GO AHEAD, TAKE A RISK

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Weigh the risks versus returns and see how antifragility can strengthen your resolve, according to our dynamic parenting and relationship expert, Dr. Miranda Fernande Walichowski

THE ANTIFRAGILITY FACTOR

Volatility specialist, intellectual, philosopher, and professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb challenges the concepts of “robustness” and “resilience” as aspirational markers of strong individuals, organizations, governments, systems, ideas, or people. Instead, he offers a concept that promises greater staying power because it leverages chaos, disorder, and uncertainty. “Antifragility,” Taleb explains, “is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shock and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”  In his book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder he presents a compelling argument for how we should strive to be.

When something is fragile, it breaks. Taleb found that most people answer that the opposite of “fragile” is robust, “resilient” “solid,” or something of the sort. However, his concept of antifragility goes beyond those words and purports that something or someone can benefit from shocks, stress, adversity, or trauma. The myth that he associates with antifragility is that of the Hydra. The hydra is a multi-headed, lizard-like monster. If someone decapitates it, it grows two heads where there was one. It becomes stronger with adversity.

Fragile things break or suffer under volatility, chaos, and stress. Returning to mythical reference, Taleb illustrates fragility with the Greek myth of the “Sword of Damocles.” Damocles envied King Dionysus’ power and luxury. King Dionysus allows Damocles to experience being a king. At first, the experience is something that Damocles relishes. All of a sudden, the responsibility and burden of power and success make the crown lackluster and threatening.

Resilience, on the other hand, is the capacity for recovery from difficulties or the ability to return to an original state. Despite volatility, stresses, and challenges, a resilient individual, organization, or system has the ability to return to baseline. The next level of resilience is the ability to grow strength from each challenging experience.

ROBUSTLY RESILIENT

How does one become resilient? How does one leverage adversity, chaos, randomness, and stress to become stronger? Here are some ideas that Taleb poses for building antifragility.

Consider not relying on the advice of others if they, as Taleb suggested, “do not have skin in the game.” We live in a knowledge economy, and we have become insatiable consumers of information. Many times people are officious in offering opinions about what we should do. However, these commentators do not have a vested interest in a favorable outcome of our decisions. It is easy for them to opine without thinking about the consequences of their opinions. Furthermore, we live in an era where not all research studies are successfully replicated, in which new knowledge surfaces daily, in which anyone can have a forum to speak as an expert. Taleb recommends we stop seeking guidance from others and instead use trial and error as a means to discover what is best for us.

Use “via negativa” as a counter to adding things to your life. Many times, individuals when confronted with the desire to enhance their lives, they will often default to thinking about things that they must add to make a better life possible. However, “via negativa” encompasses a contrarian philosophy. Instead of adding to one’s life, it calls for reducing obstacles in one’s life. For example, reducing time-wasting activities, reducing toxic relationships, and deflating obstacles are examples of being subtractive is one’s approach to becoming antifragile.

Try the “barbell strategy.” This strategy is a means to decrease the potential downside of things, rather than trying to increase the upside of things. It is a bimodal strategy in which one plate on the barbell represents taking high risk, and the other plate represents taking low risk. The bar of the barbell is the space in between the risk levels.

What about reducing interference? One of the greatest threats to fragility is the convergence of optimization and efficiency with randomness. The more we interfere to prevent and resolve problems that may not need solving, the more susceptible to fragility we become. A practical example of this would be to medicate a temporary ailment with a prescription that has worse side-effects or longer-lasting side-effects than the original condition. Sometimes, it is simply best to sit with the less-than-ideal event and allow it to take a natural course.

It sounds counterintuitive to deliberately add stress into your life. You can add positive stress by doing things that challenge you. Taleb describes this as mithridatization hormesis which means giving yourself a little poison so that you can develop immunity from it. Instead of avoiding adversity or challenges, take them on with the idea that they will increase your antifragility.

In the end, what matters is that you can challenge your assumptions, biases, and limiting beliefs to make better decisions in your life. The triad of fragility, resilience, and antifragility can serve as a mechanism to understand how you, an entity, or system is functioning. Align your strengths with your responses to adversity, and you will gain enormous benefits from internalizing the concept of antifragility.

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