People use the saying ‘go with the flow’ all the time to encourage themselves, or others, to relax, chill out and take it easy. Going with the flow is essentially the path of least resistance. And this is the essence of ‘downstream thinking’ championed by Esther Hicks, American inspirational speaker and author. But while going with the flow might imply maintaining the status quo because it’s easier, downstream thinking is a very deliberate act: one of choosing better thoughts that keep you in a good-feeling state despite what’s going on. For example, if your boss asks you to work overtime at the same time you are moving house, instead of thinking ‘I’m so stressed, I don’t know how I’m going to deal with this,’ which sends you upstream struggling against the current as your mind dwells on what’s wrong or why it can’t cope, instead you could think, ‘I’m going to look for the positives in this situation’, or, ‘I’ve managed this sort of situation in the past and can do again’, or even ‘I bet I’ll find a way to make this easier’.
This sort of thinking helps you to stay optimistic, despite what might be going on in the here and now. It’s about choosing better-feeling thoughts, despite how general they may need to be, to stay calm and relaxed. In this state you’ll also be more open to new possibilities and opportunities when they arrive.
Stressing and worrying is certainly being in ‘upstream’ mode, akin to paddling furiously up a river and using up way more energy than if you simply stopped and let the river take you in the direction it’s going. After all, it always feels better to go with, rather than against, the current. It may not be easy and automatic to begin with, but the more you catch yourself thinking upstream thoughts and getting in a tizz, the more likely you’ll be able to switch over to more easy-going, positive thoughts.
‘Increasingly, we live in an “I want it now” world. Whether it be a job, a car or a relationship, and so we struggle for things, swimming against the current as we go,’ says life coach Sue Walsh. Although it’s good to be willing to work hard at something, sometimes all that does is waste energy as you’re pulled back with the tide. It helps to have a plan, yes, but also to feel good along the journey by appreciating where you are now from the efforts you’ve previously made.
Downstream thinking isn’t about denying the things that ‘go wrong’ – it’s about accepting and being OK with the world by adopting positive thoughts, with the sole aim of making yourself feel good. And when you feel good, you benefit your health by being more relaxed, which calms your immune system.
‘It’s about viewing and facing challenges in a different way,’ says Sue. ‘Rather than thinking, “I’m fed up of being fat”, turn it to a more positive thought such as “I can find ways to be fit and healthy – I love looking after my body”.’
Adopting this type of mindset means you can always look for the good in life, and in yourself, which is a better place to be in than berating yourself and focusing only on the negative, which only keeps you stuck in that energy – a bit like how water can pool in an indent on the river bank, unable to flow, where it stagnates and gets covered in algae. We need a constant input of positive, forward-focused energy to keep moving in life.
And remember, going ‘downstream’ isn’t the same as letting go and thinking ‘I don’t care, I’ll just take the path of least resistance and eat that whole packet of biscuits!’. It’s about thinking thoughts that support yourself. If something bad has happened and it’s difficult to find positive words to think or say, keep things general and focus on what is good – because something always is. Anything that makes you feel better will turn your little boat downstream and help you flow more easily with life.