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Strategies for antifragility.

Taleb is not interested in the mechanistic or theoretical


details about biology or economics. He is adamantly anti-theortical, and prefers to
operate at the level of descriptive phenomenology, of that which can be directly seen or
heard with the eyes and ears. He uses a number of metaphorical phrases of his own
invention to describe what he considers theoretical excess, including lecturing birds
how to fly or the green lumber fallacy. This latter expression derives from an
anecdote about a commodity trader whose success in trading green lumber was based on
ignoring any specialized knowledge or stories about lumber or what made it green.
Instead, the trader focused exclusively on trading patterns or appearances. (I think this is
what you call a technician as opposed to a fundamentalist in the world of
investment analysis). The green lumber fallacy, for Taleb, is trying to understand or
explain underlying causes or mechanisms, rather than sticking with what is immediately
evident.
Taleb brings his skepticism of theory to the practice of hormesis. For example, he
embraces practices like intermittent fasting or lifting heavy weights, but resists
connecting these to any mechanistic explanations, such as insulin-lowering or microtrauma to muscles.
I am writing about health, but I do not want to rely on biology beyond the minimum
requiredI just want to understand as little as possible to be able to look at regularities
of experience. (Antifragile, p. 351)
I disagree with Taleb on this point. I think that a deeper, mechanistic understanding of
hormesis is worthwhile and productive, because mechanistic hypotheses can tested and
point us to new applications. Equally, disproving flawed hypotheses can save us from
useless or harmful practices. Nonetheless, Talebs phenomenological approach still
provides us with some practical strategies for discovering new possible ways to become
stronger and more resilient in health, in wealth, and in outlook.
Ill try to distill here three of the strategies I found most interesting. Taleb has used his
own, idiosyncratic, nomenclature to brand these strategies:
1. The Barbell Strategy. One of the hallmarks of fragility is that the downside is
much worse than the upside. Taleb realized this as an options trader and
developed a bimodal investment strategy, using the image of a barbell as a
metaphor for pursuing the extremes instead of the average. Rather than
diversify into areas of average risk, he advises putting the majority of assets
into ultra-safe investments like cash, and a small amountsay 10%into some
investments that are riskier but have a disproportionately huge upside. This is
an asymmetric or lopsided strategy which protects on the downside and has
the possibility of great gain on the upside. The barbell strategy is not limited to
investment, but can apply to psychology and health.Seneca, the Roman Stoic,
realized that wealth can be transientfragile. To an affluent person, further gains
have slight marginal utility, while the risk of losing everything can be
devastating. As with other Stoics, Seneca regularly practiced negative
visualization (imagining the worst outcome) and voluntary simplicity traveling
lightly and sleeping on the ground to reduce his fear of the downside and
build his appreciation for the upside. Another way that Taleb suggests to apply

this strategy is to choose a safe career, and supplement this with a wild,
creative or fun avocation like writing, skydiving or playing in a rock band.
.

How does the barbell strategy apply


to health? A great example is combining occasional, high intensity weight
lifting or interval training, alternating with long stretches of rest, recovery and
doing nothing. The intermittent stress of lifting an extreme weight pushes the
body to overcompensate and prepare for an even greater future challenge, but
the interlude of rest and recovery is restorative and avoids the downside of
chronic overuse. We can extend this idea of a bimodal barbell strategy to
practices such as intermittent fasting or cold showers. The barbell strategy is the
exact opposite of the conventional wisdom to engage in moderate aerobic
exercise on the treadmill every day, or to eat regular small meals throughout the
day. Periodic intense stressors build antifragile resilience but chronic stress
without rest and recovery only wears us down. By alternating between
extremes of intensity and rest, feast and fast, luxury and poverty we
become more resilient because we increase our range of responsiveness to
environmental variability.In my 2011 post on Stress Oscillation, I developed a
similar concept how to use intermittent exposure to stressors to enhance
allostasis. What I like especially about Talebs barbell strategy is its guidance on
how to implement this in a way that maximizes upside and minimizes downside
risk. He insists that one leg of the barbell is quite safe, while the stressor leg
adds to the upside.
.
2. Asymmetric Optionality. Accepting the idea that we should use the majority
of our assets to protect solidly against the downside, how do we decide to invest
our money, time, or energies to maximize the upside? Talebs answer is to
create asymmetric options. An option is not just any investment it is
something you can chose to act on, but have no obligation to act upon. Talebs
idea is to seek out or create options that have a strong upside, but very low cost
or downside. He cites the example of the Greek philosopher Thales, who bought
the rights to use idle olive oil presses for a very low fee. When an unusually
good olive harvest came, he reaped a fortune by renting out the oil presses to
growers who had to come to him. Look for asymmetric options in areas besides
just investing. For example, if you can secure a rent-controlled apartment, you
are protected against rent increases, but if rental rates go down elsewhere, you
are free to move. In your contracts, insist on the option to cancel at will without
cost. (Dont sign up for long term phone contracts!).
.
So how do we apply asymmetric optionality to improving our health and fitness?

The answer lies in my favorite of all Talebs strategies for getting stronger
.
3. Via Negativa. Modern medicine seems overly focused on interventions that
provide immediate symptomatic relief. In this, there is a bias to producing
immediate and visible short term benefits. This myopia blinds us to longer term
or second order effects. Taleb wants to counter this interventional bias what
he calls iatrogenics with a corrective:
The first principle of iatrogenics is as follows: we do not need evidence of
harm to claim that a drug or an unnatural via positive procedure is dangerous.
[I]atrogenics, being a cost-benefit situation, usually results from the treacherous
condition in which the benefits are small, and visibleand the costs very large,
delayed, and hidden. And of course, the potential cost are much worse than the
cumulative gains. (p. 338)
Precisely. We are overly impressed with relatively short term studies that show
some immediately visible benefit, and we are willing to gamble on this small
upside for unknown longer term effects. The downside of the novel intervention
may not be known for years. Thalidomide and diethylstilbestrol were drugs
developed to provide modest benefits to pregnant mothers, but these were
dwarfed by the horrible birth defects that eventually surfaced. More recently,
weve learned that trans fats and high fructose corn syrup originally thought
to be harmless innovations to reduce spoilage or save money contribute to
obesity and metabolic syndrome. But it took decades for this to become clear.
A great contemporary example of iatrogenics is the drive to prescribe
cholesterol-lowering statins to ever-broader patient groups. Here, Taleb is
brilliant in his analysis, including the obsession with metrics and the role
played by medical liability law:
Statins fail in their application the first principle of iatrogenics (unseen
harm); further they certainly do lower cholesterol, but as a human your
objective function is not to lower a certain metric to get a grade to pass a
school-like test, but get in better health. Further, it is not certain whether
these indicators people try to lower are causes or manifestations that
correlate to a conditionjust as muzzling a baby would certainly prevent
him from crying but would not remove the cause of his emotions. Metriclowering drugs are particularly vicious because of a legal complexity. The
doctor has incentive to prescribe it because should the patient have a heart
attack, he would be sued for negligence; but the error in the opposite
direction is not penalized at all, as side effects do not appear at all as being
caused by the medicine. (Antifragile, p. 348)
Does that mean we should eschew all medical or dietary interventions? Of
course not but we need to be clear about the asymmetric of costs and
benefits:

Second principle of iatrogenics: it is not linear. We should not take risks


with near-healthy people; but we should take a lot, a lot more risks with
those deemed in danger. (Antifragile, p. 340)
This leads to Talebs prescription for dealing with health issues: Via negativa the
subtractive way. Our first instinct should be to subtract novel agents from our
environment, not add them. Why? Because the downside risks from subtracting
(compared with adding) while real are typically minimal and easily reversible,
while the upside potential can be significant. Our forebears did fine without them, so the
potential for harm is minimized. This may sound strange, but we are familiar with
elimination diets, where we try to identify possible allergens or food sensitivities by
eliminating one food at a time to see if the condition resolves. Many have found that
cutting wheat, dairy or other specific foods bring great relief. Taleb goes a step further
and advocates eliminating most processed and modern foods from the diet. In this
regard, he follows a largely Paleo approach. One of the best examples of via negativa is
fasting. Taleb seems to be particularly in favor of randomness in food delivery and
composition, inspired by the fractal approach to eating that Arthur DeVany advocates,
for example, in The New Evolution Diet. Interestingly, he also follows the Greek
Orthodox custom of fasting during Lent.
Going beyond eating an ancestral dietor at least pre-modern onehere is an illustrative
list of modern innovations that Taleb believe weaken or fragilize us, and which we
should do withoutexcept in case of severe necessity:

antibiotics

hormone replacement therapy

anti-inflammatory medication

cortisone shots

lobotomies (doesnt seem so controversial today!)

iron supplementation

sunscreen

disinfectants and excessive hygiene

toothpaste

soy milk

cows milk for people of Mediterranean or Asian descent

fruits except for ancient fruits that are typically more bitter or sour than
their modern versions

any drink other than water, wine or coffee (Im not sure why he excludes herbal
teas)

antidepressants

child psychiatry

air conditioning

I must say that I agree with Taleb on many or most of these with the caveat that
occasional or emergency use is acceptable. I would add a few more of my own
examples of things we are generally better off doing without each of which Ive
written about on my blog:

eyeglasses

cushioned running shoes

antioxidants

vitamin D supplements

The new insight that Taleb provides is to go beyond mechanistic explanations (e.g.
regarding the specifics of adaptation and biological plasticity) to consider the structure
of the tradeoff made in considering any intervention. We should replace our current
bias for short term interventions with the longer term perspective of asymmetric
optionality in thinking about risks and benefits in health.

Via Negativa: Adding to Your Life By Subtracting

Its a new year and people all over the world are making resolutions on how theyre
going to improve themselves. Usually these goals consist of doing something new or
adding a habit to their lives: get back into exercising, start journaling, launch a side
hustle, adopt the Paleo diet, earn more money, etc.
But after a few weeks of motivated effort, most folks start to lose steam. They stop
going to the gym, never sign up for that woodworking class, and go back to eating Pop
Tarts and Doritos. And then they feel like crap because they havent made any progress
on improving themselves.
Theres nothing wrong with making these types of positive goals, but theyre not the
only way to improve your life. Just as effective as adding something to our lives, if not
more so, is subtracting the things that might be holding us back.
In truth, oftentimes the path to becoming a better man is found in following the via
negativa the negative way.

Via Negativa Your Way to a Better Life


Via negativa is a Latin phrase used in Christian theology to explain a way of describing
God by focusing on what he is not, rather than what he is; understanding Deitys
positive qualities is a task deemed impossible for the finite minds of humans.

Via negativa can also be used to describe a similarly negative way of improving ones
life; instead of concentrating on what you do, the focus turns to what you dont do. This
path has two main thrusts: stripping bad habits and situations out of your life, and
avoiding bad habits/situations in the first place.

Getting Rid of Bad Habits/Downside


In his book Antifragile, Nassim Taleb argues that the best way for a person or
organization to become antifragile (something that gains from setbacks and chaos rather
than just survives) is to first decrease their downside. Downside consists of those things,
people, actions, habits, or systems that make you vulnerable to volatility and risk. For
example, debt isnt much of a problem when you have enough money coming in to
make your payments, but as soon as you lose your job, that debt becomes a really big
problem, really fast.
But downside can create a handicap even when volatility doesnt exist. Take the debt
example again. Money you shunt over to your monthly payment is money that could
have been used for more productive purposes like starting a business or taking a class to
learn a new skill. Downside limits your options in life.
By focusing your efforts on eliminating that debt, you eliminate the risk of falling
behind on payments and you free up money to be spent on increasing your upside in
life.
Its addition through subtraction.
As it goes with money so it goes with everything else.
Smoking is a huge downside to your health; removing the smoking habit from your life
provides more benefit than adding more exercise to your daily routine and protein to
your diet.
Toxic relationships are a downside to your emotional and psychological well-being. Just
ask someone who has been in an abusive relationship how much every area of their life
improved once they got rid of that interpersonal albatross.
Not only can eliminating bad habits be a highly effective way to improve your life, its
also often a lot easier than creating a new, positive habit. Positive habits take a lot of
motivation and willpower to cultivate. But not doing something is much simpler. For
example, if youre significantly overweight, switching to a low carb diet is going to
shed those lbs for sure, but it aint easy to stick with. Eliminating soda, on the other
hand, is comparatively a cinch. Dropping the sugar water habit isnt going to turn you
into a trim athlete, but itll get you on your way; once youre closer to your goal, and
feeling some momentum, you can start making more significant, positive changes to
your diet.

Avoid Doing Stupid Stuff


I have used all my life a wonderfully simple heuristic: charlatans are recognizable in
that they will give you positive advice, and only positive advice, exploiting our

gullibility and sucker-proneness for recipes that hit you in a flash as just obvious, then
evaporate later as you forget them. -Nassim Taleb
Taleb argues that removing downside is just one part of via negativa. The other part is to
simply avoid downside in the first place.
Because we have a bias towards positive action, its hard for us to focus on how
avoiding downside is a plus; we recognize when things go right, but fail to notice when
something bad didnt happen. This bias manifests itself in the way businesses reward
success. Corporations will handsomely reward CEOs who substantially increase
shareholder value during a boom time, but wont provide the same sort of bonuses to the
CEO who takes prudent measures that prevent the company from losing its
metaphorical shirt during a bust.
However, in the long run, not going bust is the best path towards success you cant
make any money if youre bankrupt! As Taleb notes:
In practice it is the negative thats used by the pros, those selected by evolution: chess
grandmasters usually win by not losing; people become rich by not going bust
(particularly when others do); religions are mostly about interdicts; the learning of life is
about what to avoid. You reduce most of your personal risks of accident thanks to a
small number of measures.
Or as Berkshire Hathaway Vice-Chairman Charlie Munger put it, It is remarkable
how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be
consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.
I know a few very smart and talented individuals whose lives are in utter shambles
despite their gifts. And its because they keep making stupid and avoidable mistakes.
They consistently add wholly unnecessary downside to their lives.
If they had done nothing really positive, but had simply avoided the DUIs, the drug
arrests, the out-of-wedlock births, the affairs, and the consumer debt, their lives would
have been vastly superior to the ones they have now.
Let that sink in: doing nothing would have given these people a better life than they
have now.
I sometimes hear people carp that the Ten Commandments or other religious edicts
focus too much on restricting behavior, and dont focus enough on positive actions. But
perhaps theres wisdom in focusing on the thou shall nots. If you can go through life
not murdering people, not lying, not sleeping with your neighbors wife, and not filled
with envy, youre going to have a pretty good life.
Following via negativa may seem like a defensive and risk-averse way to live. But by
focusing on what you dont do, you actually put yourself in a position to be more
aggressive with life. The man who has never been arrested, doesnt have debt, and
doesnt have the drama that comes with bad relationships has more opportunities
presented to him and more money, energy, and willpower to capitalize on those
opportunities when they appear; the man who has gone though life making stupid

mistakes, doesnt. In other words, youll never get a chance to work on the shalls if
your lifes been wrecked by ignoring the shall nots.

Invert. Always Invert, or What Kind of Man Do I NOT Want to Be?


The great German algebraist Carl Jacobi had a maxim on how to approach difficult
math problems: Invert. Always Invert. Oftentimes the best way to gain clarity about a
problem is to address it backwards.
As it goes with math, so it goes with life.
This year, dont ask yourself What am I going to do to be a better man? or What kind
of man do I want to be? Invert those questions and ask What am I NOT going to do to
be a better man? and What kind of man do I NOT want to be?
I think youll be surprised at the insights youll get from the answers to these via
negativa questions.
If you have stupid stuff in your life, remove it. Reducing the downside will have
immediate and noticeable gains that you wont get with positive actions.
Stop smoking, get rid of debt, get rid of toxic people in your life, quit wasting time on
the internet, stop eating crap, quit porn.
If youve already eliminated a lot of bad habits from your life (or never started them in
the first place), take via negativa to the next level by eliminating stuff that might be
good, but takes you away from focusing on the best things in life. On his blog, Cal
Newport shared an anecdotal story about Warren Buffet that illustrates the importance
of choosing the best over the good:
Buffett wanted to help his employee get ahead in his working life, so he suggested that
the employee list the twenty-five most important things he wanted to accomplish in the
next few years. He then had the employee circle the top five and told him to prioritize
this smaller list.
All seemed well until the wise Billionaire asked one more question: What are you
going to do with the other twenty things?
The employee answered: Well the top five are my primary focus but the other twenty
come in at a close second. They are still important so Ill work on those intermittently as
I see fit as Im getting through my top five. They are not as urgent but I still plan to give
them dedicated effort.
Buffett surprised him with his response: No. Youve got it wrongEverything you
didnt circle just became your avoid at all cost list.
Steve Jobs said something similar in an interview a few years ago:
People think focus means saying yes to the thing youve to focus on. But thats not
what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.

You have to pick carefully. Im actually as proud of the things we havent done as the
things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.
Eliminating obvious downsides like bad habits and debt will provide a good life;
eliminating good things so you can focus on the very best will lead to a truly
flourishing life.
Besides eliminating downside (and possibly good, yet best-distracting activities),
resolve this year and for the rest of your life to avoid stupid mistakes; when you see red
flags a-wavin, turn and walk the other way. I promise your life will be much easier and
filled with more opportunity if you do.
If youve already made a bunch of stupid mistakes in your life, dont despair. Yes,
youve dug yourself into a hole, but the first step to getting out of that hole is to stop
digging. Resolve today that youre going to avoid stupid life-altering mistakes
whenever possible. After that, start working your way out of that hole by doing what
you have to do to make things right. It wont be easy and it will take time, but
improvement and turnarounds are possible. Plenty of people have done it before and so
can you.
What are your via negativa goals this year?

Strategies for becoming Antifragile

Being robust or resilient means that one remains unaffected in an adverse/stressful


situation. This is a more stoic approach towards life. On the other hand, a more
aggressive strategy is when one learns to improve or bounce back from adversity.
Natural systems are inherently antifragile, our muscles instead of resisting damage when
we lift weights start to bounce back and grow, cutting a stem from a plant leads to
multiple stems sprouting around the old one. The entire natural world around us is
antifragile. Modernity and the modern lifestyle around us is robust at best and outright
fragile in most situations. So here are some strategies of leading a more antifragile life.
(Following is an excerpt from an Edge Article)
Strategies for antifragility
Each of us can pursue a set of practices and strategies as individuals and as
institutions to thrive in times of increasing uncertainty and more frequent Black
Swans. In Talebs view, the end goal for any antifragile strategy is to achieve
convexity. Taleb draws a core contrast between concave and convex strategies. The key
question in assessing any strategy is whether its likely produce more benefits or harm
as the intensity of a shock increases (up to a point). In other words, do you have more

upside or downside? If the upside increases, you have positive asymmetry and a
convex strategy. If the downside increases, you have negative asymmetry and a
concave strategy something to be avoided at all costs.
(1) Pursue barbell approaches
What does Taleb mean by this? He basically means pursuing a bimodal strategy: play it
safe in some ar eas to mitigate the potential impact of negative Black Swans while at the
same time taking a lot of small risks in other areas to enhance the benefit of positive
Black Swans. Above all, he cautions against playing in the middle we need to be
both aggressive and paranoid in carefully selected areas while avoiding the
complacency that the deceptive middle produces.
(2) Focus on options
As Taleb notes, an option is what makes you antifragile and allows you to benefit
from the positive side of uncertainty, without a corresponding serious harm from
the negative side. An option allows you to take the upside if you want but without the
downside. Optionality the availability of options reduces the need to understand
or know something. Wherever possible, seek out options with open-ended, rather than
closed-ended payoffs. Given this emphasis on options, invest in people, rather than
plans.
(3) Be curious
Curiosity is antifragile . . . and is magnified by attempts to satisfy it. Curiosity
and its close cousin, discovery, like disturbances disturbances create unexpected
opportunities to learn more and help us to grow stronger in the face of challenges that
we had not anticipated.
(4) Get out of your comfort zone
Taleb is deeply suspicious of comfort it makes us complacent, weakens the will
and fragilizes us. Far better for us to be uncomfortable it makes us more alert to
our environment, more willing to take risks and more humble about our
knowledge and abilities.
(5) Focus on the edge
How could I not love this? Taleb observes that to this day I still have the instinct
that the treasure, what one needs to know for a profession, is necessarily what lies
outside the corpus, as far away from the center as possible.
(6) Conduct lots of experiments and tinker
This is part of Talebs barbell strategy you carefully pick the areas for experimentation
where there is potential for significant upside. Taleb is a major advocate of
experimentation and tinkering in contrast to theorizing. The key is to structure
them so that they are small in potential harm and so that you can pursue many of
them.

(7) Dont get consumed by data


Be suspicious of data: . . . the more data you get, the less you will know whats
going on.
(8) Focus on building/accessing tacit knowledge rather than rationality and
explicit knowledge
As should be clear by now, Taleb is deeply suspicious of abstraction, theorizing and
rationality. One of my favorite observations is Talebs approving citation of Ernest
Renan who observed that logic excludes by definition nuances, and . . . truth
resides exclusively in the nuances. Going back to Nietzche, Taleb clearly highlights
the importance of the Dionysian over the Apollonian the Dionysian is dark,
visceral, wild, untamed, hard to understand, emerging from the inner layers of our
selves. Another one of my favorite social commentators, Camille Paglia,
similarly seeks to resurrect the Dionysian.
(9) Focus on subtractive knowledge
Taleb asserts: . . . we know a lot more what is wrong than what is right . . . negative
knowledge (what is wrong, what does not work) is more robust to error than
positive knowledge (what is right, what works). So knowledge grows by subtraction
much more than by addition . . .
(10) Collaborate and trade
From Talebs perspective, collaboration and trade have an explosive and
unpredictable upside they are some of the most powerful ways to unleash positive
Black Swans and help to ensure that the potential upside is far greater than the
potential downside.
(11) Respect the old
Taleb argues that antifragility implies . . . that the old is superior to the new. . . . What
survives must be good at serving some (mostly hidden) purpose that time can see but
our eyes and logical faculties cant capture. Only the antifragile survives and
thrives; the fragile is ultimately exposed by time and history.
(12) Beware of wealth, debt and reputation
The key to antifragility is to have less to lose and more to gain; this will make it
easier to love the mistakes that often result from experimentation and tinkering,
rather than fearing them. If you have wealth, you are more inclined to make big bets
with more potential for downside. In general, you have more and more to lose,
increasing the potential for fragility. If you feel you are vulnerable to reputational harm,
you will be less inclined to make mistakes, so concern about reputation becomes a
source of increasing fragility. Similarly, if you depend on a lot of debt, reputation
becomes more important and you again will be less inclined to make mistakes.

Anti-Fragile Strategies
for SmartPreppers
Posted on June 26, 2013 by Survival Sherpa
by Todd
Is the term antifragile new to you?

Photo credit: http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-mortgage-image14920324


Our modern world is built on fragile systems. Systems that get worse, not better, with the smallest of
stressors. Technology is a wonderful and scary tool. Systems get hacked. Bugs cause chaos. And it all
depend on our power grid.

Think about our just in time food delivery system, transportation, municipal water,
medicine, banks, and even our governmental system. All are delicately fragile.
The lights are on, gas is in the car, food in the fridge, and your baby is healthy. A small
glitch or hiccup in normal can disrupt your comfort level. When a regional natural
disaster like Hurricane Sandy hits, our modern systems become worthless. God help us
if disaster ever struck country or world-wide.
Living life is messy even in normal conditions. Thats why the preparedness minded
work to simplify systems and build redundancy. How do we know if our plan will hold
up to the stress of whats coming? It would be wise to create controlled stressors in
normal times to gauge your anti-fragility before all hell breaks loose.

The Problem with Linear-Life-Thinking


Life is not linear. Doing the stuff to prepare and respond to lifes ups and downs will
determine whether you survive, thrive, or die. Self-sufficiency never arrives by
accident. Its built through choices. We havent left the rat race entirely. Like the rest of
you regular guys/gals, DRG and I still have to pay the bills.
Over a year ago, we experienced our own personal SHTF situation. Dirt Road Girl was
diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. As you might imagine, we were devastated. Suddenly,
one thing mattered. Survival!
Due to DRGs attitude, prayers from family and friends, and a second opinion from a
wise doctor, shes bouncing back and taking full advantage of her second chance at life.
Shes more than resilient. Shes becoming antifragile.

Shes a shining example of what doing the stuff is all about. Her fighting spirit
motivates me stops my complaining causes me to be more honest with myself
teaches me to laugh at life and death makes me embrace both my mortality and
immortality.

Building an Antifragile Life


No shame in failure try again and fail again. Caroline Cooper used the term
antifragile in an email to me recently. What a great word! It comes from Antifragile:
Things That Gain From Disorder, a book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility,
randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in
spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of
fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The
resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better. [Emphasis
mine]
This is not a book review since Ive not read his book yet. Anti-fragility is what Ive
been promoting on this blog without being aware of the term. (Im ordering his book
today).
How can becoming antifragile make our preparations and life better?
Lets see, we live in a fragile system/world. A SHTF event, personal or otherwise, will
happen. It shakes us to our core. Our foundation is compromised. Paradigms are
destroyed. What you thought would work doesnt. The plan and the backup plan
fail. The map you were told to follow leads you to a bridge to nowhere.
What do you do next?
The SmartPrepper builds anti-fragility. Strategies that gain from disorder and disaster.
Here are some antifragile strategies to get you thinking.
1.) Economics: Decrease your exposure in the fragile banking system as much as
possible. A hundred years ago our Federal Reserve (private central bank) started a
stupid system that cant withstand shock. Our fractional reserve banking is too big to
fail. Their rules dont apply to the individual you and me. If individuals make stupid
mistakes, we get immediate results. Failure is a great teacher.
Antifragile Strategy: Invest in tangibles. Productive land, skills, natural health, quality
tools, precious metals, and stuff you cant make on your own. Having the ability to
produce potable water may be more valuable gold. You cant drink gold.
2.) Community: We live in a global community whether we like it or not. Stuff happens
in China and we feel it in main street America. Globalization means the problems we
face are too big to understand and fix. Government leaders, no matter what their party
affiliation, cant solve problems for you and your family.

Antifragile Strategy: You are the answer for your problems. But you cant do it alone.
You need local community no matter how self-sufficient youve become. A bunker
mentality will not save you.
Start by building antifragile systems and skills locally produce real food (even with
limited space), make your home a producer instead of a consumer (rain collection
systems, alternative and sustainable energy, etc.), buy locally grown real food, and
support local producers.
3.) Education: Let me be clear. Education is not referring to school. Schools do one
thing very well schooling. Schools are the last places on earth to learn anti-fragility.
Students are not allowed to explore their interests. Theres simply not enough time and
the overseers cant allow individualism to take root. Schools are just another too-big-tofail, propped up government institution that is wildly successful at failure.
Children do not need to be made to learn about the world or shown how. They want to,
and they know how. John Holt
[And it wont happen through schooling me]
Antifragile Strategy: Follow your interests! Homeschooling/unschooling allows your
children to follow their passions. Just like any other investment, there are sacrifices that
must be made to achieve the desired result.
John Taylor Gatto once said, Genius is as common as the air we breath. Schools are
not structured to allow genius to be developed. If thats true with kids in school, the
same goes for you as a life learner. Keep learning. Avoid the cookie-cutter mentality of
factory schooling for you and your childrens future. Build skills, then get educated.
4.) Take Risks and Keep Doing the Stuff: Anti-fragility places high value on doing
over just thinking. Risk failure. Fail. Try it again. Get it right.
Is this stressful? Indeed! There are no shortcuts to becoming antifragile. Theres no
safe place. We want to insulate our children from danger. Thats noble to a certain
point. But weve crossed over into dangerous territory when our protection is
smothering. Helicopter parenting, if you will.
Taking risks is an American thing to do. Thats how we built this country. Maybe my
view is tainted somewhat from teaching, but I see a growing number of kids that have
had risk erased from their lives through government education and helicopter parenting.
Free-range kids learn to deal with risks, survive stressors, and gain from their
experience.
Antifragile Strategy: Now is the time to practice doing the stuff before an event forces
you. Im a huge proponent of testing gear, knowledge, attitude, and abilities. This alone
will prepare you for those pesky unknown unknowns. Even doing the stuff now
wont guarantee success when it counts. But it will greatly increase the odds in your
favor when disorder and volatility show up on your doorstep.

Self-imposed stressors help gauge your anti-fragility. Knowledge may weigh nothing,
but until you start doing the stuff, your book knowledge wont matter. Theres a big gap
between reading a how-to on blacksmithing and actually hammering hot steel into a
useful object.
Heres some of the ways to start doing the antifragile stuff. Note: Doing this stuff is for
healthy people who want to stress their system in a natural, healthy way.
Physical Stuff

Part of your plan may be to grab your Bug Out Bag and walk to a predetermined location if need be. We do what we practice. At least once a week,
sometimes more, DRG and I do our B.O.B. workout. That is, we strap on our
fully loaded backpacks (72 hour go-bags) and hike around our town and
neighborhood (about 3 or 4 miles). If youve got a B.O.B. laying in your closet
that youve never carried, try it. You might find your hips and legs need more
practice doing this stuff. Were not sure if wed ever need to bug out, but its
comforting to know we could physically if we had to. [Tip: Dont go all Rambo
on your outings. Blend in as much as possible. Youre simply conditioning for
your summer hiking trip.]

B.O.B. Monday workout! Notice the SmartPrepper apparel :)

Stress your body. Anyone thats hung out here knows that Im not a fan of
conventional workouts (repetitive, boring gym workouts). My plan involves
lifting heavy things, moving slowly daily (walking), and sprinting (max effort)
once a week. Its not rocket science. Move in a way that builds functional
fitness. If youre interested in learning more, you can check the Brick House
Workout here. Keep your body in a state of randomness.

Polar dip. Thats right. Taking a dip in a cold water stresses your system. I also
take cold showers regularly in the hot months and occasionally in the winter.

Theres nothing like diving into the lake at the Dam Cabin in November,
climbing out shivering, and warming up by the camp fire. Sound crazy? You
may be surprised at the health benefits. Im not suggesting you turn your hot
water heater into a bar-b-que grill. Just test the cold water to see if it works for
you.

Get grounded. Three years ago I removed the casts (running shoes) from my
feet. Now I run in my birthday shoes. My students think Im nuts. They wonder
if I ever step in dog poop their biggest concern. Barefoot running has taken the
stress off my joints, improved my balance, and strengthened my feet and ankles.
If youre considering an unshod run, be smart and invest some time in research.
Begin here. Even if you never run naked, loose the shoes and walk in your
yard. Feel the grass/weeds between your toes. There are free health benefits to
putting your sole on the ground (earthing).
Food Stuff

Intermittent Fasting: IF has many benefits other than weight loss. Heres a IF
resource Ive put together if youre interested. Skipping meals may one not be
optional one day.

Variety: Try new food. Shock you system with occasional wild foods and
fermented food. Heck, just stop eating processed junk will send healthy shock
waves through the Standard Americans Diet.

Eat the real stuff: Eating real food is now trendy and revolutionary. We call it
organic. Its really the nutrient dense foods that our grandparents cooked from
scratch before our wonderful industrial food machine destroyed our eats. Buying
(if you cant grow your own) local naturally raised or organic plants and animals
not only makes you healthy, it your community antifragile.
System Stuff

Water. Cant do without this stuff. Whats your system for acquiring H2O?
Depending on your city/county to deliver potable water after an event is fragile
thinking. Build an antifragile system that improves your life.

Security. Dialing 911 is an option if your life is threatened. But know that youre
beholden to a response time that may be too late. Take your security into your
own hands. Nuff said.

Waste. Okay, this is a dirty subject, but I dont think many of us give it a
second thought. When the Sh*t Hits The Fan, what do you do with the brown
stuff? We take for granted that our toilet handle will always handle the job and
paper work. If our fragile system fails, whats your plan to eliminate your waste?
Outhouse or 5 gallon bucket and a Sears and Roebuck catalog? You may want to
look into some type of composting toilet. Just saying.

Networking. Building relationships with other antifragile people increases your


chances of surviving stressors. You wont need to just borrow a cup of milk from
your nurse neighbor post-collapse, shed be sewing up that gash in your foot
from a glancing blow at the firewood shed. Neighboring and networking now is
the antifragile thing to do to avoid the rush.

Alright, your turn. What systems and strategies do you recommend for anti-fragility?
See you in the comments!

Becoming Antifragile
Talebs Antifragile has given me plenty of food for thought. I now look at everything
through the lens of his triad. Its a fascinating mental exercise organizing the world
around you as fragile, resilient, or antifragile.
Applying this to my own personal life has been an eye-opening experience. Where am I
fragile? How can I make different areas of my life antifragile? Can I do things to help
my family become antifragile?
While Ive long been a proponent of becoming psychologically resilient, I really like the
idea of going a step farther not just staying the same during adversity, but becoming
mentally stronger from it. I want to learn how I can create an environment that makes
such an outcome a possibility.
Most of Talebs book is filled with tactics and heuristics you can use to make your life
and business more antifragile. Here are some of his tips, as well as a few of my own:
Intentionally inject stress in your life. Stress has gotten a bad rap; while long-term
stress can have deleterious effects, short bouts of it can make you stronger and better.
Your body and mind have antifragility built into them, but require stress for that
antifragility to activate. A few ways to inject positive stress into your life: fast, take cold
showers, do a challenging obstacle race, lift heavy weights, run instead of bike.
Add redundancies in your life. Start that emergency fund; add buffers in your schedule
to take into account the inevitable volatility that comes each day; make that bug-out
bag. The gains from redundancies increase as volatility increases.
Employ the barbell strategy. Taleb describes the barbell strategy as a dual
attitude of playing it safe in some areas and taking a lot of small risks in others, hence
achieving antifragility. Playing it safe reduces the potential downside of volatility and
taking small risks exposes you to the potentially massive gains from the same chaos.
For the Average Joe it could mean keeping your boring day job (the safe end of the
barbell), while working on your side hustle at night (the risky end of the barbell). If the
side hustle doesnt work out, you still have your boring job, but if it does work out, you
could live the dream of working for yourself and becoming wealthy.
Never take advice from someone who doesnt have skin in the game. We live in a
world in which peoples actions, opinions, and advice are divorced from consequences.
We no longer force people to have skin in the game. This fragilizes society. Financial
advisors on TV can give terrible advice and pundits can spout off wrong opinions but
suffer no consequence for their erroneous predictions, even if those predictions harm
others.
When determining whether or not to take advice from someone, look to see if they have
skin in the game. If the person dispensing the advice or making the prediction has
nothing to lose from being wrong, dont listen to them. Pay more attention to people
who have accepted risk and responsibility for their words.

Practice via negativa. According to Taleb, the first step towards antifragility consists
in first decreasing downside. We do that through practicing via negativa a phrase
borrowed from theology. Instead of focusing your time on adding things to your life to
make it better, focus first on subtracting habits, practices, things, people that fragilize
you. A few examples: get rid of debt, quit smoking, stop hanging around toxic friends,
eliminate unhealthy foods.
Keep your options open. Increase optionality in your life. When volatility and chaos
increase, its the man with the most options who is the most antifragile. How do you
increase optionality? Having money in the bank certainly increases your options; it
gives you breathing room during economic downturns, but also provides flexibility to
take advantage of positive unforeseen opportunities or to pursue goals. Increasing your
skills gives you optionality as well. If one career goes bust, you have the skills to
jumpstart a new one.
Many of these methods deserve more unpacking, and well be revisiting how to become
more antifragile in greater detail in the coming year. Until then, I highly recommend
picking up a copy of Antifragile. Its a great book thats both enlightening and enjoyable
to read.