In the Night Farm…Your Ride is Here.

Don’t Flinch

I’m reading a book called The Flinch.  It’s author, Julian Smith, has made electronic copies available for free through Amazon.  Although Smith’s writing is decent and his premise interesting, I’m not sure it takes 855 kilobytes to get his point across.  Pick up the book if you like, or content yourself with this synopsis:

We humans miss out on a broad range of beneficial experiences due to fear of events that haven’t happened yet.  The flinch is our natural reaction to pain; it is supposed to follow the unpleasant event.  Instead, we tend to flinch in anticipation of discomfort, and steer clear of perceived danger that, if faced, would promote personal growth.

In order to become tougher, better individuals, we ought to acquire a boxer’s ability to override the flinch reflex.  This is accomplished through repeated, intentional exposure to uncomfortable experiences (from cold showers to asking for raises), through which we learn that most of what we fear isn’t dangerous at all — and on the rare occasions when we actually are damaged, we bear our scars as badges of honor, as proof of our ability to survive.

Do you recognize the flinch?

I suspect I am not the only equestrian who faces it before every ride.  The twinge of reluctance.  The search for an excuse.  The reason not to go today.  Because once I boot up, saddle up, mount up…anything could happen.  I might get hurt. 

The flinch.  Every time, I push through it in order to get out the door.  And every time, once the horse is live in my hands, the fear evaporates.  The flinch is behind me, and the experience itself isn’t painful after all.  This is what I know, what I love, what I do.  It is familiar and easy and fun.  It sets me free.  It makes me better.

But to get there — get better — I have to grit through the flinch.  And really, it’s not so bad.


You might also like:  Fear and What’s Stopping You?

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7 responses

  1. sj

    I think maybe it was Plato who advised, “Do the thing you fear.”
    Anyone who faces danger and says he/she has no fear is either a liar or a moron.
    Courage is not the absence of fear; courage is the conquest of fear.


    January 2, 2012 at 10:05 am

  2. funder

    Don’t let’s start about the evolutionary reasons for flinching, because they’re perfectly valid – you damn well better jump if you even think you hear a slithery rattle, or that next snakebite might be your last. But that’s just me being pedantic about his framework.

    He IS right that fear keeps us from a lot of growth opportunities in our civilized world. I spend a lot of time trying to decide if I’m legitimately afraid or not. I try to view it as risk management – evaluate the level of risk and the severity of the possible consequences and make a rational decision there.

    Unacceptable risk: I’m scared to let Dixie canter if she’s at all tired. I think, right now, that this is a rational fear and I do act on it. This autumn, she tripped, fell, and flipped after we’d been gleefully cantering down a flat sand road for a couple miles. Freak accident, yes, but we were both so incredibly lucky to not be really badly hurt.

    Acceptable risk: I’m scared to trot along property lines with dogs in the yard. But I do it anyway – I have proven to myself that I can sit her sideways spooks. If I fall, I’ll fall clean to the side. If I let her walk past every barking dog, we’ll never get anywhere and she’ll never get desensitized.

    January 2, 2012 at 10:57 am

    • Right you are. I should note that Mr. Smith does acknowledge the reason for our flinch reflex; his point is that in our modern world, it is often activated when the danger is *not* real.

      I hear you on risk management. There’s a difference between confronting daily fears and doing something stupid. 🙂

      January 2, 2012 at 11:09 am

  3. Even tho I am not nearly as active as you are, I know the feeling. Some things are so worth it.

    January 2, 2012 at 6:09 pm

  4. Very interesting post! I love the feeling of having worked through something difficult and the sense of accomplishment after. No matter how small the issue. You feel brave! These days the cold weather has been making me *flinch (or shiver…), but I get out there regardless! And a warm cup of tea doesn’t make it seem to bad =)

    January 16, 2012 at 7:04 am

    • 🙂 Jessica. I’ll be joining you in that chilly riding soon — looks like our easy winter is over! Hmm, maybe a thermos of tea in a saddle bag… ?

      January 22, 2012 at 7:41 am

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