Establishing structures or well-thought-out routines is normal, especially for anyone who wants to be intentional in life.
The problem is things don’t always happen according to our plans.
Sometimes, life can force us to ditch our routines, and we suddenly find ourselves in uncharted territories, usually angry and stressed.
Although it is usually great to have things go your way, you can learn to go with the flow of life and prevent potentially frustrating incidences and situations from stealing your happiness.
Keep reading if you struggle with letting go of things you can’t control and want to know how to go with the flow.
What It Means to Go With Flow
In a nutshell, going with the flow simply means the absence of resistance. It is accepting situations that show up in our lives from out of nowhere, regardless of what they are.
Here’s what that means.
If you go with the flow, you roll with the punches rather than push against the current. This way, your happiness is not affected, even though the potentially stressful and frustrating situation hasn’t changed one bit.
For example, your car “chooses” to break down on your family fun day! But instead of getting frustrated because of the inconvenience (and ruining everyone’s mood), you tell yourself that the temporary setback serves a greater good.
With this mindset, you can happily find an alternative means of transportation or reschedule the outing.
In other words, you deliberately shift your perspective to allow you to see the situation differently.
Epictetus, the Stoic Greek philosopher, beautifully sums up the whole concept of going with the flow when he says, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
Here’s the thing, though.
To go with the flow doesn’t necessarily translate to a laidback lifestyle. It definitely isn’t the same as settling, being passive, allowing yourself to be tossed around, or being a wimp.
On the contrary, non-resistance means understanding your value and worth to the point that the most violent storms of life can’t cause you to doubt your self-worth, and nothing anyone says or does can dim your shine.
Here’s something else I should point out about going with the flow: don’t ignore careful planning just because you want to roll with the punches.
There is nothing wrong with being meticulous or organized, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with being a Type A person, provided you can manage your character flaws. (By the way, every personality trait has its own flaws).
Of course, most controlling and anxious people find it difficult to practice non-resistance. But that doesn’t mean a carefree, happy-go-lucky person is going with the flow ― at least not in a helpful way.
Okay, now that we’re clear on what going with the flow means, here are a couple of benefits living this way offers.
Why You Should Go With the Flow
Acceptance Reduces Your Suffering
You experience less suffering and an increased sense of inner peace when you stop pushing against “what is.”
Accepting things the way they are, especially if you can’t do anything to change them, removes the unnecessary pain brought about by unrealistic attachment to specific outcomes.
To be clear, accepting a situation doesn’t necessarily mean you like it. It simply means that you value your happiness and peace of mind more than the unnecessary suffering from fighting against reality.
Going With the Flow Helps With Stress Relief
Going with the flow is good for your well-being because it reduces your stress level and the risk of anxiety.
Resistance to change and a strong need to be in control of people and situations creates stress. You significantly reduce stress triggers when you give up control, especially over the things you can’t truly control.
This means going with the flow reduces your chances of higher stress levels, which can cause many negative physical and mental health problems.
You Enjoy Life as It Is (With All Its Imperfections)
Going with the flow helps you realize that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be enjoyable. Life is unpredictable; understanding this means you are well-equipped to take on whatever challenges life throws at you without losing your sense of happiness.
The illusion of control makes it difficult to relax and enjoy life with all its imperfections. On the other hand, non-resistance allows you to have fun ― lots of it ― no matter how imperfect things are.
7 Tips on How to Go With the Flow
1. Look at the Bigger Picture
Here is my top tip for how to go with the flow: become an external observer when things seem to spiral out of your control.
When things don’t go according to plan, take a step back, breath, and allow the situation to be the way it is for the moment. You don’t have to automatically switch into solution mode, at least not immediately.
Doing this allows you to get perspective ― to see the bigger picture.
It is okay to delay reaction (unless it is a life-and-death situation). It is also fine not to know what to do when you assume the role of an observer.
In any case, here are a few important questions to ask yourself when you take a step back from annoying and frustrating situations:
- Is this frustrating incident really a big deal?
- Would this thing I’m getting workup over make any difference a month or year from now?
- Is it worth getting upset over what won’t matter in a few short days or weeks from now?
You zoom out ― become an observer ― when you contemplate these questions, and soon enough, you’ll stop sweating the small stuff.
2. Embrace Change
Nearly everyone knows that change is constant, but not many people accept change. We want things to remain the way they are, especially when we like how they currently are.
However, the world doesn’t work that way. Although we know this, we still resist it, which causes suffering.
Want to really know how to go with the flow and be happier? Embrace change!
Realize that there is no such thing as perfection; everything is evolving, and everyone in your life is in the process of becoming. Nothing is at a standstill ― not even you.
Make peace with the fact that things can (and will) happen to alter your “perfect” structure and routine. The sooner you embrace this idea, the less resistance you’ll experience when change happens.
3. Give up the Urge to Control People and Situations
Do you have the traits of a controlling person? Are you always in charge of others (telling them what they can or can’t do)? Perhaps you always feel things will go horribly wrong if you are not in charge.
By “others,” I’m not only referring to work colleagues or people you know in a professional capacity. They could be your significant other, children, loved ones, or close friends.
Going with the flow means realizing that everyone is different. Their perspectives, what they like, and what they feel is right don’t have to agree with ours all the time, and that’s okay.
Accepting this fact can be a huge challenge for you, just as it is for many people. This is especially true when it involves someone under your authority, like your child, subordinate at work, or student.
That said, controlling behavior will likely set you up for frequent frustration, so it is best to give it up.
Don’t know how to be more accepting? I’ve got you covered. Check out my top tips on how to stop being controlling.
4. Laugh at the Absurdity of Stress-Causing Situations
Although a good sense of humor won’t likely change your situation, laughter is good medicine for the body and soul.
The benefits of laughter are well-documented, some of which include the following:
- Relieving pain
- Improving mood
- Soothing tension
- Reliving stress response
- Improving the immune system
If you’re wondering how laughing at the absurdity of stress-causing situations can help you go with the flow, here’s how.
You can’t truly find something amusing without being an external observer. In other words, situations can easily get to you when you are neck-deep in them, not if you’re detached.
And detachment is good if you want to go with the flow.
It allows you to genuinely laugh at how silly a situation is or how incompetent you are without feeling angry at yourself or beating yourself up.
For example, laugh at your forgetfulness instead of getting mad at yourself for leaving your office key at home. Sure, the situation may cause some delays and inconveniences, but anger and frustration aren’t going to make anything better. You may as well have a hearty laugh while finding a solution.
5. Create Time for Regular Meditation
Meditation is a go-to practice for many spiritually-inclined people, and it is an effective practice to include in your daily routine if you want to know how to go with the flow.
There are several types of meditation practices, but to help you release resistance and be more present in your daily routines, I recommend doing a focused meditation.
Typically, this involves gently bringing your attention to your breath and using it as an anchor for your mind throughout the body scanning and thought review processes.
All of these may sound vague to you if you’re new to meditation. In that case, I suggest reading up on this earlier post to get the hang of the practice.
6. Keep a Journal
Meditation might not be up your alley if spiritually-inclined practices aren’t your thing. That’s okay, though. You can do other things to keep tabs on your thought process.
One thing you can do is keep a journal. And you can do this whether or not you practice meditation.
But how does keeping a journal help you go with the flow?
Journaling is a form of self-examination. You write down the highlights of your day, noting what tripped you up, made you upset, and what you did about it.
By recalling, writing, and reviewing what happened during the day and your reactions or responses, you’ll learn what works and doesn’t work.
Journaling allows you to hone in on helpful thought patterns and actions that produce more satisfying results so you can sidestep frustrating experiences.
7. Repeat Affirmations
Saying affirmations or positive statements can be helpful during stressful situations. That’s because affirmations reprogram or shift your mind, allowing you to accept rather than push against things.
For example, saying (and meaning) the following positive statements can remove resistance and help you go with the flow:
- I am where I need to be
- My life is unfolding in perfect order
- I am happy; I feel light and free!
- I am a flexible person
- I am at ease and allow good things to flow to me
These positive statements may sound ridiculous if you’re new to affirmations. But by consistently repeating them and believing they are true, you’ll start to notice a shift in your attitude. And eventually, your world will be a reflection of your predominant thoughts.
Want more shifting affirmations? Check out this list.
Now that you’re familiar with the steps on how to go with the flow and live happier, there’s one more thing you must avoid. Don’t try to make huge changes in your life in one fell swoop.
Even if your goal is to become a Zen master, that level of mastery doesn’t usually happen overnight, so remember to take baby steps.
It is okay to catch yourself getting upset over non-issues once in a while. Don’t beat yourself up over it; instead, praise yourself for noticing your mistakes.
With time, you’ll find yourself laughing over things that once made you lose your cool, provided you consistently practice the above tips.