I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying “go with the flow.”
Personally, I never really grasped what people meant by that until I started studying Chinese medicine.
I am not someone who easily “goes with the flow” and I know that about myself. There are certain people, it seems, who are much more able to let go, be free, and at times throw caution to the wind.
“How do they do that?” I wonder to myself. “Why am I sitting over here calculating risk versus reward, or the expense, or the practicality, when others can just leap?"
Sometimes all that calculating can be exhausting, but it’s worth all that extra effort on the front end to make my plan or transition go as smoothly as possible.
If I've anticipated challenges, many times I can handle them better when they come up.
At least, that’s my theory.
Until I started studying the personality types of 5 element theory in Chinese medicine, I assumed everyone was like me.
This seems to be a pretty natural and common occurrence. You see the world through a certain lens, and it’s so engrained in who you are it’s hard to realize that others could see things completely differently.
But they totally do.
In 5 distinct ways, to be exact.
Each element has a different ability and method they use unconsciously to go with the flow (or not).
Not sure which element you are?
Read this article and see if you feel like something matches up!
You can also take my 5 Elements Personality Test to get a sense of which elements might be the strongest for you.
For now, let's dive in and see how the elements stack up.
Check out my video to learn:
- What the 5 elements are and how they play into your personality
- Traditional colors and symbols of the 5 elements
- Each element’s ability to adapt to situations graded as strong, mixed, or challenged
- Comparisons between elements in terms of their aptitude for going with the flow (or not)
- What happens to each element when they get out of balance in their ability to go with the flow
- Practical tips on how to improve your ability to adapt (even if it’s strong already)
(or scroll past and read the post, if that's more your style!)
The Wood Element
Ability to go with the flow: Mixed
Wood element people are strong, confident, and can definitely go with the flow when they are in a balanced state. Woods love growth and change, and they get frustrated without progress.
Because of this need to move forward, they can typically roll with the punches pretty well. Even with their strong vision and goals, they are open and receptive to new ideas.
Anything that will spur more growth and change along the path of their goal is worth considering, as long as it’s logical.
Wood folks are very practical and down-to-earth, and their awesome ability to plan and execute reflects their groundedness.
A wood person can sometimes seem like a freight train when they’ve latched onto their plan and are set on executing it.
It’s pretty amazing to see said freight train stop on a dime and turn in a completely new direction, but it can and does happen if they hear a sound, logical idea that enhances their plan.
When a wood person gets out of balance, that freight train stays on one track and doesn’t budge for anything.
They get overly focused on achieving and moving forward for the sake of moving forward, even if it’s a bad idea.
When wood is in this state, their magical ability to pivot quickly and adapt disappears. They’ve lost their ability to go with the flow for the sake of progress.
TAKE HOME: Wood has a great strength in embracing growth, change, and new ideas, but they can lose sight of these when they addicted to pushing ahead.
Get the Full 5 Elements Guide to Balance and Success
Make achieving your goals seemingly effortless using a 5,000 year old Chinese Medicine system… There are 5 “Elements”, or types of people, and knowing which one you are determines if you’ll succeed or give up on your goals.I want my 5 Elements guide to rocking 2017!
The Fire Element
Ability to go with the flow: Strong
Fire element people are easy-going, lighthearted, and are the kings of going with the flow. It’s pretty much the mantra they live their life by.
Whether they are balanced in their element or not, rolling with the punches is second nature to a fire.
Fire people have a carefree, relaxed attitude and look for the joy in life everywhere.
With this view, it's easy for them to adapt to many situations.
They thrive on connection with people, and move effortlessly through social groups, making everyone feel warm and pleasant. Their flow is best seen around and with people.
With their free-spirited nature, they tend to lack some stability, hopping from place to place, job to job, and person to person. They can be seen as flighty and flaky when out of balance.
When they go too far down this path, the “go with the flow” attitude can be detrimental, as it keeps them from developing stability and true connection, which they crave.
So, even when they are stressed and out of balance, fire people still go with the flow, but it can become too much of a good thing.
Other elements can learn a lot of a fire person’s ability to relax and let life unfold.
Conversely, fire people can benefit from being around more stable and grounded elements to gain direction and depth out of their experiences.
TAKE HOME: Fire is the most naturally gifted of all the elements at going with the flow, but they can become ungrounded and unstable if they embrace the flow too much.
The Earth Element
Ability to go with the flow: Mixed
Earth element people have a down-to-earth, stable, and comforting presence and are generally good at going with the flow. They are very accommodating, and like to make others feel welcome and comfortable.
With this outlook, their going-with-the-flow looks like harmonizing with those around them, often at the expense of themselves.
Earth people greatly dislike conflict, and would rather go with someone else’s flow than bring up their own viewpoint. Many times it’s easier for them to play along than to stand up for their own perspective.
This ability can be a great asset, as earth people are natural peacekeepers.
They quickly empathize with others and as a result, can easily see things from other perspectives. This tendency makes it tough to remain true to themselves sometimes.
When the self-sacrifice gets to be too much, earth elements lose their stability and integrity and their goodwill toward others dries up.
They lose their ability to empathize and, therefore their ability to roll with others’ perspectives easily. They become stuck in their own needs and desires, unable to see out of the pit they’ve dug themselves into.
TAKE HOME: Earth can easily go with the flow of multiple perspectives and opinions when they are in balance because of their natural empathic capabilities, but if they give too much to others they become stuck and resistant to accommodating others.
The Metal Element
Ability to go with the flow: Challenged
Metal element people are precise, analytical, and have the hardest time going with the flow out of any of the elements.
Because of their detail-oriented nature, they can get fixated on the small things, losing sight of the larger plan that may or may not be shifting right in front of them.
Metal people have a tendency to be perfectionistic. This can be a huge asset, especially if there is highly detailed work to be done, like surgery or event planning or scientific research.
Metal people like to have a protocol to follow; rules tend to be comforting in that they lay out a roadmap to follow.
They can become overly identified with these guidelines and follow them blindly, instead of adapting to the current situation.
This rigidity is worse when they are out of balance, but even in balance they tend toward a highly structured, black and white existence.
A metal person must make a conscious effort to release themselves from their self-imposed protocols in order to see beyond the minutiae and be in the flow.
Metal people tend to be more sensitive and perceptive, so their desire to plan and analyze comes as a natural protective mechanism.
But staying in that protective shell hinders growth; holding on instead of letting go and allowing life to unfold.
TAKE HOME: Metal’s comfort zone consists of rules and analyzing details, and they have to make an extra special effort to see beyond these limitations and grasp going with the flow.
The Water Element
Ability to go with the flow: Mixed
Water element people are intense, serious, and have a unique way of going with the flow.
Or should I say, going with their own flow.
Water elements can truly act like a gushing river or tidal wave when they are out of balance.
You don’t stop this force of nature! You either get out of the way or you ride the waves!
Water people are charismatic and have powerful convictions about the world, making them natural leaders. When in balance, they can do amazing things with their ambition, drive, and ability to inspire others.
When they are out of balance, they can end up getting too intense and forceful, or completely withdraw into themselves, too fearful to venture out.
Water people tend to have strong direction, so in that way they can go with the flow along their own path.
They are resourceful and can adapt and shift along the way.
Many times it can seem like they have a one track mind and will stop at nothing until their goal is achieved. Unfortunately, “stopping at nothing” can leave damage and chaos behind.
Water elements have a tough time seeing things from others’ perspectives. In that regard, their ability to go with the flow is hampered.
They have a tendency to force others into submission, and many times they will use their natural charisma to manipulate people into agreement.
Or, they can be totally withdrawn and insular, too fearful to make a move, and completely lose their flow (think quiet secluded lake rather than rushing river).
TAKE HOME: Waters are naturally gifted at going with their own flow and path, but have a hard time adapting to or valuing anyone else’s ideas or input.
All the elements have a different way that they are able to go with the flow.
Here's a summary table of what I mentioned above so you can compare them all easily.
|Element||Flow Ability||Potential Issues|
|Wood||Mixed||Can lose sight of the flow if get too fixated on moving forward for the sake of progress|
|Fire||Strong||Can become ungrounded and unstable if they let themselves flow too much|
|Earth||Mixed||Can sacrifice a lot for others and lose their adaptability because they’ve given all their energy away|
|Metal||Challenged||Can get bogged down in details and analysis and have a hard time letting go enough to get in the flow|
|Water||Mixed||Can be focused on their way to flow only and have a hard time adapting to the ideas of others|
Do you feel like there are 1 or 2 elemental responses that resonate with you? Give it some thought!
An important part of Chinese medical theory is the concept of wu wei.
It roughly translates to the ability to go with the flow of the natural world. Not to control things, but to let them unfold as they should.
When we embody wu wei, we can be balanced within our element, leading to a more peaceful and harmonious experience of life.
Think about how you feel about going with the flow.
Use these issues and take home points for the elements you most identified with to improve your wu wei ability!