How to go with the flow: 14 key steps

If there’s one lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way, it’s that life is greater than I am.

By that I mean I cannot control everything.

No matter how much I attempt to put everything into neat boxes, and no matter how much I try to determine my future; life will always be greater than me.

It is wild, chaotic, and untamed.

Instead of being frustrated by this (and trust me, I have been), I’ve had to learn to know what things I can control, and embrace the things I cannot.

I’ve had to learn how to go with the flow.

Here are 14 steps that I use to help me go with the flow. I hope they’ll help you too!

Steps to go with the flow

I found 14 steps to learn how to go with the flow. I know it sounds crazy to have a system to learn how to let go of control — so let’s think of them more as “14 good ideas” as opposed to 14 steps you need to follow in order.

Because what worked for me might not work for you. I needed 14, you may need 4.

But let’s jump in!

1) Breathe

Breathing grounds you. It connects your mind to your body and your body to the world around you. It helps you become present, reduces your anxiety, and allows you to approach life with a calm head.

Interested in learning some breathing techniques? Check out Ideapod’s online workshop on shamanic breathing!

2) Understand where you are at

If you’re going to go about rewiring your need for control, you need to first understand your strengths, limitations, triggers, anxieties, struggles, and dreams.

You need to take some time (a moment, an hour, a week — it’s up to you) to sit with yourself and really understand your flaws and strengths. Then, you need to ask yourself “what things do I want to change? What things do I have the capacity to change?”

It’s important to understand that there are things you can change (perhaps your attitude) and there are things that are beyond your power to change. Accepting this can be difficult. But it’s an important step.

For instance, I decided I wanted to change how I responded to unexpected events. I wanted to learn how to go with the flow. But, I had to sit with myself to figure out why I was so resistant to going with the flow.

Only once I figured out why I was so resistant to change did I begin to change how I responded to life.

3) Be mindful

Mindfulness is a key element of learning how to go with the flow.

What is mindfulness? It’s a type of meditation where you focus on the thoughts and feelings that you are experiencing. That’s it. You don’t judge your thoughts and feelings as bad or good; right or wrong. Instead, you simply acknowledge and accept them.

Mindfulness practices are shown to be great at reducing anxiety. On top of that, they help you to be in tune with your body, and to understand how it is influenced by external forces. Once you understand how your body responds to external events, you can begin to change your circumstances to help keep yourself in a positive state.

This is an important part of “Go With The Flow” — knowing which things you can and cannot control. In this case, you cannot control all the external events, but you can control how you respond to them. It’s an important lesson to learn!

4) Exercise

Exercise is a critical part of learning how to go with the flow.

Why? Because it helps you expend extra energy. When you’re pent up, you will have a more difficult time embracing the flow and will be focused on how to impose your will on the universe.

Exercise helps boost creativity, releases endorphins (which make you feel good), reduces stress, and helps moderate your energy.

5) Get some sleep

Sleep is good for you. It helps your body repair itself, strengthens your immune system, improves your mood, reduces anxiety, and helps you make better decisions.

Be a partner with your mind. Ensure that you’re getting enough sleep. It will allow you to approach the unexpected events of life with a greater sense of calm and understanding.

6) Put things in perspective

When something unexpected happens, put it in perspective. Sure, that surprise flat tire is a huge pain in the ass, and yes that bill is going to be expensive, but is it going to majorly affect your life?

Probably not.

There’s a good trick for putting things in perspective: the 10 tricks.

Whenever something negative happens, ask yourself: will this still affect me in 10 minutes?

For that tire, yeah — probably. And that sucks!

What about 10 hours? Well, by then you might have gotten the car back from the repair shop, so you’re close to the end!

10 days? Maybe you’re paying off that credit card bill.

10 months? Barely a thought.

10 years? You’ve forgotten completely.

Sure, some events are going to affect you 10 years down the road — and those are ones that you should be thinking about. But most surprises are not the end of the world. It pays to treat them with the appropriate amount of energy.

7) Keep a journal

Collecting your thoughts by keeping a journal is a great way to go with the flow.

Each day, take a moment to write down what happened that day. What were the positives? What were the negatives?

I’ve also found success in a “happiness journal” where I rank my day from 1-5 (5 being the happiest), then write down 3 good things that happened to me. Afterward, I rank my day again.

Oftentimes, the rank will improve, simply by thinking about the happy things that happened.

See, I can’t control the events that already happened — but I can control how I respond to them. Again, this is about understanding what you can and cannot control. Go with the flow where you can, and control what you are able to.

8) Validate your feelings

Life is pretty wild, right? It’s messed up! It’s absolutely not how any of us would design it to be. It’s chaotic, disorderly, and downright confusing.

When life throws us a strange curveball, it’s ok to be upset. It’s ok to be angry. It’s ok to question “why did this happen?”

Your feelings are natural. You shouldn’t force yourself to not feel emotions.

But, you do have to understand that your feelings will not change the outcomes of life.

Instead, they exist to help you cope with the surprises that life throws at you.

They’re tools! So use them as such. Embrace your sadness when life gets you down — but with the understanding that you will come out stronger on the other side.

9) Laugh!

On the other side, laughter is a powerful way to embrace the insanity of life. Laugh at life! Laugh with life! The events that are beyond our control often feel so absurd, so why not embrace the absurdity of it. You certainly cannot change it — but you can deflate the fear and anxiety that the unexpected presents.

Most things aren’t so serious. Laugh at them. Laugh at yourself for taking things so seriously.

You’ll feel better. Promise.

10) Realize that you cannot control everything

I get that this is the heart of going with the flow, but you really have to build up to this.

There are things in life that you simply cannot control. You have to accept this. Going with the flow really is embracing that you are not all-powerful.

But, when you identify the things you cannot control, you also learn which things you can control.

Here’s an example: my fiancee and I are planning a wedding. We had thought about having an outdoor wedding but were afraid that having rain on our big day would ruin the reception.

We can’t control the weather. No matter how clever we are with the almanac, choosing the date, and crossing our fingers; the rain will come or it won’t.

But, we can control where we have our wedding. We can choose to have an indoor wedding, and remove that element of anxiety.

So we’ve decided to have an indoor wedding because we know we can’t control everything.

11) Realize you cannot control other people

Just like you can’t control the weather, you cannot control the actions and thoughts of other people.

People will surprise you. They’ll cut you off in traffic. They’ll send you flowers out of the blue. They’ll forget clothes in the washing machine and let them mildew.

You cannot control that.

Instead, you can control how you respond to their actions. That’s what you control. Going with the flow – especially in a relationship – is accepting that you are in charge of your own actions, and using those actions to arrive at a positive outcome.

12) Take it one day at a time

There are gonna be days when you don’t go with the flow. There’ll be days where you lose your cool when your flight is canceled.

That’s ok. We’re all human — we all fail.

Don’t beat yourself up over your slip-up. And definitely don’t abandon your resolve to go with the flow. Instead, accept that you had a negative reaction, and resolve to do better next time.

You can’t change the past, but you can learn from it.

13) Embrace change and imperfection

Things happen. Sometimes, that loaf of bread you’ve been working on comes out of the oven a little lumpy. Sometimes the grocery store only has limes when you want lemons.

Again, you can’t control this, but you can control your response to it.

Instead of being bummed out at the bread being slightly imperfect, be excited that you made delicious bread. Cut into that loaf and admire your handiwork. Throw some butter on it and savor the flavor!

It’s imperfect, but it’s damned delicious.

Likewise, pick up those limes and get creative. Maybe you’ll craft something even tastier. But you won’t know unless you embrace the change!

14) Love your life

We only get one life, each. So don’t spend yours resenting it. Instead, be grateful for the amazing gift you’ve been given — being alive!

To quote from the musical Next To Normal, “you don’t have to be happy at all, to be happy you’re alive.”

Life is going to have its ups and downs. And yes, some of those downs might be very far down. They may seem like abysses.

But you’re here. You’ve been granted the amazing gift of experiencing life. Embrace every dimension of it — even the abysses.

Going with the flow really is embracing that life is a river. We’re all swimming along it’s current. We can bob along, splash, play, even fish! But swimming against the current gets us nowhere but tired.

Embrace the river! Go with the flow.

So what’s the flow state?

There’s a difference between the “flow state” and just “going with the flow.”

Flow state is a state of being where we are expertly completing a task without consciously thinking about what we’re doing.

It’s a state of full immersion into the task at hand — where your subconscious takes over.

This is a little different than simply going with the flow.

How do I enter the flow state?

That’s a tricky question! If I had a magic solution for it, I’d be in the flow state hours each day, hammering out as much writing as I could.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work like that.

Instead, it requires a pre-existing mastery of a task. Maybe it’s knitting, maybe it’s rowing, maybe it’s drawing. Whatever it is, it requires a high level of competency in the task.

Why? Because you need to build up your neural connections to the point that your subconscious mind can override your conscious brain.

Check out our founder, Justin Brown, break down how to enter the flow state in this cool video.

What’s the difference between “go with the flow” and the “flow state”?

When we typically talk about “go with the flow,” we’re talking about letting go of our incessant need to control all aspects of our life.

When we talk about “flow state,” we’re talking about immersing ourselves in an activity to the point that our subconscious mind takes over.

There is one key similarity, however. both require a surrender.

When you go with the flow, you surrender your desire for control. When you enter the flow state, you surrender your conscious completion to your subconscious. Your subconscious takes over.

Can I go with the flow while in flow state?

Yes! Learning how to embrace the power of surrender is a powerful creative force. Think of your conscious mind + it’s an irrational desire for control as a mental roadblock.

Going with the flow + entering the flow state requires you to remove this roadblock.

It’s not an easy task, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

Instead, it requires dedication — dedication to your passion and to a lifestyle change.

But it’s not impossible. You just have to embrace life.

Nathan Dennis

Nathan Dennis

Nathan Dennis is a Manhattan based playwright and poet of Floridian extraction. A graduate of NYU Tisch Department of Dramatic Writing, he served as a Rita and Burton Goldberg Fellow, and was awarded Outstanding Writing for the Stage in Spring of 2015. His most recent play, Lord of Florida, was workshopped by PrismHouse Theatre Company in the Fall of 2017.

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