The Flinch by Julien Smith
This book, free on Amazon for the kindle, is one of those books that even though it is short, makes you pause and stop reading as you go. It made me understand that you need to lean into things.
It’s about an instinct—the flinch—and why mastering it is vital. This book is about how to stop flinching. It’s about facing pain. It is about using the fear and pain to improve.
Behind the flinch is pain avoidance, and dealing with pain demands strength you may not think you have, but you do. We all do, inside, it just needs to be unleashed.
Facing the flinch is hard. It means seeing the lies you tell yourself, facing the fear behind them, and handling the pain that your journey demands—all without hesitation.
The flinch is there to support the status quo.
You treat mistakes as final, but they almost never are. Pain and scars are a part of the path, but so is getting back up, and getting up is easier than ever. You don’t need adrenaline to get through those things—you just need to do them. Crossing these obstacles will put the flinch in its place. The lessons you learn best are those you get burned by. Without the scar, there’s no evidence or strong memory.
Firsthand knowledge, however, is visceral, painful, and necessary. It uses the conscious and the unconscious to process the lesson, and it uses all your senses. When you fall down, your whole motor system is involved. You can’t learn this from books. It just doesn’t work, because you didn’t really fall. You need to feel it in your gut—and on your scraped hands and shins—for the lesson to take effect.
You can’t settle for reaching other people’s limits. You have to reach yours. If you don’t test yourself, you don’t actually grow to your own limits. For you to map out this new world, you need to test it, and test what you’re capable of inside it. You need to make mistakes, resist the flinch, and feel the lessons that come with this process.
The anxiety of the flinch is almost always worse than the pain itself. You’ve forgotten that. You need to learn it again. You need more scars. You need to live.
Ask yourself this: would your childhood self be proud of you, or embarrassed? Love this line. Who ever wanted to grow up and be working in a cubicle?
Start doing the opposite of your habits. It builds up your tolerance to the flinch and its power.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” The truth is that judgment and fear will never stop, but they don’t actually do anything. There are no negative consequences for breaking the habit of flinching. Nothing will actually happen if you stop being afraid. You’re free.
The ability to withstand the flinch comes with the knowledge that the future will be better than the past. You believe that you can come through challenges and be just as good as you were before them. The more positive you are, the easier it is for you to believe this. You move forward and accept tough situations, so no matter the breakup, the job loss, or the injury, you believe you’ll recover and end up fine. If you believe this, you’re right.
Krishnamurti, a great Indian sage, once said: “You can take a piece of wood that you brought back from your garden, and each day present it with a flower. At the end of a month you will adore it, and the idea of not giving it an offering will be a sin.” In other words, everything that you are used to, once done long enough, starts to seem natural, even though it might not be.
In times of stress, whatever pattern you’re used to taking emerges. If you’re used to running, you run. If you’re used to getting defensive, the same thing happens. It’s how you act under pressure. So you need to start recognizing your fight-or-flight response. Every alternative you develop is highly valuable because it opens your options dramatically.
You can train yourself into new patterns, and you’re not the first to do so.
The first step is to stop seeing everything as a threat. You can’t will this to happen—it requires wider exposure. If you’ve been punched in the face, you won’t worry as much about a mugger, for example. If you face the flinch in meditation, you don’t worry about a long line at the bank. Build your base of confidence by having a vaster set of experiences to call upon, and you’ll realize you can handle more than you used to. Doing the uncomfortable is key. It widens your circle of comfort. Second, rework the pattern of threat response. Learn habits that move you out of a fight-or-flight choice and into another pattern that’s more effective.
But the real trick is to do what the professionals do. They use the speed of the flinch—they use its intensity—to their advantage. Instead of flinching back, they flinch forward—toward their opponent, and toward the threat. When you flinch forward, you’re using the speed of your instincts, but you don’t back off. Instead, you move forward so fast—without thinking—that your opponent can’t react. You use your upraised hands as weapons instead of shields. You use your fear to gain an advantage.
Train yourself to flinch forward, and your world changes radically.
You go on offense instead of defense. Any fight you want to win, a habit of pushing past the flinch can make it happen.
Most people rarely get in the ring for what matters. Instead, the fight gets fought by other people, elsewhere. Everyone talks about it like they want to be involved, but it’s just talk. The truth is that they can’t handle the pressure. They’re not in the ring because they aren’t ready to do what’s necessary to win.
Today, right now, eliminate all excuses from your vocabulary. Refuse to mince words or actions. Refuse a scar-free life.
The ring is different for everyone, but it’s always made of places, people, and projects that are worth the flinch. Habits obscure it.
Set fire to your old self. It’s not needed here. It’s too busy shopping, gossiping about others, and watching days go by and asking why you haven’t gotten as far as you’d like. This old self will die and be forgotten by all but family, and replaced by someone who makes a difference.
But wiping out the fear isn’t what’s important—facing it is.
This pressure you feel—this flinch you encounter every day—there is no end to it. After you deal with one, another will come your way. The pressure increases as you go on. Whatever tension you can handle, the ring will provide just a little bit more than that. Adjust to it. You will never be entirely comfortable. This is the truth behind the champion—he is always fighting something. To do otherwise is to settle.
THE FLINCH, A CHECKLIST
1. Challenge yourself by doing things that hurt, on purpose. Have a willpower practice, such as very hard exercise, meditation, endurance, or cold showers. Choose something that makes your brain scream with how hard it is, and try to tolerate it. The goal isn’t just to get used to it. It’s to understand that pain is something you can survive.
2. Remember things that are easy to forget. Upgrade your current relationships. Create un-birthdays for your friends and stick to them. Go through old text messages to rekindle dormant friendships.
3. Read more. Not just current blog posts and tweets and Facebook updates online, but other sources that take more consideration than blog posts or news.
4. Get some scars by working with your hands. Try to understand how things in your world work, like your car, your stereo system, or even your kitchen.
5. Turn your mobile phone off for a few hours each day. Having nothing to do while you’re waiting for a bus can be boring, but it’s only when you’re bored that the scary thoughts come to the surface.
6. Find new friends who make you feel uncomfortable, either because they have done more than you or because they have done nothing that you have.
7. Renegotiate your work. If you achieve X, then will your employer do Y?
8. Start dressing as if you had a very important job or meeting, or as if you were twenty years old again and thought you were the coolest person on Earth.
9. Imagine that you have to leave a legacy, and everyone in the world will see the work you’ve done. Volunteer. Create something that lasts and that can exist outside of you, something that makes people wonder and gasp.
10. Make something amazing, something that’s terrifying to you. Stay uncomfortable. Fight the flinch wherever you see it. Leave no stone unturned.
“We all are learning, modifying, or destroying ideas all the time. Rapid destruction of your ideas when the time is right is one of the most valuable qualities you can acquire. You must force yourself to consider arguments on the other side.
— Charles T. Munger”
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