Much has been written about resilience. Who wouldn’t want to be more resilient if it means being able to bounce back and pick ourselves up after our setbacks in life? With the inevitability of challenges, losses and suffering in life, the capacity to show resilience is clearly important. Knowing that there are well-established practices that strengthen our resilience skills is comforting. But, is being resilient “enough?” Isn’t there a missing element when it comes to being fully prepared to enlarge our lives as we age that goes beyond simply being resilient?
Resilient or Anti-Fragile?
Author Nassim Taleb makes the point that life rarely settles for mere resilience. If we did, after a setback, scare, challenge, struggle or failure, we would just come back to where we began. We would “return to baseline.” But, in life, we are not able to return to a previous baseline. What was has passed into the past. Heraclitus recognized this more than 2,000 years ago when he said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” We learn. We grow. We evolve. We transform.
The missing element in Heraclitus’ words is that life’s knock-downs are worthless unless we climb to our feet wiser for the experience. Beyond resilience lies post-setback growth where our inevitable failures transform us as we become enlarged by them. Taleb’s phrase for this ability to gain from the disappointment, disorder and disorientation of failure is “anti-fragile.” To learn to become anti-fragile actually enables us to become fully ourselves.
What does Anti-Fragile Look Like?
Here are characteristics of anti-fragility. Where do you find yourself in relation to these anti-fragile qualities? Anti-fragile people -
· Are intrigued or attracted to randomness and uncertainty
· Respond to unexpected shocks with vibrant rebounds that revise prior assumptions vs. simply rebooting the previous assumptions
· Experience stressors as necessary opportunities for growth and development
· See personal and physical strength as increased in direct proportion to repeated and even deliberate encounters with life stressors
· View life as an ever-unfolding adventure that invites exploration and discovery
Why Anti-fragility Matters as We Age
These are not widely held views about uncertainty and unpredictability, especially as we age. They are certainly unorthodox, and yet modern brain science offers clear support that they represent a means of growing beyond mere resilience in life’s second half. Instead, too many of us adopt cultural messages that we should over-emphasize security over risk, the familiar over the novel, and the safe over the challenging. I would never suggest that security, familiarity or safety are to be discarded or ignored. What I am saying is that when it comes to longer-term brain health and a richer, more vital life as we age, complementing security, familiarity and safety with selected experiences that confront us with risk, novelty and challenge is critically important. To ignore that message is to open the door to premature physical, mental and even spiritual aging!
This coming month, keep revisiting the five anti-fragile qualities listed above. Then, make choices to move one step and one experience closer to that end of the continuum each week or even each day. They need not be dramatic, but they do need to be consistent!
Until next time…