Becoming Antifragile – How To Gain From Disorder

 

Image Credit: Andre Faria Gomes

Image Credit: Andre Faria Gomes via Slideshare: Antifragile: Lessons Learned

“Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire. Likewise with randomness, uncertainty, chaos – you want to use them, not hide from them. You want to be the fire and wish for the wind.”

-Nassim Taleb

Last week I gave a talk at the monthly Catalysts Collective event here in San Francisco on the topic of antifragility. The following points are highlights from my talk.

To understand the premise of Antifragile – Things That Gain From Disorder there are three key areas to consider.

We know what it means to be fragile – to be easily broken. Another way to interpret it is to be damaged by disorder. The world’s banking system is a good example – something left vulnerable to chaos, randomness, and uncertainty.

After the state of fragility comes resiliency. Things that are resilient have the ability withstand disorder. Imagine a structure built to withstand earthquakes. When an actual earthquake occurs, the building (hopefully) remains standing. It does not change.

A great story of being resilient is the phoenix. The phoenix may rise from the ashes, but he rises only to become what he once was before. 

The final state Taleb focuses on is the state of being antifragile.

Antifragility is when something benefits from disorder. While startups are known to harbor an improbability of success, when viewed in increments success happens as a result of randomness, chance, volatility and instability. 

When viewed from the macro level, the startup economy benefits society as a whole. It creates room for opportunity and innovation. Things like volatility and instability are required in order for them to achieve the point of contribution at scale. This concept can be applied to the contribution of individuals too – organic things, like muscle mass, require some level of instability or challenge in order to grow.

I believe that being antifragile is essential for personal revolution.

Some benefits of being antifragile include:

  • Increased confidence
  • Welcomeness to change
  • The allowance of discomfort
  • Possessing a growth mindset versus a fixed one.

Here are  ways to become antifragile:

  • Think of perceived failure as opportunity
  • Lean into fear
  • Embrace community
  • Listen to yourself and to others
  • Seek opportunities
  • Build a strong baseline
  • Use the barbell strategy.

The barbell strategy is a method presented by Taleb. Consider the image of a barbell. The maximum amount of risk you’re willing to take goes on one side. It’s balanced by Maslov’s basic needs (food, water, safety) on the opposing end.

This is a very basic introduction to the basic concepts of Antifragility. If you’d like to learn more, I recommend checking out the book itself or visit the following blogs that present nice summaries and applicable tips for becoming antifragile.

Taylor Pearson – Antifragile Book Notes

StartupBros – How You Can Profit From The Unknown: Becoming Antifragile

Buy – Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder (Amazon)

What’s Mamba Mentality? Kobe, Kyrie & The Pursuit Of Greatness

Kyrie Irving with the series-clinching shot

Source: Complex.com

When describing their comeback at the end of Game 5, LeBron James famously said “It’s all about those two magic words. Game 7.”

In the NBA playoffs, each team battles an opponent from their division bracket-style, playing the best out of 7 games with the winning team advancing to the next round. It’s fairly common that each match up won’t make it all the way to Game 7 – sometimes a team will win four straight games, or they’ll battle it out through five. Making it to seven means that each team has given it their all and have an equal chance to advance. It all comes down to the final game. Or in this case, the final few seconds.

In the last minute of Game 7 between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors, everything came down to a moment in time when either LeBron and crew would win the NBA championship title or lose it all, marking the 56th year that a Cleveland team had once again failed to win a professional sports championship.

In the tense final seconds of Game 7, Kyrie Irving made a three point shot that sealed the deal for the Cavs. “All I was thinking was Mamba Mentality,” he said. The internet lit up with searches. Many NBA fans may be familiar with this philosophy from another all-time NBA great — Kobe Bryant.

“We don’t quit, we don’t cower, we don’t run. We endure and conquer. That’s mamba mentality.”

-Kobe Bryant

We can draw from this mentality in order to show up as the best version of ourselves in everyday life. It can pick us up when times get rough – when we miss the shot and fall emotionally flat.

Having the ability to get back up and endure the struggle with honor and integrity is the source of real power. When we harness it, we create drive. We also take ownership of our lives that, even in incremental steps, points us in the direction of being Great.

One game at a time.

Besides, real Greatness is not defined by others. It’s our ability to become better than who we were yesterday. And set ourselves up to be even better tomorrow.

Kyrie was absent from the NBA finals a year ago when the Cavaliers faced the Warriors for the first time. Instead he was posting to social media from a hospital room where he was being treated for a knee injury. His disappointment was palpable.

Despite the injury — and countless injuries that he suffered all season long — the 24-year old did not let it get him down. He worked hard when he returned to practice, persevered in training, and showed up all season long to do what was necessary in order to bring him back to that arena floor once again.

As part of their three-game comeback (a first for the league) Kyrie scored 42 points alongside four-time NBA MVP and three-time Finals MVP LeBron James. It was the first time two players from the same team scored so many points within a single game.

Irving demonstrated mamba mentality through the critical seconds of that final game to seal the deal for the Cavaliers while marking a major milestone in the history of Cleveland sports.

We have the ability to create a similar story for ourselves. To let nothing stand in our way. To persevere, overcome setbacks and to lean on others for support. To always play to the best of our ability despite unfavorable conditions. Chances are, the odds will wind up in our favor.

Beyond Meditation: Improving Brain Health And Performance

Image Source: Medicalxpress

Brain health is a fascinating topic. We know so little about our brains yet they drive everything we do. Meditation and the concept of mindfulness are popular topics, yet we don’t understand how we arrive at the benefits that everyone talks about. It’s probably safe to say that the majority of us don’t know how our brains actually work.

The good news is that we’re in new period of health and wellness where doctors can accurately see how our brains function, and even pinpoint the specific areas where our brains malfunction. This is very different from the traditional, assumption-based approach to making diagnoses in mental health. We are also learning that in many cases, real treatment doesn’t require the help of chemical drugs in order for us to find balance or heal.

 The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D. is an informative read that focuses on brain elasticity. He presents the concept that that we can redesign our brains by understanding how they work from a mechanical perspective.

For example, you know when you have trouble recalling a memory, or a specific word? Blame it on the gradual neglect of the brain’s attentional system. In short, our brains become noisy. When this happens, the signal for a new memory can’t compete against the background electrical activity of the brain. This causes a signal-to-noise problem.

Using practical explanations paired with real-world stories, Doidge covers topics ranging from healing through neuroplastic therapy to everyday practices for preserving our brains.

In Change Your Brain, Change Your LifeDr. Amen calls out the main issue with  mental health today – we are “throwing medication-tipped darts” at issues unproven through science.

He relies on a technology called SPECT  to discover which areas of the brain over or under perform. Unlike an MRI or CAT scan,  a SPECT scan shows the electrical activity happening within your brain as it functions. Based on this, he is able to find the cause of a problem through factual evidence.

A SPECT scan is expensive – it’ll set you back $3,500. In Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, he presents methods for anyone to improve their brain health. Treatment methods are broken into four core areas, or 4 overlapping circles, where we can take a balanced approach to assessment and healing.

  1. Biological – how your body actually functions. This is the physical aspect of how your brain and body work together. Factors include nutrition, exercise, sleep, hormones, genetics, and overall physical health.
  1. Psychological – developmental issues and how you think. This includes how we talk to ourselves, self-concept, body image, traumas, upbringing, and significant developmental events.
  1. Social – social support and your current life. This includes the quality of one’s relationships and current life stressors. For example, depression is often triggered by stressful life events involving others, and the health habits of the people with whom we spend time with have a dramatic impact on habits and well-being.
  1. Spiritual – your sense of meaning and purpose. Having a sense of purpose allows us to reach beyond ourselves to affirm that our lives matter.

Mental health is a topic we tread lightly, as though we are somehow considered “broken” or “weak” when addressed. The irony is that our brains are actually the CEOs of our bodies –  influencing every thought we have, each action we take and the behaviors we choose to express. If we treat mental health in a reactive way rather than a circumstantial one, we can break these taboos and become higher functioning human-beings in the process.

Meditation Can Literally Rewire Your Brain

Photo: WoodlyWonderworks, Finding Balance

Photo: WoodleyWonderworks, Finding Balance

I’ve been meditating on and off for the past ten years. It wasn’t until late last year that I started getting consistent about my practice.

There are two big reasons why I made it a daily habit. First, I joined a group called The Catalyst Collective. As part of the 8-week pilot program  we were asked to do the following things daily: write, get 20 minutes of physical exercise, and meditate.

I’ve always liked meditation. In theory it’s so easy – just sit there and breathe? No problem! I quickly came to notice that dropping into a meditative state is not as simple as it seems. With personal coaching from Palomi Sheth I’ve been able to take my sessions deeper through regular practice mixed with a variety of visualization exercises.

Step 1: Calm and center the physical body. A solid technique for this is to do a body scan.

Step 2: Become aware of your mind’s activity.  Notice, then release, the crazy parade of thoughts and feelings going through your mind. Releasing these thoughts is key and tends to be the most challenging part of meditation, for me at least.

One technique that’s worked for me is to imagine each thought as a balloon. After identifying the thought, I acknowledge it – then release the balloon from my head space.

Another successful technique is to view your thoughts as a film reel. Observe the film as it plays, then move yourself further from the screen.

These first two steps usually take me twenty minutes or more before I drop into a meditative state.

Some nights it doesn’t work at all. In the Catalyst group we talked about even doing a few minutes of deep breathing to get the habit going. And it worked! I saw results – those few minutes spent sitting and breathing helped me relax and recenter right away.

Since then, I’ve made an effort to meditate every evening right before bedtime. Many people find that mornings are equally if not more effective. Here are three ways meditation has helped me and how it can be beneficial to your lifestyle.

  1. Stress reduction.

I’ve been coping  with high levels of anxiety my entire life. In the past few years I’ve discovered new ways to manage and avoid compounding it. Some would call it a flaw, others a feature. Either way, meditation has helped me to remove myself from the craziness. It helps me to learn that the things I fret over are not worth worrying about at all.  

  1.  Promotes mindfulness.  

One of my favorite exercises is to visualize a set of Jenga blocks. When I see the initial stack, the blocks are all out of order. They form a jagged tower and it’s about to tip over. As I continue to breathe, the blocks align.  This exercise is incredibly centering and  goes great after steps 1 and 2 above.

  1.  Improves focus and concentration.

It’s ironic that during meditation, I focus on nothing at all. Yet in my daily life, meditation helps me to focus on one thing at a time and give it 100% of my energy.

There are countless other benefits. Meditation has been proven to support the immune system,  increase happiness, and slow  the aging process. If you’re new to meditation don’t worry about doing the right type or having the right tools  (i.e. the latest app).

The best technique is age-old and strips everything else away: simply sit comfortably, close your eyes, and breathe.

Smart Watch Review: The Vector Luna

Vector Smartwatch synced to iPhone app

Vector Smartwatch synced to iPhone app

As far as smartwatches go the Vector excels in both design and technical prowess.

It does exactly what ones assumes a smartwatch would do. It notifies the wearer of the info he or she wishes to receive. It also serves as an elegant and reliable timepiece — nothing more, nothing less.

People tend to converse about smartwatches in the same way they do about Google Glass. What’s a smartwatch other than another digital device stealing our time and attention? Do we really want another barrier to real human connection, especially one that from the very beginning appears to be somewhat gauche?

In our information-crazed society where FOMO is a real thing, aren’t we distracted enough?

I’ve written about why I’d prefer not to wear one. I even went so far as to wear a sweater with an 8-bit Tamagotchi across the chest that pays homage to William Gibson’s Tamagotchi gesture.

In a 1999 essay from Wired describing his obsession with buying traditional timepieces on eBay, Gibson says:

Mechanical watches partake of the Tamagotchi Gesture: They’re pointless yet needful, comforting precisely because they require tending.

I don’t disagree that a timepiece requires tending. Sure, the Vector needs tending – it needs to be charged. And maybe at some point I’ll swap out a wristband or two.

From a moral perspective, isn’t the watch disturbing with all its notifications? Doesn’t it add to the level of digital noise instead of help reduce it, given that we’re already trying to turn down the noise (be it mental or digital) to begin with?

Let’s back up for a second. If digital distraction is the topic here, the iPhone is a lost cause. Think about it: it’s basically a computer we keep in our back pocket and program to go off all the time.

The smartwatch enables one to filter out everything except for the absolutely necessary.

And the phone can be put away.

The only notifications I have set up are incoming calls, text messages, Facebook messenger (the only reason outside of groups I still use Facebook), and Uber. Those are enough. All of the messages filtered to come through are from those I actually know.

I can also put the device in silent mode. That way I can move along with the activities and tasks that are truly important without worrying that no one can reach me. (Yes, a luxury problem that didn’t exist thirty years ago.)

The watch doesn’t interfere the way phones do, as long as we set them up to act that way. 

It’s also helpful to simply, well, glance down. For example, I can look down at my wrist and learn that the friend I’m meeting for brunch is five minutes away. There’s no need to dig out the iPhone, unlock it, and swipe. This literally eliminates at least two, three, possibly more actions taken depending on your setup and use.

I got the Vector Watch for several reasons but mostly, because I wanted to attach myself to something beautiful.

And the Vector is just that. The hardware is sleek and fully customizable from both an interface and hardware perspective. You can choose from several faces, bands and sizes.

You can essentially design a timepiece that looks like a classic mechanical watch. From a distance one barely notices that it’s a smartwatch – it’s that discreet.

When I got my Vector in late 2015 there were only a limited number of digital watch faces available. The file sizes must’ve been larger then, too — I was only able to download a handful. They must be iterating quickly, or maybe it’s because they’ve opened up their platform to developers because many more have rolled out since then ranging from classic to abstract. They even offered a heart-themed face on Valentine’s Day.

While it’s stream features are somewhat limited at present (and this may be intentional) the smartwatch offers basic functional features like a timer, alarm, weather info and news. For those who like to dabble in quantified self one has the ability to measure steps, calories burned, and hours of sleep, although there is no Fitbit-like interface for digging more deeply into the data.

The battery life also falls short of expectation (it’s closer to three weeks versus four). Other more nuanced personal grievances revolve around display resolution and storage.

The vector is cross platform, meaning that it’s compatible with both Android and iPhone devices. I tried it out on both and it worked just fine.

All in all, the Vector is a beautiful marriage between form and function; a high quality product that hasn’t glitched on me yet in the five months I’ve had it.  Sleek, intuitive design meets helpful technology – this is where the Vector truly shines.

Will it last five years though, as a traditional timepiece would? Probably not. It’s certain to say that in five years there will be a more sophisticated device taking its place. It will be interesting to see if there will be long-term debate about mechanical versus digital, or if they will simply be treated as separate species.

Within the former the mechanical watch will almost certainly win every time. Within the latter, the traditional watch will take home the categories of reliability and tradition as the smartwatch continues to dazzle on.