Life, we all know, really doesn't care about your good intentions. Even iron resolve and endless hard work can't protect us from the unanticipated bumps and twists that derail our plans and unceremoniously leave us sitting on our butts, staring failure in the face. The question is, what are you going to do with that reality?

One response is to stick your head in the sand and hum merrily that, nope, nope, for you things will always go according to plan. The alternative is to accept (and expect) the unexpected. According to a fascinating recent Medium post from Twitter product guy Buster Benson, this second approach is probably a far better bet. Borrowing a term from author Nassim Nicholas Taleb, he calls it being "antifragile."

In the immortal words of Obi-Wan...

"Basically, antifragile things are things that benefit from disorder, obstacles, unexpected events, change, etc.," he writes. If you're antifragile you go beyond simple resilience to actually feed off failure, letting it make you stronger. You follow the lead of the mythical hydra and the immortal advice of Star Wars's Obi-Wan Kenobi: "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."

Sounds great. But also hard. How does Benson recommend you actually set about accomplishing such a thing? First off, he offers a list of rules from Taleb's writing, including:

  • Build in redundancy and layers (no single point of failure)
  • Experiment and tinker--take lots of small risks
  • Avoid risks that, if lost, would wipe you out completely
  • Don't get consumed by data
  • Focus more on avoiding things that don't work than on trying to find out what does work
  • Respect the old--look for habits and rules that have been around for a long time

Utilize modes

What's the common thrust of all Taleb's rules? Each aims at removing rigidity (he also warns against "going all in" on a single big change and "tracking everything") and designing your life so you can roll with the inevitable punches, using setbacks to guide and strengthen you while others waste time rolling around trying to recover.

Benson also offers his own approach to this sort of flexibility. The key, he insists, is to recognize and work with and not against your different "modes" rather than insisting on sticking to a fixed plan no matter what the universe (or your psychology) throws at you. "Everything in the universe goes through cycles. Cycles of high energy and low energy. Cycles of change and stability. Cycles of focus and distraction," he writes. "We're no different, but most of the time we are trying to force fit ourselves into a mode that we aren't in, and that causes trouble."

What do these modes look like. He lists seven:

  1. Recovery Mode. This is when you're "tired, over-stimulated, under-nourished, and basically useless," Benson writes. "The goal of this mode is to get out of it. The way to get out of it is to focus on the basics: sleep, water, sunshine, vegetables, exercise, stretching, meditation, nature, comfort of friends, walks, and good books and other entertainment. Trying to be productive is pointless."
  2. Novelty Mode. "This mode has a slightly higher energy level than Recovery Mode but not quite enough energy to focus on a specific thing," he writes. "Channel the desire for distraction into seeking novelty. Meeting new people, trying new restaurants, going to new places, learning about something new."
  3. Work Mode. When you're in this mode, tackle "things that don't require much creativity or thought to do, but which just need to be banged out. Fixing things, cleaning things, maintaining things, organizing things, etc."
  4. Self Mode. This mode often follows Recovery Mode, when you meet your basic needs. "You're ready to calm down, think about your values and beliefs, think about your interests and important people, and make decisions that are in your best long-term interest."
  5. Flow Mode. A high-energy mode that "requires that you've got at least one known interest that you're ready to pour your soul into."
  6. People Mode. "Being in this mode is all about ... making sure you have a chance to connect in a real way with the people that mean the most to you."
  7. Gold Mode. "Where the first six modes require energy, this mythical seventh mode floats above them all. Honestly, I ... have only experienced it in short bursts of tranquility, but I keep it here as a landmark for a way of living that is proactive, whole-hearted, and utterly unconflicted."

What's your approach to staying flexibility and bouncing back stronger?

Published on: Oct 14, 2014