• What “Going With The Flow” Really Means

    Tubing down calm river vs whitewater rafting

    Have you ever been told that you’ll be less stressed if you just “go with the flow”? It’s actually true, but not in the zen, surfer dude, nothing-riles-me-up way you might think.

    The Myth of Going With the Flow

    Most people think of going with the flow as something akin to a nice, gentle, lazy day of tubing, but life isn’t always an easy flowing river. It often takes more than just drifting along all peaceful and serene to get through it. While the tubing analogy is a lovely thought, and can be accurate for some periods in your life, sometimes the stress hits the fan you need to duck out of the way or get splatted with stink.

    The myth of going with the flow assumes that:

    • Nothing ruffles your feathers
    • Nobody ever gets on your nerves
    • Nobody ever *should* get on your nerves
    • Somehow you won’t have anymore stressors
    • If you do encounter stressors, the easy path through them will somehow be illuminated for you
    • You can somehow get rid of all emotions except peace, happiness, and contentment
    • Having no emotions except peace, happiness, and contentment is somehow healthy
    • There is a magic answer to everything
    • You can achieve all of the above without vast amounts of mind altering substances

    The Reality of Going With the Flow

    I love the analogy of life being like a river because sometimes it’s gentle and easy flowing and sometimes it’s turbulent and full of dangerous rapids. We all think that we’d love our lives to be easy going all the time, but that would get boring after awhile. Without any stress at all, life would be a big old yawn fest.

    “Oh yeah,” you say, “I’d love to prove that I’d do just fine without any stress.” I hear you! Part of me is right there with you, believe me. Trouble is, life is fraught with stress. Besides, without stress there’d be no more:

    • Weddings
    • Births
    • Moving into our own (or a nicer) house
    • New jobs
    • Making new friends
    • First dates
    • Sports
    • Festivals/concerts
    • Travel

    There’s an element of stress to all of those “good” events and life would not be nearly as wonderful without them. We tend to forget or downplay the stress involved because the benefits we receive from them far outweigh the stress of planning, sleep deprivation, putting yourself out there, threat of injury, and crowds of people carrying god-knows-what germs confined to the same small space as you.

    So back to our river. Like every river, especially in stormy weather, life has places where the current is faster and more dangerous than we’re comfortable with. At times like that, going with the flow is more like white water rafting… you have to paddle like hell to stay upright and headed in the right direction and paddling against the stream is a great way to get thrown from your raft and bashed against the rocks.

    So here are a few examples of what going with the flow might look like in your real life – where you’re not likely to have your head bashed against any rocks unless you climb rocks/mountains or go white water rafting:

    • Letting some of the housework slide – when you’re in the midst of a ginormous project, being a caregiver while working full time, dealing with your own injury or illness, it’s OK if the floor doesn’t get swept as often as you’d like, or if the dishes sit in the sink for a few days, or if you do the bare minimum to keep from living in squalor. It’s more important to keep your raft upright and moving forward.
    • Getting take-out everyday – when you’re a primary caregiver to a sick person or up to your eyeballs in a work or family crisis it’s more important to eat than it is to make every meal from scratch.
    • Picking your battles – Seriously… not every battle needs to be fought. Focus on hitting the next rapid with the least impact while avoiding the rocks and other obstacles and don’t let your attention be diverted by anything less important than impending danger.
    • Asking for help – Yes, it’d be awesome if people would just be psychic and step up and help when you need it, but life doesn’t work that way. Everyone’s busy and most people aren’t paying attention to anything other than getting through their own life. When asking for help, however, remember that some people will be using the following coping mechanism so don’t take it personally if they say no.
    • Saying no to other people’s requests – It’s great that you love to help others, and it’s also great if you’re not one to go broadcasting your troubles, but for the love of all that’s holy, don’t go adding to your troubles by biting off more than you can chew in an effort to be nice or helpful. Take care of yourself, but be gracious about it… remember, some people who ask for help will be utilizing the above strategy to help themselves stay afloat.
    • Let the numbers build up next to your various inboxes – When you’re fighting to keep yourself and your raft upright and moving toward a calmer area of life, you can’t afford to be distracted by anything that isn’t important. Go ahead and delete the chain mails, cat videos, and jokes. Bookmark the in-depth article links that truly interest you and delete the rest. Give yourself a set amount of time to address your email, voicemails, and texts and stick to it by responding to the most important first, followed by the oldest.

    In truth, going with the flow is going to require different strategies under different circumstances. The most important thing to remember in both life and white water rafting is to not fight the current. When you’re white water rafting, that’s a great way to get yourself killed. In life, it’s a great way to make yourself wish you were dead.