I am re-reading Nicholas Nassim Taleb‘s Antifragile. It’s a fascinating book, and in my opinion, even better than his prior, more popular book, The Black Swan. Taleb was a derivatives trader, and he successfully predicted the financial crisis of 2007 − 2008 (in fact, he bet on it and made a fortune).
To give you some idea about what Antifragile is about, I’ll share with you the three categories into which Taleb sorts things.
- The first category is called fragile. Things that are fragile are negatively affected by volatility. When something bad happens, fragile things get broken. They’re left worse off than when they started.
- The second category is things that are robust. These things aren’t negatively impacted by volatility; they’re resilient. Taleb compares the robust to the mythological bird, the Phoenix. If the Phoenix is killed, it rises again from the ashes. It is not harmed by a negative event–but it isn’t made better, either.
- The final category is for things that are Antifragile. They are positively affected by volatility. When something bad happens, things that are antifragile actually grow stronger. Taleb uses another mythological creature, the Hydra, as an example of the antifragile. When you cut off one of the Hydra’s heads, two more heads spring up to replace it. By hurting it, you are actually increasing its power.
How to Get Stronger
You’ve no doubt heard of post-traumatic stress syndrome. But what about post-traumatic growth syndrome? Did you know that some people actually grow stronger after negative events? Honestly, I had never thought of the concept before reading Taleb’s book. He confesses he hadn’t either. But when you think about it, you know people who have grown through adversity, don’t you? In fact, you might be one.
When you exercise with weights, you actually tear the muscle. This is a trauma to the muscle fiber. But the muscle repairs itself and grows stronger. The same is true when you break a bone. The bone fuses itself back together and grows stronger where it was broken. It seems we humans were actually born to be antifragile–at least physically. But what do you have to change to be antifragile psychologically?
The way to get stronger is take something positive from negative events. Instead of defining the event as negative (or letting it define you) you take the learning from the event and define it as positive. Like Nietzsche: “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.”
- Do you define the negative events of your life as only negative? Is there one negative event that you have chosen to use to define yourself?
- Think about a recent negative event. If you’re reading this, you survived the negative event (You are at least a Phoenix, right?). What lessons did you take away? What new actions will you take now (How can you be a Hydra)?
- How can you intentionally overcompensate and become antifragile?