The Flinch, the Sandal, and the 'Why?'
For extraordinary results in 2024, set ambitious goals and then find reasons to commit to them.
Big announcements: First, I moved! My family is trying a homesteading experiment on a 20-acre rental property in rural northern California.
Second, now that my new book on AI-assisted writing has been published, I’ll be taking the principles I develop in the book (the ones I use for my clients) to write more on Substack. Besides regular content, I will publish one weekly post for paid subscribers. Premium content will tease early chapter drafts of my forthcoming books. Check out the other subscriber perks here, and read on for details about my ambitious writing goals for 2024 (and how I plan to achieve them).
“You can’t settle for reaching other people’s limits. You have to reach yours.” – Julien Smith, The Flinch
My first plunge into South Honcut Creek was brief.
This time of year, the water is around 42 degrees – 10 degrees above freezing and 10 degrees below the temperature of the San Francisco Bay in January. 42-degree water is cold and unforgiving, but I was determined to start the New Year on the right foot. After a holiday softening, I’m ready to resume my rituals of “hormesis” and push beyond my comfort zone, even if only for a few minutes each day.
On entering the water, every nerve bundle and fiber of my being went into rebellion. I swam straight for the banks. Blood retreated to my core, leaving my toes both numb yet hypersensitive to the rocky path leading back up to the house.
On Day 2, I tried a different approach. I stood waist-deep, playing a waiting (wading?) game with my lower body, trying to convince myself that it wasn’t so bad. I stayed in twice as long as Day 1, but not long enough to acclimate.
On the third day, I changed tactics again. I raced down the hill from the house towards the creek, intent on using my momentum to overcome the inevitable hesitation at the water’s edge.
And it worked! There was the initial shock, the involuntary gasp, the surge of adrenaline... and then the realization.
I'd lost a sandal.
Overcoming the "Flinch"
Have you ever found yourself teetering on the brink of a challenge, feeling that invisible force yanking you backward?
Julien Smith explores this phenomenon and how to overcome it in his excellent book The Flinch.
“It’s the moment when every doubt you’ve ever had comes back and hits you, hard,” Smith writes.
The flinch is what makes you pause before diving into a cold creek in winter. It’s what stops you from asking that burning question of a speaker in a crowded room. And it’s what makes you second guess your ambitious New Year’s resolutions after your initial enthusiasm wanes.
The flinch exists for a reason. It can protect you from danger. But it’s often a misfiring – an overreaction to a non-threat or minimal risk that prevents you from becoming the person you were meant to be.
When we decided to move from our comfortable Bay Area abode to this beautiful, rugged creekside ranch in the middle of nowhere, we felt the flinch. We weighed the costs – the isolation and separation from our community – along with the harsher elements of country living (snakes, insects, poison oak, etc.). In the end, the pull of this new life and the dream of raising our kids as homesteaders eclipsed these potential risks.
Complete safety is an illusion. Danger can be avoided, but risk must be managed. And the greatest risk (it’s cliche, I know) is to never take any risks at all. The journey here wasn't without its setbacks. A significant move and extensive travel put a damper on my writing. But now that I’m somewhat settled, I find myself ready to embrace a year of hormetic living – of pushing my mental and physical limits through strategic dosing of beneficial stress.
Here, in the rolling oaks of Butte County, I am brewing bigger and more ambitious plans for the year ahead. Wherever you are, I hope you are, too.
My plans include hosting a retreat for my core natural movement tribe, where we'll sweat, swim, climb, lift, carry, and carve out our vision for the year ahead.
I envision building a Hébert-style obstacle course constructed from fallen oak trees.
My wife and I are making plans for a mobile chicken coop and, God willing, a family dairy cow.
I plan to write more – both my own books, and those of other creators who are aligned on core values.
I am committed to cold creek plunges as one of several daily habits that will energize these goals with consistency and discipline.
Of course that all looks great on paper, written down as a New Year’s Resolution. But there’s still that pesky flinch to deal with.
The Power of “Why” in Confronting Challenges
The incident of the slippery sandal might have been fate’s way of turbocharging my cold exposure ritual. Under normal circumstances, I would have continued an incremental approach – wading in a bit deeper and staying a minute longer each time. But losing that sandal (a recent gift from my wife) changed everything. I was determined to retrieve it before the creek claimed it. So, after a moment of composure and a deep, lung-emptying exhale (to avoid bobbing back to the surface too soon), I surrendered to the murky depths.
At the bottom, some 10 feet underwater, it was a whole new level of cold. The flinch was there, urging me to resurface and retreat to warmth. “Live to dive another day,” the flinch shouted. But my mission was clear.
Friedrich Nietzche once said, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
This quote popped into to mind somewhere around the fourth fruitless dive into the frigid abyss. A warm sense of calm overtook me, and I dove a fifth and final time.
Well, I didn’t find it and gave up after 7 or 8 minutes for fear of hypothermia. But in the process, I had adapted to the cold. The sense of purpose kept me going. Now, whenever I approach the creek, I know the cold will sting, but the flinch has lost its grip.
While searching for a missing sandal might not scream “life-or-death urgency,” the submerged huarache (Xero’s Aqua Cloud if you’re wondering) symbolized something more. Sometimes, it takes a strong external reason to overcome the initial flinch and prove to ourselves what we can do. Maintaining focus on fitness goals – or any goals, for that matter – throughout the year hinges on remembering your “why” so you can endure any how to make it happen.
This principle applies across domains. My ambitious writing goals for 2024, for example, will crumble without a deeper purpose. Life's demands will inevitably overshadow mere aspirations unless anchored to a concrete "why."
Ambition into Action: My System for Achieving Writing Goals
Before moving here, several paid writing gigs took priority over my personal projects on natural movement and hormesis. I have developed a system during this client work for transforming rough transcripts and ideas into polished books, which I detail in my new book Command the Page: The AI-Assisted Way to Improve Your Writing, Publish Your Ideas Faster & Future-Proof Your Creative Career.
That book codifies my methods for capturing, organizing, distilling, and enriching ideas leveraging AI. It's both a manifesto and manual for publishing faster without compromising quality.
Over the years, I've started but not finished multiple writing projects. Armed with my system, I'm now ready to apply it to transform these unfinished works into published books.
My goal for 2024? Release at least 3 new titles:
The Benedict Challenge: Recovering the ancient fasting tradition of One Meal a Day with an incremental approach.
The 50-Mile Man: A training manual for Ultra-Endurance Marching, inspired by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and JFK, with a spiritual component.
Dreams & Ashes: What my journey of recovery from marijuana addiction can teach us about desire, motivation, and finding our inner substance.
Setting goals like these is great. It can be motivating in its own right. However, what's essential are the systems and the underlying “why” that transform these visions into tangible results.
I have confidence in the writing system I've developed for clients, which has boosted my writing output. But without another source of motivation, my ideas for books will remain trapped as drafts.
Reflecting on my motives for prioritizing these books over other paid work, I keep coming back to one big idea: cultural change through physical vigor.
I am driven by a desire to catalyze cultural change through renewed physical vigor and revive our dormant capacities for strength, endurance, and health. My writings aim to recover this natural birthright by reconnecting with ancestral wisdom and hormetic habits, building a robust movement grounded in tradition and bolstered by the latest science. Despite the decay and dysfunction that surrounds us, I believe that humans are not broken by default and we can recover our natural birthright of health and vitality.
To add an extra layer of motivation, however, I'm making a commitment to my readers to a rigorous publishing schedule. I aim to publish the content for the books above in a serialized format. This approach will allow me to share these ideas before they are compiled into their final book forms and give me a system for making incremental progress.
Each week, I'll release at least one chapter or substantial long-form essay. These writings are destined to be published in book form, so I cannot offer them entirely for free. They will be accessible to premium subscribers who desire early access and whose feedback will be invaluable in refining the final drafts.
If you subscribe now as a founding member, I will send you a bundle of my last three books: Hormetics, The New Strongman Code, and Command the Page.
I will also open my calendar for a 30-minute phone call in which we can talk about whatever you want:
Health goals and systematic approaches to achieving them
The principles of hormesis, cold exposure, and intermittent fasting
The intricacies of AI-assisted writing and bringing your ideas to fruition
Strategies for building a physical subculture
My ability to maintain my ambitious publishing schedule will hinge on the amount of support I receive.
With just one new founding member, I can justify the purchase of new sandals to my wife.
With 10 or more paying subscribers, I will be able to shift more of my focus away from client projects towards what I consider my most vital work.
This project is rooted in the belief that health and vitality are paramount and that, both individually and collectively, we need to reevaluate our approach. The answer lies in a return to a vital tradition, one that has been overshadowed by our society's tendency towards comfort and risk aversion.
Even if you can’t support me financially, there are three other ways you can help:
Refer a friend to this newsletter. If you tell 3 people about the podcast, you’ll get digital copies of the 3 books above plus a free 2-month subscription. With 10 referrals, you’ll get a free 6-month subscription. For 20 or more referrals, you will get a free year.
Comment on this post with your most ambitious goal for the year and your “why” for achieving it. Knowing that you are reading, and that my writing might be moving the dial in your life, is one my biggest motivations for continuing this newsletter.
Finally, if you know of any content creators with a large body of existing audio or video content, send them the link to my business website, Vergili.us. I’m eager to help others publish their ideas in book format in the year ahead.
Don’t flinch. Join the tribe, and let’s smash through our 2024 goals.