‘Go With The Flow’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on August 7, 2023

Did someone say you should 'go with the flow' and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.

In brief:

  • ‘Go with the flow’ means just accepting the way things are occurring rather than trying to control or alter a situation.
  • It can also mean conforming to how other people act in a given circumstance.

What Does 'Go With the Flow' Mean?

‘Go with the flow’ means to accept a situation and be relaxed about it rather than trying to control it or alter it. It can also be used to describe conforming to the behavior patterns of others and acting as others are acting.

For example:

  • If you are getting stressed out about being stuck in traffic on your way to an event, one of your friends might tell you to just ‘go with the flow.’ This means they are directing you to calm down and accept that you won’t get there when you thought you would.

This idiom is very descriptive when you think about it– imagining allowing yourself to get carried down a river by the water rather than trying to swim against the current. When you ‘go with the flow,’ you’re riding things out in the direction that they are already going.

You’re not trying to go against the grain or swim upstream.

Where Does 'Go With the Flow' Come From?

Some trace the roots of this phrase back to the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. In his daily journals, which were later published as Meditations, he wrote at great length about the Stoic ideas he tried to incorporate into his daily life.

We find the same sentiment expressed in the phrase ‘go with the flow’ in the following passage:

"Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away."

At the same time, the notion of ‘go with the flow,’ meaning that one should follow the crowd, likely isn’t the type of thing Marcus Aurelius had in mind. He was interested in going with the flow of nature and the universe and was notably opposed to doing things just because others were doing them.

The origin of the actual wording of ‘go with the flow’ is said to have originated in the 1960s.

Examples of 'Go With the Flow' In Sentences

How would 'go with the flow' be used in a sentence? Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • They’re not coming with us to the party. They can’t ever go with the flow and enjoy themselves. I want to have a good time, so I’m not inviting them.”
  • “They canceled our meeting on Friday and pushed it back to next week. I guess I’ll have to go with the flow on this one.”
  • “My coworker is always telling me to just go with the flow. I know he’s right, but I still find it incredibly annoying.”
  • Everyone is upset about the merger, but I’m just trying to go with the flow. Who knows, maybe this is the best thing that has ever happened to the company.”
  • “I’m always the one that’s stressed out and trying to stay in control over everything. The tables have turned, though, and I find myself trying to convince John to go with the flow.”

Final Thoughts About 'Go With the Flow'

‘Go with the flow’ is an idiom that means to accept the way things are and be relaxed. It can also be used to describe conforming to what most other people are doing and following the crowd.

This is a common phrase that is widely used in the English language. Though the specific phrase is said to have originated in the 1960s, some point back to the writings of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius as the inspiration for the phrase.

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Be sure to check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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