I first came across the term ‘antifragility’ in January when I was trying to set New Year’s Resolutions for 2023. I’ve always heard people mentioning the resolution ‘to be a happier person this year’—and truth be told, I used to be one of those people. I guess this is no surprise, given how I’m pretty big on self-improvement. I’m sure everyone who knows me personally can attest to this. In fact, I’ll admit it: I might be a bit too into the idea of introspection and self-improvement. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of happiness—what truly makes people happy? Is it possible for us to be happy at every given point in our lives? And is chasing happiness even ‘worthwhile’?
While heading down the wonderful rabbit hole of Google and Youtube, I stumbled across the idea of ‘antifragility’. And ever since then, I’ve been so enlightened by it that I’ve decided to no longer chase happiness. Instead, I’ve chosen another path: to be antifragile.
What is Antifragility?
The psychological principle of ‘antifragility’ was termed by Nassim Taleb back in 2012. Simply put, antifragility is something like ‘enhanced resilience’. We know that resilience is the capability to withstand pressure or challenges. After resisting and overcoming the pressure, the said system (both living and non-living) reverts back to its original state.
Antifragility, however, takes this up a notch. When placing pressure or challenges on that very same system, it grows bigger and stronger. In fact, it could be said that the system flourishes precisely due to applied pressure. Does this sound too abstract to you? Well, fret not, because I have the perfect example for you.
For all you people who gym, I’m sure you’re familiar with the idea of weights. Antifragility comes into play here: when we lift weights, we place pressure on our muscles. Following that, over time, our muscles grow and we become stronger.
Our muscles, bones, and body are already an antifragile system by nature. With our physical bodies adopting this system already, we’d expect our mental realm to be antifragile too. However, reality is a far cry from that probably because we fail to understand the importance of antifragility.
Why should We become Antifragile?
I think it’s safe to say that we’ll all face obstacles in life. From rejection by our dream company to receiving a less-than-desired grade, we know how soul-crushing it feels when things go awry. We might deem these obstacles as ‘traumatic’, which paralyse us to the core. However, these obstacles are inevitable in life. Instead of letting them immobilise us, why not take them in our stride to trigger antifragility and PTG—Post-Traumatic Growth?
The concept of PTG was developed by psychologists Richard Tedeschi, Ph.D., and Lawrence Calhoun, Ph.D., in the mid-1990s. It posits that people who brave through psychological struggles following adversity can often see positive growth afterward. PTG is deeply intertwined with antifragility, in that we grow stronger as a result of the pressure of stress. And that is the quintessential definition of antifragility.
Of course, you’re probably wondering: what does this have to do with happiness?
This has everything to do with happiness. It teaches us what conditions we can establish to improve the chances of growing from hardship. Consequently, we’re conditioned to accept the fate that challenges are bound to sprout out in our lives. The difference is how we tackle and grow from them. Only by taking them in our stride can we truly be happy.
With the above, let me outline some steps about what we can do to achieve antifragility!
How do We become Antifragile?
Philosopher Nassim Taleb has shared that we could intentionally inject stressors into our lives. We know that long-term stress can have deleterious impacts on us. But eustress, on the other hand, is another form of stress. In simpler terms, eustress is a moderate or normal amount of psychological stress that pushes us to be better. Such stresses activate our pre-existing antifragility system. Some examples of eustress include taking a cold shower daily, learning a new instrument, or taking on a new passion project. The list is endless, so long as it is challenging and manageable concurrently. This is in stark contrast to distress, where tasks are deemed as overwhelming and unmanageable.
Another path to antifragility involves intentionally including redundancies in our lives. Doing so gives us the freedom to be proactive. By having redundancy, we can leverage those resources to attain positive outcomes even in the absence of hazards. Let me put this into perspective for you. As college students with different commitments, I understand what it’s like to be on a time crunch during the semester. However, the active inclusion of redundancies would help ‘increase’ the amount of time we have. Consequentially, we could utilise this additional time to start assignments or test revisions in advance.
I believe that moving an inch towards our fear means gaining greater access to our inner strength, which propels us towards resilience. And only with resilience will we attain antifragility. Embracing challenges and adversities is salient in this journey, and as the old adage goes: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. So what are you waiting for? It’s about time for us to chase antifragility instead of happiness.