I first heard the term ‘antifragile’ from Nassim Taleb’s book ‘Antifragile’ and I realised is exactly how we transform clients at Takeshape.
Fragile – Robust/Resilient – Antifragile
Anti-fragile is the opposite of fragile and a step further than robustness and resilience. Fragile breaks easily, robust stays strong up until a point and is then overwhelmed – the scenario of a water dam being overwhelmed by a freak and unpredicted flood. This is also exactly what happens in many peoples’ bodies. The body robustly resists illness and injury until it is overwhelmed and disease sets in. I have described this in terms of adrenal fatigue previously.
Antifragile describes a system or organism that actually gets stronger from the random (disordered) stresses that are placed on it. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same whereas the antifragile get better.
“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder and stress… they love adventure, risk and uncertainty.” Taleb
Taleb uses this approach for financial markets and economics (among other areas) but it is really a process embedded in nature – the natural way. Using this approach is a great way of looking at (and designing and implementing) your health and fitness programme. A couple of hours in the gym a week is not going to make a huge amount of difference if you do not take into account the other 166 hours in the week. An antifragile programme uses the gym hours but only to make you able to ‘get better’ from the stressors of your everyday life. We do this by creating a strong core and posturally aligned ‘base fitness’ and then add progressive stressors to the body both in and out of the gym. We do this in each of the Takeshape five areas of performance; movement, rest, nutrition, toxins, psyche.
My favourite example is running shoes. You think your feet are fragile so you encase them in all sorts of protection, foam heels, arch support, heel support etc. You then have one unpredicted impact that causes foot injury or you spend time in flip-flops or barefoot on the beach and you develop plantar fasciitis or your arch collapses because it has been artificially supported for too long. An antifragile approach is to go barefoot (or at least minimalist shoes) for progressively more of the time. The random, but not overwhelming, stressors make you feet stronger, faster and more responsive to all and any unpredicted or random impacts.
Another example is taking prescribed or over-the-counter medical drugs. These make you resilient to the symptoms of ill-health and pain but do nothing to make you stronger. An antifragile approach uses the pain teacher to learn from and strengthen the immune system and / or change behaviour.
Wind extinguishes the candle but energises the fire – Takeshape helps individuals be the ‘fire’ not the ‘candle’ to the ‘wind’ of everyday stresses. To do this we need to balance your stressors. Too little and there is no challenge so you do not get stronger, whether mentally or physically. Too much and you will break down, succumbing to illness and injury and reach for the medical options.
This is not instant fix, but the important part is that you can make simple choices too expose yourself to and embrace volatility both physically and mentally, and in doing so, thrive in an unpredictable world.