Antifragile Living Part I: Create Some Slack

This is the first in a series of articles on antifragile living. These articles are based on the concept of antifragility coined by statistician/philosopher/stockbroker, Nassim Nicolas Taleb. See here for my introduction to antifragility. These articles will introduce lifestyle heuristics (rules of thumb) for thriving, not suffering from the chaos of life.

Taleb is famous for highlighting the power of Black Swans, unknowably unpredictable occurrences which may be opportunities or risks. Being antifragile means avoiding the consequences of Bad Black Swans and enjoying the opportunities offered by Good Black Swans.

With rates of referrals to mental health services rising ever higher, each one of us needs to consider the lifestyle which will keep us mentally well. The acceleration of change (social, cultural and economic) continues unabatedly. We need methods to withstand and grow from future shocks. I hope these articles will help. Please enjoy:


Creating Slack: Do less, not more

“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell” – Edward Abbey

Are you busy? Busy people have more demands than resources to deal with them. Busy people might have jobs which require long hours, or young children, or sick family members, or heavy commitments to the community. People often complain about being busy. But many are drawn into a busy lifestyle again and again. It feels good to earn money, or get pats on the back, or to relieve guilt, or to stay connected. It sometimes feels bad to be alone with your thoughts – busyness can help!

It feels good to be busy, but chronic busyness makes us vulnerable to mental health issues. Why? Because when we are running at 10 out of 10, there’s no where left to go when a bad Black Swan occurs.

I used to drive every day for work across the city from Maroubra to Parramatta. I used to joke that the Sydney road system works perfectly well as long as there are no incidents anywhere ever. But if there is even one small accident at 6am on a remote backroad, the whole system is out for the rest of the morning.

The joke is that such small incidents (or larger ones) happen nearly every day and therefore the system clearly doesn’t work. And so it is with life. When we are seeking to maximise the efficiency of every dollar, or every hour, or every task, we have nothing left over for the unexpected. And you should expect the unexpected! Despite living in one of the safest ever places at one of the safest ever times, randomness still rules our life to a remarkable degree.

I thankfully no longer have a long commute, but I am reminded of my joke-of-a-commute when hearing about many of my clients’ lifestyles. Some clients, especially those with Unrelenting Standards Schemas, are have an enormous capacity for work, but are living precariously. Then someone gets sick. Or the spouse threatens to leave. Or the teenage child has a mental health issue. A squeeze occurs and things fall apart.


Creating some slack

Taleb advocates creating, in life and in business, redundancy. Redundancy means unused potential. This could be unused time like having one afternoon per week to spend on hobbies, or relaxing. It could be unused money, like having a large buffer against the mortgage, or money converted to gold sitting unused in a safe. Husband and wife, Misty McLaughlin and Michael Erard, advocate creating slack in their family life. Slack is redundancy. Slack can be gained by keeping one weekend day work free. It can be gained by strictly not checking work emails after certain hours.

“In your dreams”, I hear many of you scoff, “we are hard pressed paying our mortgage, we can’t afford an afternoon off, or to squirrel away money”. Fair enough. Though I hear similar complaints from many of my clients, and interestingly, when I explore options it is amazing how often it is rigid beliefs, not money or time, keeping them stuck. Things like:

“I’d have to give up plans to retire at 55”

“We wouldn’t be able to go to Bali this year”

“My wife would have to go back to work”

“You only get one shot at life; I want to get the most out of it”

Opportunity = Preparedness + Luck

The other side of the coin is that having some slack is useful when opportunities arise. That extra time on the weekend can be used to prepare for a job interview. Or to take some lucrative one-off work. As long as this is done occasionally and not as weekly strategy, it makes sense to keep this time aside. When you are striving every hour of every day, you might feel like you are maximising your potential. But you will be blind to opportunities and you won’t have time to be prepared when they arise.

Don’t keep pushing 100% at all times in all directions! Keep some of yourself aside to reap the harvest of Good Black Swans and to avoid the damage from Bad Black Swans. Do less! Create some slack!

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