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What Going With the Flow Means, According to Experts

Arun Sharma/Unsplash

Arun Sharma/Unsplash

Raise your hand if you've ever been told to just "go with the flow." I know I have, and as someone who plans months (if not years) in advance, going with the flow is not something that has come to me naturally.

I've mostly been the type of person who lives in her Google calendar and thrivesoff ofExcel spreadsheets from everything to trips to budgets. I always have a to-do list (and opinions on how to get things done). For a long time, I didn't understand the meaning of “go with the flow”--notpractically at least.

Throughout most of my life, I felt a sense of peace in living within the precise boundaries of having a plan. I felt safe with the structure of an itinerary or an agenda. I was naturally indecisive, so having a set timetable helped keep my anxiety at bay. But, when plans go awry or people cancel? Fear would creep in and paralyze me with the need to make a last-minute decision.

I was never someone who people would describe as spontaneous or free-spirited. Even so, I had the joy of planning really amazing weekends when friends would come to visit, or to excel in my career by consistently meeting my set objectives. My planning carved my success both personally and professionally.

Being a planner was one thing, but where I saw the unhealthy disconnect was not being able to detach myself from a plan. It wasn't that planning was terrible; it was that it viscerally affected me when I would lose control due to an unforeseen challenge or obstacle. I tookcancellationspersonally, and I panicked when things didn't line up perfectly.

Once I started to notice detrimental effects, I knew I needed to find ways to self-soothe and give up control. I thought that, maybe, if I let go of my hold onto expectations, then perhaps I'd find something more than I expected. Perhaps if I released a bit of the weight I carried, I could also lessen the anxiety that coordinated to living a rigid lifestyle.

Rusty Gaillard, a certified life mastery consultant, agreed that going with the flow is often misunderstood.Gallardsaid, "it's not about being passive, accepting any outcome or circumstance. It's about knowing how to manage your reaction to the circumstances around you, so they don't weigh you down." And, I knew I was being weighed down by myperfectionism--theopposite any possible go with the flow meaning.

According toJessie Beyer, a speaker, and personal development coach, perfectionism cankill--literally.When speaking to Beyer, she mentioned that studies have shown that individuals with type A personality are at higher risk of heart disease. "Learning to relax and go with the flow a bit more can help reduce some of thoseperfectionistictendencies. Furthermore, trying to be in control all the time is an emotional roller coaster and completely exhausting. The wins are great, yes, but the losses have the potential to completely overwhelm you and force you to question not only your methods but your goals and yourself, as well," she said.

Does that resonate with you? It certainly did for me, enough to seek out more advice from experts on the topic.

What Does It Mean to Go With the Flow?

To Gaillard, going with the flow means not treating challenges or obstacles in your life as being against you. Instead, they are happening for you. "Going with the flow means you don't let the circumstances get you down, discourage you, or stop you. You recognize them for the obstacle or challenge they are, but you keep your focus on your goal and keep movingforward."

According to Beyer, going with the flow means learning to trust yourself. "You can set yourself up for success, and knowing that the choices you've made and the path you've chosen is leading you there will help you trust that you WILL get there; you don't have to have a death-grip on the steering wheel the whole time."

To me? I think a viable go with the flow meaning could be about giving yourself more freedom. When you go with the flow, you release resistance, and you inherently create more space. Magical and wonderful things canhappen--inthe space youcreate--whenyou just let them.

ErinWerley,authorand motivational speaker seconded thenonresistanceexplanation. "By going with the flow instead of resisting, the people and things you need to live your truth will find you, and you'll recognize them." Does going with the flow mean giving up or settling? Absolutely not.

Werleyadded that "nonresistanceand going with the flow is never about being a wimp or hiding in the corner. It's the ultimate standing up for yourself. It's declaring to the world that you have worth and value. When you're going with the flow, nothing that anyone else says or does can shake your self-worth. Even if a storm is raging all around you, you have a smile on your face because you know it will pass, and you'll still be you, and you are awesome." Hear that? You are awesome.

What are the Benefits of Going With the Flow?

Adaptability

Licensed marriage & family therapist,Ashleigh Edelstein, suggested that if you know how to go with the flow, then you can adapt to the work around you. By allowing yourself to be more flexible can then open yourself up to more potentially exciting opportunities. Edelstein also suggests that "it allows you to be a better problem solver because you're not wasting mental energy on things you can't control."

Acceptance

On the topic of acceptance, Edelstein added that by accepting things that may not go our way, we could reduce suffering because we're not fighting against reality. "We're accepting something is happening, and we don't have to like it. We're just not causing ourselves extra unnecessary pain," said Edelstein.

Enjoyment

Once we let go of control, we then have the opportunity for morefun--accordingto Edelstein, who said, "if you can take a few deep breaths and remind yourself to accept and go with the flow, that sense of powerlessness tends to fade away. You can enjoy life when you accept that it's unpredictable and that you can handle whatever happens."

Stress Relief

Jamie Bacharach, licensed acupuncturist and health and wellness expert suggested that going with the flow is one of the most important things we can do to reduce stress and anxiety. According to Bacharach, letting go of control is good for ourwell-being.

"When we crave control and resist change, we tend to feel an abundance of stress in life. Going with the flow allows us to cede control and see where these paths take us without harmful feelings of stress and anxiety, which we would typically associate with these experiences." To further push this benefit, Bacharach added that "stress not only causes blood pressure to rise, but it also leads to a multitude of negative mental and physical health effects that cause problems and lessen life expectancy."

Bacharach's advice for stress relief? Recognize the times during which you can relax with no consequence; it's then that you'll be able to control your stress levels better.

How Do You Go With the Flow?

Thankfully, I had a lot of spiritually-inclined practices to help me explore ease in my lifestyle. Yoga was helping me flow through the movements while also staying centered on actions without knowing what came next.Breathworkallowed me the sensation of staying in stillness without having to make any decisions other than to breathe. Affirmations would calm me down, and mantras would keep me present.

Speaking of affirmations, Beyer provided the following that I've been incorporating into my journaling exercises:"I make good decisions for my future." and "I may change the methods, but I'll never change the goal."

When talking to experts, the most seamlessly beautiful suggestions on the topic came fromAja Edmond, founder ofEveresse. Edmond's philosophy on going with the flow? Be like water.

"Water handles obstacles with ease and simply flows over, under, or through anything in its way. Water can transform its state and exist as solid, liquid, or gas depending on the season or conditions. Water is humble and equitable, despite its strength and significance."

"When you emulate water, you are simple, sensible, and supple. You have an enormous amount of energy and great force, but you expend it effortlessly, efficiently, and effectively. Being like water means beingmindful, in balance, and true to your essence — knowing how or when to create or destroy, to be or do this or that, with perfect timing andin alignmentwith nature," said Edmond.

As for me? I wouldn't say that I'm someone who knows how to let things happen, but I would say I'm someonewho'slearning how to. I'm learning how to experiencelife without planningit. I'm learning how to live without a list. I'm learning how to be myself without needing to check if it matches what I find on a Google spreadsheet. The going with the flow about following intuition and, asEdmonsuggests, flowing like water.

And on the topic of water, I encourage you to watch this amazing speech that went viral many years ago called, "This is Water." May you learn to go with the flow, and let resistance go.