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What I'm reading #18: Mastering the art of 'antifragility'

By Sam Instone - May 05, 2022

Life is uncertain.

No one can predict the future. Remember 2020?

When your plans, even the most carefully made ones, were brought down to their knees by a virus just 60-140 nanometers in diameter?

A human hair is 400 to 1,000 times bigger.

Unlike what we would like to believe, our lives and future are full of great amounts of uncertainty.

Things we think should happen, often don't.

And things we think shouldn't happen, often do.

However, the good thing about uncertainties in life is they provide us with the ability to become better at reacting and coping with them. 

They provide us with the ability to become ‘antifragile’.

Nassim Taleb defines 'antifragile' as things that get better when exposed to shocks, stressors, disorders, risks uncertainty, and randomness.

However, antifragile is not the opposite of fragile.

Fragile breaks easily.

Something that is not fragile is resilient, bears stress well, and stays the same.

Antifragile is even better.

It gains from disorder and gets stronger and better every time it meets stress (up to a point).

It also allows time for recovery.

Benefits of antifragility

Think of evolution.

It works because of its antifragility.

We have evolved from our ancestors based on genetic features and traits that have helped us survive multiple shocks and succeed over thousands of years.

Your body is also antifragile to some extent.

In his book 'Antifragile', Taleb uses the example of weight lifters who build muscles by focusing on lifting the maximum weight they can once or twice, rather than focusing on repetitions to gradually build strength.

When you stress your muscles by lifting weights or fasting intermittently, your body gets stronger and better in the process, and you gain the ability to take more physical stress over time.

Taleb recommends looking for eustress ('good stress’) opportunities, that push people out of their comfort zones so they can have new experiences and become comfortable with uncertainty and discomfort.

We live in a world designed for immediate gratification and comfort.

We have been conditioned to believe pain, failure, tension stress and disorder are bad and should be avoided.

Fortunately, antifragility can be developed and strengthened as something that will ultimately strengthen and improve us, once we decide to embrace these destabilising forces.

To master the art of antifragility, Taleb asks us to avoid basing our happiness on anything highly fragile – alcohol, Facebook likes or Instagram followers.

Becoming antifragile is not going to happen overnight.

But if you cultivate antifragility, you would likely thrive in the face of uncertainties.



"Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better."

- Nassim Taleb

Further reading

How should affluent investors understand and deal with risk?

How to safeguard your family’s financial future

What I'm reading #15: A secret to solving the most difficult problems

Goals vs. capital: Are yours aligned?

Retirement planning for affluent expats: The right balance between spending and saving

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