In 2010, it was hard to even approach technology with any kind of problem or question without being met by the Apple trademark slogan: “There’s an app for that!” I found myself parroting it back to friends for the humor factor – “Can’t remember if you called your mom today? – (Everyone join in!) – There’s an app for that!” But anyone who knows me will tell you – I’m not a subscriber to technology’s apparent universal wisdom in solving all of life’s problems. In fact, four years later, I find myself parroting that familiar cadence with a new replacement:
There’s a book for that.
Having a hard time adjusting to life in a new country, or finding where you belong? There’s a book for that. (I would recommend: The Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit). Unsure about the future, or your life’s work, or really everything in general for that matter? There’s a book for that. (Definitely pick up Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance by Jonathan Fields). Even – bear with me – searching for meaning in this seemingly ridiculous viral trend of throwing a bucket of ice water over your head in order to raise awareness for ALS?
There most certainly is a book for that.
Time Magazine, The Huffington Post, and NBC are only three of the major networks engaging in a current debate to answer the question: how does dumping ice water help to cure a debilitating disease? (By the way, my favorite subtitle: “Ice Bucket Challenge Brings Flood of Donations.” What can I say? I’m a sucker for puns). Does taking a video of your flinching face, posting it to Facebook, and challenging friends benefit ALS awareness in the long run? Probably so, judging by all the current statistics of money raised, visits to the ALS Association website, and also likely to Google or Wikipedia. There is a conversation happening, and that fact cannot be denied. The heartier debate is whether or not the simple act of social media circulation really bolsters causes towards a solution. Or, conversely, whether we are all just made to feel better, more “involved” in the current trending discussion or debate, assuaging our sense of participation, duty, or accountability without actually taking action. But I digress. That’s just one discussion. For the other part of this video – the momentary meeting with a bucket of ice water – there’s a book for that. In 2011, Julien Smith wrote a book called “The Flinch”. It’s short, sweet, and free on Kindle. But just because it’s short, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. And just because it’s free, that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.
What is “the flinch?”
“The X is the flinch. 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.”
Julien circulates this book for free online purely because of the weight behind its content. The flinch is a problem that too many of us face, without facing up to it at all. And this kind of problem – this shrinking back, this maintaining the status quo, this fear of change – is exactly the problem that perpetuates apathy. Fake involvement. The desire to reach out and affect something, but the inability to take the step. In essence, exactly what this ALS donation versus social media is about.
“If the flinch works, you can’t do the work that matters because the fear it creates is too strong.”
In “The Flinch,” Julien has created a practical workbook, short enough that you may actually finish it, but dense enough to be packed with real challenges. When I read it, I had to fight the urge to flip forward past a “homework assignment” I didn’t like – I wanted to keep reading, yes. But my mind was also glossing over the work of having to do A Real Thing – an action that I could really perform, a step I could take right now to start affecting a change. Where does change first happen? Within the self. The person who finds a cure for ALS will have to believe that it’s possible for them to do it. And a small – although not insignificant step towards this – is the urge to walk forward and face your own flinch. To know that action is important, even if your instinct is to pull back. To push on through the reflex, towards a better result with more resolve.
Yes, this #icebucketchallenge is a summer-month flinch, a wearing-your-bikini-while-filming-flinch. But after watching ten of my friends drench themselves, it was easy to recognize the moment when the body pulls back, wants to abort. And then decides to push on through anyway. In fact, the first homework assignment in “The Flinch”: take a two-minute cold shower, everyday for a week. Meet your flinch. Get to know what that feels like in your body.
“This is a book about being a champion, and what it takes to get there. It’s about decisions, and how to know when you’re making the right ones. It’s also about you: the current, present you; the potential, future you; and the one, single difference between them. It’s about an instinct – the flinch – and why mastering it is vital.”
There’s a book for that