“Resilience” is being able to withstand hardship. “Antifragility” goes one step further. The term, first coined by author Nassim Taleb, describes systems or entities that don’t just withstand adversity, but actually benefit and grow stronger from it.
In many ways, antifragility is central to our physical health and development. Bones, for example, get stronger when subjected to stress, and the immune system requires exposure to threats in order to develop properly.
We can also curate mental antifragility to enhance our lives, find happiness, and develop lifelong learning. From Jonathan Haidt to Derren Brown, this video explores the multitude of ways that we can think about antifragility, and how we can use it to better our lives.
Pete Holmes: We'd all like to increase pleasure and minimize pain, but the truth is suffering, even collective suffering that we're going through, is often the earmark that some real change is happening.
Derren Brown: There's stuff that life throws back at you that you can't control.
Nancy Koehn: Resilience is absolutely critical to accomplishing your mission.
Shaka Senghor: I had a choice in whether to give up. I had a choice in whether to fight for a second chance.
Susan David: Difficult experiences are part of life. They're part of our contract with the world, simply by virtue of being here.
Jonathan Haidt: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. That gets at the idea, the psychological principle of 'Antifragility.' It's a wonderful term. That's actually a clunky, ugly term, but it was made up by Nassim Taleb because we don't have a word for this in English language, which is that there are some systems that get stronger if they get pushed around, knocked around. So a wine glass is fragile- if you knock it over, it breaks, nothing good happens. A plastic cup is resilient. If a kid throws it off the table, it doesn't break, but nothing good happens. But there's some things that have to get thrown off the table. There's some systems that have to get pushed around, things like the banking system had to be tested where it gets fragile and collapses. Bones have to be tested, used, or they get weak. If you were to fly to Mars, your bones would get weak. The immune system, if you protect kids from bacteria if you keep them in a sterile environment, you're damaging the immune system. The immune system has to face challenges in order to learn.
Susan David: Life's beauty is inseparable from its fragility. You are healthy until you are not. You are with the people that you love until you are not. You have a job that you love until, for some reason, that job no longer works out. It is really important that as human beings, we develop our capacity to deal with our thoughts and emotions in a way that isn't a struggle; in a way that embraces them and is with them and is able to learn from them.
Derren Brown: The old idea of happiness, that the Stoics sort of enjoyed, was that happiness was a sort of tranquility. So this is really all about a recipe for avoiding unnecessary disturbance and anxiety. So you don't try and control things that you can't. Now the only things you can control are your thoughts and your actions, and that is it. That's it. And if you accept the idea that everything outside of your thoughts and actions are fine, they're fine as they are, and you let that idea really to drip into your soul, then you have a very good template for avoiding unnecessary disturbance and anxiety. The opposite of all of this thinking is the American obsession, forgive me, with positive thinking and optimism- that you can, by believing in yourself and setting your goals, crank the world up into line with with your aims. And the reality is, we just can't.
Susan David: I do have concerns about the overarching societal messaging that we are hearing, which is that we should focus on being happier, that we should choose to be happy, and that we should think positive. Now, just to be clear, I am not anti-happiness, but what I am concerned about in the current discourse, is that I think what it is actually paradoxically doing is setting people up for greater levels of unhappiness. Let me explain why: First, what we know is that when people focus time and time again on being happier, when they set it as a goal, when they value that idea of being happy, there's a body of research that shows that those individuals over time become less happy. Now, why is this? One of the things that I talk about in my book "Emotional Agility" is the idea that expectations are disappointments waiting to happen. When we overvalue the idea of being happy as a goal, we essentially set ourselves up to perceive every slight, every disappointment as a marker of, and proof of, the fact that we aren't achieving that goal effectively. So in a very strange way, valuing happiness is not ultimately the way to achieve happiness.
Pete Holmes: You know, I flew in this morning from L.A., and we're here in New York, and something that I'll repeat in my head over and over is "Resist nothing," which seems so silly, but to me it's a real key to happiness, is trying to, again, Richard Rohr says, "Love is learning to say yes to what is." And that is one of the most fundamental principles of this sort of thought prism, is learning to say yes to what is. As Eckhart Tolle says, "It's madness to resist what's happening." It is madness. Obviously, if you can change something, if something is unpleasant or physically painful, and you can pivot, yeah, resist, resist- like, I'm all for that. But if your flight is delayed, you can watch people start suffering.
So, there's an unpleasant thing happening: a flight has been delayed, but the suffering happens when you start, and you can watch this happen from what other people and myself call the 'witness plays.' You watch yourself constructing a story, and this is where suffering comes. It's your attachment to how you think things should be. And of course, I still do this. Please don't think - I'm sitting in a chair, I'm not floating. But you see the story begin to happen, and you go, "Delta or United should do better. They're always doing this." That's like the first level. And then you start going like, "I'm going to miss this thing," or, "I'm going to be late to the dinner." And, "Damn it, my ticket costs this much." And you know, this is the narrative that we build. Really, something has happened. The flight is delayed. Maybe it was completely preventable, but it's happening. You need to find a quiet place inside where just the fundamental fact that you are participating in reality is enough value and dignity to draw upon at any moment. You only change through suffering. Otherwise, why would you change? Why would you change? It's working.
Shaka Senghor: The things I learned about resilience through my time in prison is that human beings, I believe by nature, are very resilient. And oftentimes we don't recognize our own resiliency until we're faced with obstacles and circumstance that challenge us and pushes us. And it looks different for everybody. You know, when I think about my journey in prison, I went through some very adverse experiences. I had some significant obstacles to overcome, including, you know, long-term solitary confinement, which they estimate is designed to drive a person crazy after 90 days. And what I found in that environment is that people figure out ways to cope and to survive when they're forced to do so. And for me, I found that I was very resourceful when my back was against the wall. If you acknowledge what you're going through, and you recognize that it is an obstacle- that it's that dark moment- but you also realize there's light on the other side of that tunnel, then you can get through. And to me, I think hope is probably the cornerstone of resilience. As long as you have hope, you can come out on the other side of anything. Once you dim the light of hope, there's no possibility of you coming out on the other side. And to me, I think that's what resiliency is.
I always looked at, "If I focus on the purpose instead of the pain, then I can get through to the other side." And that's how I live my life. And to me, you know, those things embody what resilience really is. I would think three things, three of the ingredients toward being resilient is you have to be optimistic. Optimism is such a integral part of getting through adversity. I would say a second thing is really being resourceful and figuring out in your environment what are things you can utilize to help you cope with whatever it is you're going through? And then I think the third thing would would be, you have to have memory loss.
I know that probably sounds crazy, right? But what I've found is that a lot of times we replay memories that no longer exist over and over in our head. And what that does is it holds you hostage. And so, once you begin to release those memories and recognize that you can never reclaim that space or that time, or that experience- then you can move forward in life. You know, because now you've taken the shackles off your feet and you're a lot more mobile. And I think in order to be resilient, you have to not be thinking about what happened in the past, and you really just have to be focused on what you need to do to move forward.
Nancy Koehn: The first step of honing and strengthening our resilience muscles is to take the first step into the fear, into the unknown, into the uncertainty, that all of us- including the leader- have within themselves. It doesn't have to be a big step. You're not, you know, you're not leaping a building in a tall bound, you don't have a superhuman cape, or a wand or Gandalf's magic from "Lord of the Rings." You do have the ability to step one small step into that. And the wonderful thing about charting the stories over time of leaders is you learn that each of these people get more resilient, and a little bit quicker about stepping into the fear, and a little more brave about stepping into the fear with each step that they take- and so it's accretive. It's about the mileage of moving into our fear just with a tiny step, tightening our core, squaring our shoulders, moving into it, and then getting more access to our inner strength, getting more access to our resilience. So resilience is absolutely critical. And yet, I am absolutely certain that it doesn't come from on high, we can't download it on our iPhones, but we can discover it within ourselves, and develop it within ourselves and find it stronger and easier to get each time as we move forward.
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