Practising Confronting “The Flinch”

One of my favourite books is one called The Flinch by Canadian entrepreneur Julien Smith. In the book, Smith talks about how boxers are trained to avoid flinching when their opponents strike them, and instead proactively move toward the thing they most fear, in order to improve.

The book comes with several practical exercises for identifying and moving past all the “flinch” reflexes in your own life: that necessary task you don’t want to perform, that person you don’t want to talk to (but should), that new experience you’ve been feeling a lot of anxiety about.

I read the book when it was first published, and then recently re-read it this past winter. I was amazed to discover that in that time (approximately 5 years) I had substantially improved my ability to move through all the flinches in my life. I attribute this to my martial arts practice (I’ve been practicing the martial art of aikido for three years).

What I’ve discovered is that repeated practice has been the key for me. Doing something over and over again makes it automatic – something you start doing without even thinking consciously about it. On the aikido mat, I practise doing new and complex techniques without giving up. I make mistakes and am corrected by senior belts. Time after time, I face my fears of looking foolish, or doing it wrong, or messing up.

And every time I see that fear and do it anyway, it reinforces a habit of moving past the flinch.

Some examples of how this has helped me off the mat:

I moved to a new city and joined a new aikido dojo led by a sensei with a reputation for being very strict and old-school. I didn’t procrastinate, but travelled to the unknown school in a Japanese community centre, introduced myself to my new sensei, and immediately started attending classes.

At my new dojo, the techniques are practised in noticeably different ways. My sensei told me several times per class that I was doing something wrong. It never fazed me for a moment; I took his corrections to heart, and immediately attempted the techniques the way he wanted them.

I started a new job that included making cash transactions with customers. My first day of training on the cash register coincided with the first day of the store’s Black Friday sale. Where once I would have felt frazzled, rushed and unsure of myself, I instead took everything in stride and rolled with the waves of customers.

I still practise moving through flinches every day – little flinches like walking on a cold floor with bare feet, or making a phone call immediately rather than procrastinating. It’s incredible the difference it’s made in my life.

This blog post was written by Michelle Lynne Goodfellow. Catch Michelle Lynne at momondays Aurora on 03/28/2017! Get your advance tickets here: Buy Tickets

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow is a writer and illustrator who works by day as a marketing and communications consultant for nonprofits and entrepreneurs. Her superpower is being able to organize familiar things in new ways, and her secret sauce is her ability to understand the big picture and then act. Michelle is a proud breast cancer survivor, and is working towards her black belt in aikido. For more about Michelle Lynne, visit

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