Routines Are Great, But Spontaneity Is The Key To Brain Expansion — Here's Why
Have you ever felt like all of your days look exactly the same—like you're running on a hamster wheel? In many cases, linear life paths void of spontaneity can leave us feeling empty, uninspired, and sometimes even worse, burned out. It's as if we're just checking off boxes in our life, constantly preparing for the next best thing.
This robotic mentality has even been seeping into our well-being habits. These days, it seems like you can't scroll on social media for more than a couple of minutes before seeing yet another person share their detailed routine rundown; their perfect "5 to 9" ritual.
As a clinical psychology researcher and co-founder of a mental well-being company, I'm all for finding consistency in structured habits—they can be a great way to turn our well-being into an unconscious, integrated part of our lives. That said, routines aren't the end-all-be-all when it comes to supporting our overall wellness.
In fact, I believe there is one crucial component missing from our current well-being conversations: the importance of openness and spontaneity.
The benefits of being spontaneous.
Let's be honest: Spontaneity is often framed as frivolous, or worse, irresponsible. In a world that's driven by productivity and efficiency, making room for experimentation seems like a nice idea—for others with more time, resources, or even creative capacity.
But I like to look at it through a very different lens. In my experience, and based on the latest scientific research, the first accessible step toward awakening your energetic, inspired, creative perspective is experimenting with spontaneity, openness, and curiosity. Making space to break free from your linear path—even a little bit—can lead to a whole slew of benefits for your brain. Here's why:
It can bring your spark back.
When we're living on life's hamster wheel, many of our days can look exactly the same. We answer emails, finish to-do lists, and do chores in the most logical way. But consistency isn't just boring; it can lead to cynicism and procrastination that underlie the main elements of burnout. In fact, one study of Italian and Austrian university students found a causal relationship between low spontaneity and psychological suffering1.
On the flip side, surprise and novelty can actually be therapeutic. The more spontaneous and creative experiences we have, the more happy, fulfilled, and even successful we become. This is because these experiences activate something called "divergent thinking2," which is a cognitive process that helps us imagine outside the box and feel comfortable with doing things we may not have before. It also releases dopamine and other neurotransmitters that help us feel more motivated, connected, and inspired.
It can stretch time.
That's because we can shift our perception of time, and most importantly slow it down, when we use our creative brains. When something is new, we pay attention to every single element of it. But when we've done it hundreds of times—we stop recording as much information as we used to.
Neuroscientist and creativity researcher David Eagleman, Ph.D., was the first to discover that making an effort to collect new experiences and trick our brains into doing something out of their habitual comfort zone can help us feel like time lasts forever. That's because the longer it takes to process a memory, the longer that moment feels.
Eagleman shares with The New Yorker, "This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older; why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we're dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass."
It's good for your creativity & brain longevity.
Research has shown that acting without a plan (i.e., spontaneity) can increase happiness, vitality, and fulfillment. Plus, making spontaneous thinking into a consistent practice is shown to increase mental flexibility and strengthen pathways in our brains.
One famous piece of neuroscience research commonly referred to as The Nun Study4 observed the brains of nuns over decades. The researchers found that the nuns who read, worked on puzzles, learned new things, and did creative activities into old age had more brain density and kept their cognition strong—even when their brains were physically deteriorating.
These sorts of practices also led to a virtuous cycle: The more we do new things; the more we expand our perspective; the more open, curious, and motivated we are to do it again.
It can help us feel more present and alive.
How to increase spontaneity, without ditching your routine entirely.
Spontaneity and routine don't have to be at odds with each other. By giving yourself room to practice openness, even with just one new idea each day, you can begin to build pathways in your brain that make spontaneity a habit.
Scientists have found that exposing yourself to new, unfamiliar experiences, no matter how big or small, helps us feel like life is longer and more full. It allows us to record meaningful experiences and cement them in our memories. Even more, it helps us to be fully present in the right now and feel most alive.
Making space to inject more new, spontaneous experiences into your daily life is at the root of activating your naturally creative brain—something we often lose touch with when we're on a linear, efficient life path. By allowing yourself the freedom to experiment consistently, and see creativity as a core component of well-being rather than a frivolous act, we can make our brains—and our lives—happier and healthier.
Katina Bajaj is the co-founder and Chief Well-being Officer of Daydreamers. After getting off the burnout cycle, she became fascinated by the power of creativity to improve our overall well-being. Katina is a published well-being author (Simon & Schuster), a certified coach meditation teacher, and has a Master's in Clinical Psychology from Columbia's Mind-Body Institute. Her work on creative well-being has been featured in publications like Teen Vogue and Fast Company, and she has amassed a following of nearly 100k globally.