Becoming Antifragile: How to Prepare Yourself for Chaos

What would you say if I asked, “What’s the opposite of fragile?”

Most would say unbreakable, strong, or sturdy. Author Naseem Taleb however, argues that the opposite of fragile isn’t strong or sturdy, but ANTIfragile.

Right now, you’re probably thinking: “Steve, that’s not even a word. What the heck are you talking about?”

Welp, I read Taleb’s book, Antifragile: Things that Gain From Disorder, a few months back upon the recommendation from Anthony and Brett, and absolutely fell in love with the concept.

I think I read it in a matter of days.

And now, you could say that Antifragile and I are going steady.

Since discovering this concept, I’ve worked hard to rebuild my body and my life around this concept of becoming antifragile: getting stronger and more resilient as more chaos is introduced.

I’ve always wanted to become more like Jason Bourne (it’s a big part of my Epic Quest), and I feel like building my life and my training around antifragile concepts have allowed me to level up and break through new barriers.

Here’s how you can make yourself into an antifragile badass.

What is AntiFragile?

eggs

In science, nature, politics, economics, and health, we have three types of “material”:

Fragile: Must be handled with care – if there is a disturbance or a variation in how the object is dealt with, this object will most likely break.  Kept out of harms way to have any chance of survival.

Sturdy: Doesn’t need to be handled with care – you can drop it, hit it, throw it, whatever, and it doesn’t change.  It’s well built, and remains resilient no matter how many shocks hit it.  If it breaks, it gets rebuilt the exact same way.

Antifragile: Don’t handle with care! Throw it, try to break it, drop it, throw randomness and chaos at it, for it becomes stronger as a result.  Like the mythical Hydra: cut off one head, and two heads appear in its place.  In fact, antifragile objects can become weaker if you don’t mishandle them!

For the majority of my life, I assumed we humans fit into the “Fragile” category, never more so then when I found out I was more like Tony Stark than Superman. I always felt like I was one step away from a broken bone, or a pulled muscle, or a ruptured tendon.

It turns out that nature loves randomness and chaos, and over time the antifragile organisms always win out over the fragile.

Nature loves chaos, and has been using small corrections and changes to survive as an ecosystem for untold millennia:  When disasters, climate changes, and other occurrences wipe out “fragile” members of a species, the stronger, more antifragile strains of a species survive and thrive.

This is evolution 101.

Nature is not alone: it turns out we human beings are actually wired for antifragility as well!

  • If we pick up something heavy, our joints, muscles, and bones rebuild themselves STRONGER than before in case we introduce more chaos.  This is the backbone of strength training.  Conversely, if we DON’T partake in physical activity, our muscles and bones can actually atrophy and weaken!
  • If we introduce an illness to our body at a certain dose, our body builds resistance against that illness and becomes stronger against it. This is the foundation of vaccinations and immunizations.
  • We learn as small children that the kettle on the stove is hot, that animals can bite, that life is challenging.  We learn from these small bits of chaos, amounts of discomfort, and failures, and are thus more prepared to survive as an adult.

Because we are antifragile creatures at heart, we actually NEED chaos, disruption, and failure in our lives or we will wither and die.  Remember the overweight future versions of the human population in the movie WALL-E, humans with zero muscle mass and a complete lack of ability to take care of themselves?

They stopped challenging their antifragile bodies, and they suffered as a result.  They wanted to eliminate all “discomfort” from their lives and thus became fragile in the process.

If we are going to become the best version of ourselves, we need chaos…but how much?

just enough chaos

chime

If you want to become an antifragile badass (and who doesn’t!), the important part of the equation is finding the right amount of chaos:

  • too little and your body doesn’t need to adapt at all
  • too much and you could get sick or injured
  • just the right amount, and your body is forced to adapt and actually recovers stronger than before

Let’s take a look at the real world: 

Assume you’ve spent the past three years on the couch and then try to go outside tomorrow and try to run a marathon.  You’ll probably end up with broken foot, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, or worse.  However, if you spend a six months running just a few hundred yards farther than the day before, your body actively adapts to the situation and prepares for chaos – an increased challenge. Moving from 1 mile to 2, mixing in sprints, running up hills, training in the woods, with some long days, short days, sprints, and jogs…you’re gradually introducing additional chaos to your system and teaching your body to adapt faster and recover faster.

This is the reason why the PLP 60 Day Challenge works: try to start on day 50 through 60 and you’ll most likely develop tendonitis. However, by starting at a day one and introducing just a tiny bit more chaos than the day before, you can start building an antifragile existence.

By introducing chaos, challenge, and failure into our lives in a careful way, our bodies become prepared to handle future, unknown challenges.

How do we do that?

Let’s start with the basics – an antifragile body.

Building an Antifragile Body

Push Up Flys

Let’s start with building an antifragile body.

If we hope to prepare ourselves for the unknown, then we need to constantly introduce discomfort, challenge, and chaos to our bodies!

From a physical perspective, this means we need to provide ourselves with two things:

  • Enough chaos that forces our body to rebuild itself stronger
  • Chaos in a specific amount of intensity.
  • Enough time for our body to recover after the chaos.

Here’s an example: in order for us to have a strong body, we need to have a strong heart!  Just like you work and overload your muscles, so too should you train your heart…by challenging it!

If you walk the same distance at the same pace every single day, your heart grows accustomed to this distance and pace and never needs to do any extra work…until that day when you’re chased by a lion, or white water rafting, or you have a stressful day at work: you’ve introduced TOO much chaos too quickly and BOOM, game over.

Compare that existence before to putting your heart through an antifragile routine: run faster, slower, up hills, down hills, sprinting, walking, hiking, or other challenges.  Your heart can no longer effectively predict what’s going to happen next, so it adapts by building itself stronger and more resilient.

You can introduce chaos to your body other ways, too.  Let’s talk about strength training:

If you go to deadlift 200 pounds 1 time, your body is forced to adapt in a different way than if you picked up 150 pounds a few times.

By forcing your body to adapt to a very heavy workload, your bones, nervous system, joints and muscles all need to adapt and become more anti fragile in order to pick up that much weight. Talib argues that we should be forcing our body to adapt to the maximum level of chaos (heavy strength training), which has an effect of pushing us beyond our limits in a way that differs from doing medium weight for lots of reps or light weight for even more reps.

This is why we LOVE heavy strength training around here at NF: a much faster workout that provides maximum results!

We’re all about building a healthy, antifragile body here at Nerd Fitness – it’s what’s going to allow us thrive in power lifting competitions, at a or Goruck challenge, or as a community during the upcoming Zombie Apocalypse. We don’t know what’s coming, but we sure as well will be prepared!

Still with me? Great. Let’s built that antifragile body by getting you an antifragile workout strategy.

Building an Antifragile Workout Routine

Storm Trooper Barbell

Is your current workout strategy antifragile?

If you are reliant upon a DVD to yell at you to work out, or need a particular type of fitness equipment in order to exercise, then your strategy is fairly fragile.

Here’s why: if there is unexpected (or even expected) chaos introduced to your life (vacation, a wedding, death in the family, etc.) then I’d guess your workout plans will probably go right out the window. They are not built to stand any variance in your day to day life, and it’s very easy to fall off the wagon.

Compare that with the antifragile Nerd Fitness Strategy:  Our goal is to give you all the tools you need to develop an antifragile workout routine: one that allows you to exercise and strength training NO MATTER WHAT.  In fact, by introducing chaos to your situation, you’ll be attacking your muscles from new angles and forcing them to adapt, making your body MORE antifragile.

Ultimately, we hope to remove any reason you’d have for saying “I don’t know how to work out in this situation.”

  • In a gym: Here’s how to build your own workout routine, and how to start with strength training.
  • At home: Don’t have time for the gym?  Here’s a workout routine you can do at home.
  • At the park: No access to a gym and no room in your house? Here’s a workout you can do at any park – this is how I stayed in shape when traveling around the world.
  • In a hotel room: raining out? traveling? hotel gym sucks? Here’s a routine you can do IN your hotel room!
  • Angry bird workoutDon’t have time to work out? here’s a plan you can complete in a few minutes throughout the day.

Most importantly, our goal here is to equip you with the mindset you need to level up no matter what life throws at you.

Although we provide plenty of workout plans in the Nerd Fitness Academy, our goal with the isn’t to get you reliant upon some proprietary system, but rather to educate rebels on HOW to workout properly so that you’re adequately prepared for whatever situation life throws at you.  You can become more antifragile if you have a workout plan that’s also antifragile.

Think like MacGuyver, the ultimate Antifragile hero: no matter the situation he was always prepared and came out stronger as a result.

Building an Antifragile diet

antifragile diet

Just as a great workout plan can be fragile, so too can a really nutritious diet strategy!   If you are somebody that relies on fast food, NutriSystem, microwave dinners, prepackaged meals, juicing, cleanses, etc….these are all fragile solutions!

If the company you get your food from goes kaput, or the microwave/blender breaks, you have to travel for whatever reason, or there is that Zombie Apocalypse we all know is coming, your nutrition strategy gets tossed right out the window!  When you have to rely on others to prepare your food, you have become tethered to their existence.

Want to make your diet more antifragile?  Learn to cook for yourself, and don’t be afraid to try new things.  We’ve been sharing recipes more frequently here on the site, and we plan on doing more. Our goal again is to show you that cooking is NOT something to fear and shy away from, but rather something to experiment with.  Here are a few recipes to get you started. With each new meal you cook, your knowledge expands and furthers your horizons on food – your tastebuds are becoming more antifragile.

On top of that, try introducing chaos into your diet!  Eat more on days when you train, and skip meals on days when you don’t.  Don’t freak out about calorie counts and perfectly spacing out your meals every few hours.  We thrived without “three square meals per day” or “six small meals” for hundreds of thousands of years – so why not emulate that by keeping your stomach guessing too?

Want to become EVEN more antifragile? Raise your own food!  As the old saying goes: “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”  Grow your own vegetables, raise your own animals, and learn to cook/prepare what’s available to you.  Sure, this might not seem like an option for us city dwellers, but we can still enter into collective agreements with neighbors, local farmers, and so on.

If this interests you, check out some of these resources by The Art of Manliness.

We’ve shown you how to build an antifragile body that is prepared for anything, a workout plan that can withstand any amount of chaos, and a nutritional strategy that will withstand the tests of time.

Now, it’s up to you to actually implement this stuff!

how will you become antifragile?

windows

So, which camp are you in?  The fragile ostriches? Or antifragile Rebels?

Fragile ostriches HATE mistakes, discomfort, and anything less than the norm. They seek to eliminate or avoid all of it by sticking their head in the sand and pretend like everything is fine.

Ostriches spend all of their time and energy trying to predict and figure out the future and build themselves as if that future was the only possibility.

Compare that to antifragile Rebels: we have stopped trying to predict the future, as we know life is random and unrelenting…so we instead seek to challenge ourselves to build a life to match…an antifragile life:

  • An antifragile body that is resilient and strong and prepared for anything.
  • An antifragile workout plan that can be completed anytime, anywhere.
  • An antifragile diet plan that allows us to never go hungry or be unhealthy.

We LOVE to make mistakes, as we know those mistakes and hiccups provide us with increased knowledge, valuable experience, and a stronger existence that help us prepare for larger hiccups down the road.

By preparing ourselves for everything, we can do anything.

I want to hear from you, as I realize this is a massive topic.  

Tell me ONE thing you’re going to do differently today to make your life more antifragile:  

Are you going to try for a one-rep maximum on a deadlift?

Are you going to learn to cook a new meal, freeing you from the drive-through line?

Are you going to memorize a workout to do in a park so you’re never without a “gym”?

How are you preparing yourself for anything and everything? 

Let’s hear it!

-Steve

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photo source: Doran: Fragile, thebittenword.com: vegetables, Ivy Dawned: eggs, Guian Bolisay: windows, Teymur Madjderey: legos, sicolan: chime

 

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  • Master Discord

    He writes about how chaos in our environment and routine can be used to our advantage. I don’t think I saw a single instance where he referred to the body behaving in a chaotic fashion, only how it responds to chaos it is subjected to.

    Stress is only ONE of the results that can come from chaos in our environment. And stress has connotations that are both positive and negative.

    Interestingly, there’s an article over at Art of Manliness that covers our perception of stress and refers to a study wherein the results suggested that stress seems to be unhealthy ONLY when the stressed person believes it to be unhealthy.

  • Interesting! I really enjoyed reading.

  • Littlefinger

    Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos a ladder

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  • Liza

    Hi Steve,
    I was having a really dismal morning, but after reading a few of your posts (I got linked from the Captain America one), they put the spark back into my mood, so thanks for that! You have a very honest, quirky way of writing that I enjoy!

    The reason why I love this philosophy of “antifragilism” (lol that sounds funny) is that it’s applicable to anything. Physical health, studying, social skills, video games…the list goes on. The more you do something above your current level, the better you will become on the whole. I strength train because I want to withstand more physically, but it also reminds me that I’m getting stronger the more I challenge myself.

    Thanks again!

  • Shawn.L
  • Katie V

    Thanks so much for this post! I really needed to see something like this to let me know I’m not alone in feeling ‘fragile’ and assuring me that I don’t have to accept that as my reality. Total paradigm shift. Excited to start building an antifragile life.

  • Wolf

    I love to work out. I always have. Also, I have to work at anti-fragility a different way than most people do–I have to do an end-run on a disability. But I CAN and I WILL work on that anti-fragility, which I hadn’t had a name for in the past.

    I’m missing one of the proteins that holds the body together. Imagine going to work on a carpentry project wearing Spandex instead of denim–that’s my life. But if I work on keeping my control-muscles for my shoulders and knees tight and strong, it makes it less likely that I’ll rip that “Spandex.” If I work out regularly, take enough breaks in-between to heal, and go very slowly (compared to everyone else) I can still build the muscle mass I NEED to keep injuries from becoming too severe to keep going.

    It’s hard to be patient, and I’ve had some tendon injury somewhere in my body for the past thirty years–ever since I decided I love to run at age 11. It’s almost impossible to start a new workout without being injured in some way, and if I don’t stop far ahead of what my muscles say is a good work-out, I’ll knock myself out of that exercise for two or three weeks. So the other thing I have to make anti-fragile is my persistence-patience quotient.

    The worst mistake I’ve ever made for this funny genetically-variant body? STOPPING MOVING. Even when I had a car accident, I kept moving. This past winter, I was hit by a major depression, and it was cold, and I just stopped … stuck in bed for over a month, staring out the window. Without the muscle-tone I would have normally maintained, and without normal cable-like ligaments that hold knees in a normal position, my knees started sliding out of socket at night, causing something resembling “pressure sores” inside the knee capsule. Now I have knee injuries that may require surgery. The lesson? ALWAYS KEEP MOVING. Even if I have knee surgery–ALWAYS KEEP MOVING. So I’m back at it. I’m going to lose thirty or more pounds to make things easier on my knees. I’m going to brace up everything that I can and just keep going.

    There are only two settings for me: resilience and badassness, or disintegration. With nothing in-between, it’s pretty easy to choose.

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