It’s interesting that from all my blog posts, this is been the one I have procrastinated the most about. It’s almost a lesson on the blocks of spontaneity because for a week or more, I’ve focused on everything but the writing of the post. I’ve thought about new blog posts ideas, I’ve written a bit here and there, I’ve lost myself in researching for it, etc etc etc but I haven’t actually written anything.
Until today. I realised how ironic that was and decided to just be spontaneous. Of course, I’ll probably write all of this and then edit some parts for flow, but actually, allowing myself to be spontaneous and just write is incredibly liberating, and a massive lesson to take in.
So, really what is it that blocks spontaneity? and why is spontaneity so important that I should devote this blog post to it.
I’ll do my best to explore this and to draw from as many insightful perspectives as possible to give you and myself some answers about this.
Every writer knows and has felt these blocks. You have a deadline, you sit down and you just can’t bring yourself to put anything on paper. The more you try, the harder it gets. It’s a proportionally inverse relationship, the more you try to connect with the flow of writing, the more difficult it is and the further away you are from it.
So how can we connect with spontaneity to be more action biased, be more creative and productive?
In Taoist philosophy, the idea of spontaneous action is called Wu Wei, or the principle of action in non-action. This effortless action principle refers to a ‘letting go’ or releasing to natural the flow and rhythm of things without imposing our views and mental structures to it.
I feel this sudden rigidity at the exact moment when I want to be creative and I over think the process of starting. I can feel the flow of spontaneity become stagnated and weak, and eventually disappearing altogether. What’s left in its place is a series of mental rationalizations about whether it would be good to do that or better this, or maybe it’s not good enough, or maybe I should research a bit more… By the time you are actually ready to start creating anything, you are completely defeated by your own mind.
The cycle of self-censoring and procrastination begins and it’s very difficult to break the pattern. It kills creativity and confidence too.
Mel Robbins found a practical, simple tool to deal with this. The premise is the following: We sometimes don’t feel like doing things and this can be because of several complex mental rationalizations, but the point is we just don’t feel like doing something we clearly know it’s a good thing. Like being creative, healthy, waking up in time, meditating, etc.
For example, sometimes you might not feel like going to the gym early in the morning. You want to sleep more, and maybe miss it altogether. Why is it that part of your brain is sabotaging your commitment to having a healthy body? Assuming that’s what prompted you to go to the gym in the first place.
We all have a version of this. I need to make that call, I feel uncomfortable doing it, I will get ‘busy’ so I don’t do it today. I want to eat well, that cake looks irresistible, I succumb to temptation and think I’ll start the diet tomorrow, I eat the cake.
Mel’s amazing tool is the following (and by the way, it works and I use it all the time for as many applications as I can think of) As soon as the sabotaging thought comes in ie: maybe I’ll sleep a bit longer or I’ll make that call after I’ve done my laundry and called my mum… as soon as you notice it creeping in, you count 5,4,3,2,1 and you take action.
This activated the frontal cortex of your brain and lunged you towards action. In her book, Mel explains this part in great detail so pick up a copy and read it because it’s fascinating to learn how such a simple life hack has such a strong biological starting point.
So, back to spontaneity and how to have more of it.
I love this idea of effortless action that comes when you let go rather than action that comes from powerful intention and effort. There is something very empowering about letting go, about surrendering to the forces of spontaneity. When you connect with the principle of flow, action follows. When you stop the mind chatter that hinders the flow, ironically, you free your mind.
Everything is in motion. All the time. Nothing sits still. The universe expands, the earth rotates, the seasons come and go, we breathe in and out, we sleep, dream and wake up, we blink, we think, we wake up, get up, brush our teeth, shower. Even when we meditate and sit in silence there is constant movement in our minds. Movement never ends, we watch each thought rise and cease. And that’s the way things work in our reality. So, how is it that something so natural as spontaneity is blocked?
By letting it go it all gets done.
The world is won by those who let it go.
But when you try and try.
The world is beyond the winning.
– Lao Tzu
Back in 1927 in France, a man named Andre Breton (writer and poet) founded the Centrale Surréaliste, a space dedicated to discussing and expanding on the knowledge of the unconscious mind. This group was made up of mostly artists and writers who were interested in the mind as a subject and source of creative expansion. Shortly after Breton and poet Tristan Tzara wrote the Surrealist Manifesto, which laid out the foundational principles of a movement that was to become incredibly important in literature and art: Surrealism.
In their quest for ever more disrupting methods of artistic creation, they developed methods that unlock human creativity. One of them was developed from Automatism (spontaneous, ‘aimless’ behaviour that does not require the conscious mind). This technique required the writer to write without any self-editing or criticism. The idea was to write at a pace without allowing the conscious mind to take control and edit the words. This method was also used in automatic drawing, where artists would allow their hands to freely create shapes and lines without any direct conscious guidance.
Andre Masson. Automatic Drawing. 1924
Both of these methods were aimed at allowing the subconscious to express itself without the censoring of the conscious mind.
This opposite happens when we self- edit. We allow our thoughts to edit our behaviour and our spontaneous flow of creativity is hindered, edited and in general just toned down to meet normality. The conscious mind injects its own picture of the world in your behaviour, making sure you do not digress from the norm too much.
The subconscious mind is incredibly powerful, it governs all of your bodily functions, it runs the chemical factories that create balance in our bodies, it makes sure you don’t forget to breathe, that your heart beats, that your sleep cycles start, it releases toxins, digests food, and manages energy, and all the activities and movements you body makes without the aid of your conscious mind. Not only that but it stores all your memories, all your feelings, it governs your dreams, it enforces your moral code, and it operates through symbols. Becoming friends with your unconscious would give you the most powerful tool.
So, if we can connect with this principle of spontaneity or effortless action, can we be more creative and more in harmony with our true selves? By fostering spontaneity, can we expand the reach of our minds, allowing our subconscious mind to come to the surface?
I think that’s the case. We have too many self-editing mechanisms that we took on from an early age. They came from our family, from society, and later, once firmly imprinted, from our selves. We are constantly making sure we fit the societal and family moulds.
But imagine how much of your creativity, ideas, insights get thrown away by your conscious mind after the censoring has happened?
Have you ever through about an experience that you wanted to have but that you didn’t go for because you talked yourself out of it? Have you ever asked yourself, what would your life be like if you had taken action then? Did you not speak out? Did you not approach that person? Did you not say yes to the business venture?
Now, you might say,’ it sounds easy to just take action but in practice, it’s a lot harder.’ And the reason why it feels like it’s hard is because it requires your pattern to be challenged. In other words, you need energy to disrupt your usual behaviour. Systems need more energy at the beginning, to get started than they need to maintain the momentum.
In physics, spontaneous change is preceded by disequilibrium (see Second Law of Thermodynamics) so for any system to allow for spontaneity it must first have an energy change. And this is why it feels like effort because in a way, your system must be forced out of balance for you to allow spontaneity to rise. We experience a desire to act that corresponds to an internal change of state, rather than a rational calculated act. It comes from a pure state of energy and the act of spontaneity seems to be its only way of release, a way of expressing itself in a coherent way.
There is an intelligence in that restless energy that once expressed it finds a corresponding synchronicity with the external world.
And that’s how people create change, by positioning themselves in the natural state of flow, of constant movement and constant flow.
So, in terms of creativity, let’s have a look at some exercises. These work for writers, designers, entrepreneurs, teachers, bakers and stay at home mums trying to shake things up for dinner.
1. Compliment people you don’t know. Next time you are walking in the streets, on the bus or the underground, or at the office, start a conversation with someone by complimenting them first. It can be anything. Their hair, shoes, new haircut.
2.When you are in a situation where you feel stuck and you always react in ways that are not productive, pause and respond with the opposite reaction you generally have. For example, you are arguing with your partner about the dishes and the fact that you always wash up. This usually ends up in an angry argument, so this time maybe you start laughing non-stop, like a crazy person. Or maybe you do nothing and give space for the other person to clean up. The point is you act in a very different way.
3. When you want to do something you know is good for you, but feel fear or ‘not ready for it’ count 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and Just do it.
Think on your feet and have fun!
Note: I wrote the whole article in one sitting! I did edit the day after, but finally, I beat procrastination 🙂 Hope it helps you too.
“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.”
Diana Simpson Hernandez
Designers for Humanity