Scott H Young

7 Tips to Live a More Spontaneous Life


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A few months ago I got a chance to try improv comedy. I had invited a group to our Toastmasters club that specialized in comedy, so for one meeting, the public speaking was replaced with improv. For those of you who are unfamiliar, improv comedy is a form of theater where several actors try to be funny without a script.

This was my second time working with the comedy group, and I had a blast. I’m used to giving rehearsed speeches, where I can practice every detail. But with improv, you need to be completely spontaneous, which can be both amazing–and terrifying!

Spontaneity Takes Work!

Whoever said being spontaneous was easy, obviously hasn’t tried improv comedy. It’s easy to get so caught up in plans and schedules, that when the structure is removed, you fall on your feet. There are so many elements of life that can’t be captured in a to-do list, so it pays to know how to improvise.

Here are a few reasons why mastering your off-stage spontaneity is important:

  1. Relationships Can’t Be Scripted. Meeting people and having great conversations follow the rules of improv, not plans.
  2. Fun is Adventure, Not Binges. Real fun, is found in spontaneous adventures, not just staring at the TV or getting hammered. Unfortunately it is a lot easier to get drunk than to have a genuinely fun time.
  3. Life Doesn’t Follow Your 10-Year Plan. I’m not doing what I anticipated I’d be doing three years ago. Three years from now I expect most of my life to have changed so much I’ll barely recognize it, let alone plan for it. Learning the skill of spontaneity is essential for growth.

How to Be More Spontaneous

Spontaneity is not the opposite of planning. This was my key breakthrough in order to make sure my life was both fun and productive. Improvising has many of the same prerequisites that you use in your scheduled life, just with a twist.

The opposite of spontaneity is cowardice. Fear, not planning, is the real barrier to improvisation. It isn’t your day planner that keeps you from saying hi to a stranger, it’s your fears. Where productivity requires discipline and organization, spontaneity requires courage and openness.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve picked up from my brief attempt at improv comedy and trying to live a more spontaneous life:

  1. Don’t Reject an Offer. One of the rules of improv comedy (if such a craft can really have “rules”) is to never reject an offer made by a fellow actor. An offer is any action that helps set the direction of the performance. If, during a sketch, I said to a friend, “I heard you went golfing last weekend,” this would be an offer. If another actor said, “No I didn’t,” he would be rejecting my offer. Instead he could play along (“Why yes, I did!”) and see where the performance could go.
  2. Be Disciplined. Recognize the difference between an opportunity to try something new and an opportunity to be lazy. “Spontaneously” deciding to watch reruns instead of finishing your to-do list shows a lack of discipline. Have the discipline to ignore familiar temptations and the courage to pursue the unknown.
  3. Are You Lateral or Vertical Today? I see life as a cycle of vertical and lateral growth. Vertical growth requires more focus and planning. Lateral growth requires spontaneity. Knowing which phase of the cycle you’re in can make it easier to choose between focusing on work or pursuing new opportunities.
  4. Seed Your Future. Most opportunities for spontaneity don’t start out big. It could be as simple as saying “Hello” or signing up for a class you know nothing about. Improvising requires planting many seeds, even if only a few decide to sprout.
  5. Eliminate the Unfun. Get rid of boring activities that don’t add value to your life. TV isn’t just eating away at your productivity, its draining away the motivation to do something fun. Clearing out the boring activities from your life creates the urge to explore. I joined Toastmasters after going for a several month period without watching any television. Would I have had the courage to get up and speak if I could have just channel surfed instead?
  6. Don’t Crowd the Stage. Another lesson I learned when doing improv was not to step on the laughs of another member. Everyone wants to deliver the punch line, but part of improvising means helping out the other actor if they are onto something funny. Spontaneity requires cooperation.
  7. Motivation Conquers Fear. If you can get yourself incredibly curious about an idea, that can be enough to break out of your comfort zone. Ignore the voices of doubt when you first get an idea. New ideas take time to mature, so if you kill them immediately with the first objection, they can never be realized. When I tried a Latin dancing class last year, I could have pointed to the millions of objections for why it wouldn’t be good (I’m a geek, I’m uncoordinated, I’m too busy) but instead I learned something new and had a fun time.

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21 Responses to “7 Tips to Live a More Spontaneous Life”

  1. I agree! Being spontaneous leads to a more well-rounded person. Also, I’m very happy that you said that being spontaneous is NOT being lazy. Instead, I think being spontaneous means having the guts to try new things and push one’s comfort zone.

    I also agree that there should be a balance between being spontaneous and planning things, or in your words being lateral and vertical. The hard part is figuring out what is the best time to be lateral or vertical.

  2. After I read this I immediately starting thinking about my kids. How many times do those of us with kids “Reject an Offer” from our children – as in “not now”, or “I don’t think that’s a good idea”, or “let’s do this instead”, etc. To be fair, sometimes there is a safety or important discipline issue involved, however a lot of times a child’s “offer” can be easily be accepted. Why not see where it goes? It might end up being as much fun for you as it is for your kids. Thanks for this post – a good reminder.

  3. etavitom says:

    Thanks for the wise post. Improvising is how I live!

  4. Realizing that risk is inevitable and that the larger risk is being a stagnant person…much like a stagnant pond. Feeding on the excitement of calculated risk is also sometimes helpful. Embracing the change with a passion and creating small steps and the option of a rewards system seems to work for me.

    Fantastic post as usual…

  5. Supa-sprung Retardo says:

    With all this productivity talk, you should write an article on masturbation, and how it keeps people from being productive, guys mainly. hahaha sounds funny but a valid topic. …and he passes out ;)

  6. Scott, it’s really a great message.
    Sometimes you just need to follow your gut to make a better decision.
    it’s always the little voice that bugs me, fear of hurting other, fear of revealing my weakness, fear of not funny, or fear of being laughed about.
    It’s so true that the opposite of spontaneity is cowardice.
    Thank you for the revealing thought…

    Looking at you and your blog has become an inspiration for me, from shy to extroverted, I’m on the way there too! =)
    Thanks for the example, keep it up!

    Robert

  7. […] H. Young has a very interesting point on spontaneity, he said that… Spontaneity is not the opposite of planning… The opposite of spontaneity […]

  8. […] must review to avoid the dreaded ‘comfort zone‘ and you have to keep reviewing so you don’t pass by any exciting […]

  9. […] of the "yes, and" principle of improvisational comedy (otherwise known as "not rejecting an offer"), and applies it to the greatest improvisation of all – our lives: Well, you are about to […]

  10. ... says:

    Being spontaneous and taking risks can also wreck/derail your life.

    I know that from personal experience.

    Tread cautiously, unless you’re rich in which case everyone will kiss your hind quarters.

  11. Scott Young says:

    …,

    Spontaneity can have negative effects as well. I think it depends on how you use it as a tool. It’s the same with an obsessive focus. Obsessive focus can help you reach goals, but it can also make you lose sight of more important things in your life. Spontaneity also has it’s weaknesses, but I think training the ability, on the whole, has a positive effect if you can use it properly.

    -Scott

  12. […] Live more spontaneously. Some would consider this ‘living in chaos.’ Living spontaneously is equivalent to living in the moment. There are no schedules and no appointments, just taking what life has to offer. If you decide on the way back home to do a double back-tuck off a swing in the park… do it. […]

  13. Joy Emike says:

    Thanks Scott,
    you have really helped me to move out of my comfort zone.
    i now understand what it means and how it feels like being sponteneous.

  14. Jeanine says:

    Phenominal post… I like the point you made about taking cues from others. Not knowing where the story is going may be scary, but that’s the challenge that makes success all the more sweet. Stress is a very relative term. In most instances the stress we endure on a daily level pales in comparison to other challenges we have already faced and conquered. I think a little perspective could solve much of this. If we looked at the unexpected twists in our lives as “cues” or opportunities to be used for spontaneity, I think we could relieve a lot of needless stress. This was very encouraging to me. Thank you!

  15. […] Live more spontaneously. Some would consider this ‘living in chaos.’ Living spontaneously is equivalent to living in the moment. There are no schedules and no appointments, just taking what life has to offer. If you decide on the way back home to do a double back-tuck off a swing in the park… do it. […]

  16. Mike says:

    My problem is going from one extreme to the other. I’m so used to planning and rehearsing every single thing I say or do, that when I try to do something on the spur of the moment, it usually ends up in a trainwreck.

  17. Shynesssi says:

    Yes, i agree! Usually i do some planning and stuff and so when i recently had to come up with some ideas unexpectedly about a skit we had to do in orientation, I went blank. Couldn’t thought of anything and either that i am too fearful that my first instinct about an idea is’nt going to be something great, and i decided to give up all thoughts revolving that idea. I’ve stressed uncountable times to myself how i have to be more spontaneous and open myself out towards people. Truth is, i thought i could be a changed person after my orientation yet,it seems like the reverse. I could’nt find myself to accept those people because i felt that those people disliked be and were being unfriendly. I know this may sounds totally absurb but i just can’t feel the spontantiey towards everything that seems fun to everybody. After being a little sporting at spontaneous events, i usually end up being unhappy because i feel uneasy all the while. And i just feel that everyone is just casting their dislike upon me. I have no idea but i feel such way i know i m in a dire need to change and do something about it. By the way, i m insecure, dependent, pessismistic and an over-worrying person by nature.

  18. Richenel says:

    I’ve read all the comments you all posted about being spontaneous, most of them were very great to read and have many great ideas to do. Howerver, when you think about someone like me and some others, being spontaneous will help us in a certaing way, but it can be a hell or the end of our future goal. What i’m trying to say is, not everyone can live the spontaneous life, because many of us only do our best by planning and organizing. Otherwise, we will fail.

  19. […] 7 Tips to Live a More Spontaneous Life. […]

  20. […] 7 Tips to Live a More Spontaneous Life. […]

  21. Luboyo David says:

    i desire to be spontaneous, but fear is so friendly to me that i just don’t know how to get rid if it.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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