Embracing structure when you’re a go-with-the-flow type

stonesAs someone who tends to rebel against any kind of perceived constraint, I frequently need to remind myself that structure can be supportive and nourishing.

I also notice that the quality of my energy is innately flowing. Anything too rigid doesn’t quite feel like “home” to me.

If we’re not naturally drawn to a lot of structure — or, if we were “over-structured” in our childhoods, with nary a free moment to ourselves — we may rebel against structure as adults.

Emerson is often misquoted as having said “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” The true quotation is actually this: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Consistency in and of itself — and for the purposes of this post I am defining consistency as showing up regularly for particular routines and rituals — can be extremely supportive to us, especially for those of us who have very active inner lives.

If your inner life takes you on frequent rollercoaster rides, it only makes sense that your outer life might need a certain amount of grounding, centering structure — even if that structure looks mundane to the part of you that values creativity and adventure and discovery.

So how do we know the difference between structure that is supportive to us and, as Emerson called it, “foolish consistency”? We know by the way it feels.

I can always tell I am trying to “convince myself” something is working for me that really isn’t when I go up into my mind, away from my body. I’m tipped off to the fact that I’m doing this when I hear myself say, “Realistically, I should probably keep on doing such-and-such.” Or, “Logically, there’s no reason I can’t take up running.” (Um — except that I hate it.)

Our minds are very good at convincing us that we are “just being practical and realistic” when the truth might be that we are afraid of doing what feels better and more truly supportive.  Or maybe we just can’t give ourselves permission to do what feels truly supportive to us.

Which leads me to this point: Structure that is supportive to us may not look like someone else’s structure. And it may not look like what we think it will look like.

It could be that the job we swore we’d never take actually ends up providing us with a type of routine that both grounds us and creates steady income that feels delicious (yes, regular income can be a kind of supportive structure!).

We may also find that just a little structure goes a long way for us. The key is to allow the structure in.

For example, one of my clients recently started meeting with a support group for young moms once a month and she’s finding that this simple monthly get-together is paying off in spades. She looks forward to it, it creates community and connection for her, and she leaves it feeling less overwhelmed.

As a “naturally flowing type”, she’d been thinking a regular meeting like this might feel like a chore on top of everything else she’s doing — but it’s actually supporting her in doing everything else she wants to do.

That’s something that those of us who like a lot of flow in our lives often fear — that structure will feel like a chore, that it will hem us in and we’ll feel disconnected from our spirits. But I’ve found the opposite to be true — structure can provide a container that supports and channels the flow of our energy.

It’s key here to discover what kind of structure we need, and how much structure feels good to us.

When I get over-structured, I start to feel like I’m on a deadening treadmill. But the amount of structure that feels “too much” for me is actually too little for a good friend of mine. (And we’re both Myers-Briggs INFP’s — “P” types tend to prefer less structure, but even among them there is a spectrum of how much is too much!)

And sometimes, it’s worth noting, we need to allow in a little more of the energy that we tend to reject or resist. People who get caught up in a lot of “doing” often need to ease up a little and allow more being into their lives. And people who have difficulty moving into “doing” energy sometimes need support in taking more frequent action (which may involve adding more structure!).

Obviously, we all embody both of these energies at times during each day, but the cultural preference for “doing” in the western world can create struggle for us whether we naturally prefer more structure or less.

(I wrote about how I’m learning to make friends with structure and systems several years ago in this post.)

What do you notice about your own need for structure? Do you tend to need a lot of structure in your daily life to feel grounded and supported, or not that much? What helps you get things done, more structure or less? I’d love to hear from you.

Also: I have openings for new coaching clients in December and January. If you need support in making your creative work a priority while practicing excellent self-care, I encourage you to check out the ways we can work together, here.

Above image © Anatoly Zavodskov | Dreamstime Stock Photos

10 thoughts on “Embracing structure when you’re a go-with-the-flow type

  1. I’m almost done with my first big-girl panties launch, and the amount of structured to-dos was really a lot for this right-brain artist to deal with! Thanks for your thoughtful words. Lovely to be introduced to your blog (saw you mentioned it in the HoB group). Happy to share it.

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    • Sue, I’m glad to hear this resonated, and I totally hear you about the amount of structure involved in putting together a launch for a right-brainer! Congrats on your launch, by the way! I appreciate you reading & sharing. 🙂

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  2. Thanks for this, Jill. I’ve been over structured for the last couple of years as I wrote my memoir. That has led me to burn out and not wanting to move forward if it takes work. It’s time for me to go with the flow and simply be. Once I can allow myself to do that, some structure will be appreciated, I’m sure.

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    • Joan, I definitely relate to feeling burned out after being over-structured — I’ve experienced it many times and it’s such a common issue for creators! I think you’re right on that once you allow in some “being” energy, it will eventually feel good to welcome in the right amount of structure. Here’s to going with the flow! Thanks so much for your comment. 🙂

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  3. Finally catching up with my favourite blogs! 🙂 I love what you say about the need to discern the difference between structure that supports and structure that restricts. Like you I tend to resist all structure, when I actually also know from experience that, as you put it, a little can go a long way. In the studio, having the ‘structure’ of a reference image can sometimes make painting feel more freeing, like having a springboard to jump off, than just going in from nothing. No structure at all can feel like being lost in a snowstorm! And while I have things I do every day {and in the past the every day-ness of things has felt unbelievably oppressive}, some of them, like Tai Chi, are very supportive of my freedom. Plus I don’t do it at the same time every day, so that helps. 🙂

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    • Tara, that makes so much sense that having the structure of a reference image can actually give you more of a feeling of freedom when you paint. Fascinating! It’s really true that no structure at all — while it might sound appealing to those of us who rebel against structure — is not actually freeing but overwhelming much of the time. Thanks for adding to the conversation — always great to hear from you!

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  4. Really insightful post. I’ve always struggled with highly structured environments, but I’ve noticed that having certain routines in my life (morning rituals, planning my weeks out, schedules for writing) allows me to flow in a more purposeful way. Whereas I would normally just do what feels good in the moment and find weeks passing me by without doing much of anything, a little structure let’s me go with the flow but also move closer to my goals.

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    • That’s so well said, Myles! One of my teachers often says “Structure supports spirit”, and your comment reminds me of that. Just a little structure can support that flowing energy for sure and help us get things done. Thanks so much for reading!

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