For a More Creative Life, Be Spontaneous

“If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing, ” Marc Chagall once said.

Predictable behaviour has a lot of value for everyone.

Naturally, we all prefer to make plans. We have a list of things to do every day and we have a daily schedule.

Daily control mechanisms — habit, routine, structure, and principles — make it easy to follow through and accomplish tasks and goals. It’s good to have some sort of framework or routine for most things you want to accomplish.

But a strict focus on busyness and routines can sometimes hinder the breakthrough we expect. Our lives are often like “a massive game of Mindball,” argues, Edward Slingerland, professor of Asian Studies and Embodied Cognition, and author of Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity. He writes:

Our excessive focus in the modern world on the power of conscious thought and the benefits of willpower and self-control causes us to overlook the pervasive importance of what might be called “body thinking”: tacit, fast, and semiautomatic behavior that flows from the unconscious with little or no conscious interference.The result is that we too often devote ourselves to pushing harder or moving faster in areas of our life where effort and striving are, in fact, profoundly counterproductive.

Creativity requires discipline, routine, and attention to detail.

But none of that should take away the magic, the bliss, and the freedom of expression to lose yourself in your best work.

A John Hopkins study found that when jazz musicians improvise, the region of their brain known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex begins to slow down in activity. This area of the brain is linked to highly planned actions and self-censoring, like choosing what to say on a first date or a job interview. Their research suggests that this cerebral deceleration can lower a person’s inhibitions and allow for more creativity and free flowing thoughts,” says Brian Honigman.

This insight isn’t limited to music; encouraging spontaneity can be a positive experience for teams looking for better results.

For a more creative experience, embrace spontaneity to lay the groundwork for your “aha!” moments.

Creativity shows up when you least expect it. It cannot be forced.

Planning things to the brim basically block out that chance of something special happening.

Balancing structure with planned spontaneity changes everything, especially if you rely on new ideas to do your best work.

“I do as little as I can get by with, and as much as I need, to get to the place of no distraction, a clear head, and the ability to follow my moment-to-moment intuitive hunches,” says David Allen, best-selling author of Getting Things Done.

Spontaneity is an expression of yourself instead of leading your life auto-pilot — guided by rules and rigid structure.

To be spontaneous is to use your emotional intelligence in the moment. It happens in the present. And when it does, you make room for it. Perhaps the most succinct shorthand counterpart to control is spontaneity, says Maria Popova of Brain Pickings. She writes:

Ancient Eastern philosophy held it at the center of the enlightened life through the concept of wu wei, loosely translated as “spontaneous action.” The Transcendentalists of the nineteenth century recognized its vital antidote to the self-limiting compulsion for control in Emerson’s assertion that “people wish to be settled [but] only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.

Spontaneity is a powerful tool that is almost always worth pursuing.

When you are spontaneous, you act first before you think about evaluating — doing before thinking.

You can even plan your spontaneous moments by giving yourself space to reflect on what you are currently doing to allow ideas to connect better, instead of constantly being on autopilot mode.

When was the last time you took some time to think deeply about how you are using your creative time, and why you are doing it in the first place.

Most people over-think and over-analyse their creative obstacles. This can inhibit your ability to come up with a better solution or an action.

Innovators and artists have shown to embrace spontaneity.

Some even prefer to lead a more spontaneous lifestyle than a stable path, making it easy for them to think subconsciously whilst in the state of “flow”.

Think of artists, writers, and musicians who can sit for hours creating paintings, poems, and songs without stopping to censor or criticize their work.

German humanistic philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm, from his first major work, Escape from Freedom, writes:

While spontaneity is a relatively rare phenomenon in our culture, we are not entirely devoid of it…We know of individuals who are — or have been — spontaneous, whose thinking, feeling, and acting were the expression of their selves and not of an automaton. These individuals are mostly known to us as artists.

Creative artists don’t set too many boundaries, but choose to first get their ideas “out” before deciding whether to keep them or not.

Many artists don’t stop and think about what to pursue next — they simply do comes to mind.

If any creative work is to achieve greatness, it must be “realized from the unconscious,” says the eminent literary theorist Northrop Frye.

Picasso made 50,000 works of art in his life.

Mozart composed over 600 pieces in his lifetime.

Charles Schulz made 17,897 Charlie Brown strips in his lifetime.

Great artists act first before they evaluate or criticise. Scale back only after you’ve created or expressed yourself fully. Swiss philosopher, Henri Frederic Amiel, rightfully claimed that “analysis kills spontaneity.”

All great works of art originate from the creators’ ability to trust their inspiration, allowing themselves to get lost “in the flow” of their craft.

Not only do spontaneous people go with the flow, but they also get lost in their own creative work.

“It, therefore, follows that the state of mind giving rise to creativity cannot be the conscious, critical mind, but rather the unconscious, non-evaluative, spontaneous one, says Leon F Seltzer PhD of Psychology Today.

Life without a sense of urgency is pure creative freedom for artists.

Creativity doesn’t just start as an act, it starts as an inspiration. And that inspiration is only possible when you are spontaneous.

The more you open up to being spontaneous, the more inspired you will feel to harness your creative self.

Closing thoughts

For a more spontaneous life, shake up your routine.

Slowly, mix your patterns up just a little bit. Break a plan once a while, for a more exciting and spontaneous one.

Make room for spontaneity to creatively express yourself.

Act on your thoughts, instead of just thinking, and over-analysing them. Don’t always follow logic, respect your instinct.

Be open to new people, places, and experiences. Leave space for the magic.

Before you go…

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This post was previously published on The Startup and is republished here with permission from the author.

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