What is Antifragility & How Will it Make You a More Effective Human?
I want to ask you a question — what is antifragility? What does it mean to be the opposite of fragile? Give me your definition.
Have a think about it before you continue. What are the traits of an antifragile entity?
If you said strong, robust, unbreakable, or something along those lines I would probably have agreed with you. That is until I read the book ‘Antifragile‘ by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Now that I have read that book I would have to argue that your definition (if it was along the same lines of my presumed responses) is incorrect.
Nassim argues in his book, and I would agree, that the opposite of fragile is not something that doesn’t break, rather it’s something that benefits from breaking.
The dictionary definition of ‘fragile’ is: easily broken or damaged. Therefore you must take care of a fragile object or, also suitably, a fragile person. You must protect a fragile entity at all costs, as if you mishandle or drop that entity, it will break. It’s sensitive, vulnerable, helpless — there are only negative consequences resulting from a lapse of protection and care. The opposite to the entity I just described is something that flourishes and gets stronger from being mishandled, mistreated or dropped. Protection prevents an antifragile object from growing. This type of object must take risks, embrace mishandling or be careless for there to be any beneficial consequences.
In the book Nassim points out that ‘antifragile’ is actually a made up word. There is no word in the dictionary that defines antifragility. Not just absent in English, all languages fail to celebrate the value of antifragility. There is no real word for the opposite of fragile, changing your perspective to live an antifragile life however, can have very real positive implications on your development as a human.
I am obsessed with the gymnasium, I train 6 days a week, take supplements, eat healthy, don’t drink and love the feeling lifting heavy weight fills within me. Going to the gym has been a massive part of my lifestyle for years now and, without knowing it, I had been implementing an antifragile mentality to my training from the very beginning. Early on I used to get a personal trainer to run 30 minute sessions with me to push me to my limits — one particular night, prior to starting a session with the PT that I had already paid for, I was feeling horribly sick. If I was feeling this bad any earlier in the day I would have cancelled the session, it was too close to the starting time by this stage though so I had to pay regardless. The options were pay and don’t go, or pay and go. I chose the latter.
By the end of the 30 minutes I had sweated out whatever was making me feel ill. I felt 100%. In fact, I felt better than 100%. To my surprise putting my body under intense stress, lifting heavy weights and working up a massive sweat when I was feeling ill actually resulted in the opposite expected effect. I got better, not worse. To ensure this wasn’t a fluke I tried again the next time I was feeling ill, with the same result. Now gym is my haven whenever I feel sick, flat, drained, sore or lethargic, and I always feel better after. Even my mentality towards injuries has changed. Why avoid training an injured muscle? Now I gently massage it, stretch it and push light weight using it and always eventually work through the pain, and the injury. That is pure antifragility at work, and I didn’t even know it yet.
The whole concept of working out is an example of antifragility. We go to a gym where we lift heavy weights to cause tiny tears in our muscles, which make our muscles bigger and stronger when those tears heal.
People generally like talking fitness and the gym with me — maybe because it’s an easy ‘go-to’ conversation topic, or maybe because people value my opinion. It’s probably the topic thing. Regardless, I often find myself in these convos at work, on the street, with family — all the time. People occasionally tell me they are feeling unwell so they won’t be going to the gym for a few days, to which I hastily recite my story and encourage them to instead go to the gym as soon as possible. I then ALWAYS get told that they won’t be taking my advice, despite my noble argument.
For some reason people like playing it safe and avoiding stimulation, they think that’s the best practice for too many facets of their lives. They need to change their ways! Not just with their body, work too. People put up with working for a company, working 40 hours a week at a job they don’t like because they fear failing at something they do like. They need to take risks, try things and put some effort in to get the reward. They need to be antifragile. They need to shake things up to escape the fragile environment of company life. Everyone seems to have a great idea or side project, people generally aren’t willing to try and make something of it though, and the reason is years of being told by society that playing it safe is probably best. That the fragile way of approaching life is probably best. Their ego steps in, justifies the decision and they are prepared to give up the idea of doing something they are passionate about. I’m here to tell you, the antifragile way of thinking is much more rewarding.
Every day of our lives we are learning, experiencing and making choices that contribute to who we are as a person. If you start to embrace antifragility as a mentality you will find that life becomes exponentially more exciting. Every choice becomes an opportunity as you begin to appreciate the serendipitous nature of our existence.
Your body, your mind, your business, it can all benefit from embracing antifragility. So, push your body to it’s limits — it can handle it! Put your idea on paper and call that uncle of yours that you know has too much money and time on his hands, or get on the phone and call that shop that you think might like to sell your product. Risk everything to gain everything. You won’t have time for negative emotions because even the negative experiences in your life will offer beneficial consequences. Undesired outcomes become an unrivalled opportunity for you to improve. Antifragility becomes a life philosophy when you embrace the concept. You will see the world in a completely differrent, positive and generous way.
Start applying the antifragility mindset in your life — with every mistake comes knowledge, with every decision comes opportunity and with every risk comes great reward.
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