297: The sweet spot between structure and spontaneity.
Structure helps us live our lives in alignment with what we say we want. Spontaneity allows for creativity, adventure, and receptivity to what life has to offer us.
The human brain often clings to one while neglecting the other, but we benefit from having both in our life.
In this episode of the Grace & Grit podcast, I invite you to explore what might need to shift for you to find the sweet spot between the two.
Welcome to Grace & Grit.
The Grace & Grit podcast is your go-to resource for reclaiming, generating, protecting and expressing your power as a woman in midlife.
This show will completely change the way you think about health & well-being and help you make your second act the best one yet!
- 353: Unlocking the Power of Nervous System Regulation at Midlife w/ Irene Lyon
- 352: Rising Strong: The Power of Reorienting at Midlife
- 351: Dreams Interrupted: Exploring the Sleep Dilemmas of Midlife w/ Laini Gray
- 350: Defying Defaults: Life on Purpose
- 349: Year in Review: Noteworthy Lessons Gifted by 2023
Transcripts are auto-generated.
Courtney Townley 0:00
Welcome to the Grace and Grit Podcast made for women who want their healthiest years to be ahead of them, not behind them. Join your host Courtney Townley right now. As she breaks down the fairy tale health story, you have been chasing all of your life, indispensable action steps and lasting change.
Courtney Townley 0:28
Hello, my friends, and welcome back to the Grace & Grit Podcast. This is your host, Courtney Townley. And as always, I’m very grateful you’re here, I do realize there’s a very large sea of podcasts that you could choose from. So the fact that you’re here listening to the Grace & Grit show, it means a lot.
Courtney Townley 0:44
I want to start today’s episode by asking you a question. Have you ever had the experience of feeling like your life was so structured, so predictable, so routine, that you felt very strong pull to swing to the other end of the spectrum, and not really have any structure and let your hair down and have no constraints and no schedule?
Courtney Townley 1:10
If you’re anything like me, if you’re anything like the clients I’ve worked with, of course, you have experienced that. And there’s lots of ways this plays out. But two very specific ways that I think a lot of us are familiar with, is number one, we have a routine, we have a structure to the week, and then come the weekend, we do the complete opposite. We don’t want to have a schedule, we don’t want to have any routine, we certainly don’t want to apply any self discipline. And this can be really interesting in the space of health and wellness. Because every Monday we feel like we’re starting over. I also see this often play out with the way that we approach vacations, we are often getting ourselves to a point of being so burnt out by being so structured, so rigid, having so many responsibilities, that we go on vacation, and we just go kind of hog wild with doing the opposite of how we normally live our life.
Courtney Townley 2:10
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I find it interesting that we get ourselves to a point where we feel such an urgency for that. And I think that can be avoided, I think it can be avoided if we are willing to design a life that incorporates both structure, and spontaneity, organization and just being present in your life. There is a way to do both. And I’ll tell you where this topic came from.
Courtney Townley 2:42
A couple of weeks ago, I posed a question to the Grace & Grit community at large on social media, asking where people were rumbling and what topics they wanted to see me cover on the show. And one of my Rumble & Rise members actually suggested this topic. She said, you know, Courtney, I am constantly rumbling in the space of feeling like I want structure. And then having structure and feeling like I want to be more spontaneous. So where is the middle ground? How do I find the happy middle? Where do I find the balance? And I want to flip start by just kind of maybe clarifying the two things that we’re talking about structure and spontaneity.
Courtney Townley 3:27
So of course, as always, I always look up definitions, because I’m always curious if I am thinking about a word and the way that the world thinks about the word. So structure, by definition is to construct or arrange according to a plan. It’s to give a pattern or organization to something. So that that definitely feels in line with the way that I think about structure. Now spontaneity is the quality of being spontaneous, of course, and coming from natural feelings without constraint. So in that I hear kind of natural impulse, maybe gut instinct, living without a plan, which of course in that definition, they’re calling constraint. Structure versus spontaneity.
Courtney Townley 4:22
It’s interesting because the human brain loves all or nothing thinking. And so we kind of get ourselves into this position with topics like this where we feel like I need to be really structured, or I need to live in this very sort of space of freedom, spontaneity, never having a plan. And like so many things I have talked about on this Podcast, it’s usually never a matter of either or, you don’t need to abide by one or the other.
Courtney Townley 4:51
You absolutely can cultivate a life that includes both and you have structure a And you make room for spontaneity. And I think that’s really the space that most of us want. Because most of us understand that there is value in both. There is value and structure, of course, because structure organization allows us to live in alignment with the things that we say are important to us. It allows us to ensure that we are spending time on things that we say matter to us, then that’s an awesome thing. It’s living life by design, rather than by default. And living with structure, taking time to organize some of your life, some of your day, I would argue also helps to create a lot less overwhelm. Inevitably, whenever I am coaching a woman on the topic of overwhelm, which by the way, it comes up a lot.
Courtney Townley 5:56
One of the first questions I will ask a client who is spinning out in overwhelm, is, what are you doing to get traction with the things that you are feeling overwhelmed about? And almost always, the answer is nothing. So it makes a lot of sense, why they’re spinning out in a space of overwhelm. There’s no plan, there’s no structure, there’s no organization, no decisions have been made. So that’s the work we get busy on, we start making decisions, we start creating some structure, we start getting organized. And lo and behold, that suffocates overwhelm. The value of structure is also that we have perceived predictability.
Courtney Townley 6:45
Now I say perceived predictability, because life is never predictable. We might think we know how our day is gonna roll because we’ve created all this structure. But we all know that anything can happen on any given day. But perceived predictability is really awesome for our brain, because the brain feel safe when things are predictable. So although it’s not true, that having structure makes life super predictable, because it’s not always it does make it feel safer for our brain. And that helps us to reduce anxiety.
Courtney Townley 7:31
So having a plan, having a structure, having some sense of what you’re dedicating your time and energy today to can absolutely help to reduce stress and help to reduce anxiety. I also just want to add that I’m a big believer, that structure helps to make creation possible. So there are things that you are here to cause and contribute and inspire in the world. And having some organization in your life, having some structure in your life makes the creation of those things possible.
Courtney Townley 8:12
For example, this Podcast, it really just started as a seedling of an idea many years ago. And if I did not create weekly, and even daily structure around how I was going to produce this Podcast, there is no way that we would have made it this far. In fact, I don’t even know that we would have made it past the first month. So I do believe that spontaneity can inspire creativity. But structure is what actually allows us to create. So let’s talk just briefly about the value of spontaneity, because of course, structure is valuable, but so is having no structure.
Courtney Townley 8:57
So I just mentioned creativity, I do believe that when we are experiencing life when we are really just living life, and not analyzing and not planning, but really just being in the experience of it. That is often where we get some of our best ideas. It’s also where we tend to problem solve more easily. So I don’t know about you, but some of my best ideas and my best solutions. They don’t come when I’m planning my week. They come when I’m taking my dog for a walk, or I’m taking a shower, or I’m just hanging out in my backyard picking weeds out of my garden. These are the moments where a lot of fresh ideas come.
Courtney Townley 9:50
I also think the moments that are unplanned are really amazing testing grounds for the practices. Is that we have what does that mean? I think that when we are living without a plan without structure, we really get to see who we are being in the world, we get to see how we show up in the world, we get to see how we react to things. And so how we show up in spontaneous moments, I think is a testament to the types of things that we’re practicing all the time.
Courtney Townley 10:31
I don’t know why this example comes to mind. But let’s just say that you’re on a vacation, and one of the people that you’re on vacation with asks you to go on some kind of adventure. And your immediate response is no, that’s just not something that I normally do, or it’s just not who I am. I’m just not into that. Okay, well, that might suggest that maybe during your everyday life, you aren’t really open to new opportunities either. Isn’t that interesting? No judgement. But it is interesting.
Courtney Townley 11:03
You also might be someone who jumps at new opportunity, who is always ready for an adventure. And my guess would be that in your everyday life, your everyday practices, you are also that way. So I think spontaneity really is an opportunity for self discovery. It’s an opportunity to learn about who we are, and what we are moving towards what we are compelled to follow the impulses we have. I would also say of course, that spontaneity opens us up to a lot of new experiences. It allows us to decompress. It allows us often to just really be in life rather than thinking about or organizing life.
Courtney Townley 11:53
It allows us to be more fully in the present. And stop the overthinking. Because, ladies, we are so good at overthinking the competence code, which is a book that I did a Podcast about several years ago. Katie Kay and Claire Shipman, I believe are the authors. But they talked about the design of the human brain, and how women actually have a little bit more matter in the prefrontal cortex, which is the thinking part of the brain. So ladies, we are biologically a little bit more prone to overthinking than men. And when we are willing to bake in spontaneity into our life, it helps to counter the overthinking. So, again, both of these qualities are so incredibly valuable. And they don’t have to be separate. They don’t have to even be opposing opposite of each other. They absolutely can work hand in hand with each other structure and spontaneity can both nourish our life. So a few of my thoughts for that initial question, how do I find balance for both? Well, I guess first, I would start by saying that I don’t believe that living at one end of a spectrum is ever healthy, not for very long. And I think this goes with any conversation around health and well being. So if we put structure at one end of the spectrum, and we put spontaneity at the other end of the spectrum, I don’t think living on either side permanently, is a healthy thing. I mean, ultimately, you’re the only person who can decide that. But in the work that I do, I don’t often see that strategy working well for most people. The problem with living on the end of structure, solely, like only living in that place, every moment of your day is calculated and spoken for, is we start operating from a place of being so certain of who we are, and not allowing any room for self discovery. Right?
Courtney Townley 14:09
And a lot of us are guilty of saying things like well, that’s just who I am. It’s not who you are. It’s who you’ve practiced to being to this point in your life, you can always practice something new. So too much structure doesn’t really make much room for magic, and self discovery, we start to feel stagnant and stale. Because we are so predictable. Life is so predictable.
Courtney Townley 14:36
I would also say that too much structure really causes overscheduling over committing which is a problem that I see so many women rumbling with. And what happens when we are always pushing down the gas pedal of having every minute of every day accounted for is we start to create a lot of dysfunction in the nervous system. Right, the nervous system is meant to be turned up and turned down. It’s supposed to oscillate between moments of intensity and moments of decompression.
Courtney Townley 15:11
But when we’re over scheduling our lives when we’re so attached to structure all the time, we’re really living in a space of having the gas pedal down all the time, we’re always on and we’re very rarely decompressing. And finally, I would just say that I think one of the problems that stems from being too overscheduled or too structured, is it it’s almost a way of micromanaging. It’s almost like we don’t trust ourselves enough to be in the moment or to see how we handle ourselves in the life situations that life just presents us with, that we try to control everything. And to me, that just speaks of a lack of self trust.
Courtney Townley 16:02
So over structure, ultimately makes us feel caged. And when we feel caged, when we feel stagnant, we start to rebel against that, and we will seek pleasure, and not in very healthy ways. So I’ve talked a lot about buffering on this Podcast buffering as we reach for things to make us feel better immediately. When we are feeling over structured, and over overly predictable, and stale and caged. The byproduct of that is we will turn often to things like alcohol, Netflix, food, shopping, to make ourselves feel better.
Courtney Townley 16:46
And truly, we could be bringing so much balance to structure, if we were actually making time for what helps us to balance structure, which is the spontaneity. So, the other thing that comes to mind, where do I find the balance between these two things is that I don’t know that I’m a big believer in balance. I think what is more true is that it’s less about finding balance. And more about being hyper aware of which side of the spectrum you tend to swing towards. And just staying very honest with yourself, about where you are on the spectrum.
Courtney Townley 17:36
So rather than a balance, I think more of like a sweet spot. And no one can tell you where your sweet spot is, that’s your work. Because people looking into your life are only really looking through one window, they’re only seeing one room of your life, they’re not seeing the whole house, they’re not seeing the wholeness of your life. And so they could tell you to push harder in health and wellness, whatever that means. Maybe it’s like pushing harder with exercise, eating better, whatever the thing is, but not understanding that you’re grieving the death of a loved one. And you’re recovering from an illness, right? Like there’s a lot of other things that need to be taken into consideration to give you advice in any one area of your life. So no one knows your life the way that you do, which is why developing self trust and self awareness is so important.
Courtney Townley 18:35
It’s worth asking yourself the question, what are the signposts for me that I need a little bit more structure? I’ll tell you signposts for me is I feel overwhelmed and I feel anxious about my life when I don’t have enough structure in my life. And then signposts that I need more spontaneity is what I spoke to earlier, I start to feel caged, and I start to feel kind of trapped. And I start to feel just really uncomfortable in my life like I can’t breathe. So knowing where your mishap misaligned with these things can be a really good indicator that you need to do some work in moving the other direction. So the other thing to know about your sweet spot, between structure and spontaneity, where that is for you
Courtney Townley 19:36
is recognizing that your sweet spot is not a permanent place. It’s dynamic. The sweet spot is always moving. It’s always changing, because life is always changing. So sometimes you need more structure. Sometimes you need more spontaneity. Just like sometimes you need more grace. Sometimes you need a little bit more regret. We can’t be rigidly attached, but it’s always supposed to look one way.
Courtney Townley 20:09
I also want to say this, it is very normal to rebel against the quality that does not come as naturally to you. For example, I have to work a little bit harder on spontaneity than I do on structure, structure comes very natural, to me, it feels very safe, it feels very comfortable. It feels very familiar. Spontaneity, has not been as strong of a practice for me, as structure has been. So I often find that my work is in loosening the reins, rather than tightening them. But I work with a lot of clients who are the opposite. They don’t have as they’ve never had a strong practice of structure or organization, or staying committed to one thing for very long. And so we work a little bit more on structure than we do on spontaneity. But just because you’re working more on one quality does not mean we have to eradicate the other one, we make room for both.
Courtney Townley 21:23
The other thing I want to say about this piece, that piece of that kind of rebelling against the quality that doesn’t come as naturally to you is some of the ways that I see this play out is for example. In fact, the woman who asked this question, Marty, she presented it, as you know, I’ve committed to doing some really intense strength training over the summer. And now I find myself wanting to do more things that aren’t so structured, like taking classes like dancing, things of that nature. And isn’t that so often the case, it’s like, we can push hard for a period of time before we need to start removing the foot from the gas pedal.
Courtney Townley 22:10
And I don’t think we need to judge ourselves in the moment. In that moment at all, there’s nothing wrong with that it’s normal. And listening to your body. And honoring what it’s asking for it doesn’t mean you have to stop strength training. But absolutely, you might need to sprinkle in more of what you feel like you’re missing. So you can stay consistent with both you can have both.
Courtney Townley 22:37
And the other thing that I would mention here is that, you know, sometimes we’ll use, like Marty’s example, right, I’ve been strength training all summer. And now I’m feeling this hunger for, you know, different types of movements that aren’t as structured. She could use that as rationalization for quitting her strength training practice.
Courtney Townley 23:03
And I think it’s really important to look at your why, like, why are you quitting if you’re tempted to quit because you don’t need to quit. You just need to season your life with a little bit more of this other element. Where maybe, like you’re constantly getting sick or injured, because you’re pushing so hard in one area. And yeah, maybe you do need to take a backseat for a while. But looking at your why will help you determine if you actually need to pull out of some kind of structure, or you just need to maybe turn the discipline down on that structure. I hope that makes sense.
Courtney Townley 23:49
Okay, so all this to say, I hope what you’re hearing here more than anything, is it is beneficial for us to create a life that has both structure and spontaneity. And I want to offer that I’m a big believer that taking time to organize ourselves, and structure our life is actually how we make room for both. So
Courtney Townley 24:23
I’ll give you some really clear steps here in terms of how to do this. So number one, we kind of have to start by getting clear on what’s important to us. What do we want to be spending time on because if we try to spend time on everything, we’re not really present with anything. So what are the things that you want to absolutely make sure you are, you are reserving time for each and every day. If you’ve never asked yourself that question, it’s a great time to start. A lot of you listening to the show, probably already are clear. on where you do want to be spending your time and energy, and hopefully your schedule is reflecting that.
Courtney Townley 25:08
First get clear on our values. And then we start organizing our time in accordance with those values. And we reserved time, specifically, for non doing. We reserved time for spontaneity. And that looks like a lot of different things. It might look like a little, a little section of each day, which I actually encourage you to start with, like, I encourage you to carve out white space space that is unscheduled in every single day. And it might only be 10 minutes initially. But as you start reaping the benefits from not scheduling moments, you’re going to be hungry for more of it. So eventually, maybe you get to half an hour a day, an hour a day.
Courtney Townley 25:59
For me, I will tell you, my very unscheduled section of the day, is when I get home from the gym in the afternoon, and up until getting ready for bed. And that’s like a three or four hour span of time, where I kind of know I’m going to cook dinner. But mostly, I’m just going to hang out with my family. And I’m just going to be in my home, I’m not going to think about work, which is a work in progress. By the way, I’m not always awesome at that, I’m going to try not to think about work, I don’t have a list of chores that I have to get done. But do I feel inspired some time in my white space to actually go do some laundry or do some things like, you know, maybe pick up my house a little bit, absolutely.
Courtney Townley 26:44
And sometimes I want to sit down and read a book and do absolutely nothing. But I afford myself the opportunity to decide in the moment what I want to go towards. And there’s definitely decompression with that. Now, sometimes whitespace looks like taking an entire weekend off, right, even going away by yourself, or taking a week off. But I think if we pepper this white space throughout our daily life, and make it a regular part of our living practice. When we go on vacation, we don’t go so crazy. Because life really isn’t that radically different from how we’re living. We don’t feel the need to rebel against how we normally live. So food for thought.
Courtney Townley 27:43
But the organization can absolutely make way for the spontaneity. And I’ve seen this again play out so many times in my own life, and certainly in the lives of my clients. And one of the things I talk about a lot with my clients, I’ve actually done entire Podcast episodes about this is that I’m a really big fan of traveling by myself. Because to me, it gives so much back to me. It’s very invigorating. I learn a lot about myself when I’m traveling alone. And I also just learn a lot about the world around me because I’m observing the world differently. And so I often have conversations with my clients about considering taking some time off to be with themselves. And a lot of people freak out about that, because they’re like, Courtney, well, what am I going to do? And my response is, well, that’s for you to decide.
Courtney Townley 28:33
That’s the whole point. You might decide to sleep for three days, you might decide to go take a class or go explore city, you might decide to, I don’t know, like hanging out with some friends. But giving yourself the option of creating an incubator of time and space to just see where the wind blows you. And how you respond to that is a very powerful practice. And I will tell you, in all the years that I’ve worked on this with clients, I’ve never had a woman come back from a period of time like that, that she’s created for herself, regretting that she did it. It’s actually the opposite. Most of them come back saying I can’t wait to do it again. It was so rejuvenating. It was so so wonderful in so many ways. But it was literally carving out an extended period of time for them just to be in the world and not have a schedule.
Courtney Townley 29:32
And then here’s the fourth piece. So we have to know our values. We organize our time according to our values. And we reserve time for whitespace which looks a little different depending on what’s currently going on in your life. And then the fourth piece of this is making time to reassess often and much because again, the sweet spot between structure and spontaneity is not up permanent spot. It’s dynamic, it’s always moving. And so we have to just constantly revisit how we’re structuring our life. The amount of white space we’re making room for, is it enough? Is it too much? And we recalibrate accordingly.
Courtney Townley 30:21
So in conclusion, I’ll just say this, that structure, in a busy world, which we absolutely live in holy cow, do, we have a lot of opportunity at our disposal. And when we are living in a world of so much opportunity, structure can actually be a gateway for spontaneity. So structure allows us to make room for whitespace. And spontaneity in turn, allows us to continue to learn about ourselves, to learn about our practices, and to inform the structures that we decide to implement based on what we learn about ourselves. So they feed each other structure, feed spontaneity, and spontaneity feeds structure.
Courtney Townley 31:23
Now, I’m a huge fan of merging qualities that feel like opposites. Because I’ve discovered throughout my life and throughout my work, that things that appear to not have anything to do with each other or appear to be opposites are usually very synergistic in nature. Right, we could never know happiness, if we didn’t know sadness. They complement each other, they support each other, they are necessary for each other to exist. Grit is an extension of grace. self discipline is an extension of self love. These things are not opposite. They support one another. And absolutely, that is true of structure and spontaneity.
Courtney Townley 32:11
It’s not either or it’s both. And so how can you create a life that feels like you are living in the sweet spot between the two? Something for you to consider. And if you need help with this, this is absolutely the work that we do inside of Rumble & Rise, which is my private community, I’ve talked about it on every Podcast, and probably will, as long as it exists. It’s an incubator of support and education and inspiration for doing exactly this work.
Courtney Townley 32:49
Deciding for yourself, where you need to dial things up, where you need to dial things down, where you need to bring things in what you need to let go of, it’s a space of self-leadership so you can elevate your health. And ultimately, you can elevate your life if you are a woman who is looking for a space that is talking about things way beyond diet and exercise, which we talked about as well. But we talked about so much more than that. We work to improve so much more than those things.
Courtney Townley 33:24
Consider checking it out, you can always check out the details of Rumble & Rise by going to graceandgrit.com/readytorumble and if you ever have any questions, you can always email me Courtney@graceandgrit.com Thank you for being here.
Courtney Townley 33:40
I wish you well on your journey to finding your own sweet spot between structure and spontaneity. And I’ll see you again next week. Take care.
Courtney Townley 33:55
Thank you for listening to the grace and grit Podcast. It is time to mend the fabric of the female health story. And it starts with you taking radical responsibility for your own self care. You are worth the effort and with a little grace and grit anything is possible.
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