Catrien Ross on Recovering Your Purpose and Direction When You Lose Flow:Lessons from Kayaking

Saturday, January 30th, 2010 - 7 Comments

If you have ever experienced flow you know how exhilarating it can be.

Your actions glide effortlessly.

You challenge your abilities with confidence and skill.

You soar towards your goals with clarity of focus and awareness.

Contrast this with your feelings when you lose flow.

Anxiety and doubt can combine to cripple your movements.

Numbness and even depression may overwhelm.

From spontaneously expressing joy you tumble into a state of alarm and apprehension.

But what if losing flow is your opportunity to reaffirm your purpose and sense of direction?

Maybe your business project is building towards long-anticipated results.

And it all crumbles.

Or you are enjoying improved control of your usual emotional response.

And along comes the very person who triggers your aggression or hysteria.

Or some situation is bubbling along just as you hope.

And it fizzles out.

Sudden difficulties and disappointments reveal misalignment of aim and direction that frustrates flow.

By recognizing such shifts you can respond in ways that restore even deeper commitment to your true intentions and goals.


When I lose flow, as I did several days ago, one way I recover is by walking through my mountain garden here in Japan.

Watching the clouds in the clear winter sky, I recalled what kayaking taught me about flow.

When you flow with your kayak you skim through the water in an ecstatic unity that feels magical.

Yet one of the first techniques kayakers learn is how to recover balance when your kayak capsizes.

Because no matter how rapturous your flow, there comes the moment when you lose it.

Your kayak flips over.

So you learn how to keep your seat in your kayak when this happens.

And you practice the movements that roll you and your kayak upright again.

While underwater you remain relaxed and calm.

You trust that losing flow is a temporary phase and you hold the power to adjust.

You also accept your responsibility to be aware and responsive at every moment of your journey.

Lessons from kayaking show recovering your purpose and direction when you lose your flow is possible when you:

  • Pay Attention
    Difficulties alert you to look more closely at what is happening. You can assess your actions and responses.
  • Keep Your Seat
    Struggle or trauma need not throw you off. You can maintain control even in the face of disappointment and discomfort.
  • Adjust Your Aim
    You may discover your goals have changed. You can now adjust your activities to better align with your new purpose.
  • Redefine Your Bearings
    Admitting false moves allows you to redefine your sense of yourself. You can reaffirm who and what you are and where you want to be.
  • Return to Flow
    Flow happens whenever you align your intention and action with your abilities and energies. This means you can experience flow again and again.

So, do you agree or disagree with me about flow?

And how do you recover flow in your life?

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7 Responses to “Catrien Ross on Recovering Your Purpose and Direction When You Lose Flow:Lessons from Kayaking”

  1. Allan says:


    Often going with the flow is the best course, choosing not to become bogged down in process or to be to committed to a particular outcome. However, on other occasions we must steer a course to make sure that we reach a reasonable end point. Deciding which approach to take when is the key, but is not easy!


  2. Catrien:
    Great post and great insight. Losing the flow is such a human reality that I think it is important to acknowledge that it is okay when things stop flowing like they have before. Knowing that everything is okay and remaining calm is important and allows you to remove any impediments that will prevent the flow from returning. It is easy to get addicted to the flow because it is great when things fall into place and feel so right. However, we also have to be able to appreciate all the waves of life and know they all have a purpose. Thanks for the insight. I thought the comparison to kayaking was poignant.

  3. Catrien Ross says:

    @Allan: Thank you for adding a very good point – the importance of steering a course when necessary. And also intuitively knowing when and where this is indeed necessary! My interpretation of flow is more the psychological-emotional-spiritual state you enter when your purpose and abilities and energies are aligned in harmony. In this state you can be committed to a process or outcome – flow just makes it easier to experience both. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts again, Allan.

    @Sibyl: I really like your insight about appreciating all the waves of life. And yes, feeling so right in flow can make our times of losing flow seem bleak. But both losing flow and finding flow are part of the natural cycles of expansion and contraction. As you point out, both have a purpose, and we can know that everything is okay. Many thanks for visiting again and adding your perceptive view to the discussion.

  4. Fiona says:

    Dear Catrien
    Your posting made me think about the ‘flow’ I can experience when I’m singing a ballad…I have to say it doesn’t always happen when I sing, but when it does…. as you say…it’s an exhilarating experience.
    For me, that’s about letting go; not trying to control. Having the trust to be able to let go is not easy though, is it?

  5. Catrien Ross says:

    Fiona, thank you, and a warm welcome to my blog. As you say, reaching that trust to be able to let go never seems to be easy. It’s been a long time since I have heard your wonderful voice singing a ballad – please come again to sing your exhilaration here in this minka in the mountains. Your singing gives such joy – let’s treasure flow together!

  6. Faizal says:

    Hey Catrien, great post!

    I think when we lose flow, we fall further downhill when we keep focusing on the fact that we don’t feel good, or feel like we’re on track. Once we get over that and focus on getting back to where we were, then we can move forward!

  7. Catrien Ross says:

    Faizal, hello again, and thank you for adding this insightful comment. Yes, we can actually make ourselves and the situation much worse when we chastise ourselves for our perceived failure. A shift in focus, however slight, can make all the difference – we can start over with renewed confidence, and as you say, move forward again.

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