I guess sometimes the greatest memories are made up in the most unlikely of places, further proof that spontaneity is more rewarding than a meticulously planned life.

J.A. Redmerski

A photo by Aidan Meyer.

I pride myself on my “happy now” mentality. While I do make plans for the future and set short and long-term goals, I do what I can to be content with and express gratitude for my current state of being. This mentality lends itself nicely to the intentional living idea of curating a life you enjoy moment to moment to moment…

Routine has always played a significant role in my intentions and, ergo, my happiness. After all, if something brings my joy, why not do it daily? Certain parts of my routine like quality sleep, meditation, and time in nature compound over days to build a strong foundation for physical and emotional well-being. It’s a foundation I rely on to keep myself pretty even-keeled.

Logically, this next paragraph should rebut that last sentence with, “So what happens when you lose your routine?” But that’s not what this post is about. I have no problem keeping a routine. Routine, structure, discipline–all of these come easily to me. Instead, I’m going to answer the question, “What happens when you feel stuck in your routine?” Or rather, this post is an argument against routine.

You see, I’m an INFJ. While I don’t buy into all of the different personality types that exist, I do find some of these analyses to be insightful. The Myers-Briggs description of an INFJ fits me to a T. This part of the personality description is particularly relevant to my reasoning behind routine:

“…it is most important for INFJs to remember to take care of themselves. The passion of their convictions is perfectly capable of carrying them past their breaking point and if their zeal gets out of hand, they can find themselves exhausted, unhealthy and stressed.”

Yes, I have an extreme personality. Yes, I have a tendency to let my passion overwhelm me to the point where I am too busy helping others to help myself. Once I recognized my tendency to take things to the extreme, I forced myself to create a routine: daily, weekly, and monthly habits that ensured I was taking care of myself and my happiness. Had I not embedded small actions into my day, they were less likely to happen, and I was more likely to find myself “exhausted, unhealthy, and stressed.” I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t use any of those three words to describe intentional living.

But what’s the flip side to an intensely regimented day, week, or month?

Lack of spontaneity.

If I supposedly value experience over commodity and intention over passivity, what am I doing stuck in this rut of routine?

Recently, I’ve found myself turning down opportunities for experience. This can be rather off-putting for others because I am sometimes unwilling to disrupt my routine to engage in a new experience. I hear myself saying, “No, I really need to get to bed at a decent hour” or “If you had asked me a week ago, I could have planned for this.” In hindsight, I’m finding more regret than anything else.

How do I combat this? Plan time for adventure and hope someone asks for my company during those planned hours of whatever? Well, that seems counterintuitive to the essence behind true spontaneity, doesn’t it?

Naturally, I do a little research to justify my need for spontaneity. It was easy to find someone explain why I’m so routine-oriented: “if [introverts] have a plan—even if it’s just to hang around the house—[they] tend to stick with it.” Yes, Sophia Dembling. Yes, we do. A wise introvert would have taken that statement at face value and retreated to her routine.

However, I soon ran into this definition of spontaneity:

“In essence, spontaneity is about adaptability and openness to change. It’s about being willing to undertake new (or novel) behaviors when the ‘tried and true’ is ineffective or, frankly, has become boring.”

And its counter:

“Such individuals, who might be seen generally as obsessive in their whole life orientation, fear the loss of control more than anything else.”

Immediately, I felt deflated. (Thanks, Leon)

There are no solid “how-tos” to spontaneity since, by definition, there is no hard and fast set of steps to take to get there. The most solid advice I found is “It’s not that hard if you don’t overthink it.” Considering I’ve written 871 words of this post so far, I think I’ve already failed to take that advice.

I’d like to prioritize spontaneity, but it’s clearly not something I can plan out. Instead, I’ll be focusing on the following:

  • Saying yes to unforeseen opportunities that align with my values
  • Stopping myself from overthinking situations
  • Working on my fear of losing control using CBT techniques

As always, I’ll let you know how my new experiment unfolds as I try to realign my life to create a more meaningful and experience-rich existence.

Do you ever feel stuck in your routine? Any advice on how to be more spontaneous? Leave a comment below or send me an e-mail.

Photograph © Aidan Meyer

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