It’s Okay: To Not Be Spontaneous


Mar 28, 2021


Image Credit: Getty Images

In It’s Okaywe defend our most embarrassing, unpopular opinions.

It can fill you with dread, when a stray whim — previously undiscussed, or even hinted at — makes its way to you. There is almost something uncouth about it; to expect you to modify your day and a thoughtfully curated schedule to fit in an impulse. Of course, you would want to say no to a spontaneous plan, but it attracts all kinds of objections: “But you’re doing nothing,” or “Go with the flow!” — or even worse, “Live a little.”

The implication is this: either you walk the up-for-anything road, or you’ll be cast-off as boring, dull. But you know what? It’s okay to not be spontaneous.

“We’re a culture that fetishizes spontaneity, rendering it the epitome of fun,” Katie Bishop, a fellow spur-of-the-moment hater, explains in Repeller. All word associations are extremely kind to spontaneous people, equating their way of living with ‘fun’ and ‘free.’ It is no wonder that people on the other end of the spectrum, who desire control over their day, end up getting a bad rep.

For preferring structure and routine, you have been called high-strung or tightly-wound. These carry an implied insult especially if you’re a woman; the number of dating app bios in search of ‘spontaneous,’ ‘easy’ women who are ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice to engage in some random person’s idea of fun is ridiculously high. This is not to say spontaneity itself is a bad idea: it’s great if you want it; but the assumption you have a problem if you don’t want it, casts one as a prude or pricey.

But see, having everything down to a T is not the insipid trait it is made out to be. Even science says that better planning and organization offers clear logistical advantages. According to ongoing research into behavioral patterns, humans have a finite store of attention and decision-making power — meaning there is a limit to how much we can concentrate and use our energy every day. Even willpower needs replenishing. “… If we automate necessary and worthwhile tasks into habitual routines, we avoid depleting our attention and motivation on them. The routine compels us to accomplish the desired activity, instead of us having to piece together the energy and psychological stamina to do so,” according to the Americal Psychology Association. Routines are not a challenge to overcome and be discarded, it notes, but structures that assist, bolster, and funnel our energy and attention to other things of higher value.

Deciding ahead of time how to react to situations — even what to order at a certain restaurant or which route to take driving to it — can reduce the energy inputs. Any routine that supports your daily life and work should be encouraged, instead of being looked at with a stink eye.

Author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss even goes on to say that making routines a part of you, and using the major portion of your time for other (scheduled) big-picture things, can set you up for success. It doesn’t hurt that having a routine is emboldening in a way: having structure and habit is empowering. Routines pull you, anchor you to your goal.

Related on The Swaddle:

Why It’s So Difficult to Start New Things

Not to mention that they help stem the tide of anxiety that affects some people. By unwittingly bashing on ‘boring’ individuals who don’t like to do spur-of-the-moment things, people also willfully ignore and underplay how mental health figures in day-to-day interactions. Planning out days, knowing what happens next — that certainty helps ground many people, experts say. Spontaneous social activity burns through our energy reserves in double-quick time because of how much we have to think, react, and absorb when we’re not mentally ready for it.

And when seen through the framework of personality, this need for routine seems only pragmatic. Introverts like to draw firm lines around their time — there may be a slot for socializing, another slot may be reserved for themselves. Feeling obliged to participate in a spontaneous plan saps energy, which can be demoralizing. Asking an introvert to just ‘go with the flow,’ is tantamount to saying don’t be yourself; and having to gratify social expectations is a run-down woe.

Plus, fun is not antithetical to structure, and freedom is not a polar opposite to routine; this spur-of-the-moment philosophy is all but played out. You may enjoy making to-do-lists, or planning things and sticking to them — which is not to say you are an anti-social being who doesn’t step out. You do, and you may even love to go out. But taking time to recharge your social batteries is helpful; in fact, something going as per plan can be just as rewarding, if not more so, than taking a leap. The anticipation of things — be it having your favorite meal from your favorite place, or something as banal as cleaning out your wardrobe — can inspire joy. The routine-loving underdogs like their preparation — it’s the conduit to their enjoyment. When you know what’s coming next, your mental and physical constraints are more receptive. What’s appreciated is a kind head’s up, an expectation that doesn’t overwhelm.

The enemy here is not a social setting, or meeting people, or anything fun. It is, in fact, the lack of structure, the haphazardness that absorbs these moments of fun.

Put some order to it, is all you ask. There is wisdom, and freedom, in desiring structure and routine. So, refer to your calendars, make peace with your planners, and fill your to-do-lists with things you can proudly check off later.

People will have to learn to wait, and you’ll be okay.


Written By Saumya Kalia

Saumya Kalia is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. Her journalism and writing explore issues of social justice, digital sub-cultures, media ecosystem, literature, and memory as they cut across socio-cultural periods. You can reach her at @Saumya_Kalia.

  1. Leigh

    Thank you for putting into words what I have struggled to put my finger on, namely, why is planning a bad thing? My husband always wants me to be more spontaneous and just throw the kids in the car and go who knows where, and I’m like, why is it a bad thing to know ahead of time when we’re leaving and when we might get back so I can make sure I have enough diapers packed and if I should bring them a snack and water, etc.? I have gotten much more flexible since we have gotten married but it still doesn’t feel good enough.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields *.

The latest in health, gender & culture in India -- and why it matters. Delivered to your inbox weekly.