Antifragility: Why giving in to "all the feels" is bad.
Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks's character in the movie A League of Their Own) famously said " It's supposed to be hard! If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. It's the hard that makes it great." He was referring to baseball but the same can be said about truly living. Truly living, putting yourself out there for every negative emotion in the book - disappointment, rejection, hurt, defeat, loss, and countless others - is painful and hard. The temptation to remain cocooned in comfort and familiarity can be barely irresistible especially in our current society where "safe spaces" are practically mandatory in schools, airports, shopping malls, essentially any space where you may have the *gasp* misfortune of encountering other humans that may not share your same views. How did we get to this moment in time and what can we do to overcome? Mark Manson's got a theory on that which he shares in Everything is #@%!ed.
In Chapter 7: Pain is the Universal Constant, Manson introduces Massim Taleb's "antifragility" concept. Taleb says there are three types of systems in life: fragile like a glass vase, robust like a steel oil drum, and antifragile like the ideal human body/mind relationship (pgs. 182 - 183). The theory is that "whereas the fragile system breaks down and the robust system resists change, the antifragile system gains from stressors and external pressures" pg. 182. The problem is that we modern-day, ice on demand, running water in every home, 1000's of tv channels and movies on demand but nothing to watch, humans are conditioned to avoiding pain and "discomfort" thinking this is freeing us. In actuality, "when we avoid pain, when we avoid stress and chaos and tragedy and disorder, we become fragile" pg. 183.
I was recently hanging out with a good friend in her backyard after just finishing this book. Her three-year old daughter was searching in their storage shed for a badminton racket. She had tiptoed over several obstacles on the way to where she thought the racket was but once she got there the racket was nowhere to be found. She turned around to retreat and the path she'd taken was no longer clear to her so she started picking a new path and stumbled not two feet from the open shed door we were watching her through. Embarassment, pain, anger, disappointment, and several other emotions passed over her little face as the tears and squeals took over. She felt stuck and her mom had a choice.
It didn't take my friend long to decide to help her daughter but not in the form of swooping in to pick her up. My friend walked over to the shed telling her daughter all the emotions we'd seen her experience and that they were all temporary. Then she informed her daughter that she could, and would, get herself out but first she had to stand up so they could identify the path. It took a few minutes of small attempts, flashes of fear when items shifted, and mom-cheerleader voice before her daughter emerged from the shed, all on her own, running for the house with lingering embarrassment. We went back to our coffee talk and I told her about antifragility. We laughed and hoped that her little girl subconsciously gained some fortitude from that but only time will tell.
The question of life is not will you experience pain but to what degree and how will you confront it? "Will you engage your pain or avoid your pain? Will you choose fragility or antifragility?" pg. 184. I would take this one step further and say were you conditioned to chose fragility or were you encouraged to rise? Antifragility and resiliency are cut from the same cloth of the decision making process. We've invented products, processes, systems, parenting methods, ways of connecting, work environments, and other aspects of our lives that allow us to not only avoid physical pain but emotional pain as well. "Our tolerance for pain, as a culture, is diminishing rapidly. And not only is this diminishment failing to bring us more happiness, but it's generating greater amounts of emotional fragility, which is why everything appears to be so fucked" pg. 184.
Resiliency has become such a hot topic over the past couple of years because adults are having to learn it. It isn't a skill that is taught in our daily quest for survival, thanks in large part to the advent of the internet, as it once was in the days of either of the World Wars or the Great Depression. People back then were experiencing true physical and emotional pain daily. "Pain is inevitable [but] suffering is always a choice" pg. 186 and people of those generations had to chose to overcome; that is how resiliency was just something they did rather than something they consciously learned. The trouble we face now is people assume that suffering is a constant in our lives, like pain, rather than a choice. These people have been conditioned to be fragile and have come to associate any amount of pain with unavoidable suffering so they employ all of their defenses against it no matter the collateral damage. They give in to "all the feels," or in Manson terms "the Feeling Brain", and fail to rise.
So what can we do? How can we build our antifragility and change our feeling that Everything is #@%!ed? Push yourself and push each other (not in a bullying way but in an authentic caring way)! "Encourage antifragility and self-imposed limitation in each of us, rather than protecting everyone's feelings" pg. 228. My friend approached her daughter from a place of love in a calm, non-yelling voice when she was in the shed. Her daughter had given in to her feelings - embarrassed, angry, afraid, disappointed - and had she been "rescued" rather than encouraged to overcome she would have been robbed the opportunity to add to her antifragility foundation.
In addition to encouraging each other, Manson mentions mediation as a method for addressing one's fragile/antifragile state (pgs. 184 - 185). Meditation is the practice of awareness, particularly self-awareness. You don't have to dedicate hours of your life to sitting on a mat in total stillness and silence to practice self-awareness. You can do it moment by moment, especially when you feel yourself caving to fragility feels. Pause in that moment, or reflect on it later if you can't safely pause, and take a mental step back. Ask yourself "What pain am I feeling? Is my reaction fragile? How can I move to react more from a place of antifragility/resiliency?" As you become more accustom to these in-the-moment meditations, you can start adding dedicated times to your day for focused mediation practices. I highly recommend you reading Mindfulness in Plain English to get a sense of how to start that type of practice from a renowned practitioner. Check out my blog posts, ONE and TWO, on this great book.
To take a page out of my friend's parenting book: You've got this! I know you are feeling fragile, hesitant, doubtful, and maybe a little bit afraid of confronting your own conditioned state of comfort but rise up. Start plotting your path forward out of your proverbial shed. I'm here to cheer you on. Once you've got yourself an antifragility foundation going, go be a resiliency role model in your family, community, work place, town, and in whatever other circles you contact. Let us know how that journey goes!
I'd love to hear from you! What did you think of the book? Are you starting to work meditation into your day? Are you becoming an antifragility encourager? Tell me about it in the comments below, on any of my socials, or drop me an email. Looking forward to the next book topic -it's a big one- Trust? Grab a copy of The Truth About Trust: How it determines success in life, love, learning and more by David DeSteno and join the conversation when the next post pops on May 8th. Until then, happy reading!