Becoming Anti-Fragile


Picture Weight-training, short and intense sessions, makes you more “antifragile”. I’ve written about Nassim Taleb and some of his great work a few times before.  I review notes on his 3 books I’ve read every so often because they’re that good.  Hope you enjoy this!

Becoming Anti-Fragile

“Comfort is the road to waste.” – Cato

Ironically, one of the greatest books on exercise of all time, “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder” was written by an economist-philosopher-polymath.  His name is Nassim Taleb, and actually he’s a Ph.D., but prefers you not call him “Dr.” Taleb, because he reserves that title for MDs.  This is just one of his many maxims.  Quite simply, he’s one of the best and most interesting thinkers of the last century, because he’s connected the dots between so many different fields- economics, science, philosophy, religion, exercise, and linguistics, among many others.  

It’s challenging to put his major contribution to the field of health into one sentence but it could be summed up like this:

Fragile things break or fail with disorder or stress.
Robust things resist disorder or stress.
Anti-fragile things are those which become stronger with disorder and stress. 

To be healthy, become anti-fragile and live an anti-fragile life.  

In other words, stress and unpredictability is good for systems and make them stronger so we should seek out stress that is short and intense to make us anti-fragile.  The way this works in economics is best exemplified by pizza restaurants: Pizza restaurants are good in general in NYC because the bad ones go out of business.  The free market system is a stressor which is good for the customer, because it gives us better pizza.  On the same hand, our goal with exercise and lifestyle should be to become anti-fragile, one who gets stronger and better as a result of unpredictable stress, not chronic, long-term, and daily stress, but intense and short-term stress.  We want to get stronger from the short stress in our lives, not let it break us down by allowing it to be chronic.   We want to become “free-range humans.”

Exercise done right makes us stronger, and less fragile, it makes us anti-fragile, like Taleb teaches.  Fragile things break with stress, anti-fragile things actually get stronger with stress.  That’s what we want to be, anti-fragile. We want the right kind of stress to make us stronger.  Here are a few of Taleb’s maxims, which cover all sorts of fields:

•    Some chaos and disorder make things stronger.  •    It’s better to be dumb and anti-fragile than smart and fragile.
•    Those trying to help us are often hurting us the most.  
•    Skin in the game should always be a requirement.
•    Less is more and is usually more effective. And debt always destabilizes.  
•    It takes a lot of work to make things simple. 
•    The key is to remove versus add unnatural stressors (medications, debt, gluten, etc.)
•    “A man is morally free when, he judges the world and judges other men with uncompromising sincerity”- Santayana 
•    The more specialized and technologically advanced society becomes the more vulnerable it is to collapse. 
•    Exercise is convexity: run, don’t walk.
•    Is fitness being in shape, or is it redundancy? Antifragility is much more than fitness (being able to deal with past events).  It’s more like being able to deal with unexpected and incredible events that have never happened.
•    There’s post-traumatic stress syndrome, but there could also be post-traumatic growth.
•    The best horses lose against slower ones, and win against better ones.  Some do better in Calculus 103 than Calculus 101.
•    The absence of a challenge degrades the best of the best. 
•    Criticism and attacks are often the best things for you.
•    What is unintelligible is not necessarily unintelligent.  
•    Chronic daily stress is much more dangerous than acute short-term stress. 
•    Machines you use it and lose it; People you use it or lose it.  
•    Stress is knowledge, and knowledge is stress. 
•    If it’s alive it needs stress. 
•    The central illusion in life is that randomness is risky, that it is a bad thing; that eliminating randomness is done by eliminating randomness.
•    There is no stability without volatility.
•    Modernity: A lack of free-range humans.
•    Periodically, even daily it’s good to do a daily worst case scenario, just to realize it doesn’t really matter.
•    We don’t create practice out of theories, we create theories from practice
•    studying the ingredients of cooking will not make you a better cook, cooking will.
•    Errors multiply, 110k cars on a road is non-linearly worse than 100k cars. In other words, 100k might move just as fast as 90k or  10k
•    Being small is usually better: a cat or a mouse, not an elephant, survives when dropped off something several times its size
•    The best way to check if you’re alive is by checking if you like variability; food wouldn’t have a taste without hunger, results are meaningless without effort, convictions are without uncertainty.
•    What do you do in a world you don’t understand? f(x) Don’t worry about “x”, worry about a function of x; don’t conflate events and exposure.

Read Next:  Sparta vs. Babylon




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