Antifragility is the ultimate weapon to fight overwhelm and uncertainty in your life.
Understanding and embracing antifragility can radically alter your life.
What exactly is ‘Antifragility’?
In the book ‘Antifragile’, author Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes an antifragile system as a system that improves by encountering small stressors.
Being antifragile is different than being resilient.
Resilience is having the ability to withstand challenges and setbacks without being worse off afterwards.
Antifragility is the ability to not just withstanding challenges and setback but thrive as a result of them.
When we are antifragile stress doesn’t break us down, it breaks us up.
Nassim says that you have a robust system (high antifragility) when the accumulation of small mistakes has a high potential upside and very little downside.
Your body is Antifragile
Your body is the perfect model of antifragility.
- UV Radiation in small doses repairs tissues and generates vitamin D (a vitamin that is essential for every cell in your body).
- Exposure to germs and bacteria build the body’s immune system.
- Stressing a muscle causes it to grow.
- Struggling to understand a concept makes it more likely that we will remember it.
- The stress of running releases BDNF: a protein that causes your brain to grow new neural connections (read this article if you want to learn more about BDNF)
The concept of ‘antifragility’ is critical to our physical AND emotional health. Embracing small stressors forge mental toughness.
There are two areas of life that I focus on to stay emotionally Antifragile:
Focusing on several relationships results in low Antifragility
Having an abundance of relationships is exciting at first. However, the more relationships you maintain the more these relationships become ‘surface level’ relationships. Maintaining a large number of relationships accumulates stress in your life while providing no outlet for that stress.
Maintaining many friendships means you are not spending the time needed to forge deep friendships with a select few people. Deep relationships allow you to be open and honest and act as your support system.
Focusing on key relationships is Antifragile.
Slight stressors injected into a deep friendship causes that relationship to grow stronger.
Deep friendships have a foundational trust and respect that enable them to endure stress. Over time, stress actually increases the strength of the social bond. Stressful experiences become stories of triumph and growth.
Allowing too many people into your life weakens your key relationships because key relationships need time. The weaker your relationships, the more fragile you are.
Choosing to work at a large corporation introduces fragility into your career
When you work at a large corporation your small failures can easily be overlooked. When small failures are ignored you are unlikely to properly learn from them. Over time, the accumulation of small failures leads to an unexpected layoff.
At this point, you are without a job, your skills are weak and you have a poor reference for the next job interview.
Generally speaking, large corporations are slow to react to small stressors. Over time, small stressors accumulate to the point where a large corporation has a crisis. When this occurs you were out of a job and there is nothing you could do about it.
Working as an entrepreneur is Antifragile
Each small failure accelerates skill development because each failure is painfully obvious.
Small failures cause you to quickly improve your business model. Iterative improvements caused by a series of small failures increase your odds of success.
The accumulation of failures may cause your business to fail but at least you walk away with a set of tested skills. Over time, these skills could lead to a business breakthrough, allowing you to achieve financial freedom.
Seek Antifragile Situations
Seek out situations where small failures are obvious:
- Break down your projects into smaller components. Aim to work in small teams with reduced scope.
- Continuously prototype and test your products ideas by interviewing target customers (watch my animated summary of the book ‘Sprint’ to understand how).
- Learn a skill by doing it and not being afraid to initially look bad.
Avoid situations where the small stressors are hard to detect:
- Over-committing to large complex projects (in such projects small failures can go undetected and accumulate to cause catastrophic failures).
- Working on a new product idea without engaging the target customer for feedback.
- Learning a new skill by reading about it instead of actually doing it (ex: trying to learn soccer by reading books on the physics of soccer).
The ONE Takeaway
Stress causes Antifragile systems to thrive.
Set up your life to notice small stressors and see them as a way to accelerate growth. Think of yourself as a comic book character who has a special ability: the stress and setback you encounter makes you stronger, faster, better.