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Antifragile - MELD

Antifragility -- Do You Have It?

I am reluctant to admit that I am a control freak. My survival strategy had always been to at least control the few things I had the power to affect. I struggled with speaking, writing, sports, and social engagement as a young kid. I sought out niches over which  I believed I had influence.  An obvious one was the conversations in my head. A less obvious one was how I learned to cheat in the games we played as kids.


Life, risk, and small success slowly changed me. Yet, it was not until my body relaxed that I changed my orientation from preventing failure to working towards success.


Significant change occurred when I started my first men’s group. In the unpredictableness of the groups, I saw others and myself become strong. Being with a group of men who brought their life to the group each week was chaotic — we never knew who or what issue was going to take center stage. We fumbled through diving into what was driving the issues. It was less about supporting a man in his current state and more about using his current situation to heal a past that continued to sabotage him.


In my Group Guide: Letting Experience Teach You, I spoke about how heuristic learning enables someone to discover or learn something for themselves. Without control, we discovered consistent principles and methods to produce change. This bottom-up approach may not have been efficient, however, it proved effective.


Nassim Taleb’s book, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder explores how we need risk:  “Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.” A great example of this that most of us are familiar with is Wim Hof’s freezing water to make us strong. Common sense would have us stay comfortable; Wim Hof has us dive into freezing water to train our bodies to go beyond resiliency to be strong with a broader range of temperatures.


Institutions such as federal governments and large corporations work towards consistency and predictability.  Smaller endeavors, such as an entrepreneur businesses and local governments,  address immediate needs with less focus on all-encompassing solutions.


The Iroquois nation, who Thomas Jefferson used as a model for designing our nation, empowered the local tribes to run themselves. As Lincoln would later say, the nation served its people by only providing what others could not offer. MELD shares a similar vision: we want to provide men and their groups with the principles and skills we discovered from years of group work. We create the platform and the opportunity for the community; men show up with their own experience to fill the space to connect, heal, learn, and create – with all the chaos that might create.


We learn to honor risk-taking. We do not dishonor a fallen warrior; we honor him for his sacrifice. A man in the group discovers that the benefit of risk-taking is often not about being right; it is about taking the risk regardless of the results.


My biggest wins in life and in groups often came from my failures. When I developed the Healing Journey, I saw a need and realized from previous training and experience that I could create a process that would help men. I remember the first Healing Journey I lead. I had the document I created in one hand as I read through the process. As unconnected as I was to myself and to the man, it worked. Over the next few years, the Healing Journey evolved into a life-changing process for many men. Our failures and inefficiencies, in the beginning, taught us the core principles and skills that became EVRYMAN which became MELD.


Bucky Fuller calls these indirect benefits Precession. His classic example is how the honeybee’s ‘selfish’ act of acquiring pollen allows plants to reproduce. Our need for connection and group experiences allows lives and relationships to transform. We show up to our groups making mistakes — and we learn. We may even crash. Yet, much like the plane that crashes, we learn how to build better planes that are less likely to crash. 


Taking our risks and having our minor failures in our safe groups, as slow and inefficient as it may be, builds antifragility. Each man and the groups become stronger not because they are learning a top-down system but because they embody their own bottom-up organic learning.


Taleb gives the example of lifting 100 pounds and then three days later lifting 105 pounds  because the body is built for the future. When we can experience stress in a non-survival manner, i.e., our survival response is not running the show, we get stronger. When we have too much stress, and our sympathetic nervous system takes over so we survive, we reinforce that behavior. When we can take on enough stress to cause a strain without fully kicking in our survival response, we release old stress and become stronger. We go from what Taleb would describe as moving from fragile to robust and then to antifragile. We develop the ability to benefit and grow from a particular class of random events, errors, and volatility. Individual components get stronger as the system learns not to fear chaos and mistakes, whether from a man or a group. Our nervous systems relax, and maybe we discover the pleasures of variety. We learn to get strong from weakness.


Antifragility is a core part of our work where we increase our ability to thrive due to stressors, trauma, volatility, mistakes, imperfections, attacks, or failures.


How do we do that?


As you experience the immediate impact, you are making a choice not to react with your default survival response but to respond — as imperfect as it may be — from a place of vulnerability. We do that by using the ROC. We slow down into what is occurring in the moment rather than running from it, fighting it, or denying it.


So, let’s slow down to feel and then share where in your life you have chosen not to risk a mistake. What belief tells you that you cannot slow down and risk?


A few men dive deep into what drives their belief(s) to not risk. What is at risk if you fail? What kind of man would you be if you failed?


Feel all that in your body. Feel it in your relationships.


Once experienced, shared, and owned. Create a simple plan to risk and act. Let these suggestions guide you.

o   Frame — the risk

o   Action – what is at least one small action that will lead to others?

o   Fail – keep going until you fail, then get yourself back up

o   Practice – repeat the above cycle

o   Learn – notice what you are learning; celebrate it

o   Support – ask and receive help when needed

o   Accountability – set someone up to track you


I remain someone who, albeit less rigid than before, needs to understand before I act. I still feel my fear and rigidity kick in, yet now I can often allow that fear to be there as I act. In the past, I would revert to one of the three survival responses: fight, flight, or — my preferred pattern – freeze, checking out.


What place in your life can you learn to be antifragile?