Antifragile

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When I’m coaching clients who are going through some type of adversity, the real breakthroughs come when they see that the adversity is a gift. Then we go way beyond simply assuring people that they’re going to be okay. We can begin to create a masterpiece.

We hear a lot about resilience. People talk about being okay in spite of circumstances. And we've all experienced the opposite, being hurt by something that happened to us, either physically or psychologically.

But there's a third state of being that we all have access to that may benefit us even more.

The scholar Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote about this third state of being in his book “Antifragile.” He observed that there are things which are easily broken (fragile), and things which are not easily broken (resilient). He coined the word “antifragile” to describe things which are made stronger by volatility, stress and adversity.

There are materials that illustrate this. Glass is robust up to a certain point, but then it shatters with the right amount of stress in a sudden shock. Brass is fairly resilient. You can drop it, step on it or throw it and it will not shatter. But a bicycle frame made out of carbon nanotubes actually gets stronger when you pound on it. Instead of labeling, "Fragile. Handle with care," you could label the antifragile package, "Benefits from shock."

A fire is also a good illustration. A candle is fragile, and is easily blown out by a slight breath. A blow torch is resilient. It is not easily blown out, even in very windy conditions. But a forest fire is antifragile. The more you blow on it, the hotter it burns. If you throw logs in front of a forest fire to try to stop it, you only feed the fire.

Our bodies are mostly antifragile. Without stress, our muscles and bones become weak. Stress, resistance, and a constantly changing outward environment is what makes us stronger (within reason, of course).

What we don't realize is that fragility, resilience, and antifragility are also emotional states that we can choose in response to any situation. Say something bad about me, and I could crumble (fragile), or I may not care (resilient). Or I may decide to work harder to prove you wrong (antifragile).

The more I am conscious of this choice that I have, the better my life will be. In my life, at any given moment there are things that I am upset about (fragile), things that I am indifferent to (resilient), and things that have me upping my game (antifragile).

We love movies about antifragile people. Rocky. Rudy. Remember the Titans. How much more powerful we will be in our business and in our daily lives when we choose to live the same way. Antifragile is a place to come from, in the way we work, in the way we interact with people. Put a label on yourself, “Benefits from shock,” or, “Benefits from adversity.” Be the kite that rises against the wind.

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