Are You AntiFragile Enough?

Tony
Wednesday, July 22, 2020 - 23:07
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antifragile nassim taleb

For the time being, I’ve escaped the latest coronavirus breakout in our area. If you’re reading this a week after I wrote it, it’s possible I can no longer say that. I’m not invincible and know that well. 

What I have learned about myself, and human beings as a whole, is that we ultimately get stronger by the stresses that are put upon us. 

You’re probably thinking...Yea...you own a gym...of course you believe in stressing your muscles so they can adapt and increase your abilities to handle more in the future. And you gym rats love your mantras, like “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”

True statements, yes. But this concept of AntiFragility isn’t a “nice to have.” 

As Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes it in his book “AntiFragile: Things That Gain From Disorder”, AntiFragility is a “need to have.” 

We need stresses not just in the gym, but in schools and relationships and business. We need stresses in our economy, our environment, and our evolution as a species. 

To understand antifragility better, it helps to understand what it is not. I like how Taleb described the differences between fragile, robust, and antifragile. 

A coffee mug is fragile. If you were to mail it to a friend, you’d label it “fragile” and “handle with care”. Any external stress could break it and render it useless.

A washing machine is robust. It can clean the stinkiest of gym clothes thousands of times. It can handle large loads and stresses, but it can never grow stronger from the washes it performs. 

A human’s muscular system is antifragile. Weightlifting stresses the muscles and breaks them down. To grow it’s capacity to accommodate future shocks, the muscles grow larger and stronger. 

I love the thought of being antifragile as a human. I’ve been holding this concept of antifragility close lately. As the threat of a virus looms close, my wife has had it this past week but is better now, I seek comfort in knowing this stressful event will just make us stronger. 

While this thought is ok for us to have, I know for those who are at risk and have underlying health conditions, they are truly fragile at this time. The deaths from coronavirus remind us of how fragile we really are. 

Also, I’ve been holding onto this concept of getting outside of binary thinking. Things don’t always have to be one thing or another.  Some humans can be more antifragile than others. Some parts of our life can be more antifragile than other parts. It’s why this post title asked if you had enough antifragility as a part of your life. Not just are you antifragile or not.

In the parts of our life where antifragility can benefit us, we need to seek out challenges. This is why we go out of our way to pay for a gym membership, set aside an hour of our day, and put ourselves through tough workouts. As Taleb says, you would label these parts of your life, “handle roughly” in contrast to “handle with care”. 

Taleb also says you can also lose your antifragility over time. If you fail to stress your system and live in a bubble, over a long enough time, you will become the most fragile of human beings. 

Through the choices we make and the things we do, we can become more fragile or antifragile throughout our life.

Systems, economies, or governments that try to extinguish any type of future shocks ultimately open themselves up to even greater shocks of massive proportions. Critical shocks typically provide critical information. “Tranquility can be disastrous,” says Taleb. “You have to accept the chance of shocks to your life and domesticate the uncertainty rather than try to avoid it completely.”

A predictable life can be a dangerous one. “Our need to get rid of unpredictability from life will eventually make our society more vulnerable,” says Taleb. 

Bruce Lee said it well too, “Do not pray for an easy life; pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.” 

As my friends and family we’re going through the ill effects of this virus, I tried to remind them of their antifragility. I told them how much stronger they’ll be on the other side of this. 

When you’re in it, it’s tough. It’s hard to see the light on the other side when your world is at its darkest. You must hold onto the belief that you’re more antifragile than fragile and you will be stronger in the end.

Thinking your antifragile is not thinking you’re invincible. You’re simply ready, willing, and able to take on uncertainty. You’re ready for challenges and openly seeking them. You learn with each failure and shock. You acquire new information you didn’t have before to expand your capacity to handle future events. 

A lot of people would view our recent closing due to coronavirus as a fragile event. Some think it will destroy us and significantly damage the in-person group training as an industry.  

I see it as the total opposite. Instead of being scared or cautious of the reopening based on past events, I’m excited for it because of all the new information we’ve gathered. I know we have a much better plan in place for the safety of our members. Add to that all the immunities that have been built up and it’s easy to see the antifragility in this event. We are all stronger from it, not weaker, and certainly not broken. 

Remember, the past only repeats itself when you don’t learn from it. 

It was Winston Churchill who said, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it,” ...but I like mine better. 

If you or someone you’re close to is very fragile at this time, we support your decision to stay out of the gym and hope we can support you remotely through our coaching and workouts. 

For everyone else, we’re excited to get back to work with you and work on our antifragility together.

-Coach Tony