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On Pareto’s Principle and Via Negativa

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On Pareto’s Principle and Via Negativa

The Antifragile Triad

The Antifragile Triad

About six years ago some gentlemen from CFKT started a book club. There is usually a lifecycle to these sorts of things, but this one has somehow waxed and waned for over half a decade now and yet still breathes. Of the faces in the club some are non-members, former members, and there are plenty of current members (feel free to join us!). And it just so happens that those faces were buried in Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder for the past month plus.

This one was a reread for me, and I must confess that I did not get all the way through this time around. But here are some excellent notes from Taylor Pearson if you are interested in learning more. Give it a peruse if you are curious about life, stress, biological systems, complex systems, chaos theory, ethics, and lots more.

The rehash of the book got me thinking back to the physical stress we apply to our bodies each day we are in the gym. And I thought it would be good to dash off a couple of ideas that might not be new the blog but may be new to some readers.

Pareto’s Principle


Many people are familiar with Pareto’s principle as it has become rather fashionable to hear it talked about in podcasts, books, and more and more now in the common vernacular. Vilfredo Pareto discovered over a century ago that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Thus the principal is also known as the 80/20 rule. He further realized that 20% of the original 20% (4%) of the population owned about 80% of the original 80% (64%) of land and so on until 1% own about 50% of the land. Uneven distributions like this one play out in many domains like 20% of your customers generate 80% of your revenue, or 20% of your followers generate 80% of your likes/comments/interactions. In short, roughly 80% of effects come from 20% of the causes.

I find that this principle can be especially helpful when it comes to thinking about fitness. What movements are most important for you? Or what are you spending your time on that is delivering the most results? I think I have an answer for you, or at least one that you can aspire to: diet.

Nutrition is the foundation of the fitness pyramid. What you are putting in your body dictates, more than anything else, how you look, feel, and perform. It matters not that you are supplementing with that creatine and caffeine-infused pre-workout or finishing your effort with a sugary drink to replenish whatever it is you lost during the workout. What matters is the food you are putting in your body day in and day out. Take some time and really consider if it is supporting your goals. Are you trying to lean out, gain muscle, or improve your 5k time? Nothing could be more important to those goals than proper eating and drinking. Allow yourself the benefit of smart eating (20% of your total fitness effort) to help reap 80% of your fitness gains.

Via Negativa

The next idea is that of subtraction. Via negativa is a Latin phrase that translates to the negative way. When you cannot explain fully what something is it may be easier to explain what it is not. This is explanation via negativa and is opposite to explaining by constantly adding new rules, ideas, or features. Regarding positive advice Taleb says that “charlatans are recognizable in that they will give you positive advice, and only positive advice, exploiting our gullibility and sucker-proneness for recipes that hit you in a flash as just obvious, then evaporate later as you forget them.” Eat this! Drink this! Burned.

Why does nutrition science get so much wrong? Why were we told to eat low fat, high carb for so long? Why do diets only work for some and not for others? All of these questions share a common answer though it might not be the final answer to any of them. That answer is the body is a complex system. And we humans are terrible at predicting the outcomes and effects of any perturbation to that complex system. But when complexity strikes you can use the tool of via negativa to combat it.

Instead of constantly trying to add supplements, foods, exercises, and other health features into your life, try instead to subtract from the already complex system that is your body/lifestyle. What if you subtracted one lunchtime meal per week eaten out with coworkers where you inevitably make a bad decision? I bet that one small change would aggregate to big change over time. This might even tie back into Pareto’s principle (gasp!).

So think about subtracting from the complexity of life. Instead of adding in yoga or meditation because you are stressed, look to see if you can remove whatever it is causing you undue stress in your life. Instead of adding in digestive supplements or probiotics, see if you can find improved gut health through pulling processed foods out of your diet. There are so many examples of where taking something away is better than adding something else into the system.

Gaining from disorder,
Coach G

By | 2017-08-16T16:54:12+00:00 August 16th, 2017|CrossFit Ktown Knoxville|0 Comments

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