The Book: The Flinch

First, the punchline: the book is free. It’s called The Flinch. It’s part of Seth Godin’s The Domino Project with Amazon. The Author is Julien Smith, NYT best-selling author of Trust Agents. Julien & I connected when he did MovNat last year, and then also began doing Leangains consulting with Martin Berkhan. And then, he contributed a “fucking” guest post here.

A few weeks ago he sent me an advance copy of his free book that can be read in a short time. It’s about overcoming your fears to advance your life to your own true limits—rather than those limits society suggests prudent, or even imposes. With permission, I have included the first chapter below. And I think it fits in very well in this time of resolution and renewal, redemption and new leases.

Go for it!

The Flinch


Quitting smoking. Losing weight. Starting a business. Getting a date.

For anything you want to do, finding out how is easy. Do the research and make it happen—or so any book would have you believe. 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?

This is the Information Age. The steps to achieving any goal are easy to search for, come up with, write down on a napkin, and follow. But you’re still not doing it. Part of the movie is missing. A page is torn out of the book. There’s a big X in the equation. Do you know what it is?

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.

The flinch is why the lazy actor never gets discovered—because she never really sweats to make it happen. It’s why the monolithic company gets wiped out by a lean startup—because the big company culture avoids the hard questions. It’s the reason you make the wrong decision, even though you may know what the right one is.

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

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 is the moment when every doubt you’ve ever had comes back and hits you, hard. It’s when your whole body feels tense. It’s an instinct that tells you to run. It’s a moment of tension that happens in the body and the brain, and it stops everything cold.

When coming across something they know will make them flinch, most people have been trained to refuse the challenge and turn back. It’s a reaction that brings up old memories and haunts you with them. It tightens your chest and makes you want to run. It does whatever it must do to prevent you from moving forward. 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. They can invoke a fear of a certain kind of person, a kind of racism or xenophobia, or a fear of new technology or outside influences.

Whatever form it takes, the flinch is there to support the status quo. It whispers in your ear so you’ll dismiss a good idea that requires a lot of change. It stops you from seeing an up-and-coming competitor as a threat. It’s the reason most modern movies are remakes and most successful books are sequels. It hides under the guise of the hard-headed boss, the skeptical publisher, or the cautious friend.

But the problem with the flinch is that it’s based in a brain that wants to protect you. It sees shadows as threats and creates blind spots. It’s endemic to cultures that embrace the old, even though the old might not work anymore. Both individuals and groups must develop systems to handle the flinch, or they’ll always fall prey to outside forces.

Everywhere your flinch avoidance hides, you have to find it, and face it. You need to take back control and stop the flinch, like the boxer in the ring, because you have a job to do—you have a fight you need to win.

For most of your life or your business’s existence, the flinch has been there, guiding you. As you discovered your world and learned best practices from others, the flinch was learning too. It pushes you to judge some ideas as good and others as bad, guiding your behavior over time, until your decisions became streamlined.

Whatever you avoided, whatever you and authorities considered a threat, became a blind spot—it became something that could make you flinch.

The flinch has a complex history. It appears whether you want it to or not. Every day, you make decisions based on it. But you may not think much about it at all. But this is exactly what the flinch wants.

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.

Do this work now, and your future self will thank you.

Finding the flinch reveals a secret passage, hiding in plain sight. It’s why some people know how to sell, and others can’t—because they see the flinch in others. It’s why you can’t quit your job or be the person you want to be—you can’t see the flinch in yourself. The flinch is why you don’t do the work that matters, and why you won’t make the hard decisions. It’s why your organization isn’t competing. It’s why you don’t lead the life you want.

Take this time to learn about it. It won’t take long. Once you see it, it will be visible to you forever.

Since Covid killed my Cabo San Lucas vacation-rental business in 2021, this is my day job. I can't do it without you. Memberships are $10 monthly, $20 quarterly, or $65 annually. Two premium coffees per month. Every membership helps finance this work I do, and if you like what I do, please chip in. No grandiose pitches.


  1. Bill Strahan on December 29, 2011 at 09:04

    Read this a few days ago. Great book. It came hot on the heels of a long discussion with a friend in which I said I thought the single biggest factor in determining success was a willingness to endure pain. If you’re not at least occasionally getting incredibly uncomfortable with your workouts, your financial decisions, your diet, your work on relationships, then you’re going nowhere. It’s the voluntary spikes in pain that create the biggest results, and prepare you to handle the unanticipated discomfort that pops up from time to time.

    I stumbled across The Flinch about 2 hours later and read the whole thing. Crazy timing.

  2. Jeff on December 29, 2011 at 09:50

    Read it last week. Good book. Takes less than an hour to read.

  3. JoshS on December 29, 2011 at 10:59

    Just read it after hearing his interview on Robb Wolf’s podcast. Good stuff!

  4. BLAK_LABL on December 29, 2011 at 12:23

    Awesome stuff – just downloaded from Amazon – thanks for the heads up. Now just waiting for a certain OTHER book to be available :-)

    • Richard Nikoley on December 29, 2011 at 12:28

      Yea, I have no idea what’s going on there. Publisher said the final would be done & ready a week ago, and here I still sit. I assume it’s the typical holiday slowdown.

  5. Steven on December 29, 2011 at 12:45

    I need to check this out…

    Another favorite is “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield…

  6. Jim on December 29, 2011 at 16:58

    Hey, is your book going to be free too? What a great trend.

    I have to admit I read several post/comments on his site complaining that Amazon’s ebook process was so difficult. Wow, took maybe two seconds to “buy” this free book using my Windows laptop, and I started reading it from my iPhone a few moments later. I don’t know how anyone found that difficult. As for the book, it was great. Can’t beat free, and I really felt inspired after reading it. After reading in about 1/2 way I actually felt bad for not paying or donating, but I got over it. I read the entire book in a few minutes, so I would be inclined to call it a booklet, but I did enjoy it very much. I have recommended it to several coworkers already. I would also love to see a version with photos or drawings.

    Now, I must take ice cold showers for what, a week? Argh, must be done. Then, on with the coffee mug. I would suggest marketing the book bundled with some edible bugs and a coffee mug that says “Flinch” on one side and “I dare you” on the other.

  7. Tin Tin on December 29, 2011 at 17:37

    I just read it now on your recommendation. It’s an easy read and definitely worthwhile.

    I think new year’s resolutions are kinda fucked but I will adopt one in 2012 – stop flinching!

  8. Gregory L. Johnson on December 30, 2011 at 09:14

    I thought I read this already in The War of Art.

    Instead of “The Flinch” Steven Pressfield calls it “Resistence.” It’s the same message just a different audience.

  9. Primal Toad on December 29, 2011 at 19:16

    I read this book a few weeks ago. One of the best books I have ever read. It’s short but extremely powerful. I’ll be reading it over and over again to let it sink in.

    It’s free… everyone in the world needs to read it dammit!

  10. Kim on December 29, 2011 at 19:18

    This short, awesome book is more timely for me than I could say.

    THANK YOU, Richard!

  11. Bill on December 30, 2011 at 02:07

    Apparently i cant read it without kindle. Wtf. isnt it available in pdf form?

    • Kim on December 30, 2011 at 03:58

      There are free Kindle reading programs available on The Flinch’s Amazon product page (in the right column under the green box); get one.

      Edit — go here:

    • Richard Nikoley on December 30, 2011 at 10:21

      Hey Bill, no need to have a Kindle, and mine has been broken for a long while. Amazon has free reader applications for PC, Mac, and all the smart phones and tablets. Cool thing is, if you have an Internet connection when you read, it keeps your books synced. So, I began reading Flinch on my Mac and later, opened it up in the Kindle app on my iPad, and it came up right where I had left off. Andthis morning, I’m sitting in a cafe reading some of the excerpts on my iPhone.

  12. Barbara Hvilivitzky on December 30, 2011 at 09:30

    Well, this is quite a message. As a result this is the last time I will be reading Free The Animal. It has been a part of my routine because I’m hooked on low-carb and that wealth of information has been good. However, the message through the potty mouth language and the very anti-faith slant is continually grating – so that’s it. My flinch has always been that I have itchy ears/eyes and idle curiosity – fatal if one wants to grow in spiritual areas. I’ll spend my time much more productively by this year studying the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas – part of my “do something hard” resolution.

    This may bring some negative comments and that’s ok, but don’t waste your time as I won’t be reading.

    • Richard Nikoley on December 30, 2011 at 10:31

      Barbara. Only a very boring person would bother with such a tedious comment over something they no longer value.

      It is ironic, though, that you choose this post to Flinch.

    • Steve on December 30, 2011 at 14:42

      I hope you’ll pay attention to Aquinas’ views of women; he also had a very primitive (i.e. religious) view of the nature of the world. Keep in mind he was a man of his times; it was considered a great thing to ponder the nature of the trinity and other meaningless matters. Maybe look at someone more worthy to study, like Spinoza.
      I don’t always agree with the views expressed on this site. But I respect those views and the right to express them; I also value the sense of unabashed individualism that Richard and his readers regularly exhibit, which is sorely lacking in the religious, who, IMHO, seem to think it is a virtue to have no individual value but rather are utterly dependent on their deity for a sense of worth.

    • Steve on December 30, 2011 at 15:00

      Here’s a choice quote from Aquinas: “In order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful and that they may give to God more copious thanks for it, they are permitted perfectly to behold the sufferings of the damned . . . The saints will rejoice in the punishment of the damned.” So Aquinas’ heaven was populated with sadistic voyeurs eternally watching the tortures of the damned for amusement. Nice.

      • Richard Nikoley on December 30, 2011 at 15:54


        But, but, you’re questioning her FAITH!

      • Steve on December 30, 2011 at 16:48

        Questioning is what I do. Including my own beliefs/objectivity, etc. I have no use for offended christians.

    • jeremiah on December 30, 2011 at 18:13

      Another Aquinas quote, stated in response to his friend urging him in old age to finish his great work…

      “I cannot, for everything I have written seems to me like straw.”

  13. JoshS on December 30, 2011 at 09:43

    $5 says she comments again ^ :D

  14. Grant on December 30, 2011 at 11:54

    Cheap existentialism. The reason is because the bad people have more guns than the good people do.

  15. […] what I perceive as a pretty large turnover in readership. For instance, Barbara Hvilivitzky comments today, on my post about The […]

  16. Joe on December 30, 2011 at 16:55

    I’m confused… Why is Barbara offended by this post? This doesn’t point out any specific spirtual component does it? Or am I missing it?

    “My flinch has always been that I have itchy ears/eyes and idle curiosity – fatal if one wants to grow in spiritual areas.”
    Is she really saying that human curiosity and a desire to learn are anathema to growing spiritually? Did she just admit that her and others of the faith persuasion base that faith on ignorance?

    I feel like I just entered past some strange event horizon. #confusedaetheist

    • Sean on December 31, 2011 at 03:34

      I know, this quote immediately sprang to my mind:

      “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” -Galileo

      • Sean on December 31, 2011 at 03:37

        And yes, I’m ashamed to confess I know that quote from the game Civilization IV, not from actually reading Galileo.

      • Skyler Tanner on December 31, 2011 at 16:29

        Civ should be mandatory playing for any teenager, if only to be quizzed on the implication of the quotes from the intellectual beasts who spoke them.

  17. Maria on January 1, 2012 at 09:23

    What a great way to start a new year, especially a year that will bring change to so many. I’m definitely recommending this book to everyone I know.

    Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  18. Jasen on January 3, 2012 at 10:32

    Don’t go away mad just go away! One thing that really just pisses me off are people ranting on and on about how offended they feel. You could have simply just stopped reading the blog or you could have sent Richard a private e-mail explaining why you will no longer be reading his blog.

  19. Cattle feed on January 8, 2012 at 17:48

    The FDA (Food & Drug Administration) was recently sued by a roster of environmental and consumer groups for doing precisely nothing (lest you consider non-binding recommendations something) to stop the onslaught of non-therapeutic antibiotics in animal farms, despite its recognition of the public-health threat caused by antibiotics-tainted meat (after all, the agency first proposed a ban on this use of antibiotics in 1977, but Congress ordered more research!).

    The NRDC-led coalition is specifically asking the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to force FDA to withdraw its approvals for the non-therapeutic uses of penicillin and tetracycline. “Roughly 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are given to healthy farm animals to promote faster growth and compensate for unsanitary conditions. These cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys receive doses too low to actually treat disease, but high enough to allow bacteria resistant to antibiotic treatment to survive and thrive,” claims the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council). It goes on to say that “the FDA’s paralysis isn’t just irresponsible. It’s illegal.”

  20. A Book About Flinching and Fear « Blog on January 28, 2012 at 03:59

    […] is a full review of the book (from C.C. Chapman) and a longer review from anarcho-libertarian and paleo-primal advocate Richard Nikoley. Also of interest is Robb Wolf's podcast with Julian Smith about the book. On Robb's podcast, […]

  21. Karen De Coster » A Book About Flinching and Fear on January 28, 2012 at 03:50

    […] is a full review of the book (from C.C. Chapman) and a longer review from anarcho-libertarian and paleo-primal advocate Richard Nikoley. Also of interest is Robb Wolf’s podcast with Julian Smith about the book. On Robb’s […]

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