Going With the Flow Vs. Being In Flow — An Important Distinction

leadership life skills mindset
Going With the Flow Vs. Being In Flow — An Important Distinction

I’m often asked what books I recommend to clients.

The answer is easy because there are so many terrific books in the world of self growth and mastery.

But it’s not simple because each person is walking their own unique path and I’m an expert at creating a bespoke coaching curriculum for each client.

For those of us who confuse spirituality with fatalism — ones who believe that in all cases what’s meant to be will be — I have two offerings.

One is an oft repeated joke and the other is a terrific book.

First is the well known joke about a man, a boat and God.

A storm descends on a small town, and the downpour soon turns into a flood. As the waters rise, the local preacher kneels in prayer on the church porch, surrounded by water. By and by, one of the townsfolk comes up the street in a canoe.

"Better get in, Preacher. The waters are rising fast."

"No," says the preacher. "I have faith in the Lord. He will save me."

Still the waters rise. Now the preacher is up on the balcony, wringing his hands in supplication, when another guy zips up in a motorboat.

"Come on, Preacher. We need to get you out of here. The levee's gonna break any minute."

Once again, the preacher is unmoved. "I shall remain. The Lord will see me through."

After a while the levee breaks, and the flood rushes over the church until only the steeple remains above water. The preacher is up there, clinging to the cross, when a helicopter descends out of the clouds, and a state trooper calls down to him through a megaphone.

"Grab the ladder, Preacher. This is your last chance."

Once again, the preacher insists the Lord will deliver him.

And, predictably, he drowns.

A pious man, the preacher goes to heaven. After a while he gets an interview with God, and he asks the Almighty, "Lord, I had unwavering faith in you. Why didn't you deliver me from that flood?"

God shakes his head. "What did you want from me? I sent you two boats and a helicopter."


So many of us think that going with the flow means sitting back and letting the universe decide our next steps, that we confuse faith with inaction.

As a person of faith myself and someone who is obsessed with understanding flow, I put it to you that there are two ways to engage with flow and it’s important to know the difference.


1. Going with the flow


To be clear, I’m all about infusing ease into our days and lives. Cultivating a relaxed approach towards reaching your goals is Life Coaching 101 for my high achieving, hard driving clients.

But because so many of us confuse going with the flow with inaction, the end result can easily lead us to the fatalistic way of the drowning man!

We continue to “go with the flow” and believe that life is happening to us.

This is the “victim mindset” that so many speak about.

Be careful about how you use this concept in your life. We can easily fool ourselves into complacency by believing that we’re going with the flow.


Photo credit: Sketchplanations


2. Being in flow


There is a different way to engage with flow and that’s by “being in flow”. This is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explores so profoundly in his book, Flow, a must read for anyone who is interested in tapping into what I propose is the positive way to cultivate flow.

To put it simply, when we are in flow, as opposed to going with the flow, we are engaged in a space that melts our actions with our consciousness. We lose track of time in a positive, useful and creative way.

Also to be clear, I’m not talking about losing time and consciousness when binging on the latest Netflix show (my particular flavor of going with the flow vs. being in flow). I’m talking about what we experience when we are totally and fully engaged in an activity that has meaning, depth and dimension.

Children experience this when they are playing imaginary games, young adults, when they are fortunate to be learning about a subject they are genuinely interested in, and many of us when we are engaged in our favorite sport.

We’ve all experienced being in the flow. What most of us don’t know is that we can create this state intentionally by learning more about it.

Being in the flow is not a random state that happens to us. It’s absolutely replicable.

If you’ve been reading my articles, you already have a bias for action.

I hope today’s distinction will help you create more awareness about how you choose to engage with the world around you.

Feel free to reach out if you’d like to learn the eight elements of creating flow.

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