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Go with the flow

Free as a bird’ by The Beatles; ‘Born free’ by Matt Monro; ‘I want to break free’ by Queen; ‘Freedom’ by Pharrell Williams… There are so many songs with ‘free’ or freedom’ in the title – there was even an English rock band called ‘Free’ in the late 1960s, early 1970s best known for their famous ballad, ‘All right now’ The concept of freeing ourselves from whatever is holding us back is extremely compelling and a natural topic for song-writing. A large part of feeling free is discovering the ability and desire to let go of negative aspects of our lives, celebrate the positives and relish the important and downright indulgent things that make us happy.

The true meaning of freedom is something that interests all kinds of psychologists, counsellors and students of the human condition. The New Oxford American Dictionary describes it as: “the power or right to act, speak or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint”[1] In other words, to go with the flow.

Stop doing ‘angering’

Let’s get the negative stuff out of the way first, so we can go back to embracing the positive aspects of ‘going with the flow’ Two key emotions that interrupt our flow are anger and fear. These feelings can keep us in the past and make us hesitant to move on, into the future. In his book ‘Loving your life’ Grant Soosalu talks about anger as a ‘nominalisation’. In other words, a verb that has been turned into a noun[2]. Feeling angry is a process in which you are doing something – feeling anger. Anger itself is not something you can see, hold or touch. So, we ‘do angering’ – we choose in some subliminal or conscious way to feel angry and to accept the consequences that come with making this decision.

Anger is part of our ‘fight or flight’ response that dates back to prehistoric times when the fight for survival depended on how we reacted to danger. Anger makes our muscles tighten and our hearts race, leaving us feeling on edge and ready to jump to our own or someone else’s defence[3]. One way to help counteract it and to calm yourself down is to focus on your breathing. Our breathing controls our automatic nervous system and helps our body relax and our brain to think more clearly and rationally about what to do next. That’s why counsellors often suggest counting to ten before replying or reacting to something that makes us angry – it gives us time to breath in and out a few times and reset our response. To change from ‘doing angering’ to a less destructive activity.

Fear can be seen in a similar way. Soosalu also refers to fear as a nominalisation and a disguised verb. We can say that someone ‘fears something’, but this action involves the body and mind generating a feeling based either on experience or insecurities making a situation feel scary and dangerous. Again, this response has developed from prehistoric times, when a healthy dose of fear was pretty useful when someone was faced with a sabre-toothed tiger running full pelt towards them with a hungry expression. It kickstarted them into moving away from the threat and provided impetus for the instinct to keep themselves alive.

Yet, today, we often feel fear when the situation we’re facing isn’t actually filled with imminent physical danger. Instead, we doubt ourselves and build up imagined, doom-filled scenarios in our minds when facing challenges such as giving a lecture, meeting new people or sitting an exam. The more we can learn to trust our own capabilities and prioritise our desires to break free from real and imagined stumbling blocks, the more courage and level-headedness we will feel when faced with something that is making us ‘do angering’ or feel fear.

Who owns who?

Anger, fear and negative emotions are not the only things we need to let go of if we want to go with the flow, simplify our life and discover true freedom for ourselves. For many of us, owning possessions can play a large part in how much we value ourselves and our accomplishments. The larger our house, or more powerful our car, the more successful we feel. However, with owning possessions comes even more responsibilities that take away our freedom to do as we choose with our lives. There are dishes to wash, ornaments to dust, engines to maintain and paperwork to complete. I’m not suggesting we all sell up or give everything away to go and live in a cave somewhere, but learning how to place less value on what we own and more on who we are and what we can achieve could well help us move closer to the freedom and ‘flow’ that we crave.

Ownership is sometimes linked to loss aversion, or the fear of losing everything you have acquired. We tend to find it more painful to relinquish what we already own than to miss out on acquiring something else[4]. This is because we place a far higher value on things already in our possession and we fear becoming less of a person by giving them up. Yet, we rarely end up living a significantly happier life over the long-term if we own, say, 12 coffee cups instead of just six. Decluttering our possessions from time to time can be very healthy and can help us see what is actually important to us, and what is just ‘stuff’. Decluttering can free our minds from worrying about things we no longer want or need, and free up shelf space in our homes too, so we can make more room physically for the things we hold dear.

In fact, the act of decluttering can tell a person a lot about their values and priorities. Without indulging in too much navel-gazing, thinking about why you are getting rid of something, or no longer want it in your home can help you work out what is important to you and how you want your future to look. It can inform how you spend your money and use your energy to make the most of your life and your opportunities to succeed and feel happy. Placing less importance on things will also help you find the freedom to place more emphasis on living your life. Once you have done that, you can live more simply and find more room for calmness, joy and going with the flow.

Rewarding the brain

Phew! Well done for reading this far. Time for a reward, perhaps? A favourite snack, a chat with a friend or even a spa pampering session with full facial, massage and candles. Over the top? It’s actually very healthy to reward ourselves for a job well done. Part of going with the flow and embracing freedom is letting go of any guilty feelings that you don’t deserve being pampered or that enjoying something indulgent is somehow sinful.

Pampering is often about treating the senses, so taste, touch, smell… It stimulates them and makes us feel more alive. The act of pampering releases neuro-hormones including oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin, which move through the body, bringing with them feelings of warmth, love and happiness[5]. So run that warm bath, break into that chocolate bar and book yourself a spa treatment without feeling guilty about it. Taking time out to treat yourself, look after yourself and remind yourself how special you are really is the truest expression of freedom that there is.


[1] Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/in-the-face-adversity/202101/how-do-we-define-freedom. Accessed 28 May 2021

[2] Source: ‘Loving Your Life’, by Grant Soosalu, 2015, p40

[4] Source: https://youngwomenshealth.org/2013/05/24/anger-management/. Accessed 28 May 2021

[4] Source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022103109001279. Accessed 28 May 2021

[5] Source: ‘Loving Your Life’, by Grant Soosalu, 2015, p53

Post Author: Gayle Young

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