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What's wrong with "going with the flow"?

· Resource,Reflections

We often hear people say that they like "going with the flow". It brings up images of a calm and chilled person, not letting life stress them out. Today I want to talk about why "going with the flow" can be a really good thing and also a really bad thing.

Why it's good

Sometimes you need to be flexible with your approach, depending on the environment and the situation you find yourself in. Or if you're taking one approach and it just isn't working, you might need to take a different approach, or course-correct, as I like to call it. There's that oft-cited quotation, that the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".

Some people are so inflexible, unable to let go of control and simply enjoy life. For them, in certain situations, I'd encourage them to "go with the flow" a little bit.

For example, on my travels, I've met countless travellers who became unhappy because something deviated slightly (or massively) from their original plan. Whether it was food that took too long to be served, taxis in Cuba that said they were going to have air-con but didn't, or delayed public transport. To be fair, I was the same before I left London and I wrote about letting go of that in my 'How quitting my job to travel is changing me' post.

I've also met travellers who couldn't let go of the comforts of home and really embrace a new way of living (yes, I'm aware that not being able to flush toilet paper in Cuba was one of my biggest challenges in the early days of my travels)! Whether it's trying local restaurants away from the tourist bubble or sitting on the side of the road with locals drinking and eating local fare.

So yes, "go with the flow" can be great advice.

Why it's bad

The problem is that there are areas in your life where it really pays off to be more intentional and directional with your decisions, leading to increased fulfilment. Career and love are just two areas that pop to mind right now.

In career, people who are so unable to "go with the flow" like in the examples above suddenly become the most chilled people on the planet. Yet another week, month or year passes and things that they want changed have not magically changed themselves. Whether it's the long hours, low pay, overly demanding boss or unfulfilling work. They hope that the "flow" of life that they're floating on will somehow lead them to where they will find genuine fulfilment.

In love, we see this in both sexes. I blame Disney for perpetuating the "someday my prince will come" attitude that I commonly saw in my female friends growing up. Or my male friends who hope that the "apples of their eyes" will magically see how great they are, only if they continue to live life as they've always done - play computer games, watch movies on their laptops, play football or whatever. That they do what they've always done, passively watching their lives go by until they realise they're heading towards a waterfall facing a 100 metre drop into a pool of misery loneliness and self-loathing. (Too much?)

You're afraid

Be flexible. Learn to adapt to changing circumstances. These are all good things. But don't pretend that you're "going with the flow" and "being chilled" and "enjoying life" when you're really being lazy, or more likely afraid.

But don't pretend that you're "going with the flow" and "being chilled" and "enjoying life" when you're really being lazy, or more likely afraid.

You're afraid that if you try to take control of your life, you might fail. It might not work out the way you imagined (in this case, "go with the flow"). Perhaps you think that you're not good enough to succeed. That you don't deserve a great job. That you don't deserve a great relationship. Do you know what? It is a self-fulfilling prophecy!

If you think that you cannot, you cannot. And if that causes you not to take action, you will never achieve it. Certainly you will achieve things in life, there's no doubt about it! You re a capable, skilled being with gifts to give the world. But it may not be in the areas that you wanted or desired...the things that will give you the most fulfilment. You left things to the outside forces of life under the guise of "going with the flow", and so you had little say in where you ended up.

Decisions, decisions, decisions

And here is the crux of it. I've been reading Tony Robbins recently - very late to the bandwagon, I know - and once I looked beyond his personal style (which is a "love it or hate it" style), I saw that he had many pieces of wisdom to impart. One was the way in which he spoke about decisions.

We make decisions every moment of every day. These decisions determine our actions and our behaviours, and subsequently our destiny. Often we make these decisions unconsciously or subconsciously. Even not making a decision is making a decision to not make a decision, after all. And if we do not master this decision making process and take ownership, we are giving away the keys to our fulfilment to somebody else.

So screw going with the flow.

The next time someone calls you to hang out suddenly at night time. before you say "yes" without thinking about it, consider what decision you are taking in that moment. Decisions about who you are choosing not to spend time with by choosing to spend time with this person (and that person could be yourself). Decisions about what you're saying "no" to, which might be rest, reflection, self-improvement or exercise / meditation in the morning, when you say "yes" to an evening of drunken banter (or yet another disappointing conversation).

Or at work when you decide to stay late, working that job that you kind of like but where the boss takes you for granted and underpays you, consider what decision you're making about how you want to be valued in your work. That you are saying "yes" to this mediocre life and mediocre job, and saying "no" to a more fulfilling, better paid job with a boss that truly values you.

Or when you stay with a partner that isn't fulfilling you, or is even perhaps abusing you - physically or emotionally. Cheating and lying constantly. Perhaps that partner is "just okay" but you know deep down that there's more for you. Consider that you are saying "no" to a partner who will love you the way that you deserve. The person who will partner you in life together. That you are saying "yes" to mediocrity through your inaction.

Say "yes" to everything you've always deserved

On the flip side, when you decide to take control of your life and no longer hide behind those words "go with the flow, remember this. Remember that when you say "yes" to that vision you have for yourself, you are saying "no" to less than what you deserve, which is what everyone deserves - a fulfilling life in love, life and career.