Life has a habit of getting on top of us. We are all trying to balance jobs with family and social commitments, so when something goes wrong, you need to know when to go with the flow.
However, despite best intentions, having a more relaxed attitude to something just doesn’t come easy to some of us. Sometimes, you just need to go with the flow – and here is how to do it.
Control your own thoughts
First, learn to know your trigger points and how you can change your negative thoughts into positive ones. This is the all-important first step in trying to go with the flow. If you find yourself in a negative situation, remaining in that state of mind will hold you back. You need to find a way to look on the bright side – or just go with the flow.
Remember, if you go with the flow, you are not letting go. It is about being in control of your own decisions and prioritising the more important ones. In fact, going with the flow can be described as a state of mind in its own right.
Hungarian psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (has a really long name, so hereafter I will refer to him as MC) described the concept of “mind flow”. To him, instead of letting the mind run away, or even be absent from any decision making, it could actually be recognised as a form of engagement. He said it is perfectly possible for a person to be engaged in a challenging task, making progress, but is also fully absorbed whilst in the state of mind flow.
Choose your response
One of the best ways to demonstrate the theory of MC’s mind flow is by looking at how people play a game of chess. Expert chess players are still able to be fully absorbed in their tasks, whilst seeing patterns and moves.
This theory is supported by a study carried out by Chase and Simon (1973). They concluded that some of their gameplay is hard thinking, some perception and some is to simply go with the flow. It is possible for professional players to enter an element of mind flow because they can rely on experience and expertise. This will allow them to strategically move around the board and choosing the right response (i.e. go with the flow).
Just like in a chess game, the response you choose will dictate your experience or indeed the outcome of your own version of the chess game. If you find yourself in a stressful situation, try and stimulate the best responses possible. Try not to get angry, bitter or defensive. Those responses will force you to experience more things to be angry, bitter or defensive about.
Don’t be a victim – choose your experiences
Any responses to stressful situations will ultimately decide outcomes. However, some people may not realise how they are reacting. They may think they are strong and have control, but actually, they blame everything else for the way they live. This is what helps them go with the flow because other people and circumstances are controlling which direction they go.
If you find yourself in this situation, remember you have the opportunity to choose how you react. You can choose your thoughts and the direction you want to take. You can do this even if you are dealing with something unexpected.
Could you be more cooperative and agreeable?
Of course, a go with the flow approach replies on letting our self-consciousness fly out of the window – and that doesn’t sit well with lots of us. Self-consciousness is one major reason that prevents us from letting go and, in turn, that impacts on how co-operative and agreeable we can be in certain situations.
Going back to MC, he actually says that the loss of self-consciousness is critical for the experience of flow. If you are trying to communicate a point of view and others disagree, it is tempting to not let go, but being cooperative can actually be more beneficial.
It is another form of going with the flow, without letting go – just compromise. Whatever happens, make the best of a situation and try and see things from all angles.
Keep the good in focus
MC’s description supports that if you go with the flow, you are not disengaged by any means. In fact, he goes further to break down this concept of flow. Two of those stages are the ability to focus and heading in the direction of a clear goal.
Again, this is supported by the chess game theory – it is possible to reach a strategic outcome by letting some element of the journey become a flow.
In fact, MC goes as far as to say that if you go with the flow, you are more likely to be a happier person. He argues that the benefits of flow outweigh the risks and that there is evidence to suggest that flow can suppress the ego and, therefore, avoid the happiness-reducing effects of habituation and unrealistic expectations.
He says “the rewards of flow are open-ended and inexhaustible.”
Therefore, if you find yourself in a situation where you have to go with the flow – you might actually come out a much happier person.