The Flinch by Julien Smith

Read in September 2016

Rating 8/10

Would your childhood self be proud of you, or embarrassed? This book is a very driven essay on facing fear and pain. Maybe it's more of a poem? It's asking difficult questions, pushes you forward and gives kicks in the ass on almost every paragraph. The references to physical experiences and the connection to patterns – even on organizational and cultural levels – resonated very much with me. It's short and can be re-read twice a year (even if many lines already stick after the first read).

My notes from the book

This book is about how to stop flinching. It’s about facing pain.

The X is the flinch. The flinch is your real opponent, and information won’t help you fight it. It’s behind every unhappy marriage, every hidden vice, and every unfulfilled life. Behind the flinch is pain avoidance, and dealing with pain demands strength you may not think you have.

Behind every act you’re unable to do, fear of the flinch is there, like a puppet master, steering you off course.

The flinch is the moment when every doubt you’ve ever had comes back and hits you, hard.

If the flinch works, you can’t do the work that matters because the fear it creates is too strong.

Individuals have flinches, but so do organizations and cultures.

The flinch is there to support the status quo.

So your heart starts beating fast. Your palms get moist. Time distorts. Not for bears, but for hard conversations and quitting your job. But that reaction is backwards. You don’t need adrenaline to get through those things—you just need to do them.

The lessons you learn best are those you get burned by.

You can’t settle for reaching other people’s limits. You have to reach yours.

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?

Whatever decision you make reinforces what you’ll do next time. Then, whatever your habit is, you teach it to others. You convince them it’s important. This is how strong fears can spread, creating diseased cultures inside of families, companies, or whole countries.

So, be careful what lessons you avoid and whom you listen to. Decide carefully what’s dangerous. Decide on your own.

Change is easy in principle but hard in practice.

What you’re missing is that the path itself changes you. You’re weak because you haven’t stepped on the path. When you do, a process will begin.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

But there’s a secret here, too: getting lost is not fatal. Almost every time, it will make your world bigger.

“Here be dragons.”

Behind every moment of courage was a man or woman who faced a difficult internal struggle. When they face it, it becomes an amazing story. They become legends. But if they turn away from the flinch, their stories are unexceptional. They’re like everyone else. They vanish.

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.

You’ll know you’ve opened the right door when you feel a strong, irresistible impulse to do something else, anything else. This usually means that you’re right at the threshold of something important, and you need to pay attention and keep going—now.

The strength you gain by letting go is more important than any object you own.

You may think a morning coffee is the most enjoyable thing in the world, but it’s really just a habit. Thirty days without it, and you would be fine.

Every time you give in, you actually make the wrong path easier to follow.

What the flinch just did to you, it will do to your whole life, until you stop it.

The training isn’t about fighting at all, but something more important: pattern-breaking.

They use the speed of the flinch—they use its intensity—to their advantage.

Train yourself to flinch forward, and your world changes radically. You respond to challenges by pushing ahead instead of shrinking back. You become bigger instead of smaller; you’re more stable and more confident. Your world becomes a series of obstacles to overcome, instead of attacks you have to defend yourself from.

Flinch forward in nature, at home, in your workplace, anywhere. Try whatever you like or find interesting. Climb trees, eat new food, or learn to dance. All are provocations to the status quo that you use as stepping stones to larger explorations.

Open your eyes. Block all escape routes. Eliminate all noise.

Useful cannot be discovered in the abstract. It has to actually happen.

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.

There are enough viewers. There are enough cheerleaders. There are enough coaches and enough commentators. What there isn’t enough of are players.