How to go with the flow of life: 3 easy ways to let go
Going with the flow of life is both a psychological state and philosophical concept. Here's how to pursue happiness by practicing flow.
A University of Chicago psychologist by the name of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi made the notion of flow popular with his 1990 book titled Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
In this seminal work Csikszentmihalyi outlines his theory that equates happiness with the frequency and length of a person's flow state. Csikszentmihalyi also defines flow as a deep state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity or situation at hand.
This definition is similar to the philosophical concept of going with the flow of life that has been practiced for millenniums before Csikszentmihalyi was born.
Some schools of thought call it detachment, while others call it mindfulness. But regardless of the name, they are all referring to the practice of letting go of the past and not worrying about the future so you can live in the present.
While modern psychological research focuses on flow as a creativity or productivity aid, ancient studies, such as within the Stoic philosophy, view it as the art of acceptance.
In this guide we pull three tips from both modern psychology and ancient philosophy to show how you can go with the flow of life, particularly when it comes to positive and pleasurable experiences.
Don’t wish for things to happen the way you would like them to. Rather, welcome whatever happens. This is the path to peace, freedom, and happiness.
Flow of life tip 1: stay present
One of the best ways to go with the flow is to create space for that which gives you joy. Not only should you allocate time for the work, activities and people that you love but you should also commit to being fully present when you are interacting and engaging with them.
Being present means you are completely concentrating on the commitment at hand, instead of letting yourself be distracted by something else. Getting into a flow state requires you to put less important things into peripheral view while you focus on what you have prioritized.
However, the benefits of being present go beyond good experiences too. If you are unhappy with some element of your life, you may be tempted to escape by hoping for a better future state or dwelling the times in the past that you deem to be better than now. Moreover, feeling regret about the past or worrying about the future keeps you from being present too.
There is nothing wrong with periodically thinking about your past or future, but if you spend a disproportionate time focused on then or when, instead of now, it can stir up discontent that can morph into depression and other mental health issues.
The key to staying present, in both good and difficult times, is practicing gratitude. Gratitude helps you identify and appreciate what you deem to be good and meaningful in your life. It also amplifies the positive affects of these experiences and empowers you to generate more of them.
Flow of life tip 2: immerse yourself
Another way to go with the flow is to do what you love, fully. How many times do you commit to something (say self-care) and only give it 50% effort or less? How much are you really getting out of it if it is only done half-heartedly?
Think about a person learning a new language. They will decrease their time to fluency if they live in a country where the language is spoken natively vs. staying home and learning it out of a book.
Full immersion means you throw yourself into the activity with 100% effort, energy and enthusiasm. You don't hold back, you don't take short cuts. You go all in on what matters most, which leads to deeper experiences and a greater appreciation for them.
To start immersing yourself more fully in meaningful activities and relationships, create space for them. Clear any clutter that is sucking up time, energy and other resources, then reallocate that capacity to what you actually want and need.
Flow of life tip 3: lose control
If you've ever seen someone in a flow state, perhaps a musician, you may have noticed that they seem entranced with what they are doing. They appear lost in their activity, as if nothing else in the world matters.
You may have experienced this too when engaging in something deeply enjoyable. Maybe you were so caught up in what you were doing you lost all track of time.
When in flow you allow yourself to lose control. If you are skilled at what you are doing, your unconscious takes the reins. If not, you adopt a refreshingly child-like curiosity and fascination with your activity.
Likewise, letting go in tough situations is often the best way to push through them. In overcoming overwhelm, for example, it's better to stop doing certain things that are fueling the flame, then start doing things you believe will put out the fire.
It may feel counterintuitive, but a core tenet of minimalism and comparable philosophies like Stoicism, is to let go of the need for control, particularly when it is not serving you well.
The need to have full control over everything in life not only stifles the creativity and spontaneity that can lead to unexpected positive outcomes, but it also causes undue fear and anxiety.
To get better at letting go, study Stoicism to learn how to master your emotions, endure all that life brings with finesse and see the good in any situation.
How to go with the flow of life
To start practicing flow, access the tools you need to be present, immerse yourself and lose control. The minimalism bundle includes instant access to dozens of courses, books, workbooks and planners that help you build and maintain a flow state.