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Spontaneous Combustion

December 31, 2016: My husband and I were having lunch in a cafe outside of Nashville, when I heard the server mention to another table something about a free concert that night. When she returned to us, I said “I couldn’t help but overhear you mention something about a free concert?”  She responded, “Yes, Keith Urban is giving a free New Years Eve concert in BiCentennial Park with some other artists tonight. Y’all should check it out.”

And check it out we did.

Having no plans beyond dinner that evening, we navigated the free shuttle that would take us to and from the park, and filed into a large grass area with tens of thousands of other country music fans planning to enjoy a night of music and celebration.

Mother Nature, however, had plans of her own that night because somewhere in between Styx’s Come Sail Away and Nicole Kidman jumping on stage to dance with her husband, the skies opened up and unleashed an unholy beast of a deluge.  That once beautiful, green grassy stretch quickly became a squishy, puddley mucky bowl of mud. Like, Louis Litt-level mud. We were soaked and dirty and cold, and yet it remains the BEST New Years Eve I have ever experienced before or since.

One of the reasons this night stands out on my life highlight reel is because it was spontaneous. We didn’t plan to spend our last evening of 2016 this way, but when the opportunity presented we leaned in, and as we reminisce every year about our favorite NYEs, I am so glad we did.

The benefits of spontaneity are wide-ranging and plentiful. When we are spontaneous we often have near-zero expectations, allowing us to be all about the moment, thrive on the surprise and more accepting of the messy. Being spontaneous forces us to come alive.

Spontaneity not only feels enlivening - science reveals it rewires our brain in powerful ways and unleashes feel-good hormones as an added bonus. While the data supports how spontaneity positively impacts our lives, studies found just 12% of adults polled describe themselves as very spontaneous, with 38% admitting they are the polar opposite and rarely step out of their comfort zone. According to the research, spontaneity peaks at age 31 and declines sharply at age 37 when personal, parental and financial responsibilities seemingly all but replace our once spontaneous self.

Fear not! Here are 5 suggestions to be more intentional about spontaneity [I am aware of the oxymoron], no matter what stage you are in life:

Seek Out Novelty: Experiencing new things promotes neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to adapt and grow and gets those synapses firing regardless of age. Say yes to novel invitations and bring a wholehearted openness with you. Discovering the unfamiliar releases feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine.

Shake Up Routines: Breaking habits builds cognitive resilience. Your brain stays nimble when forced to respond to varied situations. Keep it sharp by changing small daily patterns such as the path you take for your morning walk or which Trader Joe’s (wink) you shop at this week.

Accept Opportunities: Saying yes activates the brain's reward system, reinforcing spontaneity's pleasures through dopamine and endorphins. Unexpected adventures bring delight, help relieve pain, reduce stress and improve your sense of well-being.

Embrace Uncertainty: Unknown situations enhance decision-making skills. Facing unpredictability strengthens your prefrontal cortex's problem-solving abilities. The more problems we solve, the better we become at solving them.

Reflect Afterwards: Integrate spontaneous experiences through reflection. This consolidates associated neural connections, improving memory and self-awareness. Notice what you learned, what you felt.

Through novelty, uncertainty, and saying yes, we build mental muscle. Purposeful spontaneity aligns with our brain's natural plasticity and need for variety.

As leaders, we must mix it up in order to add more spontaneity in the workplace.

Spontaneity is 100% a leadership asset, allowing you to embrace and value change. Invite unscripted moments to unlock creativity and deliver new possibilities. By making space for spontaneity you enhance your leadership flexibility by becoming more comfortable with developing situations.  Spontaneity is the quality of being unrehearsed and responsive to the present moment. Spontaneity requires flexibility, adaptability, and openness to new ideas and perspectives…the exact things effective leaders and high-performing teams embrace. Days do not drag and ideas flow when we invite spontaneity.

One way to practice spontaneity is to engage in activities that challenge our mental agility, creativity, and collaboration skills. For example, try some improv games with your team, such as yes-and, word association, Telestrations or solving the daily Wordle together. These games can help you to build trust, rapport, and empathy with your team members, as well as to stimulate your imagination, expression, and problem-solving abilities. Another avenue that invites leaders to practice spontaneity is by changing the locale of the weekly team meeting. If virtual, perhaps add in a last-minute theme that everyone takes part in or turn your next in person 1:1 into a walking meeting: when we wander, we wonder.

I am sure you are still wondering how Styx figured into a country music concert; me too. But I was delighted to discover the college kids standing next to us knew every word to every Styx song, and proudly sang along. Styx is apparently iconic. Who knew that Styx had that much in common with Stones? [See what I did there?]

How can you be more spontaneous today?

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