spontaneity teaches us to be familiar with our intuition and teaches us that we can rely on it. As through spontaneity, we put ourselves into situations that require us to make prompt decisions and do more while (over)thinking less.
Adding a little bit of spontaneity to your life can change everything. It will give you new challenges and new opportunities to grow and develop. Spontaneity can shake up your routine, without ruining it (McTavish, 2021). As Tim very well stated during our interview, ‘when you get uncomfortable, this is where change happens’ (Wohlberg, 2021). I fully agree with this. It’s exactly why I seek out to do things that I fear. As I know from experience, fear is an indicator for growth and development. It’s at the edge and beyond of where we’re comfortable that we can discover and create new sides of ourselves. Finally, spontaneity adds a good layer of fun to our lives. It almost always leads to good stories to tell, and memorable experiences. When we dare to risk being more spontaneous, ‘the payoff will be there, one way or another’ (Wohlberg, 2021).
Spontaneity in relationships
Regarding our love life and relationships, adding spontaneity works miracles. In our love life, and relationships with our partners, we often want conflicting things. We have a need for safety, predictability, dependability, and reliability. But at the same time, we have an equally strong desire for adventure, novelty, mystery, risk, danger, the unknown, and surprise (Perel, 2013). At the beginning of our relationships, especially the novelty, mystery, unknown and surprise are exciting elements. However, as time progresses, and we fulfil more of our safety needs with our partner, the newness fades. It’s then when spontaneity can work miracles for our relationships. It helps to see our loved ones in a new light, and to create exciting and novel experiences together. When done right, this can be something that never gets old. The energy and chemistry I witnessed when talking to Valerie and Tim was a great example of this. And they’ve been together for 21 years! I’m sure their embracing of spontaneity in their lives and relationship had a lot to do with this. Intentionally opening things up to chance does miracles for keeping relations exciting and adventurous. It creates newness, something fresh and exciting. And when rolling the dice or flipping a coin while trying new things, there is nobody to blame, as you choose to be spontaneous together.
Working our spontaneity muscle, bit by bit
Valerie and Tim speak of spontaneity as a muscle that needs training and fitness. We need to keep our spontaneity muscle flexible and strong. We therefore continuously need to practice it and apply it in our lives (McTavish, 2021). However, it remains a balancing act. We need both our structures, habits, and routines. But on the other side we will do very well with a healthy dose of surprise, newness and even thoughtlessness. In this process, it is always important to let go of expectation, as mentioned before. Being spontaneous doesn’t always have to be about big and bold events. By adding a little spontaneity seasoning to our routines and habits, we keep our mindset fresh and stimulate our creativity. By continuously working our spontaneity muscle, and integrating chance into our lives, we actually grow our ability to be flexible, think on-the-go, and stimulate creativity.
Tim and Valerie suggest practicing spontaneity where the stakes aren’t high. However, in those cases when you do give away control to destiny though the role of a dice, or the flip of a coin, it’s important to go with what the dice, or your coin flip, tells you. Because when you don’t, sometimes fear comes in, fueled by the uncertainty or expectations we might have. This can manipulate you into believing, ‘this decision isn’t a good decision’. Don’t let your fears guide you. With not much at stake, take the benefit of the experience and honor destiny and see what unfolds instead of letting your fears come in and guide your experience (McTavish, 2021).
Spontaneity and our routines and habits
In the last week, apart from the high and rush of excitement, I also experienced another side of spontaneity. Feeling anxious and worried about the unknown. I also experienced stress as this preparation for the climb took more time (and money) than I had anticipated or expected. My normal routine of exercising had to make way for research, shopping, and long hikes. Obviously, this was due to my bold and last-minute decision to leave in a week (I’m flying tomorrow and start climbing the day after). Because of this, I had to turn my routines upside down momentarily, for the sake of being as prepared as possible for the big climb. Of course, spontaneity is very well combinable with our habits and routines. It’s as Tim and Valerie shared with me during our talk on spontaneity, that it’s a balancing thing, the relation between spontaneity and our habits and routines. As Valerie suggested, we can integrate spontaneity into our habits and routines. For example, if we have a daily practice of meditation, why not meditate somewhere else than regular? This changes the experience and adds new opportunities for growth to our practice. I also love how Tim framed it, as he mentioned, ‘you have to pepper spontaneity into your life’ (Wohlberg, 2021). Of course, when we take big risks, and go all in with spontaneity, there are consequences to our decision. However, when feeling stressed or anxious because of this, couple it with gratitude. We’re experiencing this anxiety and challenge because of our committed to this spontaneous endeavor. It’s because I said yes to the coin telling me to go climb Mount Kilimanjaro, that I experience some nervousness and discomfort. However, when I zoom out, all I can really be is grateful. Grateful for the learning, the new people I’ve connected with, and the amazing experience that is awaiting me in Tanzania, and the rest which is still unknown…
Spontaneity is not a flaky rejection of responsibility. On the contrary, it brings responsibility to us. Through new and unexpected experiences, we learn to rely on ourselves, be creative, solve problems, and do the right thing while trusting in destiny. It’s a great tool to better understand who we are and how to become more truthful to ourselves.
What are you waiting for?
In closure, I’d like to end with an invitation. As Tim exclaimed at the end of our talk; ‘what are you waiting for?!’ Why not give it a try and bring some more spontaneity in your routines, life, work, and relationships. You’ll thank me for it. Not sure where to begin, or uncertain to choose? Make things easy and flip a coin or role that die, having each side represent a (perhaps slightly bold) option you’re curious to try. Enjoy!
Header photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim.
This was so nice! I got to interview not one, but two wonderful people for this episode. To learn about spontaneity, and how this helps our happiness and brings a spark to our lives, relationships, and work, I talked to Valerie McTavish and Tim Wohlberg.
They know their stuff when it comes spontaneity, as they actually went on a spontaneous 3-day camping trip as their first date. That was 21 years ago, and they’re still going strong today. I love it!
Embracing spontaneity, they started on a journey to help other people be more spontaneous too and launched a website with the same name; www.bemorespontaneous.com. They have developed an app, dice, and hosted a podcast on being spontaneous and have walked the talk when it comes to spontaneity in both their personal life, but also in their work life.
It was such a pleasure talking to them both, and I’m sure you’ll appreciate the video just as much, enjoy!
The Be More Spontaneous website and blog: http://bemorespontaneous.com
About Valerie McTavish and Tim Wohlberg: http://bemorespontaneous.com/founders/
Goodman, Katie, 2008, Improvisation for the Spirit. https://amzn.to/3yQIdjT
Moo-Young, Anthony Paul, 2017, Mooji about spontaneity. https://youtu.be/uYSHjv1m280, accessed on 16 august, 2021.
Perel, Esther, 2013, The Secret to Desire in a Long Term Relationship, https://www.ted.com/talks/esther_perel_the_secret_to_desire_in_a_long_term_relationship, accessed on 16 august, 2021.
Slingerland, Edward, 2014, Trying Not to Try. https://amzn.to/3CPl1VR
Slingerland, Edward, 2016, Trying Not to Try: The Power of Spontaneity. https://youtu.be/GIdrptTwzQY, accessed on 14 august, 2021.
Weil, Andrew, 2013, Spontaneous Happiness. https://amzn.to/2VXjDzo