by Andrea M. Darcy
“Stop trying so hard and ‘go with the flow’”. It sounds good advice, doesn’t it?
But does it work? Will simply accepting everything that comes your way really leave you happier?
Accepting life change
Acceptance can be powerful– if it’s about accepting things we truly have no power over.
This often means accepting a life change that is beyond our control. A loved one passes away, we are fired from our job, our lovely home is damaged in a flood.
Railing against what has happened, rethinking what we could have done instead, and being very angry can be a normal part of the healing process of coming to terms with things we can’t change.
But eventually we do need to move on. If we don’t, resentment can build into depression and anxiety, and we can alienate those we love until we are left lonely.
The only thing we can control in the face of life change is our reaction. And this alone might be enough. A 2018 study found that accepting our mental state, our negative thoughts and emotions, was more connected to better psychological health six months down the line than actually accepting a situation itself.
Accepting other people
Your partner leaves out of the blue. Or your new boss is controlling and cold. Should you just go with the flow and accept them and their actions?
We can’t control other people. So we do have to accept their freedom of choice to be who they want to be, and do what they want to do.
And trying to control someone or change someone is not only exhausting, it usually means we sacrifice our own needs and can even lose our sense of self. A high price to pay.
But accepting others is one thing. Blindly accepting people’s actions and attitudes without making your boundaries clear is quite another.
If someone hurts us and we say nothing and pretend we ‘just accept people as they are’? We carry that rage around with us, and project it into future relationships. Our attempt to ‘go with the flow’ ends up backfiring in the long term.
And if we don’t set boundaries with disrespectful people, we will end up in a constant state of stress that an affect our health.
“Go with the flow” – or denial?
Yes, ‘going with the flow’ can make us happier if it means we are open to new things that come after life change. And if we are not wasting all our time trying to change other people, but are reserving our energy for working on ourselves instead.
All too often, however, we claim we are ‘going with the flow’ and can’t change something when really we DO have options.
“I’m stuck in a bad job, there’s nothing better out there”. “I just can’t leave this relationship, he/she needs me, I have to stick it out”. These are both not factual statements but assumptions. And they are also victim mentality.
We are actually choosing the situation because it feels safer than pushing ourselves forward. And because it can be easier to put the blame on fate, or bad luck, or even other people.
- Is this really the only option I have?
- Did I actually choose to be in this situation? Meaning I can also choose to leave it?
- Am I assuming I know what will happen next and ‘fortune telling’?
- What is the worst thing that could happen if I made a choice to move on?.
But I tried, and I can’t move forward
If we try hard to have a better life but keep coming up against difficult situations? It is less likely to be ‘bad luck we have to accept’ and more likely that our unconscious mind is driving us to make bad decisions again and again.
This happens if we have negative limiting beliefs. Limiting beliefs are ideas about ourselves, others, and the world we take on board when we are growing up then keep mistaking for facts. Common examples are, ‘the world is a dangerous place’ or ‘I don’t deserve love‘.
Unless we learn to recognise and challenge our beliefs, we take such beliefs with us into adulthood and unconsciously make all our choices based on such beliefs.
Because we have decided the world is dangerous, we unconsciously choose to rent an apartment where the landlord is obviously shifty and tries to scam us. Because we believe we are unloveable, we pick a destructive relationship even when we knew that person had a bad reputation. But we convince ourselves these things ‘just happened’.
When going with the flow really does work
Do you need to control every last detail of your life? And get very upset when things don’t go to plan? Then going with the flow can be a positive exercise in letting go.
But be careful to not try to even try controlling ‘going with the flow’ by pushing yourself to be good at it, or doing it a certain way, to a certain schedule, exactly how you read in a book… !
Instead, listen to how you feel. This is something we never do when we are a control freak. We listen to the schedule in our head, or what we think is ‘right’.
- Set aside some time (that you may or may not use all of) and don’t fill it with any plans.
- On the day, see what you feel to do or what comes up and try to follow it.
- If you really feel frozen, try going for a walk without a plan of where you are going.
- Keep checking in with how you feel, and practice mindfulness – “what do I notice around me right here and now?”.
- Notice your discomfort levels, and if you are feeling really anxious, then stop. You can try again next week.
The one thing we really do have to accept
The most powerful thing we can accept and ‘just go with’? Ourselves.
Self improvement is one thing. But if we are doing it from a space of totally not accepting who we already are, it’s not self help, but a careful regime of self punishment.
- What are the three things you accept least about yourself?
- How would it feel to right here, right now, just accept those three things?
What would it feel like to treat yourself with more compassion?
Here’s the side bonus – the more we accept ourselves, the more we naturally begin to accept those around us, as shown by this study.
Ready to identify what you really want and finally make it happen? Therapy helps. We connect you with central London counselling psychologists as well as UK-wide registered therapists and online therapists you can work with from anywhere.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert, who has done some training in person-centred counselling and coaching. She often writes about trauma, relationships, and ADHD, and advises people on how to plan their therapy journey. Find her on Instagram @am_darcy