Spontaneity is a meticulously prepared art. — Oscar Wilde

I’m plugging this bit in before publishing: After writing and updating this blog, I have come to realize that I will always be a planner; one who is rarely, very rarely, spontaneous. I think I’m okay with that. As a matter of fact, I know that I am okay with that.

An unplanned and lovely, long weekend in Alvor, Portugal — met up with friends, old and new.

This is Roger. We meet a couple of years at a boat graveyard in Faro. Roger is a very interesting chap with a history that can entertain for hours. By chance, Roger just happened to be docked in Alvor for the winter. We had two spontaneous get togethers over the course of an unplanned weekend.

So How Does this On the Fly Thing Work?

I blogged this statement over a year ago . . .

Spontaneity is a goal I have been striving to achieve since I could spell the word. Seriously, I could teach the armed forces a thing or two about order and precision. I want to be unpredictable, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

Why Routine and Checking Boxes Work

We are creatures of habit and we find great comfort in routine. For me, it’s waking up, playing ‘torture Paco’ in bed, and quiet time with my morning coffee out on the terrace (weather permitting). It delights me so; it gets me out of bed in the morning excited to start the day. I add the gym and a trip to the market to the mix and I am thrilled to be alive, but that’s not good enough.

My “To Do” list also offers great comfort. Chores and projects I am eager to check off as completed. It provides a sense of accomplishment and a satisfying feeling. I don’t like how good it makes me feel because like any addiction, it’s hard to stay away from the things that make you feel good.

Don’t try this at home: I actually fill my hourly calendar with small chores (i.e., feed Paco, tighten eyeglasses) so that it makes me feel like I have a lot going on. Throughout the day I delete these items and each time I remove something from my date book, I get a little adrenalin rush — sick right? And I’m only sharing part of it.

The Benefits of Spontaneity

I have been telling myself that being more spontaneous and less scheduled, is good for me. When I have been able to break out of my daily routine and do something just because I felt like it or because someone called and said let’s do xy or z, it was more often than not, very satisfying.

There have been several unforgettable moments in my life that I can happily recall; the irony is, many of these moments were unplanned. If this is the case, why do people like me spend so much time mapping out every minute of their lives. The satisfaction I get from checking boxes on my to do list doesn’t come close to the positive feelings I have taken away from an unplanned outing. The only explanation I have is that the routine is daily and the unplanned is rare. The mind is so powerful, it forces your “go to” behavior right back to the safe, the familiar, the known. Like any other thing in life you are committed to, you have to work hard to change it.

What I force myself to consider:

  • The feeling I have when a surprise is exciting and new.
  • What occurs in my life when something unexpected changes my day. The snowball effect of positivity.
  • How changing things up takes your mind away from the small/minor things that bog you down.
  • How short life truly is and how the mondaine can eat up your time.
  • My desire for adventure and change.
  • How much I believe other people enjoy my spontaneity.

Coloring outside of the lines can be risky because you never know what the outcome might be. This makes whatever it is you are doing that much more exciting. The unknown can be titillating and growth fostering.

A short story: A few years ago I was riding the subway; the same train I squeezed myself into daily. After another horrendous day at work, I got home and thought something has got to give. I called a friend who had joined me on a couple of adventures and asked her if she might like to meet me in Belize. Without hesitation, she said yes. There was a Madonna song that I heard in my head a thousand times; the lyrics went like, “. . . last night I dreamt of San Pedro,” and that’s where I had to go. San Pedro is a small island. You can get to it by ferry from Belize City — it’s a very pleasant two hours on your way to paradise.

This trip was without a doubt one of the most memorable getaways of my life. I only had a short time to plan and hardly any of the details were mapped out (eg., excursions, meals). I decided to allow my days in Belize to be organic; to wake up naturally, to eat when I was hungry, and to do basically nothing unless I was moved to do otherwise. For the most part Kathy, who is much more relaxed than I am, and I, stuck to our plan. The resort was fairly quiet and clearly, this is an island you go to to chillout. This was a time in my life when chilling was medicinal and restorative. Keeping my mind and days uncluttered allowed me to think freely. I was able to take long walks with Kathy and spend quite a bit of alone time on an unspoiled, virtually empty beach. I returned home enlightened and resolute. It was during this time that I made the decision to resign from my position at The International Culinary Center and leave New York City. Possibly two of the best decisions of my life.

This is one of the many reasons I am convinced that spontaneity provides a space for out-of-the-box thinking. I believe we schedule ourselves to the max in order to avoid organic thinking; our fear of the possibilities life might present bog us down and keep us from truly being free.

Ways to Get Yourself to Loosen Up

Here are some of the the things you can do to be more spontaneous:

  • I know this will seem crazy, but you can pencil it in. Don’t write what you will do, but when you might do it. Say you open your date book or laptop calendar on on Thursday morning you’ve written “do something you’ve never done before.” It will force you to think of something on the spot and then follow through and do it.
  • Tell your friends you are trying to be more spontaneous and have them call you when they are about to do something fun or different. Although this never happens to me because my friends know that if it’s not planned in advance, it’s probably not happening.
  • Allow yourself days where absolutely nothing is planned.
  • Talk to yourself about the pleasures of discovering the unknown.
  • Wake up, pack a bag, and take a trip to a place you’ve never be.
  • Throw away the leftovers and go to a new restaurant (call someone and ask them to join you and then treat them).
  • If you have a guest room, do something as simple as sleeping in a different room in your own house.

Imagine a Life Where You Do What You Want, When You Want

Use your imagination to consider a world where you are free of the bondage you have inflicted upon yourself. We lie to ourselves to keep from doing something crazy. We tell ourselves we’ll get into trouble, that we have no money or that we’ll lose all of our money, that freedom will make us seem undisciplined, hard work is the only way to achieve happiness, that minor indulgence leads to frivolity and a loss of control, and so on and so forth.

I will, no doubt, continue to plan most of my life going forward. It’s not even about teaching an old dog new tricks, it’s about comfort — the older you get, the more you seek comfort, stability, and routine. Still, I figure if I keep reminding myself about Belize, I may occasionally surprise myself by choosing to hit the road less travelled.

Last bit before publishing: I decided today to do something that I’ve not done since moving to Portugal. I’m going to Tavira to play Mexican Train (a fun domino-like game). I’m taking the train to meet the group this morning. This is as spontaneous as I get; it should be fun.

Travel Update

It looks like Cuba is actually happening. This is literally my fifth attempt. I have plane and train tickets, hotels reservations (three different hotels: Lisbon, Varadero, and Havana), Airbnb experiences booked, and it’s less than two weeks away, but I have already started packing — this is not a spontaneous trip.

Liverpool in March and then back to Toulouse in April. I’m thinking of perhaps a couple of spontaneous three day trips here in Portugal in between.

Lots planned for the spring and summer, but I have learned that with our unpredictable virus, it’s best not to get too excited, too soon.

Do you think this is true?

2 thoughts on “How’s That Spontaneity Going?

  1. I’m a huge advocate of open time. One of the things I’m loving about retirement is my unplanned time. For me, it’s different than spontaneity. I’m great at being spontaneity with myself – deciding on the fly what I want to do today, this afternoon, etc. It’s harder when someone else is involved, often because the other person is busy. Or I’m busy. A friend texted yesterday afternoon asking if it was a good time for a phone call (long phone call.) I wasn’t in the mood and was in the middle of another project, but she wasn’t available expect right at that moment. So we scheduled a call for Wednesday. Scheduling phone calls is something that feels new, but I’m aware that a long phone call can change my day (that was an hour or more that I wasn’t expecting.) The connection for me is that spontaneity isn’t possible if you don’t have open time…unless you’re willing to change your plans.


    1. I’m not so good with long phone calls. The time difference makes spontaneous calls nearly impossible. I don’t want to speak to anyone after dinner. I’m glad you can at least be spontaneous with yourself.


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