Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

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Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

Spontaneity: Free To Fly Or Mired In Mud?

Spontaneity: Free To Fly Or Mired In Mud?

If you’re a naturally spontaneous person, you probably don’t need to read this post. Many, if not most people aren’t. They live in their comfort zones, their routines, their planned-to-the-last detail trips to the same places they go year after year. Maybe it’s simple laziness – just easier to do it that way, no work involved. My guess, though, is that it’s psychologically easier. Doing something new and different stirs up a lot of anxiety. What if it turns out to be a terrible idea? What if it doesn’t go right? What will my family/friends/colleagues think about my crazy idea to visit Antarctica?

Unspontaneous people suffer from fear of judgment, fear of failure, fear of shame, humiliation, or regret. And some unwarranted fear of an imagined negative consequence of the action itself. It’s just so much easier to play it safe and do what they know. They tend to be on the obsessive side, with a need to be in control. They sorely lack confidence in their own judgment. They’re rigid, stuck in the mud of their fixed ways of doing things, sometimes seeing with envy others who bust out into something totally new and different. They’re inflexible, and when taken to an extreme, they can seem almost robotic. Relaxed is not a word that is typically used to describe them. They don’t joke around much. They hold back, don’t take risks. They follow the rules, sometimes to a fault. They probably “accomplish” a lot, and are proud of it (or at least satisfied), but oh what they’re missing out on!

So what’s so great about being spontaneous? For openers, it’s actually good for your health. Your brain needs it. When stuck in the same old same old, the brain, as we age, begins to shrink and leads to loss of neurons that results in mental degeneration. Compulsively doing the crossword puzzle every day is not what keeps your brain alive or leads to its actual physical growth. New experiences, untrodden paths actually stimulate the growth of your brain. (I’m not going to cite all the scientific studies where this is shown to be true, but you can look it up.)

In other words, staying in your comfort zone limits you, and is ultimately stifling and destructive. You might even discover that you’re less bored if you become more spontaneous. Something new and unexpected can be exciting. It opens you up to previously unimagined (and unimaginable) new vistas on life and all its possibilities.

So how do we become more spontaneous? It’s pretty much a duh, but do new things or do old things differently. I know, it makes you cringe to even think about it. But you can start with something small – a brief exchange with a stranger, for example. I reported in an earlier post the laugh I got in the elevator, when looking around me at everyone glued to their phones, I said “there must be something wrong with me.” And all heads looked up. “I’m not on my phone.” Another version of that was when miraculously, nobody was on their phone (not as many people in the elevator that time) and I said “How refreshing! No one’s on their phone!” That, too, got a laugh.

Of course a quip in an elevator ride is unlikely to start a meaningful conversation, but maybe it’s something you wouldn’t have done before.  What about in a checkout line somewhere, or waiting for the light to cross the street? That might provide a little more opportunity to practice being spontaneous. Look someone in the eye and give them a compliment on their (fill in the blank).

Give up ways of doing things that limit you. You probably drive or walk the exact same way to work every day. (Don’t tell me there is no other way – I won’t believe you.) Take a different route, even just a slightly different route. You might discover a pizza place you never knew about, try a slice and oh man! Amazing! It never would have happened had you not spontaneously taken a chance on a new route.

Reduce your screen time. Think it doesn’t matter? Check out Nielsen’s “Total Audience Report” on this one. Maybe you won’t be surprised how much time people spend (waste?) on screens. I mean, how many cute kitten pictures do you really need to see? Instead, try something new even if it’s not the “exact right time” to do it. Because there is no exact right time. Quoting the lawyer, businessman, and politician, Win Borden, “if you wait to do everything until you’re sure it’s right, you’ll probably never do much of anything.” You can use that as an excuse forever to avoid doing something unfamiliar. You’ll say you really want to, but you “don’t have time for it.” Truth be told, you’re just kinda’ scared to try it. With apologies to Nike, I advise you to Just Do It!

Believe it or not, you’ll be LESS stressed out when, over time, you become used to being more spontaneous. Yes, it will take some time to get used to it, and initially it’ll feel weird, probably even scary. But you’ll begin to revel in the feeling of flexibility. That pizza! Or some new restaurant, a little farther away from your usual neighborhood and definitely not on your regular rotational restaurant roster. (Yes, the alliteration was deliberate.) Being someone who can make the best out of something that didn’t turn out exactly as you thought it would – or should – will eventually make you realize the world doesn’t come to an end just because taking a chance on something new didn’t work out the way you imagined. It’s a “so what.” And If it did turn out well? You’ll feel proud of yourself, freer, somehow, and happier.

What’s that like for you, anyway, trying to control every single minute of every single situation? Pretty exhausting, I’ll bet, and frustrating, with all that needless meticulous preparation. Allow yourself the freedom to let go, instead of being fearful that something might go “wrong,” (and whether it actually is “wrong,” will likely look different through someone else’s eyes).

I’m reminded of a wedding I attended many years ago. The groom was fretting that “we have to get back on track!” The bride had planned and printed out a four-page document, with every last detail planned to the very minute. Why do you have to stick to the pre-programmed schedule? With luck, it’ll be your only chance at this. Play it by ear a little. We can’t control everything that happens in life – it just doesn’t work like that. So let it fly! Give yourself permission to go with the flow, and enjoy it. Be spontaneous.

We’ve educated children to think that spontaneity is inappropriate. Children are willing to expose themselves to experiences. We aren’t. Grownups always say they protect their children
but they’re really protecting themselves.
Besides, you can’t protect children.
They know everything.
~Maurice Sendak

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