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Go With The Flow: Powerful Ideas For An Easier Life

By Brendon Cammell on 19 November 2020

We've all been told at some point or other in our lives to "go with the flow". It sounds great in theory, but how exactly do you do it?

There are so many esoteric sounding sayings thrown around by people who barely grasp their meaning. “Live in the present”, “you’re perfect the way you are” or “there is no such thing as coincidence”. We’ve heard them all so many times that most of us simply switch off when our ears register these particular combinations of sounds. The phrase “go with the flow” epitomizes this phenomenon perhaps better than any other saying. It’s unfortunate, because as we all know, a cliche is often just that for a reason. In fact, there is another name for a set of sounds repeated frequently: Mantra. It’s a concept that has it’s roots in Eastern spiritual traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism but can be easily translated to suit the needs of people in any society.

While a mantra and a cliche are created in almost exactly the same way, they are polar opposites in terms of meaning and intention. A cliche refers to a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought, while a mantra is a set of sounds that is repeated to reinforce meaning and aid in concentration. When using a phrase such as “go with the flow” as a mantra rather than thinking of it as a cliche, we acknowledge it’s innate truth. Instead of being dismissive of these tropes, we can harness their true power to alter our mindset, moods and behaviors.

Besides this general change in perspective, it’s equally important to distill the meanings of your mantras and learn practical ways to implement their teachings. Below are three ways you can reduce stress and anxiety by going with the flow in everyday life.

Stopping to observe

Learn when to fight the current and when to go with the flow

Things are the way they are. That’s both an obvious and controversial thing to say, depending on who you say it to. There are countless interesting philosophical debates to be had about observers, objective reality and the source of existence. But, for the purposes of this article we’ll assume that there is at least some kind of objective or at least co-observed reality that exists regardless of whether any individual believes in or agrees with it. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, the only thing left to decide is what to do with this information.

There is a line of thinking that says happiness, pleasure and all positive experiences are simply the result of a disposition that agrees with the way things are and that anger, displeasure and other “negative” emotions and experiences simply represent the opposite. This makes sense as phenomena like weather don’t seem to exist purely to satisfy (or frustrate) the desires of humanity, and certainly not a single person. This leads to us an obvious conclusion: it’s all about perspective.

Meditation

Creating change and practicing acceptance

If you don’t like the way something is, you can and should attempt to change it. Whether that means changing someone’s mind when they label you or halting the climate crisis, the principal remains the same. Focus  your energy on what you can do, decide on a path forward and do everything in your power (or within your moral boundaries) to create the reality you want.

If you’re already doing your very best, and this is where you really need to be honest with yourself, then surely that’s enough?

 

If you’re unable to create the reality you want, either because you are unable or it is impossible, then acceptance is the only other outcome worth considering. It’s literally the definition of futility to waste your time and energy on something that can’t be changed. Here are a couple of ways you can put this into practice in your everyday life:

    • When you feel frustrated or stressed, practice consciously asking yourself: “Can I change this?” If not, it’s time to accept the way things are and find a new perspective. If you can’t change the way you feel, learn to accept your feelings rather than resenting them. A death or a breakup hurts and that’s OK. Acceptance is an important step in the healing process.

    •  Wear a ‘complaint bracelet‘ – Every time you find yourself complaining about something, switch the bracelet to the other wrist. You’ll soon become aware of how much needless complaining you do and quickly reduce it. Expect a corresponding increase in happiness and more appreciation for life and the people you share it with.

Let go of irrational fears

Fear is the ultimate root of all negative emotions. Fear of being inadequate, fear of being embarrassed, fear of failure and ultimately, the fear of death. The interesting thing about fear is that there are two different kinds of the stuff: rational and irrational.

Overcoming fear

A rational fear is based on real and imminent danger. An irrational fear is based on imagined or possible dangers. For example, you don’t (hopefully) walk around with the constant fear of being hit by a car or struck by lightning. If, on the other hand, you see a car accelerating towards you or find yourself in the middle of an open field during a brutal thunderstorm, fear is a perfectly natural and helpful reaction. Just as pain works to stop you from sticking your hand into a fire (again, hopefully), fear is evolution’s way of helping you not to get eaten by lions and stop you from jumping off cliffs without a parachute.

Letting go of fear

Unfortunately, this important tool and the chemical signals it employs are so powerful that it can also weasel it’s way into our consciousness when it is not required. The first step towards overcoming irrational fears about hypothetical situations is learning to identify your thought patterns. What are the things you worry about? Why do you worry about them? If your fears are based on things you’re powerless to prevent, it’s once again to time to practice acceptance and acknowledge Truth. People with terminal diseases or those who live through great tragedies are often a great example of the healing power of acceptance.

Once you can accept the things that are out of your control you will empower yourself to make the most of the time you have, both as an individual and with the people you love. Once you’ve learned to identify your patterns, the next step is to practice making conscious interventions that help you to break them. You can do this by:

 

  • Practicing meditation.
  • Finding a simple activity or ritual that helps you to break the cycle (think mantra).
  • Exploring the roots of your fears by talking about them with a professional or someone you trust.
  • Being proactive and changing the things you can.
  • Empowering yourself with knowledge – just be weary of rabbit holes and echo chambers!

Final thoughts

The phrase “go with the flow” might be abstract but the ways to do it are very real. It’s by no means an acknowledgement that the direction of your life is out of your hands. Our first goal should always be to create the world we wish to live in. There is absolutely nothing wrong with dedicating your life to a cause with only slim chances of success. After all, only people who believe they can change the world actually do.

That said, there is also no point in wasting your life swimming against the current and fighting the inevitable. Coming to terms with tough realities such as our own mortality or an uncertain future is a necessary step if we are to make the most of the time we have. That doesn’t mean absolving ourselves of moral responsibility and living a selfish life that harms others. It is possible to care about things and try your best to create positive change while not becoming too attached to the outcome. That’s the sweet spot we should all be searching for.

Finding peace