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Exploring Antifragility

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In his book of the same name, Nicholas Taleb explores the concept of antifragile, otherwise known as post-traumatic growth. According to Taleb, antifragility is somewhat different from resilience, and is the opposite of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

But what exactly is antifragility?

Antifragility is where those who have experienced extreme stress or trauma are strengthened, not weakened, by these negative events.

It’s an interesting concept.

In trying to explain the idea in more depth, Taleb talks about how the body appears to be designed to rebuild and restore itself. It’s almost as if wounding and damage are expected, and are seen as being part and parcel of a normal life. Examples Taleb gives include having a spare lung or kidney; the fact that we have an immune system; and the fact that the body creates pain and tiredness to cause us to rest when it needs to heal itself.

Another example which fascinates me is the fact that broken bones are actually stronger after they’re reset, and the bone has reformed. (A phenomenon known as Wolf’s Law).

All this got me wondering …

If this concept applies to our physical health, might it also apply to our mental health as well?

You’ve probably heard the saying “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It’s arguable whether or not this is always true. Certainly, a crisis or trauma can be destabilizing, at least in the short-term. We can feel as if we will never bounce back. However, extreme life events can also force us to draw on previously unknown reserves. At the time, we may feel overwhelmed and weak, and have a powerful instinct to retreat. But maybe it’s because we need to rest to revive.

That is, the weakness we experience may really be a way of preparing us to be more robust from now and; and this makes sense to me.

Think about it for a minute …. When we look back on our lives after time has passed, and we analyze the impact of the challenges we’ve faced, it is true there may be pain (though it’s likely this has dulled) – but often we can say that we have grown in profound ways. Maybe because we are antifragile.

So perhaps we shouldn’t fear the effect of tragedies, of failures we have known, or traumatic incidents. Perhaps we are designed to be stronger afterwards. And this can give us hope when we’re facing challenges.


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