There’s a pervasive stereotype that young people are reckless, impulsive and spontaneous – stressed so heavily that being called predictable feels like an insult. Shouldn’t we all try to be the main character in our own lives? Often this is harmless, like listening to music while pretending you’re in the music video or talking to someone new. But at its extreme, this trend displays a harmful cultural shift towards prioritization of the individual over the community. It provides a platform for people to behave selfishly and erratically, just to act out things that seem like they might happen in a movie. In other words, it encourages an egocentric, unrealistic view of the world by acting entirely on personal whims. When the lines between spontaneity and reckless abandon become blurred, as they often do, being “spontaneous” becomes a dangerous thing, especially on a large scale.
In relationships, constant spontaneity may mean that friends and family no longer see you as dependable. Ignoring the day-to-day responsibilities and dull realities creates an unrealistic expectation of what life is, especially when you externalize this on social media. How would society function if we all decided to be spontaneous all the time? Maintaining a certain level of predictability allows for cooperation and harmony. Further on the extreme end, this constant desire or tendency toward “spontaneity” may actually disguise or romanticize the type of impulsive behavior associated with mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other personality disorders.
But back to our main character-ness. In fiction, a main character’s spontaneity often acts as a meaningful component in advancing the overall plot, even if the direct outcome is negative. In the real world, our actions do not guarantee a meaningful or productive outcome. Because of this, it’s the predictable, reliable people who bear responsibility for the so-called main characters when their spontaneity doesn’t quite work out like they thought. Whether it’s drinking too much and pulling a sober friend into the situation, or skipping class and needing someone else’s notes, these impromptu decisions place the burden on others. Rather than constantly operating on individualistic eccentricities, predictable people are personally accountable. With this in mind, planful people can allow the time for healthy spontaneity. Paradoxically, having a schedule may be what really sets you free to do what you want.
From an evolutionary standpoint, predictability also has adaptive value. Having predictive behavioral practices like rituals and routine helps to mentally prepare for “danger” later on, ultimately reducing long-term anxiety. The Harvard Business Review posits a relationship between predictability and early hunting patterns, stating that consistency allowed for more successful hunting and the subsequent advancement of humanity. Routine matters even more in our modern society, when technology, and ultimately capitalism, demands our attention at any and all times. We may think we have more power and autonomy because of the constant availability of resources, information or attention on the internet to satisfy our own desires, but this is the deception of an individualist, consumerist culture; we become prisoners to our own impulses. Just because modern society allows us to feel more random and spontaneous doesn’t necessarily mean we should be, for our own and others’ benefits.
Although being an orderly person with routines may be almost taboo as of late, there are a number of psychological and physical health benefits to having set routines. It allows you to eat intentional meals, take medication, exercise and sleep at consistent times. In fact, research has shown that having a sleep schedule can actually make you feel better rested than simply getting more sleep, if it’s at random times. Our body is wired with its own biological clock for a reason, yet we so often ignore it. In fact, our circadian rhythm has been found to be so important to our health that there is a growing branch of medicine to maximize the benefits to syncing up with it.
As someone who spends immense amounts of time overthinking, planning, researching and generally making myself stressed, I’ve always wished I could be a bit more carefree. And while there is a healthy component to being adventurous and trying different things, there’s a reason to appreciate your own predictability as well. At the end of the day: it’s okay to be predictable.