Health Risk Management: Black Swans and You
by Frank Carone
By now, most of us recognize that eating well, exercise, good sleep and limiting stress are vital to our wellbeing. We know that when we are weakened by heavy schedules and responsibilities, poor diet, and maybe a cold on top of that – we are suseptible to further disease and disruptions. It takes a lot to bring down a tree; it can be weakned from below ( diminished nutrients and water supply ) and/or from heavy weather above. The growth and stability of the tree depends on its ROBUSTNESS.
Robustness is the vital strength that determines the 'bounce back' quality of health. We all suffer stress, illness, and hard times, but, robustness is the vitality accumulated / not wasted when times are good. There is a writer/Philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb – He writes about Risk Management mostly within economics and is the progenitor of Black Swan Theory. I believe these theories could apply to health as well.
Black Swan Theory is basically any system of thought can get turned on its head once a rare event occurs; if you only have seen white swans, the presence of a black swan can undo your system of thought. The black Swan is a metaphor for how we can be convinced of a certain pattern until something comes along that challenges our logic. These rare events usually have a great effect to the surprised observer. The boxing analogy is that: everyone has a plan of attack until one is punched in the nose. Nassim Taleb advocates Robustness as an antidote for rare events; people /systems can prepare for perfect storms that will test their integrity.
This can be applied to health, in fact traditional medicines all over the world, have advocated the preventative robustness approach. It is ingrained in us to prepare for the worst and hope for the best, to 'save for a rainy day'. How do we do this with health? Just like the tree described above, our internal environment is key: maintaining good water, nutrient, mineral supply and being able to eliminate waste is a good start. There is more; it is not enough to just take in what you need and not waste what you have, but, there must be a calm vibrancy in purposeful action. Like the tree again, taking in light from the Sun the tree photosynthesises; a natural blending of external and internal energy – a conversion of simple energy to a dynamic one. In Tai Chi it is said that this form of exercise can make the weak become healthy, and, the healthy strong. The strength is the robustness – not rigidity but a dynamism of solidity and flexibility where the immune system destroys external pathogens, the digestive system can process just about anything, and where vital fluids flow through the body without stagnation. So, when a rare traumatic event occurs a robust person can remain healthy.
We must ask ourselves: is my practice and habits making me robust? Am I leaking vital energy? Do I get exhausted after I workout? There is a big difference in what we think is making us robust and what actually makes us robust. Nassim Taleb also advocates taking risk and enduring failures. It is the failure that makes us more robust – we must try, endure, persevere, and then emerge as an efficient system that can take on hard times. Adjustments must be made after the failures, pain, suffering – we must integrate the changes toward a robust system. In Tai Chi, Yoga, Meditation, and Massage etc., doing the practice correctly causes pain, discomfort, mental anguish sometimes, but, these are the small challenges that prepare us for the unpredictable Black Swan Events that can test the core of our being.