Antifragility goes beyond just being resilient to change but instead embracing and improving from it.
Richly Wills helps people improve themselves through developing skills that allow us to change and forward-think easier, and if we want to be able to improve ourselves through change then it’s vital we understand what antifragility is and how it can benefit us on our journey.
This can be applied in life or in business. We will see how humanity itself has been built on antifragility, and why today’s sensitive (fragile) world may struggle to change and grow without it.
Understanding The Importance Of Antifragility Today (To Help Fuel Progress)
Darwin understood survival of the fittest before anyone, yet in our modern world survival has become more about fitting in than surviving because you are fitter. It’s become a case of ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’.
Our altruistic behaviours are certainly a form of survival (it’s an unconscious tactic towards it), but that works when times are generally good.
When times are hard, sensitive and fragile people can only hide under the covers to avoid a hard truth for so long, but today’s modern world has provided so many forms of escapism (technology gadgets, comfortable homes, and support networks) that we don’t tend to exercise our antifragility enough and instead become more and more sensitive to chaos and change.
Yet, if we look at everything that has survived in our world it has not been the fragile things, it’s always been the antifragile. Improvement comes from the delicate balance of order and chaos. Without order, we would perish as we would only fight amongst ourselves, but without chaos, we wouldn’t be able to stretch ourselves to improve.
Examples of antifragility are everywhere. Fragile things die out, antifragile ones survive.
Think of how the strongest of the litter survive, or how a house with stronger foundations is able to stand a storm over those with weak structures, or how those who have adapted their careers have not become redundant dinosaurs when technology changed.
Yet, it’s not just about being strong and robust. Antifragility means to go beyond resilience, to welcome challenges and tension. Not to just stand up to something difficult, or go looking for trouble. It’s not about taking big risks that are reckless, or which wipe you out. It’s not about doing silly dares to essentially gain attention either (if anything that is a fragile action that seeks validation to be accepted).
Instead, it’s about becoming better when something challenges you, when under stress, tension, or change.
It’s how one company survives a recession to monopolise whilst many others go under, or how our muscles get stronger when stressed, or how only investments improve after making bad ones as we learn from our mistakes.
In a sense, it is ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’.
Why We Find It Hard To Be Antifragile Today
In today’s world, we are far more likely to stay within our comfort zone and not risk anything until we absolutely have to, and even then we will be looking for ways to comfort ourselves over that risk.
The Covid-19 pandemic was a prime example of our inability as a society to be antifragile. The fragilities of economies, of people, and of humanity as a whole were put to the test.
Whilst no one wants such events to come around and test them, the ones who truly grew from such challenges were the ones who weren’t merely resilient to it (through just finding support networks and ways to feel okay through a tough time – although that beats not being resilient at all), but were the ones who used it as a springboard to a positive change.
A fragile person would become angry when something they are uncomfortable with challenges them. They may seek to take it out on other people. But a challenging event to someone who displays antifragility would see them learn something about themselves they didn’t know and improve as a result.
We live in a time where we simply aren’t normally pushed to stressors as much as we were in our history. This is a good thing for our comfort and our ease of life, but there’s a reason we find so many people today are desperate to find something more purposeful.
For a start, we are in that comfortable position to be able to focus on purpose over physical survival. We may have displayed elements of antifragility when standing on our own two feet and finding our path in life, but often that path in the modern day is padded with so much aid and benefit that we take for granted, and which then sucks us into a comfort zone. Once in a comfort zone, we seldom seek to come out of it.
Secondly, subconsciously we crave something that challenges us. Humanity thrived on creativity and challenge. We are the greatest problem solvers there has ever been, but problems today are much more sensitive in nature, rather than the types of antifragile challenges our ancestors have had in the past.
We use this time of peace to educate ourselves further but we find it hard to replicate the genuine challenges that have enlightened our creative and innovative side. People in war times were going through hell but also felt a deep sense of purpose as they fought to survive.
Of course, we don’t want such times to return. Humanity is better off in peaceful times, as we can see in the incredible human progress we have made since, but we now also have become a bit governed by normality and structure, which can make life seem too simple, sensitive, and even boring at times.
Therefore, it’s important that we find ways to exercise our antifragile abilities.
5 Ways We Can Exercise Antifragility Today
1) Embrace Mistakes
We all make mistakes and have challenges, but how many of us embrace that failure and learn from it? How many of us take small risks in life to push ourselves to new limits? How many of us succumb to safe conventions or fears instead?
When we learn to accept mistakes and even embrace them then we free ourselves to live much better. Fear can paralyse us in life and withhold us from our potential, so when we accept that every day we are okay to make mistakes and to try and learn as we go then we free ourselves from modern comfort blankets and perfectionism.
A good way to do this is to try a simple challenge to start with. Let's say you can't draw or paint. Well today draw a dog. You mght say you can't, but try. Learn from the mistakes you will make in the features or perspective, then try again. There is some truth in the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
2) Take Small Risks & Experiment In Life A Lot More
We hear a lot about creating tiny habits today. They can certainly help us create new patterns that are then replicated over time to become habits. However, antifragility requires us to take lots of small risks. This means things we aren’t always so comfortable with at first but which can end up building up our antifragility.
Again, if we think about how we are more prone to seek comfort then we are more likely to take fewer risks in our day. We will slowly climb ladders to comfort but not really bring challenge or spontaneity into our day.
It’s not about taking big risks that can wipe you out but embracing small risks that add up. Like if you were starting a business. Instead of waiting far too long to think you have the expertise, learn by doing and take small risks along the way. They are much easier to recover and grow from than bigger ones. Change doesn’t mean jumping off a cliff, but doing something that you aren’t so familiar with.
3) Keep An Open Mind
Keeping an open mind means accepting that what you currently know might not be right, or might not be right for you in the future. It’s also about keeping your options open and inviting change and opportunity into your life.
It can be tempting to keep focusing on building up the same thing, to become an expert within it, but it can also burn you out. Sometimes, to get a new lease of life, it’s better to embrace something completely new or challenging into your life, such as joining up to a singing group or guitar lessons if you’ve never done it before.
Then embrace mistakes as part of your learning, and resist the urge to quit when it gets hard. Instead, do it more when it begins to get difficult. Then once it becomes easy, seek a new challenge again.
Join up to a new and challenging event or craft this week. Put yourself forward in a meeting when you normally wouldn't, or listen to someone else's opinion that contradicts your own bias.
4) Set Constraints
‘Constraint and extreme circumstances are rocket fuel for innovation and ingenuity’.
Constraints build focus and decisive action to get things done. A fragile mind would not stick to a commitment, or would not constraint itself in a time barrier. Yet, we get more done when we have less time, when we place a time barrier in place to force us into action.
Fragility sees us quit too easily in the face of adversity. When we set up constraints as part of a challenge we find we come up with more ideas, because our minds are focused to solve a particular focus rather than too free to wander around and make excuses.
Constraints can stop us from being sucked into comfort too. For example, we can give ourselves a constraint to avoid instant gratification, like telling ourselves we can not buy something we don’t need even though there’s a sale on and it’s constantly being flashed in our face.
We often think of constraints as debilitating rules, like rules we have to follow as kids to make sure we get stuff done we don’t want to do, like homework, but actually, it can help force our mind into seeking new solutions that it otherwise wouldn’t if we were too comfortable without constraints.
5) Create Randomness
Our mind is forced into adapting when we create randomness. We might think it’s not possible to create randomness but every day random things happen to us, we just might not be conscious of it.
When we create randomness we ensure our mind isn’t ruled by structure. Too much structure and our minds close off into autopilot and we lose the ability to test ourselves under new conditions.
A simple method of creating randomness in our day is by using this creative problem-solving tool. Use a random word generator to create a random word and then fit it to an idea or project we have. If you have no project then simply create two random words and try and match them together to form a new idea.
Your mind wouldn’t be thinking of those ideas before, so it’s a good tactic to get your mind out of typical routine thinking. It forces your mind to accept connections that feel alien to it. Go with it and practice this each day, and in time you will find you are more open to testing random hypothesises out.