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  • Sarah Nannery

5 Ways to Be More Spontaneous

Here comes spring (and not far off is summer!) - and soon the world will open back up again after COVID-19. With new horizons will come the opportunity to seize moments that will never come your way again - especially after months of quarantine, don't take those moments for granted!

Even when life is fairly normal and not full of novel coronavirus, I am the opposite of spontaneous. I need plenty of planning, advance notice, strategizing, and I thrive best with routine. This has a lot to do with my autistic brain. I have to do all of my thinking manually, rather than relying on automatic processes, which makes accounting for new or unpredictable variables highly stressful and time-consuming. Routine helps me have “automatic” processes that don’t take up so much of my brain space, whereas spontaneity requires constant, high-energy thinking in order to accomplish.

Going for a dinner date on a whim? Even if my husband has already secured childcare - the biggest variable - my brain still goes into over-drive. What medicines are the kids currently taking that we’ll need to the babysitter to administer? Will we have them skip bath tonight? What should I wear? What temperature is it now and what will it be in the restaurant and what will it be later when we are on our way home, so I know whether to bring a sweater or wear long pants rather than a dress? Do I even have any stockings clean right now in order to wear a dress? What shoes should I wear? How much walking will we be doing, so I know whether to wear a more comfortable pair, or a fancier pair? What bag should I bring?

All of this consternation and more sends my brain into overload whenever I have to do something on the fly. Spontaneity might be thrilling for some, but for me it feels like jumping on a trampoline that could disappear at any second. Sure, it's exciting and fun, but it could also result in a whole lot of unnecessary pain. Which is why I am not a spontaneous person! But life can't be all planned out, and the few times that I have leaned into some spontaneity, the rewards were plentiful.

So, once this pandemic is past us, if you want to be more spontaneous, but have a hard time making it happen, here are 5 things I have found made it easier for me:

1. Have 3 bags pre-packed with extras of all your essentials.

I say 3 because I feel like it‘s a safe bet that you have at least 3 different types of scenarios in which you would be leaving the house with a bag. Mine are 1) work, 2) taking the kids out, and 3) “everything else,” with both individual errands and date nights included in the everything else category.

Whatever your 3 scenarios are, or maybe it’s 2 (or maybe it’s 5 but I feel like 5 separate pre-packed bags would be a lot to manage, and you could probably consolidate a couple and make 3 broader categories if it’s easier for you) - decide what they are and which bag makes the most sense for each. For example, when I go out with the kids, I have a backpack full of kid stuff - snacks, diapers, wipes, etc. My work bag is much slimmer and looks more professional, made of black faux-leather instead of canvas. Then I have my small shoulder purse, which is nondescript and works for both running to the grocery store or going out to a movie or a fancy restaurant.

These 3 are my minimum, and in each, I have pre-packed my minimum essentials, like mini hand sanitizers, tissue packets, breath mints, pens, extra hair ties, travel packets of Advil, ear buds, etc. So all I have to do on the spur of the moment is grab the bag and the few key things that have to stay with me at all times and of which I don't have duplicates - my phone, my wallet, and my keys.

2. Curate some “go-to” outfits.

Ok look - I am no fashionista. Please. If I could wear jeans and a sweatshirt every day for the rest of my life, I would be 100% fine with that.

But it’s fun to dress up sometimes, right? Especially when you make it easier on yourself by preparing in advance so you don’t have to think as hard.

This goes for whether you're pairing nice slacks and suede shoes, or high heels and a cocktail dress - whatever fancy floats your boat, it's very helpful to know in advance which of your shoes go with which of your outfits, and which ones you might wear for various situations. I'm not saying you have to go overboard - though if you're the type of person who has your whole wardrobe planned out, more power to you - I'm just saying, like you have your 3 bags, have at least 3 different full outfits in mind 3 main scenarios in which you might need to get dressed on the quick. So that when a friend calls you up to see if you can go out tonight, or you decide you want to "spice it up" with a change of plans, you don't have to spend extra energy figuring out what to wear (unless you want to).

3. Bring a sweater.

(Or a light jacket, if you're that type of person.)

This solid piece of advice is straight from my mother. Maybe yours, too. >D

But it's so true.

Have one or two go-to sweaters in your closet that are neutral in color (or whatever color goes with your style) and nice enough to pair with pretty much anything. In New York, a black pashmina scarf works really well for this.

If you're heading out on the spur of the moment, you'll know ahead of time that you can easily grab a multi-purpose layering option. This way you can be versatile enough to adapt to temperature changes (potential nightmare for sensory-sensitive autistics) no matter where you're going: If the restaurant is toasty you can hang the sweater on the back of your chair. If the movie theatre is an icebox you don't have to sit there freezing in your sleeveless top cursing yourself for not thinking of every possible variable. If you find yourself unexpectedly outside for a while (evening walk through the park, anyone?), you'll have a defense against the night breeze (and mosquitos).

You can avoid several variable calculations by simply bringing along your sweater / jacket / shawl / nice scarf or whatever your go-to layer helper might be.

4. Know and respect your change process.

This one is perhaps the most "autistic" of these 5 tips - in that not everyone reading this may have - or be aware of - their own internal process for weathering change.

As someone on the spectrum, my brain has to go through several specific, clunky, almost mechanical steps before I can pivot to embracing a new idea or do something I wasn't planning on doing. Any kind of change triggers this process in my neurology - even little things like the store being out of my favorite type of crackers - it's like entering an "if, then" command into a computer program. "If change , then change process ."

After much self-reflection, I have zeroed in on my own personal change process steps:

  1. Realize that change is coming, or is already happening.

  2. Recognize the initial resistance to change (even if it's good change), own it, respect it without judgement, then consciously set it aside.

  3. Assess the change, whether it is a positive or negative change, and whether to continue my initial gut reaction of working against the change, or to further facilitate the change happening.

  4. Act on the change - either go with it, or try stopping it.

  5. If I decide to go with the change, that will trigger a new set of assessment and decision-making process steps that delve deeper into the new direction, what I need to do to be successful amongst new variables, and what steps to take next for forward motion.

I already know that, when presented with an opportunity to be spontaneous, my brain will need to go through these five stages. It might happen very quickly, it might take some time.

The important thing is, I don't fight it.

I let my brain do its thing. If I'm with someone else, usually they won't even notice. If they do notice, I just let them know that everything's fine and I just need a minute to recalibrate.

If dealing with change feels like banging into a brick wall for you, take some time to analyze your own brain's change process. Then let yourself go through whatever steps you need in order to accept the change, free of judgement.

Also very important to note here - respect yourself if you decide that you really don't want to be spontaneous right then. Sometimes I'm just not up for it, and that's okay.

5. Have some faith.

I don’t mean the religious kind - though you can have that, too, if you are so inclined.

I mean just have a little faith that things will work out. Because most things in life will work out, because life has less to do with what happens, and more to do with how you react. All is well, and even if something does happen to go sideways while you are embracing some spontaneity, you are a capable enough human being to handle it and work out a solution in the end.

This takes practice.

It takes practice to have faith. To have faith in the world, to have faith in the people who you trust enough to be spontaneous with, to have faith in yourself.

It gets easier with time, as you do it more, and build more confidence in yourself through experience.

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