I’ve been reading (audio-booking really) the book Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Highly recommend it! This book crosses the boundaries of three of my major interests: Science & Futurism, Physical Training, and The Gym Business. So I bookmarked it a while ago, but was putting off reading it because it sounded really stuffy and academic honestly, and most of the time I’m pretty practical when it comes to books. But I finally got around to starting it, and wish I had sooner! The author also talks about lifting weights (Deadlifting), so that’s a nice bonus :).

In the book Taleb talks about this concept of “antifragility,” which is a term he coined, so most of the book so far is just him trying to make a case that this is a real, new idea, and that real world evidence demonstrates its importance. About 30 minutes into the book, he drops this line:

“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”

I had to pause and replay it back 6 or 7 times, because I realized there was something fundamentally new and interesting about this concept, and it wasn’t making much sense to me until this point.

It may be just the right time, because I’m dealing with a back injury that is forcing me to take a break from my regular training that has otherwise been pretty consistent for several years now.

In the past if I had a setback, well, that would generally indicate to me that it’s time to double down my commitments and work even harder to overcome that obstacle. I think this would represent the resilience and/or robustness Taleb is referring to. But does that mindset always make me better, or happier?

He also wrote The Black Swan, which is the precursor to Antifragile, and is basically about how many of history’s biggest catalysts came seemingly out of nowhere, and only in hindsight did it seem “obvious” that, say, the internet and smartphones would change the world, or that CrossFit would upend the fitness industry as it is doing.

So, I experienced my own sort of Black Swan: an injury that came out of nowhere, at a time when I was feeling stronger and better than ever. In retrospect I could see there were some signs (cutting corners in warm-ups and skipping mobility work due to time constraints, increased life stresses), and in the moments that followed I recognized that I had a choice: I could once again double down on my commitments and demonstrate a robustness (some might say stubbornness) that has served me well in several instances over the years, or I could… adapt.

This is the core of antifragility: responding to stress by adapting to new circumstances and information, potentially changing one’s goals and even one’s identity around those goals. Am I a Weightlifter if I’m not lifting heavy weights? Are we CrossFitters if we’re not setting PRs, and just trying to be healthy? Am I okay with that change in identity for myself? What was my real goal anyway? To Clean and Jerk 400 pounds, or to become the best human being I can be? Ahh, there it is: a reality check, and rewiring of my thinking.

I see now more than ever that my commitment to self growth and to the process is way more important than any specific goal in the gym, in business, or in life. My friends will still support me whether I’m physically strong or not. And because Black Swans do exist, we often don’t have nearly as much control as we tend to think we do over the outcomes. So we might as well commit to the process of improvement and adaptation instead, and strive to become antifragile and adaptable leaders and role models, rather than just tough ones.

I did this workout last night:
400m Run (around the block)
50 Thrusters @ 95#
400m Run
50 T2B
400m Run
50 Burpees

It was tough, I haven’t done longer metcons in a long time. I have to be slow and careful on the Thrusters because of my back, but it’s getting better. I stopped to walk on the runs, and took several luxurious breaks throughout. I didn’t time it. Believe it or not, in my head I felt amazing the whole time (in my body it sucked), because it felt like my training was serving me again, rather than me being a slave to some goals I set a while ago. I am adapting.

I probably will step back into the competitive arena again, eventually. But don’t call it a comeback! It will just be me, entering the next phase of the journey, dancing and growing through it.

What are your goals? If you got blindsided by new information or circumstances that challenged those goals, would that mean it’s time to fight back, or make lemons into lemonade?

Mauricio Leal

CrossFit Cypher Owner