babysteps and flinching

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so i’ve been reading an ebook called “The Flinch” which talks about facing fears / reluctances and when you feel the instinct to flinch you are to not give up; rather to do the opposite. if you do nothing else, look at the cover art.

the author, julien smith, talks any number of goals that people might have for themselves: getting a new job, waking up earlier, asking someone on a date, trying a new food, having The Talk in a relationship, losing weight, training for a race; anything that requires growth and very likely hard change.

it gives homework. the first assignment is to daily walk into a very cold shower for a week. i presume without clothes on. the objective of this exercise is to know on a visceral level what a flinch feels like and to get over any projected fear that you might have about something that could be uncomfortable, but intellectually you know is completely harmless. i chickened out on that. i’ve had the sniffles lately. i mean, really… it’s december. the ground water temp is probably 45˚.  if i’m gonna subject myself to supah-cold water, it’s gonna be on one of those geriatric polar bear swim club things… and i’ve got time.

the second assignment is to take a mug from the kitchen and drop it to the floor / ground in hopes of smashing it. the goal is to show you that you gain more strength by letting go. if the cup was too easy, the author suggests smashing a smartphone. (“but i play Cut the Rope on that!” screams Thing 3; no worries, i won’t smash my smartphone.) i also won’t smash a cup because well, i think it’s a stupid thing to do and i clean up after enough ceramic accidents around here that the thought of cleaning up an “intentional” is uh, dumb. i don’t think the author has kids.

the third assignment is really up my alley. talk to a total stranger. i do this all the time. it’s not a problem at all. i tell people i don’t know they look nice or that i like their jacket or their haircut (usually a woman) is awesome(r). before you start getting uncomfortable, don’t worry. my comments are always made in broad daylight and in nice neighborhoods. one of my favorite times is when i saw a mature woman about a year ago who looked so beautiful i had to tell her. she said she was meeting someone on a blind date; her first since being a widow. whoever the guy was, he had better be hot, i told her and she blushed. i don’t flinch from speaking to strangers but i don’t take candy from them. public speaking is also not a big deal for me. i can work a room.

the fourth assignment is so @$&*^@_ crazy that i don’t know where to …  … the author proposes getting punched in the face. or putting yourself in a boxing ring and then allowing yourself to get punched in the face.

i decided at this point that the tome is self help meets fight club. but bear with me.

why am i reading this book? it was free. i read a lot of what turns out to be crap because it’s free. it’s the allure of the Kindle. download anything in less than a minute and see if it stinks. if it does, you just delete it and it just gooooes awaaaaay….. some of it i finish, most i don’t. but this book isn’t really crap and i’m reading it also because seth godin (a best selling author and a vocal ebook champion) recommended it, but i’m beginning to think that as much as seth likes to talk the talk about “doing The Work” and “changing the world” and “re-revolutionizing everything…” and his favorite, “poking the box” he also is basically a businessman who must cross pollinate and engage in partner marketing or he will perish. eh… he’s human and he’s got bills.

i truly dislike the work of “selling” myself or authors or artists having to sell themselves and play the game. it’s not that i’m so hot that my work should speak for itself; it’s that to me, it’s sorta … well, fake. i see some people on fb turning themselves INSIDE OUT for attention and it’s sorta pathetic. i’ll chat more about that in a later post. i need to do more so-called research.

back to the boxing ring for a sec. smith goes into as much detail as he allows himself to discuss the physical reactions of flinching and how if in a fight (club) the way to overcome the flinch is to actually step into it. hmm. so, step into what you fear. does the flinch ever go away? not if we’re lucky. i like and hate that. i suppose if it goes away, then we’re dead inside.

while the book is not bad, some of the ideas are a little wacky and it repeats itself a bit but maybe that’s part of the “therapy.” i honestly flinch when i prepare to read it because i know it’s right! i’m reading it because i’m really trying to get over my fear of writing for the sheer joy of writing “publicly.” y’see, every time i’ve written, it’s been for someone else: teacher, boss, client, professor… so it’s a new stage for me.  and i started this supposed “blog” about a year ago and i’ve written mostly about other people and i wonder if my randomness that i’ve allowed myself in this blogging capacity has sort of been my undoing; i have no “plan.”

man plans God laughs. that’s one of my favorite phrases of all time. perhaps i like it too much.

oh…. plans. i titled this blog “babysteps and flinching” because this is exactly where i am. i realized a few months ago with great relief that the term “babysteps” can apply to anyone at any stage. previously i had always understood it to mean just very small steps, on tippy-toes even. like those taken with archless four-inch feetpods within a very short distance between said feetpods and narrowly placed and slowly.

but upon greater reflection, i remembered that babies don’t flinch. they just go for it. and they fall down all the time.

so i always assumed that when adult people said “taking babysteps” that it obviously meant that whatever they were doing was probably mastered (because they are adults). they were just choosing to walk slowly to adapt.

well, what i hand’t quite fully appreciated (and i mean “appreciate” in the sense that it’s a gift) is that in order to take the babysteps and master them, one must fall down. a lot. i mean, like all the time. have you ever really watched a pre-toddler child navigate on foot? we used to call all our kids “drunken sailors” (no, i’m not making fun of alcoholic seamen, so all you pro-alcoholic seamen advocates better stand down, people can be so PC lately). a baby’s gyroscope is spinning furiously, his brains are firing synapses at a blistering rate and his enormous head (especially in the case of Thing 1… that kid had a HAAA-UGE head as an infant, almost like Charlie Brown) resting atop his fleshy one-inch neck is the supposed ballast making everything gonna be alright. right? well, not so much… look, there’s something bright and shiny.

>WHUMP< baby fall down go boom. and do they cry? not really… not unless we as observers gasp.

in my parenting i had the huge benefit of Dan’s older sibs who had kids already. they showed me to cheer when a baby lands on her puffy fanny from all of 10 inches above. so we cheered when our Things fell down and went boom as they learned to walk and so they never really cried unless they bumped their ballasts and if they did that, well truth be told: we usually waited for them to decide if it hurt or not.

if they did get hurt, we cuddled them until they started squirming like feral cats to get back to the business of falling down. Thing 2 for instance was nicknamed “Fling” from almost the moment he came home from the hospital by a dear friend (i preferred “der fledermaus” but Fling stuck) because he was constantly.on.the.move. he started walking on Inauguration Day for W; he wasn’t even a year yet. talk about “Mission Accomplished.” wooooo sorry.

so now i’m learning to not be afraid to fall down and also to be my own cheering section to get me back up. it’s tough. i flinch all the time. today as a matter of fact; i decided to send a friend a note to let her know i’m in the market for p/t writing work if she needs it. i was afraid to upset the balance of our friendship but then i realized that flinch flew in the face of my “you can’t win if you don’t play” mentality which embodies a lot of how i approach life — at least it’s the advice i give to friends…  so i sent the note anyway. i wouldn’t be offended if i received a note like that and it’s doubtful she would be offended. i have to learn on a cellular level (flinch-wise) that risk is its own greatest reward.

so what are you flinching from? are there things you’re trying to do that require babysteps? know that you will falter. guaranteed. but consider the question posed by Alfred to Bruce Wayne in “The Dark Knight“: “Why do we fall down Sir?” “So we can learn to get back up,” replies Bruce. Alfred never gave up on Bruce. so you don’t give up on you.

full circle moment: if we always cheered when wobbly kids safely fall down, why don’t we cheer ourselves when we try something we’re interested in knowing the risks needed for success and knowing we’re very likely going to fall down? for me as i said it’s about writing publicly, purposelessly and just for the joy of it. i know i’m gonna fall down, that’s not where the flinch comes in… the flinch comes in right before i even start and right after i click “publish.”

here goes…

thank you. have a wonderful 2012.

update: crazy but true department: i finished the book about 5 minutes after posting this on 12/21. i had no clue because i was at “35%” of the book which i’ve since learned includes samples of other books on the same seth godin train / imprint. the book is having a benign effect in that it’s getting me to think about how i do things and i suppose i’ll have a hard time ignoring when i’m flinching.

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