‘The Bounce’ of Resilience

Recently, I’ve seen more written about resilience. Maybe it’s the time of year or perhaps the endless news cycle. 

We need resilience after a big failure; and sometimes after a big win, too; those days after a significant accomplishment when you’re not sure what to do next. 

But, I’d like to argue for a more subtle, more important form of resilience. It’s un-fancy, more pedestrian. 

I call it bounce. 

Little kids have it in spades when they’re learning to walk. They lose their balance, take a tumble, end up spread eagle on the ground or flat on their butts. 

They are momentarily stunned as a contorted look crosses their face that says — “I’m thinking of crying.” But then… 

The “woe is me” passes and they bounce up, quite literally. 

We seem to lose this ability to bounce as we get older. 

As I write, it’s dreary, hot, humid, and rain is coming. There’s nothing awful looming; maybe a few meetings, a to-do list, a few uninspired projects to complete, perhaps some daily activities like lunch or laundry or leg lifts — but nothing hard or catastrophic. 

I think it’s these ho-hum days that require us to muster resilience — more bounce. 

We’re often unprepared for the effort needed. We need to learn how to rebound when we’re not in the mood. When we’re a wee bit tired or slightly cranky; when it’s just a typical Wednesday. 

When we haven’t developed enough bounce and we’re in a ho-hum day, we engage in negative (but not catastrophic) behaviors. 

We eat and drink without thinking. We engage in escapist entertainment like reality TV and internet surfing, or we just simply waste time — maybe we shop or socialize, on Facebook or in person, without purpose or joy. 

Too many days without enough bounce and suddenly you’re an old person with one leg draped over the pine box. 

One of my favorite writers had enough bounce to get herself through a few challenges and her fair share of ho-hum days before she became the writer we now celebrate. 

For years, Penelope Fitzgerald tended a family and held various jobs. She worked at the BBC, was an editor of a small arts publication and later a teacher at several posh private schools. 

She was a mother of 3 and wife to Desmond, a solicitor, and alcoholic who was disbarred for forging signatures on checks at the local pub. 

He never quite recovered but kept muddling along for years; then got sick and was tended to by his wife till he died. 

By all accounts, family life was often chaotic with more than a few financially strained years. But, Penelope Fitzgerald had enough bounce even with her challenging circumstances to continue to write.  

Her first book, a biography of the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Edward Burne-Jones was published when she was 58. Her first novel was published at age 60. She would go on to produce over a dozen books and win the Man Booker Prize in 1979. 

Imagine the bounce required to keep writing until your first book is published at age 58. 

But then, you don’t stop. You keep going and win the Man Booker Prize! How lovely is that? 

If you want to read more about Penelope Fitzgerald 
here’s a piece from The Guardian by the writer, Julian Barnes.


How can you develop more bounce?  

Here are a few tips:  


Tip #1 You’re Going to Need to Bounce — It’s Called Life.

A friend of mine asked me the other day, “What makes you think you’re the only person on the planet who should get to go through life without any difficulties?” Her questions was a good reminder that we all need to learn ‘the bounce’. Smartest thing we can do is get your strategies in place.  If you’re stuck on how to get started — read about Ben Franklin or Montaigne — or pick up a Dr Seuss for starters. 

Tip #2 Hydrate

Some researchers suggest that up to 70% of Americans regularly suffer some form of dehydration.  We know dehydration impacts our physical performance, but increasingly, science is proving that we suffer significant cognitive and mood impairment, even when we’re only mildly dehydrated.  

In a peer-reviewed journal article from Nutrition Reviews, the authors write, “Water, or its lack (dehydration), can influence cognition. Mild levels of dehydration can produce disruptions in mood and cognitive functioning.

Water runs through a lot of important fiction. Moby Dick, comes to mind.  So does the exquisite work of Norman Maclean in A River Runs Through It.  You might remember the Robert Redford movie but if you haven’t read the novella, it’s worth your time. 

Tip #3 Get Moving

Walk, run, stretch, or strike a yoga pose. Plenty of writers and a few fictional characters were big walkers.  Walt Whitman tramped up & down mountains; Henry Thoreau wandered the woods; Charles Dickens famously (or infamously) strolled the seedier streets of Paris and London late at night looking for… well, one presumes literary material. Then, of course, there was Elizabeth Bennett and Mrs. Dalloway — all good walkers.  

The latter were paper mirages.  But, research out of Stanford University by Oppezzo and Schwartz published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology confirms the link between walking and creativity. They write, “Whether one is outdoors or on a treadmill, walking improves the generation of novel yet appropriate ideas, and the effect even extends to when people sit down to do their creative work shortly after.”  If you need a bounce, maybe it’s time for a walk.  

Tip #4 Take Up Meditation or a Mindfulness Practice

I’m becoming a proponent of a mindfulness practice. When on a consistent schedule, I see a difference in my ability to manage my emotions, focus more readily, and stay calm-er even in the middle of a ‘shit storm.’  

But, truth is, it’s not easy.  However, there’s overwhelming scientific evidence that meditation or some form of mindfulness practice can:

increase the ability to focus our attention

enable us to better manage our mood and emotions

improve memory, sleep, and lead to less fatigue

One of the best writers and thinkers working today, Yuval Noah Harari (Sapiens, Homo Deus, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century) is a devoted practitioner of Vipassana meditation. 

When asked about meditation, Harari told Ezra Klein of Vox, “First of all, it’s the ability to focus. When you train the mind to focus on something like the breath, it also gives you the discipline to focus on much bigger things and to really tell the difference between what’s important and everything else.”  Enough said.  

Tip #5 Revisit Your Purpose

Know your purpose and re-embody it so you can re-center, bounce back and return to the execution of the work you are called to do. 

Sounds a little hokey I know — especially since most of us think we know why we get up in the morning. If you were asked to tell your neighbor in 20 words or less your purpose, could you do it?

Do you know why you do what you do?   

Several years ago, the Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami wrote a beautiful memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.  It’s a meditation of sorts on his two great loves — writing and distance running.  

Running and writing may not be your passions, but reading his memoir may help you appreciate the beauty of fully committing to one’s purpose. 

Tip #6 Keep a Journal

Many years ago, Julia Cameron wrote a book called “The Artists Way.”  It’s become an oft-touted ‘bible’ with creatives. 

[An aside: Cameron was once married to Martin Scorsese]


Brian Koppelman, podcaster at The Moment and co-creator of the brilliant series Billions whose dialogue has been described as “wonderfully meaty” credits the book with helping him find his true calling and become a productive writer. In her book, Cameron advocates journaling 3 longhand pages every morning. Many folks swear by this practice.  

Throughout history, some of the best minds journaled. We might call their scribbles notebooks or diaries — but for all practical purposes, they were journals.  DaVinci, Ben Franklin, Montaigne — to name a few — all recorded their thoughts, big and small. If the practice was useful for the likes of these men — what’s keeping you from starting a journal?  

Tip #7 Help Someone Else

I’m a fan of Steven Kotler and his work on flow research. Flow is defined as the optimal state of consciousness where you typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and total immersion in the activity you’re involved in at the moment. Some people call it ‘being in the zone’ or ‘in the pocket.’ 

I was working at the University of Chicago when Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, often called the godfather of flow research, began to find acclaim for his seminal book, FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. I remember well his lectures and the excitement his findings generated. His book is not an easy read, but it’s a classic.

There are several triggers for the flow state. Turns out that helping someone else is one of the triggers for flow. Its official name is ‘helper’s high.’ 

Tip #8 Get Curious Outside Yourself

Have a list of subjects and books you want to explore some day — because the day you need a bounce, might be that some day!  

Go back to Tip #6 and use your journal to keep a list of topics and books you want to explore.


Personally, when I need a little rebound, I tend toward life stories in biographies and memoirs. Often the stories of others — like Penelope Fitzgerald — provide inspiration and always a few tips on how to bounce.

A biography, Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Mitford. The title says it all. Ironically, Mitford had her own book-worthy life — along with her six sisters. They grew up in a world of privilege that was shattered by world events and is chronicled in The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family by Nancy Lovell.

Any biography by Walter Isaacson but in particular his biography of Ben Franklin. It’s probably safe to argue that Isaacson is one of our era’s great biographers. Yes, he’s picked big subjects and done them justice as he’s retold their stories — Franklin, Einstein, Jobs, DaVinci

A biography series, The Last Lion. (Three-volumes on Winston Churchill) by William Manchester and Paul Reid (vol 3). I remember voraciously reading volumes 1 and 2 with my Dad. Sadly, Manchester (and Dad) passed away before volume 3 was completed — hence the co-authorship of volume 3. The remarkable life of an imperfect man — beautiful and engaging from a bygone era. 

A memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami.  Murakami is the Japanese writer of several, massive tomes. (1Q84 was a recent publication.) This short memoir is a beautiful contemplation of his two great loves — writing and distance running — and what it means to get older yet still practice both. 

A memoir, Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin.  Most of us know Martin as a stand-up comedian, but he’s much more — author, actor, musician, creator. When you read this compelling memoir, you’ll have an appreciation for the importance of work and rework on the road to mastery. And, maybe be inspired to keep doing your work.  

A non-fiction,Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austen Kleon. Kleon has such a fascinating mind. This is the third book in a series that is Kleon’s experience and musings on the intersection of work and art. Kleon can take the ordinary and give it a unique turn. He’s always worth a listen and easily found on many podcasts.  

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