The Flinch

By: Julien Smith



What’s your challenge? For anything you want to do, finding out how to do it is easy. Bookstores are full of self-guidance. Yet every day, you smoke, gain weight, and stay at your old job. Every day, you do the exact opposite of what you plan to do. Why? We Flinch.

The Flinch is the moment when every self-doubt you’ve ever had comes into your mind and knocks you back. 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 by the co-Author of Trust Agents, Julien Smith, is a manifesto that sets out how to face up to the Flinch and to gain the edge that others avoid through fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Lesson 1: Meet the twins – Pain and Gain

One day your world will change. Can’t say where, can’t say when, but change is inevitable and it will happen without warning. On that day, you won’t be prepared—unless you’ve fought the Flinch.

Life is an experience. The lessons you learn best are those you get burned by, often literally. Without the scar, the real experience, there’s no evidence or strong memory. The event didn’t actually happen—you just trusted those who know better, those who told you so. Over a lifetime, those who listen too much build a habit of trust and conformity. Unfortunately, as time goes on, that habit becomes unbreakable and they become fully risk averse. You succumb to the Flinch – the sharp intake of breath through pursed lips and the reactionary step back.

Forget secondhand learning. It leaves no scars. It doesn’t provide the basic understanding that sits in the body as well as in the brain. There’s no trace of its passing. It might as well have been a dream.

Firsthand knowledge is visceral, painful, and necessary. It uses the conscious and the unconscious to process the lesson, and it uses all your senses. You need to feel it in your gut—and on your scraped hands and shins—for the lesson to take effect. 
 Remember: the anxiety of the Flinch is almost always worse than the pain itself.

The Flinch amplifies everything—failure, success, joy, and disappointment. If the Flinch makes you quit, you’ll justify it later by saying you worked hard, you tried your best and it was “good enough,” but you’ll be wrong. You’ll have quit. No Pain – no Gain.

Lesson 2: Harry Who?

 Well-trodden paths lead you from your bed, to breakfast, to your car, to work, and then home. You may have a cubicle you come to every day. You probably go to the same lunch place. You watch the same TV shows. You eat the same food. They could replace you with a small, predictable robot. You’re avoiding the Flinch. Flinch avoidance means your everyday world becomes a well-trodden path. Everything is on auto-pilot.

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

See every Flinch as a door you can open with a lesson behind it. It’s an experiment—an attempt at something new. Not all experiments hurt, but all of them are valuable—and if you don’t open doors, you’ll never learn the lessons.

If Luke Skywalker hadn’t faced the Flinch, there wouldn’t have been a Star Wars. If Socrates hadn’t faced it, most of Western philosophy never would have happened. Harry Potter without the Flinch is just a sad kid in a basement.

Lesson 3: Nothing to fear but fear itself

 What happens if you avoid the Flinch? Nothing . We fear the worst but the worst never occurs. There are no negative consequences for breaking the habit of Flinching. Nothing will actually happen if you stop being afraid. You’re free.

The fear of the Flinch has been growing your whole life. It’s made by every authority figure you know, so you’ve learned to obey it. It’s natural. Its tactics work like a perfectly adapted animal inside you. Which is OK, because there are circumstances where real danger may happen.

So how do you know when the fear means something, and when it’s just pointless? How do you know when the Flinch is actually protecting you? First, find a safe place to decide from. Then, once you’re ready, listen to yourself.

Challenge the Flinch by making statements: “this is stupid,” “it’s safe,” “feeling this way is pointless,” or anything else that takes the alternative perspective. The Flinch thrives on making risks look worse than they actually are. So look for words that balance the scales.

You’ll know you’ve opened the right door when you feel a strong, irresistible impulse to do something else, anything else but Flinch.

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. Next thing you know, your whole way of thinking has turned around.

Lesson 4: Habits are forming

 Everything that you are used to, once done long enough, starts to seem natural, even though it might not be. The Flinch doesn’t want you to change. Its agenda is to keep you in the status quo.

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, you get defensive. It’s how you act under pressure.

In your brain the grooves, the synaptic paths, are already deeply embedded, so the behaviours are automatic.

Fortunately, you can train yourself to use new patterns. New patterns can include learning things that are better adapted to certain situations, and will happen automatically when you’re put under duress, whether that’s martial arts or new ways of communicating. The first step is to stop seeing everything as a threat.

Instead of Flinching back, Flinch forward—toward the opponent, toward the threat. When you Flinch forward, you’re using your instincts, but you don’t back off. You use your fear to gain an advantage. 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.

Lesson 5: Enter the Ring

 Fact: Those who face the Flinch make a difference. The rest do not.

Facing the Flinch, and being willing to get the scars that come with it, are what divides your present from your future. Those who fight it are easily identified—you can see the fire in their eyes and the determination that flows through them. Those who are unwilling to face the Flinch are obvious, too. Their eyes are dead. Their voices sound defeated. They have defensive body language. They’re all talk.

Most people don’t actually want to face the Flinch; they just want to be in a movie about it. They want the glory, not the suffering. They don’t want scars because they like being soft. They don’t want to be humiliated; they want respect—they just don’t want to earn it.

The ring - where you fight the Flinch - is different for everyone, but wherever yours is, it’s where real risk happens. Inside the ring, like a boxer, you’ll face pain again and again with no promise of reward, but it doesn’t matter, because in the ring, you’ll know you can make a difference.

Behind every Flinch is a fear or an anxiety—sometimes rational, sometimes not. Without the fear, there is no Flinch. But wiping out the fear isn’t what’s important—facing it is. It shows you that you can handle the pressure and challenge of a new environment, putting the fear in its place.

Everyone in the ring feels alone. You want to change your company’s culture, but it seems like no one will support you. No one wants to talk to you at a party, or so you believe, so you don’t talk to anyone. No matter what the Flinch is, you feel you need to face it on your own.

But people are looking for proof the Flinch can be beaten so they can beat it too. So if you see no one like you, no one who agrees, don’t worry. There are actually hundreds of people like you, and they’re waiting for a leader. That person is you.

Lesson 6: The Flinch, a Checklist

Challenge yourself by doing things that hurt, on purpose.
 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.

  • 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. It can be awkward, but that’s the point. You will make an impact by choosing to do what makes others nervous.

  • Read more. Find thorough and in-depth analyses of subjects you find interesting, or irreverent stuff that makes you feel alive. Read things you disagree with. Read things that are too difficult for you to understand, and then overcome your discomfort by pushing yourself to understand them.

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • Renegotiate your work. If you achieve X, then will your employer do Y? Create a new job title for yourself; then carve out the job.

  • 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. What would you do differently? How would people treat you once you did?
  • 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. Build a support structure for others. Devote some of your time or money to it.

  • Make something amazing, something that’s terrifying to you. Stay uncomfortable. Fight the Flinch wherever you see it. Leave no stone unturned.