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The anti-fragility list

I was on the massage table earlier this week for some deep tissue work when my massage therapist (shoutout to TEDx speaker and ultramarathon runner, Dave Proctor) brought up something absolutely riveting.

He does it on a daily basis, and he calls it his “anti-fragility list.”

In short, an anti-fragility list consists of up to five actions that cause discomfort or displeasure – actions that our evolved brains would certainly not dream of performing if we were not forced to.

In reality, those of us in western society have it a tad too comfortable these days: we change the channel with the press of a button, set the thermostat to the ideal decimal of a degree and peruse up to 20,000 food items on the supermarket shelves. We no longer need to forage, hunt or build a fire to survive, much less drive to a physical store to purchase an item. Everything is available to us at our fingertips.

The downside to modern technology is that we are becoming lethargic and unable to tolerate stressors.

When I inquired as to an example of what was on Dave’s anti-fragility list, he mentioned taking a cold shower. Why, you might ask? Health benefits aside, it develops tolerance to a rapid change of circumstances (i.e. water temperature) and empowers you with the decision to actively make a choice and do something that you really don’t want to do. It gets you out of your comfort zone and forces you to live in the moment. Say buh-bye to far-flung shower philosophizing and hello to very present OMG-I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this-but-do-I-ever-feel-good mindfulness.

To test his theory, I finished my regular lava-hot steam session with a 30-second glacial douse. Folks, at first it was agonizing. Why was I doing this to myself? However, as I counted down the seconds, it became more and more bearable. I realized that I was completely fine. In fact, by the time half a minute passed, I just kept going. It was totally no big deal. I emerged from the shower, feeling on top of the world (grinning widely and shivering violently). Apart from an initial shriek that someone within earshot most definitely heard, the secret was mine alone. No one else was privy to my decision, which meant that I truly did it for myself.

I felt empowered, indeed.

Another idea that you can add to your anti-fragility list, according to Dave, is to put a pebble in your shoe. It won’t kill you, but you know that you willingly put it there and that you will survive it. You’ll keep walking regardless of how much it irritates you. It will become less noticeable as you adapt to its presence.

The bottom line is that actions, repeated over and over again, become habits. Habits can lead you straight to your goals and produce remarkable results in your life. When said actions push you to grow, like committing to accomplish each item on your anti-fragility list, you build endurance.

When a pandemic hits, you can cope (or even – dare I say – thrive), because your willpower has already been tried and tested.

So, what is on your anti-fragility list?