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Notes: Book Highlights from The Flinch

The Flinch by Julien Smith is a short, but great read (it's available as free download; you'll need a Kindle reader, which you can also download for free).

"The idea is simple: our flinch mechanism can save our life. Our flinch instinct short circuits the conscious mind and allows us to pull back and avoid danger faster than we can even imagine it's there. But what if danger is exactly what we need?"

It's a fascinating concept, one that I can definitely identify with. As I note in one of the highlights below, overcoming the instinctive desire to finch is what allowed me to create and publish my first ebook. The flinch is something I'm consciously learning to lean into more often.

(As always, the numbers at the end of each highlight indicate the location in the Kindle book.)

If you got injured, you were done. No modern medicine, so each encounter meant blood loss, infection, or death. You can't relate to this. Your lifespan is double that. Science and technology mean you can survive almost anything. It may be expensive to do so, but that's still a significant improvement over death from an infected cut. (112)

Let's make a list of the fears you were born with: falling; abandonment; loud noises.... Yeah, that's about it. You were born with these fears because you need them to survive. These fears kept you safe. The rest are just ghost stories that the flinch has taken over. They're signposts. Look for them. They point the way toward barriers you need to pass, to doors you need to open. (134)

the lessons you learn best are those you get burned by. Without the scar, there's no evidence or strong memory. (155)

Maybe, when you were a kid, your parents didn't want you to get dirty, or you didn't like heights. Avoiding dirt or heights built a pattern of pain avoidance, which added to the habit of flinching. Your parents' fears became your fears, their lives became your life. They flinched for some things, so you began to do the same. But behind every undiscovered flinch is a lesson. If you do everything your parents' way, you'll never discover the truth. You'll never discover the edge. You'll never get the lessons you need. (159)

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. (166)

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. But if you're surrounded by padding, scar-free learning is all you have left. It defines who you are. It limits you, but those limits aren't actually yours—they're the limits of the men and women who came before you. But other people's limits will no longer do. (168)

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. Kids naturally begin this way. It's why their world is always growing. They find hurdles, jump them, and get stronger. When they see they made it, they move on to bigger hurdles. If they fall down, they try again later. It's a basic cycle. It's how kids figure out they can eventually change the world, found a startup, or build a house—by experimenting, learning, suffering, and growing. It's a process. But for that growth to continue, they need to avoid listening too closely to what they're told. They need to stay open-minded. (175)

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. (190)

Ask yourself this: would your childhood self be proud of you, or embarrassed? (197)

no one has a problem with the first mile of a journey. Even an infant could do fine for a while. But it isn't the start that matters. It's the finish line. (213)

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." (247)

getting lost is not fatal. Almost every time, it will make your world bigger. You can look at the edges of your map, the places you were unsure about. Old explorers even had a phrase for it: "Here be dragons." (258)

You need find your dragons, look them in the eye, and destroy them. (263)

Samurai and their modern counterpart, kendo practitioners, say that fights are won internally, even before the killing blow is landed. They face an internal struggle before they ever face the enemy. So will you. Stop shying away from it. (273)

HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT, PART 2 You need more training. Let's take this further. Ready? Go to the kitchen and grab a mug you don't like. Mug in hand, go to a place in your house with a hard floor. Hold the mug in front of you, in your outstretched hand. Say goodbye to it. Now, drop the cup. Whatever rationalization you're using right now is a weak spot for you. Flag it. You'll see it again and again. Drop the damn cup. Did you do it? If so, you'll notice one thing: breaking your programming requires a single moment of strength. Now, clean up the mess. That wasn't so bad, was it? If this was too easy, because a cup is simple to replace, try something harder, like your Blackberry. The strength you gain by letting go is more important than any object you own. (310)

You're only as strong as your weakest moments. Learn to reinforce those weak spots before they cut you down. (337)

Your personality is not set in stone. 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. You think you have a soul mate, but in fact you could have had any number of spouses. You would have evolved differently, but been just as happy. (340)

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. (343)

The flinch doesn't want you to change. Its agenda is to keep you in status quo. It believes your identity is what's kept you alive and stable, and that settling is better than dead. But it's a trap, because almost none of the risks modern man takes are fatal at all. (346)

You can change what you want about yourself at any time. (350)

If it is useful to do so, you must abandon your identity and start again. Sometimes, it's the only way. (353)

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. (384)

Law enforcement officers, professional fighters, and members of the military—all of them learn systems that leverage the flinch. They use it to react faster than their opponents even realize. 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. (395)

Raam's Note: This is exactly what happened when I wrote my first ebook, Small Ways to Make a Big Difference. Creating that book felt so important that I leaned into the doubt and procrastination that I knew was awaiting me. I worked obsessively for three weeks until it was done.

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. (401)

Don't wait until you can talk yourself out of it—you're already too good at that. Instead, act before your self-talk overpowers you. Get yourself into a position where you can no longer back out. Your old self would back away here—instead, burn your bridge so you can no longer retreat. Flinch-breaking is all about eliminating the pointless, cowardly, and habitual, and choosing the useful instead. Useful cannot be discovered in the abstract. It has to actually happen. (474)

From the outside looking in, everyone looks like a conformist. But really, no one is; they're just waiting for another person to speak up. The question is, why isn't it you? Do you feel like you'll be judged, or ostracized? Do you think you'll be ignored and humiliated? Do you feel impotent? The truth is likely quite different. Everyone wants progress but very few want to lead. So a whole group waits for the first hand to go up before their hands go up, too. Suddenly, a vote goes from a unanimous NO to a unanimous YES. All it took was one voice of dissent—and suddenly, everything changed. The secret to overcoming the flinch is that everyone wants you to succeed. People are looking for proof that you can be amazing so that they can be amazing, too. The Web is so great because you can see others being truly themselves, and succeeding at it. This diminishes the power of the consensus. The pressure diminishes. You can be who you like. Getting in the ring becomes easier because you have supporters. 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. Stop flinching. Speak up. (505)

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. Use a dumb phone on the weekends to prevent yourself from checking your messages. (555)

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. (563)

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