A few days ago a couple I’ve been coaching reached a significant milestone, realizing a dream they’ve been working toward for the past year. Ed and Lori reduced their belongings to what could fit into a used pickup truck and planned to set off for Utah, pick up their new tiny home and travel the country – complete with plans for a Youtube channel and Patreon page. Only, the first day of their journey tested them before they could even set off.
Up bright and early, they said goodbye to Ed’s parents, loaded into the truck and turned the ignition. It wouldn’t start. No amount of attempts or basic troubleshooting could get the vehicle to turn over. Their day’s plans of appointments and saying their goodbyes to friends on their way out of town vanished as they contemplated how to repair the truck and what it would cost.
Filled with a mixture of fear and anxiety for her son and daughter-in-law, Ed’s mother started catastrophizing almost immediately. What if this was a sign that the whole trip was a bad idea? What if the truck breaks down in the middle of the desert stranding them without any cell phone reception? What if the old truck becomes too costly to maintain and it drains their funds? In the heat of the moment, Ed’s mother told them they shouldn’t be going on the trip at all, and demanded they stay.
It would have been easy for Ed and Lori to allow themselves to get caught up in the mother’s fears. After all, they were nervous, too. A new chapter of their lives was upon them, and they had no idea what to expect.
Rather than react emotionally to the situation, Ed and Lori drew on the mental tools and skills they had developed over the past year’s process of preparing for their new adventure. Lori asked her mother-in-law if there had ever been a time when she had gone without a meal, or without a roof over her head. When the woman told her no, Lori helped her to understand that things have always worked out for Ed’s mother and father, and for Ed and Lori. Regardless of what life had thrown at them along the way (and it was a lot) they had always survived and prevailed.
When they told me this story later, I felt so proud of them! The way they helped reframe their mother’s fears was precisely the same type of shift in thinking they had worked on for the past year.
Before they began preparing for their trip, Ed and Lori’s life revolved around various and sundry attempts to control life with their sheer force of will. It was a tactic they had subconsciously adopted from both sets of parents. They spent a lot of time, money and energy reacting to situations instinctively, filling their lives with disorganization, procrastination, poor planning, and a general sense of falling behind. The result was a life of stress, tension, and uncertainty.
However, when they decided to travel the country, they were inspired to get into the flow and leave their old habits behind. They adopted a spirit of essentialism by releasing anything that would be unnecessary for their new life, including possessions, methods of making money that required them to be in a physical location, and any limiting beliefs, bad habits, or emotions that contributed to holding them back.
While they released the old, they also made choices that would support them. They trained themselves in online marketing systems to earn a living no matter where they were. They reduced their expenses to the bare minimum and saved all they could. With this new-found frugality, they managed to put a downpayment on a tiny house, customized to their exact specifications. Then, a few weeks before they were scheduled to leave, they found the exact type of truck they needed for a reasonable price.
Despite being tested throughout the entire process, their relationship grew stronger, driving them to respond to each other thoughtfully rather than reacting emotionally. The preparation, planning, and execution honed each of their mental tools, skills, and confidence, resulting in the realization that they could handle anything this big adventure could bring.
When the time came for them to finally set off on their journey, the broken down truck revealed how prepared they actually were. Lori had the vehicle towed to the family’s mechanic and canceled appointments they were going to miss. With little to do but wait, she decided to treat herself to a nap to catch up on the sleep she had missed from several late nights of packing! Meanwhile, Ed traveled with the truck to the mechanic and reorganized its contents so they could access things easier once they were on the road.
At the shop, the mechanic cleaned the battery terminals and got the truck running again, and he didn’t stop there. Inspired by Ed and Lori’s travel adventure, he took it upon himself to run a full diagnostic on the truck, complete a tune-up and top off all the vehicle’s fluids – without charging for the extra work.
It was only later that Ed and Lori realized the maintenance on the truck was something they ought to have planned for but had honestly slipped their minds. By being in the moment, they were in the space to receive the mechanic’s gift and embark confidently knowing the truck could handle the journey.
Rather than allowing the breakdown to throw them off balance, Ed and Lori remained present and just went with the flow. They could have tried to force the situation by arguing with the mother to see things their way, or tried to complete their appointments with a borrowed car during the repairs. They could have instructed the mechanic to focus on addressing the immediate issue so they could more quickly be on their way. Instead, their calmness in the face of the challenge resulted in a better-prepared truck for their trip, and gave them some rest and more family time before their inevitable goodbye. In the end, they came out on top. They even were spared driving through the Bay Area’s world-famous traffic!
We spend a lot of time and effort searching for how to get in, and stay in, the flow of life. We know we’re there when things seem to work out with minimal effort; challenges are resolved smoothly, tough conversations roll with ease, we receive a call from someone when we think about them, parking spots are easy to find – everything seems to come together magically.
When we are out of the flow, our bodies inform us with emotions like frustration and anger, usually because we’re either reacting instinctively towards events or people or attempting to force our will on a situation. When we react, we come from a place of weakness, in a vain attempt to counter a power that we perceive is acting against us.
Conversely, when we stay present and respond calmly and consciously, we can keep ourselves flowing. While response can come in many forms, at its core is the power of choice. Sometimes the response is to accept the current state of things and make a decision how to move forward. It can also be to wait for an invitation to engage, acknowledge things for how they are, or even surrender to the situation without expectation of it changing. Each time we respond thoughtfully to circumstance, we give ourselves space and time to adapt to the flow and stay within its current.
Living life with the ease and grace is our natural state. It is when we allow our perceptions of a situation to cloud our judgment, and our emotions to take control of our thoughts, that we react and are tempted to put force on our external world in futile attempt to match it to our expectations. When we maintain awareness of the choices we have in any situation, we can adapt to the ebbs and flows of life to have the results we truly want. For it’s not what happens to us, but rather in how we choose to respond, that demonstrates the measure of who we are.
Bring your awareness to the ease (or lack thereof) in your life. When do you feel like things are running smoothly, and in what places do you feel the urge to force things into being?
If you find yourself out of the flow, take a moment to review your efforts from an external perspective and evaluate where you are happy with your actions and where you feel you could use some improvement. Are you embracing your experiences – even the challenging ones – or surviving them? What about those situations cause you to react instinctively, instead of responding thoughtfully? Throughout the whole process, pay particular attention to how things work out smoothly or not, and consciously make adjustments accordingly.
“Whatever music you play for me, I’ll dance.” — Gael Garcia Bernal