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002: For the Love of Flow - Intrinsic Motivation as a Guide

podcast Oct 30, 2020



Hey Flow Fanatics, on this episode of the High Flow Lifestyle Podcast we go deep on a flow trigger called intrinsic motivation and to encourage you a little bit I share one of my flow activities of playing the Shakuhachi Japanese bamboo flute. 

A key aspect of flow is doing something for the sake of doing it. You just enjoy doing that particular thing and you don’t need anyone telling you you have to do it. We’ve all had these kinds of activities in our lives and we often have this kind of feeling of timelessness. When you are in the moment your perception of time is altered a bit and things can feel like they are really slowing down, or oppositely like we often say, time flies when you’re having fun 

Actively pursuing those things that we are intrinsically motivated to do (meaning that it comes from within ourselves) is a way of accessing the flow state. For both ourselves and our children, if you’re a parent, we need to continue to encourage exploration and finding those things that we may one day become interested in. The more things you try, the more likely you are going to find a few things that you really can connect with and enjoy doing. 

But in order to do that you need to forget about the whole idea of a comfort zone, and whether you are in or out of your comfort zone. It’s a made-up field surrounding you and the only thing it’s keeping you in is a limited mindset. Get out there and try as many different things as you can, and as your curiosity develops, that too will help you access flow.   


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience says that: 

“The mystique of rock climbing is climbing; you get to the top of a rock glad it’s over but really wish it would go on forever. The justification of climbing is climbing, like the justification of poetry is writing; you don’t conquer anything except things in yourself…. The act of writing justifies poetry. Climbing is the same: recognizing that you are a flow. The purpose of the flow is to keep on flowing, not looking for a peak or utopia but staying in the flow. It is not a moving up but a continuous flowing; you move up to keep the flow going. There is no possible reason for climbing except the climbing itself; it is a self-communication.” 


For me, somehow I was drawn to the sounds of the shakuhachi. The shakuhachi is a Japanese bamboo flute, sometimes called a Zen flute, because it is a spiritual tool just as much as it is a musical instrument depending on how you use it. At first, I would just listen to the music on a cd I had and then use it as background music for when I would practice one of my martial arts katas in my bedroom in high school. My father listened to a wide variety of music and was a great piano player, although I tried that never stuck with me though, but I remember hearing a lot of Native American flute music which has some similarities in sound to the shakuhachi.  


Later when I was living in Japan, I came across an opportunity to study with a master teacher in Kyoto and Osaka named Okada sensei, and jumped on the opportunity to try to learn this instrument.  He presented the class as a small group class with support from your peers, and you didn’t need to have any musical history or skills in particular. He set the bar for trial so low that I think naturally a curiosity was all you needed to start. The first few months I practiced on a plastic version of the flute, and he even let me borrow a real bamboo one. Everyone progresses differently and soon I had left the group class and began doing one-on-one lessons with him near my house in Osaka as well as commuting to his dojo in Kyoto where he lived.  


I loved the commute because, well it wasn’t during rush hour because I was a graduate student and had a flexible schedule, but I could just sit and listen to some of his recordings or review a private class that I had previously recorded while just watching the Japanese countryside and urban landscapes pass me by.  

It’s hard to describe why I was drawn to the instrument, but it produces a wide range of both deeper sounds as well as higher pitched clear sounds. One thing I realized is that it is truly a mind, body and spirit instrument. All of these things need to be connected in order to create a sound, let alone a good sound. The mind needs to be focused on the notation and what to play. The body also needs to be aligned and the more I exercised, went running, ate well, the more I could see how it was directly affecting my playing ability. And the spirit, all I can say is if your spirit wasn’t in it then you wouldn’t have a desire to play the old traditional pieces the monks played trying to enter a state of flow. The traditional mostly solo pieces, called Honkyoku,  are less musical by Western standards and sometimes have more focus on controlling the breath than they do on creating a simple repetitious melody.  

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about here is a snippet of a traditional song called Tsuru no Sugomori, or Nesting of the Cranes,  


I’m sure I will talk more about my passion for the shakuhachi from time-to-time, but suffice to say I was hooked on something that is somewhat obscure even in modern Japanese society. It is a difficult and challenging instrument no one really starts out good at. It can take a few months of dedicated practice just to get a sound out of it sometimes. But I think the challenge is also a large part of what kept me intrinsically motivated to practice, and eventually perform and teach.  

But I never would have even met this instrument and my personal flow tool, if I hadn’t let my curiosity and imagination take over. I encourage all of you to let your guard down and get out there and explore all of the activities the world has to offer. You may have already found something that you are intrinsically motivated to do, and if you enjoy doing it do it more, and realize that you can and probably should have a few different activities to throw yourself into.  

Flow brings more flow, I know it sounds kind of redundant but what I mean is that sometimes we continue doing an activity because we are actually attracted to the state of flow that we find ourselves in when doing that activity. And so we continue for the love of flow. 

 So get out there and let your curiosity run amuck and begin to let an intrinsic motivation be your guide. Study a new language, take an art class, get yourself a digital camera, sign up for plumbing or computer coding classes, start a garden or take a horticulture class...Whatever is piquing your interest or curiosity you owe it to yourself to explore.  

Let yourself be drawn to a new activity or learning something new. Putting yourself in a new environment also helps you access flow, and you can learn things much faster and go deeper on something when this happens. Remember, there is no line around your comfort zone, and focus your attention on getting in the zone. 

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