The Flinch - by Julien Smith

When you're facing the flinch, you use words like "stupid," "safe," "pointless," or anything else that is soft, judgmental, and blurry. The flinch thrives on making risks look worse than they are. So look for those words, act anyway, and judge from hindsight instead.

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.

When you feel the flinch, you can shut it up by talking out loud. Ask a clear, strong question: "What are you afraid of?" Say it whenever you're avoiding the flinch; then force yourself to answer. Or just call it out: "Flinching."

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. You go on offense instead of defense. You can change the world again, instead of protecting yourself from it.


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

  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. 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.

  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. Have a garden or a dog to help you stay grounded in the real world.

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

  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. Meet tattoo artists or homeless people, millionaires or best-selling authors. Host dinner parties for them. Serve them bizarre food. Why the hell not?

  7. 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?

  8. 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.

  9. Make something amazing, something that's terrifying to you. Stay uncomfortable. Fight the flinch wherever you see it. Leave no stone unturned.