Category Archives: Bouncing back

Do you need recharging?

I was just trying to remember the last time I used a landline phone, and I was pretty sure it was months ago – then realised I’ve answered a few incoming calls at KZSU, the Stanford radio station where I volunteer.

On the whole, though, I’m pretty much a 100% cellphone guy now, and certainly don’t have a landline of my own.

Relying on a cellphone means, of course, remembering to charge its battery, which is now an ingrained habit immediately before bedtime. Lock the door, clean my teeth, get a glass of water, plug in my phone.

It’s funny that this can be such an obvious habit to get into, whereas when our emotional batteries are low, it’s easy to slip into thinking they’ll somehow be better tomorrow, even if we don’t do anything about them.

That’s a bit like imagining that the electron fairy will call round in the night to waft amps into our phones.

Amazingly, time can actually be something of a healer when it comes to low spirits. Give a low mood long enough, and it may — almost magically — sort itself out.

But that’s really leaving a lot to chance, isn’t it? Better by far to take the bull by the horns, and take some action that’s designed to lift your mood.

You know, things like connecting with a friend… getting out for a walk… eating a tasty, healthy meal… thinking through the things you have to be grateful for…

Surely, neglecting your low spirits is as ill-advised as forgetting to charge your phone?

So why not do a little self-reflection right now? If you’re quite alright, that’s great. But if you’re not, perhaps it’s time for some self-care.

Today. Now.

Give yourself a recharge.

Like roadsigns that spring back after a collision, true resilience isn’t really about superhuman strength.

British roads have nearly always featured ‘keep left signs’ which have traditionally consisted of illuminated plastic columns about three feet high and twelve inches wide. They’re generally positioned at wider junctions, especially at points where pedestrians may need to cross the road.

Unfortunately they were vulnerable for two reasons. First, their position on the road meant they had a tendency to get crashed into by careless drivers. In order to avoid more damage than necessary, therefore, these ‘bollards’ were designed to separate easily from their bases, ‘snapping out’ rather than breaking off.

Sadly, while this made sense for safety reasons, it led to the signs’ second vulnerability. They became a tempting target for late-night revellers on their way home, who had a tendency to snap them out of their mounts and re-locate them in such places as somebody’s front garden.

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Now I viewed the old signs with a degree of affection, but like all things they’re going the way of the 21st century: yes, we now have bendy ones. They feature a kind of stiff rubber hinge at their foot and are flat rather than square-sectioned, so if a car whacks into them they flip down, then spring back up again.

Their designers have discovered that resilience comes not through rigidity but by building in the ability to flex and self-right.

And maybe what goes for street furniture also applies to emotional strength? When life’s thoughtless drivers try to knock you for six, perhaps it’s more about how you recover rather than how you fail to repel in the first place.

So the next time something untoward happens, you have my permission.

Just think ‘bendy bollards’.

Reacting to bad experiences is normal, but so is recovering from them.

I suspect we all know someone who appears to skate through life seemingly untouched by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. If things do ever go wrong (and they’ll almost certainly claim that this hardly ever happens to them) they appear to brush them off as meaningless, puffing that they’re unaffected.

Superficially we may envy them. How useful, we might think, to have a hide that’s thick enough to be able to ignore life’s misfortunes. How nice to never fret about problems and setbacks.

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I wonder, though. Maybe a person who’s apparently so immune to day-to-day disasters will also be somewhat insensitive to life’s brighter moments? Perhaps, too, they’re relatively self-centred, and have only a low regard for those around them?

To be honest, it seems perfectly normal to react to bad times and unhappy events. After all, isn’t that part of what makes us human?

True resilience, I think, starts with an acknowledgement that you’re going through a rough patch. It’s not about pretending that everything is fine.

But then it continues with the awareness that, given sufficient time, things often improve. It’s also helpful to look back at difficult times in the past, with a view to learning what worked for you then.

Perhaps you found it useful to talk things through with someone? Maybe you wrote a letter which enabled you to gather your thoughts? Alternatively a long walk in the country might have been part of the answer for you?

I think we each have our individual strategies for tackling adversity. There’s a lot of sense in asking yourself what yours is, then having it ready for some day when it may again be useful.

Can you learn to love painful criticism?

As I’ve said in the past, I used to work in advertising.

In those days, when market research supported my creative work it was the best thing in the world.

Market Researchers? What a noble profession. What perfect people to prove that your way is the only way.

However when the researchers came back and reported that the public would rather stick pins in their eyes than be exposed to my advertising, well, what did they know?

What use is research anyway? Those who understand advertising, do advertising. Those who don’t, go into market research.

Ouch.

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Over time, you’re supposed to get better at accepting the stinging rebukes that only a focus group fuelled on Pringles and warm white wine can unleash on your lovingly crafted storyboards.

But of course the truth is that it always hurts, even if you show it less than you once did.

Tears in the boardroom are so unprofessional.

Now and then, their barbed comments were unjustified.

Maybe the facilitator had turned up late, or someone in the group had wound up everyone else.

Perhaps they were really disappointed with the Sauvignon Blanc.

Generally (and sadly) though, they usually had a point, even if they expressed it rather vitriolically.

Handling criticism from others is never easy, especially if you happen to be at a low ebb yourself, so perhaps it can help to recall what I learnt at the pointy end of market research debriefs:

1. They’re not having a go at you, just at the work. When someone criticises you, try to view it as a comment about some aspect of your overall makeup which isn’t actually the core you. ‘You’re always moody’ might be partly true, but for a start it’s probably not ‘always’, and in any case your low mood is a behaviour rather than a fundamental part of what makes you. So even though it’s most unfair, see if you can view it as them moaning about your ‘work’ rather than about you per se.

2. It’s up to you to choose how much notice you take. Reporters say they always ignore readers’ letters written in green ink. Some people moan and groan simply for the sake of it, and have a pop at you while they also grumble about everything else in life. If you can, take little notice of feedback from this type of unhelpful person. In any case, though, you really can choose to turn your back on anything that’s said to you. At the end of the day you’ve probably got much more power over this than you may sometimes believe.

3. By and large they’re saying it because they want to help. With the exception of the professional moaners referenced above, a lot of criticism is levelled because the person making it wants to see things change. They want people and businesses to do a better job. They want the world to be a sunnier place. Nearly always, look behind the flak and you’ll find an element of truth. If you choose, learn from it and – if you wish – act on it.

Meanwhile to the lady who, in a focus group years ago, grumbled that the family I’d sketched on one of my concept boards looked like Martians, I can only say ‘Madam, you were quite right’.

What if you’re just not cut out to be a juggler?

Jugglers, I suspect, are made rather than born.

Until someone tells me otherwise, I’d put money on juggling being a skill you acquire over time rather than a talent you produce spontaneously.

Of course the scientist in me recognises that you should never completely discount theories until they’ve been firmly disproved, and you never know, there might just be some kind of ‘Victorian Bernard: The Three-Year-Old Savant Juggler’ story waiting to be found in some dusty archive.

But, for now, let’s accept that the best way to become a juggler is to, well, juggle.

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Beg, borrow or steal a set of padded juggling balls (known in the trade as ‘thuds’, since that’s what they’ll end up doing – on the ground – most of the time) and begin to practice.

However, just as I’ve already suggested, to begin with most of your time won’t be spent juggling.

It’ll be spent failing.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Time after time, the balls will fail to sail through the air, but tumble forlornly to the floor.

The real nub of this process, of course, is how you respond to this lack of success.

The way to learn to juggle is simply to continue with your practice.

The more you do, the less you’ll fail, and this is one way of dealing with adversity: the ‘if you don’t first succeed, try, try and try again’ school of thought.

But perhaps bouncing back needs to follow a different path sometimes?

Maybe you’ll discover that, try as you may, you just don’t seem to have the aptitude for juggling?

In this case, I wonder if it makes more sense to make the sometimes brave decision to move on to something else: tightrope walking perhaps?

Or stamp collecting.

Or soufflé cooking.

There are at least two big ways to deal with adversity.

One is to believe that you’ll overcome the problem in time.

The other is to take a different route.

I’m sure you’ll know which makes sense for you, and when.

Bouncing back? Give me a break.

I have to confess that I wheedled my way into becoming an advertising creative by the back door. Although I had some experience as a graphic designer, being able to rustle up a logo or letterhead doesn’t really cut the mustard when it comes to copywriting or art direction in an agency.

There’s always a way though, and I realised that my experience with type might qualify me for a job as a typographer: the guy (or girl) who turns a creative team’s scribbles and typed-up copy into a detailed layout which an art studio will turn into the camera-ready artwork that gets supplied to a newspaper, magazine or poster printer.

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Although being a typographer was reasonably satisfying, it wasn’t what I really wanted long-term. No, my ambition was loftier. I wanted to be the one with the Magic Marker and the blank layout pad, the one who dreamt up the ideas themselves.

So while I worked my typographer’s role by day, I was constantly ear-wigging and watching the ‘proper’ creatives. As I determined that a headline should be set in 48pt Goudy Old Style, I’d really be listening to the team in the next office to work out how they worked.

And that was how I learned, and it’s how most of us learn of course. We watch others, emulating where desirable, perhaps choosing not to where not.

The top-dog Executive Creative Director, John, was a copywriter. Not for him the felt-tipped pens – he favoured the electric typewriter. (Although we’re not quite talking Mad Men era here, my beginnings in the ad business were definitely pre-PC.)

One little tip I picked up from him was the power of alliteration. As long as it’s not overdone, a pair of words whose beginnings share similar syllables nearly always add a little extra interest to a piece of copy.

Now, although this is a slightly convoluted tale, it came to mind as I thought about resilience: the way we hopefully recover from adverse events or gloomy thinking. The Alliterator sometimes strikes when we think about this, with the result that it can get talked about as ‘bouncing back’. The thing is, however, recovery is rarely as instant or elastic as this. Having looked at many examples of how people return to something approaching normal after a bout of low mood, it’s clear to me that it takes time. It’s a little-by-little process rather than a ‘boinnggg’ type of thing.

Perhaps resilience is less about expecting summer to follow on immediately after winter, and more about recognising that just as the seasons change slowly but surely, so too can your mood.

Maybe rather than bouncing back, we should practice patience?

How I bounced back when my book went off piste

As we sprint towards the finishing line of getting “Nudge Your Way To Happiness” published in just 10 days time, I’m fortunate to have my brother Geoff working alongside me.

In fact Geoff will board a plane in London this coming Monday to join me in California, so we can share the final week’s work.

I love my family, including Geoff of course, and over the years we’ve worked together a lot.

I value his support enormously, but also depend hugely on his diplomatic but straightforward honesty.

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If your work truly sucks (and as mine does sometimes, it may), you need someone to tell you, but to do so in a way that leaves you motivated to try again rather than inconsolably despondent.

And as far as I’m concerned, Geoff pulls this off in admirable style for me.

I was proud of the first version of the book I showed Geoff.

I’d even typeset my rough text, printed it out in colour, hand sewn the pages together, and glued on a hardback cover.

Unfortunately I’d spent too much time making the book and not enough time thinking about it.

It was down to Geoff to let me know that, well, it wasn’t working.

He did so by suggesting it might work better in the style of another book we both love, called “Change The World For A Fiver” – you might know it.

It helped me see I needed to up my game.

It’s always hard to hear that someone thinks your output isn’t up to scratch, and despite Geoff’s thoughtful diplomacy I was temporarily disheartened.

All that work.

All that sewing.

What helped me, however, and maybe it can help you too if you’re in a similar situation, was remembering how I’d “bounced back” from previous misfires.

Instead of giving up and going home, I tried to think of my dilemma as a challenge rather than a problem.

I knew I could find a better solution.

I knew, bluntly, that I could try harder.

Now that’s especially hard to accept if your mood already happens to be in the toilet, but trying harder doesn’t mean going all the way at once.

It just means having a quiet determination to make tomorrow better than today, even if only to a modest degree.

So what’s helped you bounce back in the past?

And what could work again?

Why I love it when things go wrong, and you could too

If there’s a world where things always go right first time, it’s not the one in which I live.

A typical example is when I attempt to engineer something out of card or paper.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore this sort of work and am almost never happier than when I’m sitting there with scalpel, steel rule and glue-pot in front of me, about to make a book, box or (more often) blunder.

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The up-slips aren’t deliberate, of course, but neither are they really avoidable.

After years of cutting and sticking, I’ve learned that you’ll never get all the measurements right the first time, and it’s only by making mistakes that you see how you should have done it in the first place.

So you start again.

Perhaps I didn’t take this approach in my earlier days of cardboard engineering, though.

In fact I’m sure I didn’t.

There were almost certainly times when it all went unexpectedly wrong, resulting in temper tantrums and ripped-up constructions.

While you may not share my enthusiasm for cutting and gluing, I’m sure you’ll have experienced a similar ‘miss and hit’ approach to making or learning something.

You get there in the end by accepting that you work out problems as you go.

Your first apple pie is unlikely to be as good as your most recent.

You’re a better driver now that you were on the day of your first lesson (I hope so anyway).

Your vocabulary has moved on since your first goo-goo, ga-ga.

Although the end result may differ, the process of reaching it almost always involves finding ways to overcome hitches, rather than having a strop and giving up.

You learned how to do this when it came to practical stuff, and almost certainly you’ve picked up equivalent skills when it comes to bouncing back from emotional problems – perhaps without properly recognising it, though.

Perhaps in times of distress you recalled that you’d overcome it in the past, so could do so again.

Maybe you simply foresaw yourself being in a better place.

Or it’s possible you reasoned that the obstacle before you wasn’t as big as you were making it.

These are all admirable approaches, but only you’ll know what’s worked for you in the past.

If you have just a couple of minutes today, try to recall the strategies that have proved effective historically.

You never know when they could come in handy again.

After the forest fire, a new forest.

For me, driving through countryside shortly after a devastating fire was a sad experience.

Everything was black.

The trees left standing were stunted and bare.

The acrid stench of smoke clung to my throat.

It was easy to imagine there could be no future for this territory, that its end had come.

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But so very often this is not the case, because after the rain has come, and after nature has worked its incredible wonders, small shoots of green appear.

Then slowly, steadily, gradually, the environment returns to normal.

Sometimes it does even better than this – the effects of the fire may enrich the soil, resulting in a greener and more pleasant land one day not so far down the road.

Someone comparing before and after pictures might be led to declare the area resilient, and indeed this is exactly what it has demonstrated.

But note: the fire still happened.

If we’d been there when it was burning, we’d have seen only destruction.

Resilience didn’t mean the vegetation was fire-proof.

It didn’t somehow repel the flames.

No, the resilience is what came later.

It’s the way in which the environment deals with change, accepting it, kind of shrugging its shoulders and saying ‘well that was a mess – better get on with fixing things now though’.

I think we can learn from this.

Resilience and being able to bounce back from adversity are tremendous qualities, but usually there’s no way to prevent the bad stuff happening at the time: the storm must simply be weathered.

However it’s what comes later that counts, and an acceptance that things are as they are can go a very long way to giving you the strength to believe that they’ll get better again.

Surprisingly, after a forest fire there’s nearly always still a forest.

3 ways to bounce back when things aren’t so good

Why does a ball bounce? Let’s say it’s a tennis ball which you’re about to drop onto a hard surface. Before you let go of it, the ball has potential energy (because of its height above the ground) then as it falls, this is turned into kinetic energy.

On striking the ground, this kinetic energy is used to squish the ball – then a moment or two later, the ball’s elasticity causes it to rapidly return to its former shape, and doing so makes it leap away from the hard surface – back up into the air again.

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A tennis ball doesn’t have to think about this, as the laws of physics come into play. Things that will bounce generally do bounce.

Humans, of course, don’t have this degree of elasticity when it comes to impacting with hard surfaces, which is why cycle helmets make such a lot of sense. But what about metaphorical hard surfaces? How do we bounce back when we run into mental barriers and obstacles?

At times it can be unquestionably tough. Resilience is a marvellous strength, but one which may be in short supply just when it’s needed most.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers in this area, but can at least offer some suggestions for dealing with adversity.

1. Is there a way to think differently about the situation? Rather than viewing it as insurmountable, might it be possible to see it as a problem whose solution will be found once it has been teased out?

2. Might there be value in seeing the obstacle as temporary rather than permanent? This way, you needn’t pretend that it’s anything other than big, but you might be able to believe that its impact could recede over time.

3. Maybe you’ll be able to restrict the obstacle’s impact to one area of your life, rather than despairing that it’s affecting everything? You’ve fallen out with one person, say, but you still have others around you – that kind of thing.

The laws of physics may not govern the ways in which you can demonstrate resilience, but that doesn’t mean you can’t establish some of your own.