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The Flinch by Julien Smith - Summary and Book Notes

"Wiping out the fear isn't what's important, facing it is"
Cover of The Flinch by Julien Smith


In March 2012, I was scared. By myself, in a country where I didn't speak the language, headed to a job that felt way over my head. At home, I had been living a life decided by others. I was scared to talk to new people, and shy even around acquaintances. Here I was completely out of my element.

On this trip, I read 'The Flinch'. It changed my life. It took time, but this short book gave me the confidence to step out into the fear. To push through and know that whatever happens I will be better off for it.

Smith's book is about 'the flinch', the little hesitation that prevents us from taking action. His book is about why the flinch holds us back, and how to fight it.

Maybe a heftier length would have given the book more authority, but it's short length provides a stronger motivational impact.

Re-reading it now, it doesn't have quite the impact it did years ago. But for the right person, 'The Flinch' is a life-changer.

I highly recommend this book for:

  1. Recent college graduates
  2. Those who feel like they don't have a true purpose
  3. Anyone starting to realize that their life is being lived by default, but too scared to push through and achieve more

Buy "The Flinch" on Amazon or check it out at the library.

"The Flinch" Quick Summary

We all 'flinch' to avoid danger of the unknown, of the bear hiding in the brush. But our modern world has no risk of bears; our flinching holds us back.

To truly learn we must do. The habitual flincher never experiences anything that might hurt her, and never learns anything important.

Retrain yourself to face the fear and 'flinch-forward', and your life will change.

The book gives some Homework Assignments, which I've listed at the end of these book notes.

"The Flinch" Book Notes

The following are rough notes I took while reading. These are mostly paraphrased or quoted directly from the book.

In a fight, there is a fundamental difference between boxers and everyone else.

If you hit them, they don’t flinch.

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.

flinch: verb (used without object) 1. to draw back or shrink, as from what is dangerous, difficult, or unpleasant. 2. to shrink under pain; wince.


For anything you want to do, finding out how is easy.

Every day, you do the exact opposite of what you plan to do. Why?

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 problem with the flinch is that it’s based in a brain that wants to protect you.

Facing the flinch is hard internal labor that comes with no up-front promise of reward. But one day, your world will change, maybe drastically, and it will do so without warning. On that day, you won’t be prepared—unless you’ve fought the flinch before.

The flinch is why you don’t do the work that matters, and why you won’t make the hard decisions.


Flinching guards you from the unexpected. It protects your eyes and neck. It’s one of the few instincts you’re born with, and keep, all your life.

In your daily life, you might never experience anything dangerous at all. Your life is safe—but you’re flinching anyway.

You don’t flinch at bears, because there are none. But you do flinch at the prospect of speaking publicly or joining a gym.


So you need to stop defending yourself. Focus your energy on the fight that matters.

Your world has a safety net.

You treat mistakes as final, but they almost never are.

Your privileged-world problems become the bear, and you treat them that way.

Listen: new does not mean bears anymore.
Now, new means business.


Over a lifetime, those who listen too much build a habit of trust and conformity. Unfortunately, as time goes on, that habit becomes unbreakable.

If you do everything your parents’ way, You’ll never get the lessons you need.


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.

You can’t learn this from books.

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.

The anxiety of the flinch is almost always worse than the pain itself.


Flinch avoidance means your everyday world becomes a corridor. Everything is on auto-pilot.

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

Not all experiments hurt, but all of them are valuable— getting lost is not fatal. Almost every time, it will make your world bigger.

Most people look at the map and see danger. They stay home. Do you?


Guess what: there are none.

if they turn away from the flinch, their stories are unexceptional.

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.


The fear of the flinch gets built over time, by parents, schools, and careful friends.

Unfortunately, it’s often wrong.

It uses your own voice against you. It uses your judgment—but decides based on an outdated biological imperative.

Listen to it and you’ll get nowhere. You’ll never get hurt. You’ll never learn. So how do you know when the fear means something, and when it’s just pointless? There’s a process for it.

First, find a safe place to decide from.

When you’re facing the flinch, you use words like “stupid,” “safe,” “pointless,” or anything else that is soft, judgmental, and blurry.

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.

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.”

The flinch is so innate you don’t consider it a problem.

The ability to withstand the flinch comes with the knowledge that the future will be better than the past.

You move forward and accept tough situations, you believe you’ll recover and end up fine. If you believe this, you’re right.

If you don’t have faith, you believe that every potential threat could be the end of you. If you believe this, you’re right, too.


In a fight, a good opponent watches for patterns and is waiting for you to flinch. It is the point at which he can hit the hardest.

In mountain biking, they say the best way to get hurt is to brake.

All of life is like this.


Your personality is not set in stone.

everything that you are used to, once done long enough, starts to seem natural, even though it might not be.

Every time you give in, you actually make the wrong path easier to follow. But every time you go the right way, you get stronger.

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

If it is useful to do so, you must abandon your identity and start again.

In times of stress, whatever pattern you’re used to taking emerges.

But this reversion is also why an argument with your spouse can feel like a fight with your parents—because it is. Going back to your old pattern of arguing is easy,

Reverting to a fight-or-flight response, even when physical threats aren’t present, isn’t useful.

The first step is to stop seeing everything as a threat.

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.


Flinching cannot be eliminated. This is a basic fact.

flinching cannot be undone, but it can be transformed.

Instead of flinching back, they flinch forward—toward their opponent, and toward the threat.

Train yourself to flinch forward, and your world changes radically


Start with small threats in safe environments. They’ll build confidence for your larger jumps.


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

They want the glory, not the suffering

The ring offers no promises. But one thing’s for sure: unless you get in the ring today, you don’t even stand a damn chance.


Set fire to your old self. It’s not needed here.

This old self will die and be forgotten by all but family, and replaced by someone who makes a difference.


this flinch you encounter every day—there is no end to it.

Whatever tension you can handle, the ring will provide just a little bit more than that.

You will never be entirely comfortable. This is the truth behind the champion—he is always fighting something.

if you’re heading the right way, the pressure will never entirely disappear.

you’re sure to fail. To be rejected. To discover wrong paths. To see what humiliation is like, firsthand.

You’re sure to live.

No matter what the flinch is, you need to face it on your own. It can be lonely. This is a hard truth.

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.


  • Challenge yourself by doing things that hurt, on purpose.
  • Remember things that are easy to forget.
  • 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.
  • Get some scars by working with your hands.
  • Turn your mobile phone off for a few hours each day.
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • Imagine that you have to leave a legacy, and everyone in the world will see the work you’ve done.
  • Make something amazing, something that’s terrifying to you. Stay uncomfortable.

Buy "The Flinch" on Amazon or check it out at the library.

Let me know what you thought of the book.

## HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENTS go to your bathroom, walk up to your shower, and turn on the cold water. You’re predicting a flinch that hasn’t happened yet. You’re already anxious about it—about something that hasn’t happened and won’t kill you—anxious about something that barely hurts at all. Now is the time to step in the shower. You need to build a habit of seeing the flinch and going forward, not rationalizing your fear and stepping away. Keep doing it, every morning, for the rest of the week.


Go to the kitchen and grab a mug you don’t like. Now, drop the cup. Too easy? Smash your smartphone.


You are going to speak to the next stranger you come across. Strike up a conversation, even if it’s just for 15 seconds. Look the person in the eye as you do so. Smile. That’s the trick—pass through the flinch quickly. try the exercise again with someone else.

What happens when you get to someone you cannot talk to— As this happens, watch carefully as your failure walks away from you. Don’t hide from it. Observe the missed opportunity as it walks away What the flinch just did to you, it will do to your whole life, until you stop it.


The next time someone asks for a volunteer, for anything whatsoever, say yes. act before your self-talk overpowers you.


Fear of the flinch is still spreading. It’s like a disease, traveling throughout society, through media and word of mouth. Your final assignment is to give this book to another person

Further Reading

If you're interested in more from Julien Smith, his website is juliensmith.com