Fragile, Resilient, Antifragile

Last month, the power went out at the gym. Lights went black, the treadmills stopped moving, and huge, medieval-looking doors slammed shut around us—sealing us inside like the plot of an Agatha Christie novel. It made me realize how fragile my workout was: No electricity, no running.

In Greek Mythology, the Sword of Damocles is a story about a commoner (Damocles) who wanted to sit on the king’s throne for a day. Despite the lavish accouchements surrounding the throne, a sword dangled by horsehair above it—reminding the king that all his luxury could disappear at a moment’s notice. The king had made many enemies on his rise to power, which left him fragile. Like a beautiful house of cards, my treadmill routine was fragile—very optimized and convenient, but dependent on something beyond my control.

After a generator kicked on the doors lifted, and I left the gym without completing my run. I told myself I’d be resilient and try again tomorrow. Like a phoenix, I could rise from the ashes without ruining my training schedule. But I was still at the whim of external circumstances.

In Antifragile, Nasim Taleb discusses the hydra—a three-headed monster that fought Hercules. If one of its heads were chopped off, three more would grow in its place. Pain and volatility strengthened the creature. Embodying that spirit, I chose to run outside—despite the dark and cold rain. Given the distance I’d already run at the gym, this extra outdoor workout exceeded my daily mileage goal, transforming my running ritual from fragile to antifragile.

Some ways to develop antifragility:

  • Don’t overoptimize—give yourself extra time, money, equipment
  • Seek ways to win regardless of volatility—such as the barbell investing strategy
  • Avoid external dependencies