Practices, such as mindfulness and examining your values, may help you find your flow. Learn more about how you can let go of control and go with the flow of life.
What does it mean to “go with the flow?” Although there isn’t an official psychological definition, most people define it as an ability to change course, without getting stuck, when things don’t go as you planned.
It’s related to a concept named psychological flexibility, which is the ability to consider other mindsets and solutions.
There’s no one way to let go and go with the flow – what works for someone else may not work for you. We’re all starting at different levels of perfectionism, control, mindful awareness, and more – try to be gentle with yourself as you navigate this process.
Perhaps the most important thing to consider when learning how to go with the flow is that practice makes perfect. The more you intentionally practice how to stay in the present moment, the more you’ll automatically be able to do it – even when you’re feeling frazzled.
One way that many people practice staying in the present is through mindfulness meditation. This type of meditation invites you to rest in intentional, non-judgmental awareness of each present moment.
Mindfulness has its roots in ancient spiritual practices like Buddhism, but it’s now made its way into mainstream medicine as an effective secular intervention for conditions like depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and more.
Try sitting down for a mindfulness meditation practice at least once a day. Just like any other skill, the skill of staying in the present needs to be practiced and strengthened.
Learn how to tell the difference between things that are in your control and things that are out of your control. It’s a great quality to fight for changes in your life, but it’s also important to know when things just can’t be changed.
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a therapy method that can help you let go of control and practice acceptance of the things in your life that are out of your control. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), another evidence-based practice, also teaches a skill named radical acceptance.
Accepting how things are doesn’t mean that you like them – it simply means that you choose to stop fighting against things that are out of your control.
In psychology, “flow” is a state of mind in which you’re so immersed in whatever you’re doing that you forget about the world around you. You’re “in the zone” in the best way. You’re not self-conscious. You’re not even having any thoughts about what you’re doing. You’re simply doing it.
The concept of a “flow” state was first named by positive psychology researcher Mikaly Csikszentmihalyi. He wrote that our “best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
To intentionally enter into a flow state, choose an activity that’s meaningful to you. It shouldn’t be so easy that you feel bored, nor so difficult that you feel frustrated. The more you enter into a “flow” state, the more you’ll be immersed in the present.
One key piece to going with the flow is not to maintain too rigid of a schedule. Planning and setting goals for the future is healthy, and beneficial for your mental health.
At the same time, if you’re too strict with your plans, it may prevent you from going with the flow when circumstances change.
Continue setting short- and long-term goals. But keep in mind that not everything is within your control. When outside circumstances, which are out of your control, interrupt these plans, try not to let them derail you completely. It may help to focus on your next steps and change strategies.
Sometimes, it becomes difficult to go with the flow because we’re so hung up on punishing ourselves for mistakes. When you can’t let go of the mistakes you’ve made, it can be hard to move on or to stay in the moment.
According to Dr. Kristin Neff’s research from 2022, you can practice self-compassion by first understanding that making mistakes (and feeling bad about them) connects you to all of humanity; everyone makes mistakes.
Then, accept how you’re feeling with no judgment; simply sit with it without becoming attached. Lastly, be kind to yourself – intentionally speak to yourself as if you would a dear friend.
Sometimes, we can lose track of the present because we get lost in our thoughts. One way to balance this is by returning to the present moment using your breath.
Many mindfulness teachers use the breath as a guiding anchor through meditation. But you don’t need to be seated on a meditation cushion for your breath to be able to help you.
When you find yourself getting lost in thoughts about the past or the future, simply bring your attention to your breathing. You can always use your breath to return to the moment.
Typically, when people feel emotional pain, they want to push it away. However, when you push down feelings in this way, they can come back to haunt you. Instead of pushing painful feelings down, try to accept them.
For example, you may have planned an outdoor wedding only for a big storm to roll in on that day. It’s positive to be able to go with the flow, accept that the weather is out of your control, and make new plans.
At the same time, you probably have feelings of disappointment – and it’s healthy to accept those feelings, too. Your feelings are valid. You can accept your disappointment as well as the fact that the weather is out of your control.
Learning not to take yourself too seriously can go a long way in helping you go with the flow more. Find opportunities to play and be silly.
One great way to incorporate play into your life is by laughing more. A 2019 literature review found that laughter has many mental health benefits, including:
- increasing positive emotion
- reducing stress
- improving relationships
Perfectionism is a common personality trait. Although it can have advantages, it can also have consequences when it’s maladaptive. Unfortunately, dysfunctional types of perfectionism have become more common, especially in young people.
Instead of focusing on being perfect, focus on striving for excellence. Unlike perfectionism, people who strive for excellence don’t need things to be perfect – they simply have high standards that they strive to meet.
Having the understanding that you don’t need to be perfect to be excellent may help you to stay in the flow and learn to let go.
Make sure that your goals still align with your values. Sometimes, people set long-term goals and work tirelessly to achieve them. But values can change with time. Do the goals that you set long ago still reflect your values today?
Don’t be afraid to change your goals if they no longer align with your values and beliefs. This is part of going with the flow. Strictly following previous goals, without reexamining them, isn’t likely to bring you any happiness or fulfillment.
There may be times during the day or week when you’re more easily able to find your “flow,” and other days when it’s more difficult. Be aware of these fluctuations in energy levels and focus.
Take advantage of the days it’s easier to find your flow. But also be aware of factors that could be making you more rigid or stressed. Have you gotten enough sleep? Have you been eating well? How are your relationships?
Lastly, if you’re finding it very difficult to go with the flow and let go of control in your life, then you could benefit from working with a mental health therapist.
Therapists aren’t only for people with diagnosable mental illnesses; they can help you learn how to stay in the moment and become more flexible in your thinking.
Many people face difficulties with being able to let go of control and go with the flow. But psychological flexibility is an important part of overall mental wellness.
While there’s no single way to find a flow that works for everybody, you can follow these tips to practice being more flexible and staying in the moment when things go wrong.