According to the Cambridge dictionary, going with the flow is defined as to do what other ​people are doing or to ​agree with other ​people because it is the ​easiest thing to do.
I am writing a paper and I'm really stumped as to what would be an idiom, or a way to describe a person who is not going with the flow.

Specifically, the sentence which I need this for is this:
I have had to come to terms with a lot of cultural differences which has been a struggle for my ____________ personality.

Note: I am specifically asking about an idiom, and not words such as: inflexible, rigid, stiff, unadaptable, firm.

  • 5
    From the perspective of those people who are going with the flow, those who don't are dragging their heels, or trying to turn back the tide. From the perspective of the "lonely furrow ploughers", they're marching to a different drum (or refusing to act like sheep, or whatever). Jan 16, 2016 at 16:59
  • 4
    Try contrarian and see if it fits your sense. Type A is assertive, no matter which way the wind is blowing.
    – deadrat
    Jan 16, 2016 at 17:00
  • 1
    The book, Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler, is about a travel writer who refuses to go with the flow. He seeks out accommodations that do not jar his stay-at-home sensibilities, and do not reflect the new location in which he finds himself. He is not a do in Rome ... kind of person.
    – bib
    Jan 16, 2016 at 17:05
  • 3
    To go against the grain.
    – Anonym
    Jan 16, 2016 at 18:02
  • 1
    Or "to the beat of their own drum"... Jan 16, 2016 at 22:36

14 Answers 14


If you don't go with the flow then you go your own way or do your own thing. Admittedly, for your sample sentence, go-my-own-way personality might be a bit cumbersome. So you may prefer independent or independent-minded:

[independent-minded in Collins Dictionaries:] self-reliant and seeking autonomy

-minded in Cambridge Dictionaries:

having a ​particular ​character, ​interest, or way of ​thinking about things:

She's very ​[] independent-minded (= she has a very ​[] independent ​character).

So, to see how it sounds in your sample sentence:

I have had to come to terms with a lot of cultural differences which has been a struggle for my independent personality.

I have had to come to terms with a lot of cultural differences which has been a struggle for my independent-minded personality.

  • 1
    This is very good! Funny how I thought about "independent-thinker" like a second ago, but obviously "minded" is much better :)
    – Idos
    Jan 16, 2016 at 17:17
  • @Idos, I considered free-thinking, but it's very much connected with skepticism and atheism, which doesn't look like what you're looking for.
    – Jacinto
    Jan 16, 2016 at 17:21
  • 1
    After thinking about your question it seems more of a question of comfort. I don't think my "rebel" comment above nor this "independent" answer here really addresses it. To come to terms with cultural differences .... hummmm. What do you call those who are comfortable in there own environment. Who are those uncomfortable with change? I might be reading the question wrong but I go with something that describes set in your ways.
    – user116032
    Jan 16, 2016 at 18:17

How about "going against the grain"?



For some reason, all the answers so far seem to have missed the natural opposite of going with the flowgoing against the flow:

to do or say the ​opposite of what most ​people are doing or saying:
With this new ​book, she is going against the flow.

Admittedly, it's not a perfect fit for your sentence, since that context really needs an adjective to modify "personality". Fortunately, English is flexible enough that if you want, you can press a verbal phrase like "going with/against the flow" into service as an adjective — possibly hyphenating it to show that you're treating it as a single unit — without the grammar screaming too much in pain:

I have had to come to terms with a lot of cultural differences which has been a struggle for my going-against-the-flow personality.

OK, so it's probably not the greatest literary masterpiece ever. But if you really want an exact antonym for "going with the flow", then this is it.

  • My thoughts exactly. Also, in a similar vein, I thought of swimming upstream (which I've now noticed was the very first answer, from T.E.D.).
    – AndyT
    Jan 19, 2016 at 11:48
  • This seems to be the answer to the main question. The second part of the question (Specifically, the sentence which I need this for is this:...) wouldn't even work well with the original going with the flow).
    – ispiro
    Sep 23, 2020 at 20:19

I believe swimming upstream is about as opposite a sentiment as you can get. It even means the opposite in the two phrases' literal sense.

  • Thanks for your answer, please see my edit. I don't think this will work there, right?
    – Idos
    Jan 16, 2016 at 16:48
  • 3
    @Idos - It doesn't work there any worse than "going with the flow" does. I'd suggest rephrasing if you wanna use either. Both are verb phrases, and your context requires an adjective
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 16, 2016 at 16:49
  • well that is why I want the opposite of going with the flow...
    – Idos
    Jan 16, 2016 at 16:50
  • Also I would appreciate any rephrasing suggestion
    – Idos
    Jan 16, 2016 at 16:51
  • Note that you can adjectify this, albeit with somewhat awkward results: my upstream-swimming personality.
    – user152004
    Jan 16, 2016 at 20:28

The common idiom bucking the trend appears to fit your scenario:

to be ​obviously different from the way that a ​situation is ​developing ​generally, ​especially in ​connection with ​financial ​matters

To adapt this into an adjectival form you could say you have a trend bucking personality or, in nounal form, that you are a trend bucker. Both of these words do see usage, as evidenced by google searches - we see that:

Trend-bucking women are living longer


Some words and expressions that come to mind are:

  • nonconformist: a person who does not conform to a generally accepted pattern of thought or action (Merriam-Webster)

  • rebellious: refusing to obey rules or authority or to accept normal standards of behavior, dress, etc. : having or showing a tendency to rebel (Merriam-Webster)

  • marching to the beat of a different drummer: To do things in one's own way regardless of societal norms and conventional expectations. (Wiktionary)

If you want to go with the idiom, I suggest the following rephrasing of your sentence:

As someone who has always marched to the beat of a different drummer, I have had to come to terms with a lot of cultural differences. This has been a struggle for my nonconformist personality.

I also liked T.E.D.'s suggestion of swimming upstream, which was the first thing that came to mind when I read the title of the question.




think outside (of) the box; also think out of the box: to develop ideas that are different and unusual. Usage notes: sometimes used with verbs other than think: You need to look outside the box and see what you can come up with. Etymology: based on the idea that limiting your thoughts is like thinking inside a box which can contain only a certain number of ideas Cambridge Divtionary of American Idioms


: differing from the usual or expected; unconventional: an offbeat comedian. Random House


: being out of the ordinary; unusual: out-of-the-way memorabilia American Heritage® Dictionary


off the beaten track/(Chiefly AmEng) path: uncommon; out of the ordinary.

off the wall

: Slang extremely unconventional. American Heritage® Dictionary


left field: a state or position far from the mainstream (as of prevailing opinion) M-W

McCall's popularity comes from his “out in left field” personality MMA Corner


My suggestion is to use the phrase "going against the tide" as an adjective before the noun personality, if you want to retain the idiomatic meaning, i.e. doing something in opposition to the majority.

Another choice is to use word "non-conformist" before "personality". Non-conformist also refers to one who does not conform to, or refuses to be bound by, accepted beliefs, custom or practices.


Consider stick-in-the-mud.

A person who is dull and unadventurous and who resists change.

Oxford Dictionaries Online

Such an inhabitant of a stream (cultural or otherwise) surely resists going with the flow

  • 3
    I'm sorry but this is a really bad suggestion seeing as I want to describe myself (and it is obviously very negative)
    – Idos
    Jan 16, 2016 at 17:10
  • 1
    Your question seems to suggest that you would like to adjust to the cultural challenges, but find it difficult because of your personality. That sounds like you view your natural inclinations somewhat negatively.
    – bib
    Jan 16, 2016 at 17:12
  • 2
    I understand how it could appear so, but I am really trying to show that I am not going with the flow in a positive way as an independent-thinker-kind-of-person and non conformist...
    – Idos
    Jan 16, 2016 at 17:14
  • 1
    If you want to emphasize rigidity, you could say my-way-or-the-highway personality, but that also has a negative tone. I'm not sure how to make chauvinism sound positive.
    – bib
    Jan 16, 2016 at 17:15
  • @Idos Sorry, but I didn't see any hint in your question or the comments on it that you wanted to describe an "independent thinker" or "non-conformist". You did say something about not wanting the words "inflexible", "rigid", or "stiff", but that could be because they aren't idiomatic enough; it wasn't clear that it was the meanings of those words that were undesirable.
    – David K
    Jan 17, 2016 at 2:04

The verbal "making waves" describes performing an act that doesn't go with the flow, as in "Rob was making waves at the board meeting." It has a nautical theme and acts as a verb, just like "going with the flow" does. But it can't be used as an adjective, which seems to be what your sentence is looking for. If you don't need an exact, plug-in replacement, you could try something like:

"I have had to come to terms with a lot of cultural differences which has been a struggle for my personality, which prefers making waves.


How about -- Marches to the beat of a different drummer.

This describes someone who doesn't go along with general march of the masses who listen to the drummer for the masses. But does a different "march" listening to a different drummer.

And from the wiktionary entry for march_to_the_beat_of_a_different_drum:

(idiomatic) To do things in one's own way regardless of societal norms and conventional expectations.

  • Yes, or the "marches to the beat of his/her own drum" variant.
    – Adrian
    Jan 17, 2016 at 15:26

Psychologists use the term "oppositional" as in "oppositional personality". It may not be in common use, but I think the meaning is immediately clear.

  • Please explain your answer in full. Other people might not find it immediately clear. Jan 19, 2016 at 9:45
  • To me, "going with the flow" means going along with whatever has been presented. On the other hand, being "oppositional" means being against whatever was presented. As they said in my parent's time "Whatever it is, I'm against it."
    – Al Maki
    Jan 20, 2016 at 17:05

stick to your guns

to ​continue to have ​your ​beliefs or ​continue with a ​plan of ​action, ​even if other ​people ​disagree with you

Use this expression if the goal is an idiom with a positive connotation. Others, like "stick in the mud" or "going against the grain" have negative connotations.



is a way of saying someone is extremely obstinate and reluctant to follow others.

This can be shortened to the adjective mulish.

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