Option B | Notes & Reflections

Posted on May 11, 2017

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Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant. Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. (226 pages)

OptionB.orgSheryl Sandberg’s Advice for Grieving, by REBECCA J. ROSEN, The AtlanticIn Option B, Sheryl Sandberg Takes the Hacker Way Through Grief, by Davey Alba, Wired; Life After Death, BY BELINDA LUSCOMBE, Time; Jenny Anderson review, Quartz; Sheryl Sandberg’s “Option B” and the Facebook Way To Grieve, by Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker.

Introduction

Grief is a demanding companion. (7)

We all encounter hardships. … The question is: When these things happen, what do we do next? (10)

Resilience is the strength and speed of our response to adversity–and we can build it. It isn’t about having a backbone. It’s about strengthening the muscles around our backbone. (10)

I also believe that it is possible to experience pre-traumatic growth–that you don’t have to experience tragedy to build your resilience for whatever lies ahead. (12)

1. Breathing Again

…psychologist Martin Seligman found that three P’s can stunt recovery: (1) personalization–the belief that we are at fault; (2) pervasiveness–the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and (3) permanence–the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever. (16)

…not everything that happens to us happens because of us. (17)

…by blaming myself I was delaying my recovery, which also meant I was delaying my kids’ recovery. … I hadn’t interrupted everyone’s lives; tragedy had. (18)

After the death of a loved one, only 60 percent of private sector workers get paid time off–and usually just a few days. When they return to work grief can interfere with their job performance. The economic stress that frequently follows bereavement is like a one-two punch. In the United States alone, grief-related losses in productivity may cost companies as much as $75 billion annually. (20)

Studies of “affective forecasting”–our predictions of how we’ll feel in the future–reveal that we tend to overestimate how long negative events will affect us. (21)

Just as the body has a physiological immune system, the brain has a psychological immune system. When something goes wrong, we instinctively marshal defense mechanisms. We see silver linings in clouds. We add sugar and water to lemons. We start clinging to clichés. (21)

…turning to God gives people a sense of being enveloped in loving arms that are eternal and ultimately strong. People need to know that they are not alone. – Reverend Scotty McLennan.

Part of every misery [is] misery’s shadow…the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. – C. S. Lewis

I wasn’t just anxious; I was meta-anxious. (24)

…during the early days of despair, my instinct was to try and find positive thoughts. Adam told me the opposite: that it was a good idea to think about how much worse things could be. “Worse?” I asked him. “Are you kidding? How could this be worse?” His answer cut through me: “Dave could have had the same cardiac arrhythmia driving your children. ” Wow. The thought that I could have lost all three of them had never occurred to me. (25)

Acknowledging blessings can be a blessing in and of itself. (25)

Counting blessings can actually increase happiness and health by reminding us of the good things in life. (26)

Resilience comes from deep within us and from support outside us. It comes from gratitude for what’s good in our lives and from leaning in to the suck. It comes from analyzing how we process grief and from simply accepting that grief. Sometimes we have less control than we think. Other times we have more. | I learned that when life pulls you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface, and breathe again. (29)

2. Kicking the Elephant Out of the Room

Even people who have endured the worst suffering often want to talk about it. (32)

Avoiding feelings isn’t the same as protecting feelings. (33)

Compassionate Friends.

The two things we want to know when we’re in pain are that we’re not crazy to feel the way we do and that we have support. Acting like nothing significant is happening to people who look like us denies us all of that. – Maxine Williams

All over the world ,there is cultural pressure to conceal negative emotions. In China and Japan, the ideal emotional state is calm and composed. In the United States, we like excitement (OMG!) and enthusiasm (LOL!). (36)

American culture demands that the answer to the question ‘How are you?’ is not just ‘Good.’ … We need to be ‘Awesome.’ … There’s this relentless drive to mask the expression of our true underlying feelings. – David Caruso

Admitting that you’re having a rough time is “almost inappropriate.” (36)

When you’re faced with tragedy, you usually find that you’re no longer surrounded by people–you’re surrounded by platitudes. So what do we offer instead of ‘everything happens for a reason’? …the most powerful thing you can do is acknowledge. To literally say the words: I acknowledge your pain. I’m here with you. – Tim Lawrence

3. The Platinum Rule of Friendship

In classic experiments on stress, people performed tasks that required concentration, like solving puzzles, while being blasted at random intervals with uncomfortably loud sounds. They started sweating and their heart rates and blood pressure climbed. They struggled to focus and made mistakes. Many go so frustrated that they gave up. Searching for a way to reduce anxiety, researchers gave some of the participants an escape. If the noise became too unpleasant, they could press a button and make it stop. Sure enough, the button allowed them to stay calmer, make fewer mistakes, and show less irritation. That’s not surprising. But here’s what is: none of the participants actually pressed the button. Stopping the noise didn’t make the difference…knowing they could stop the noise did. The button gave them a sense of control and allowed them to endure the stress. | When people are in pain, they need a button. (46-47)

When people close to us face adversity, how do we give them a button to press? (47)

…when someone is suffering, instead of following the Golden Rule, we need to follow the Platinum Rule: treat others as they want to be treated. (51)

Author Bruce Feiler believes the problem lies in the offer to “do anything.” He writes that “while well meaning, this gesture unintentionally shifts the obligation to the aggrieved. Instead of offering ‘anything,’ just do something.” (51)

Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried. – Megan Devine

…friendship isn’t only what you can give, it’s what you’re able to receive. (54)

I used to think there was one set of footprints because my friends were carrying me through the worst days of my life. But now it means something else to me. When I saw one set of footprints, it was because they were following directly behind me, ready to catch me if I fell. (57)

4. Self-Compassion and Self-Confidence

Coming to Grips with Ourselves

Self-compassion often coexists with remorse. It does not mean shirking responsibility for our past. It’s about making sure that we don’t beat ourselves up so badly that we damage our future. (60)

When a loved one dies, we expect to be sad. We expect to be angry. What we don’t see coming–or at least I didn’t–is that trauma can also lead to self-doubt in all aspects of our lives. This loss of confidence is another symptom of pervasiveness: we are struggling in one area and suddenly we stop believing in our capabilities in other areas. Primary loss triggers secondary losses. (65)

…counting our blessings doesn’t boost our confidence or our effort, but counting our contributions can. Adam and Jane believe that this is because gratitude is passive: it makes us feel thankful for what we receive. Contributions are active: they build our confidence by reminding us that we can make a difference. (68)

Empathy was nice but encouragement was better. (69)

…offering support through personal hardships helps employees become more committed to their companies. (73)

5. Bouncing Forward

The One I Become Will Catch Me

In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. – Albert Camus

…psychologists had focused mostly on two possible outcomes of trauma. Some people struggled: they developed PTSD, face debilitating depression and anxiety, or had difficulty functioning. Others were resilient: they bounced back to their state before the trauma. Now there was a third possibility: people who suffered could bounce forward. (78)

…more than half the people who experience a traumatic event report at least one positive change, compared to the less than 15 percent who develop PTSD. (79)

…post-traumatic growth could take five different forms: finding personal strength, gaining appreciation, forming deeper relationships, discovering more meaning in life, an seeing new possibilities. (79)

Tedeschi and Calhoun have a slightly softer (one could say less Nietzschean) take: “I am more vulnerable than I thought, but much stronger than I ever imagined.” (79)

In prosperity our friends know us. In adversity we know our friends.

In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning. – Viktor Frankl

Before the attacks, work might have been a job; afterward, some wanted a calling. (90)

After undergoing a hardship, people have new knowledge to offer those who go through similar experiences. It is a unique source of meaning because it does not just give our lives purpose–it gives our suffering purpose. (92)

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. – Seneca

6. Taking Back Joy

Survivor guilt is a thief of joy–yet another secondary loss from death. When people lose a loved one, they are not just wracked with grief but also with remorse. (96)

A life changing pleasure without meaning is an aimless existence. Yet a meaningful life without joy is a depressing one. (97)

When we focus on others, we find motivation that is difficult to marshal for ourselves alone. (97)

Joy is the ultimate act of defiance. – Bono

When we look for joy, we often focus on the big moments. Graduating from school. Having a child. Getting a job. Being reunited with family. But happiness is the frequency of positive experiences, not the intensity. In a twelve-year study of bereaved spouses in Australia, 26 percent managed to find joy after loss as often as they had before. What set them apart was that they re-engaged in everyday activities and interactions. (100)

Peace is joy at rest, and joy is peace on its feet. – Reverend Veronica Goines

Joy is a discipline – Shannon Sedgwick Davis

Whether you see joy as a discipline, an act of defiance, a luxury, or a necessity, it is something everyone deserves. Joy allows us to go on living and loving and being there for others. (105)

7. Raising Resilient Kids

Tim Chambers.

Building resilience depends on the opportunities children have and the relationships they form with parents, caregivers, teachers, and friends. We can start by helping children develop four core beliefs: (1) they have some control over their lives; (2) they can learn from failure; (3) they matter as human beings; and (4) they have real strengths to rely on and share. (111)

When parents treat failure as an opportunity to learn rather than an embarrassment to be avoided, kids are more likely to take on challenges. (114)

The feeling of math being hard is the feeling of your brain growing. – Carol Dweck

“Nostalgia” comes from the Greek words nostos and algos, which mean “return” and “pain.” Nostalgia is literally the suffering that we feel when we yearn for the past to come back to us, yet psychologists find that it is mostly a pleasant state. (124)

8. Finding Strength Together

…a key to their resilience was hope. (127)

We normally think of hope as something individuals hold in their heads and in their hearts. But people can build hope together. By creating a shared identity, individuals can form a group that has a past and a brighter future. (128)

Resilience is not just built in individuals. It is built among individuals–in our neighborhoods, schools, towns, and governments. When we build resilience together, we become stronger ourselves and form communities that can overcome obstacles and prevent adversity. Collective resilience requires more than just shared hope–it is also fueled by shared experiences, shared narratives, and shared power. (130)

Deep human connection. It is not just ‘Oh, I feel bad for you’ but ‘I actually understand.’ – Jim Santucci

To join a community after tragedy, we often have to accept our new–and often unwelcome–identity. (131)

The club that no one wants to belong to is incredibly bonding. Perhaps because none of us wanted to join, we cling to one another. (132)

Along with shared hope and experiences, shared narratives can build collective resilience. Narratives might sound “light”–how important can a story be?–but they are how we explain our past and set expectations for our future. Just as family stories help children feel a sense of belonging, collective stories create identity for communities. And stories that emphasize values like equality are critical for pursuing justice. (133)

“stereotype threat”: the fear of being reduced to a negative stereotype. (134)

“Moral elevation” describes the feeling of being uplifted by an act of uncommon goodness. (136)

Empowering communities builds collective resilience. (139)

We find our humanity–our will to live and our ability to love–in our connections to one another. Just as individuals can find post-traumatic growth and become stronger, so can communities. You never know when your community will need to call on that strength, but you can be sure that someday it will. (141)

9. Failing and Learning at Work

Not only do we learn more from failure than success, we learn more from bigger failures because we scrutinize them more closely. (144)

To be resilient after failures, we have to learn form them. Most of the time, we know this; we just don’t do it. We’re too insecure to admit mistakes to ourselves or too proud to admit them to others. Instead of opening up, we get defensive and shut down. A resilient organization helps people overcome these reactions by creating a culture that encourages individuals to acknowledge their missteps and regrets. (144-145)

Of the hundreds of answers, most had one thing in common: the majority of regrets were about failures to act, not actions that failed. (145)

The measure of who we are is how we react to something that doesn’t go our way – Gregg Popovich

The ability to listen to feedback is a sign of resilience, and some of those who do it best gained that strengthen in the hardest way possible. (151)

Believing it will all work out helps it all work out. – Sheryl Sandberg

10. To Love and Laugh Again

Of middle-aged adults who lost a spouse, 54 percent of men were in a romantic relationship a year later compared with only 7 percent of women. Among older adults who lost a spouse, 15 percent of men were dating after six months, compared with less than 1 percent of women. And after two years, 25 percent of men had remarried, compared with just 5 percent of women. (162)

Humor can make us more resilient. Surgery patients who watch comedies request 25 percent less pain medication. Soldiers who make jokes deal better with stress. People who laugh naturally six months after losing a spouse cope better. Couples who laugh together are more likely to stay married. Physiologically, humor lowers our heart rate and relaxes our muscles. Evolutionarily, humor is a signal that a situation is safe. Laughter breaks tension by making stressful situations less threatening. (166-167)

Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship. – Robert Woodruff Anderson

In a well-known study, 130 newlyweds were invited to spend the day at the “Love Lab,” which resembled a bed-and-breakfast. The psychologists observed the coupes interacting “in the wild” and made predictions about which marriages would last. They were able to predict divorce over the next six years with 83 percent accuracy. A key was buried in the couples’ conversation, which often started with bids for attention, affection, support, or laughter. We are making a bid whenever we say things like “Hey, look at that bird!” or “Are we out of butter?” When a partner makes a bid, the other partner has two choices: to turn away or turn toward. Turning away means dismissing or ignoring the bid. (169-170)

The newlyweds who stayed together over the next six years turned toward each other 86 percent of the time, while couples who got divorced turned toward each other only 33 percent. Most of the couples’ fights weren’t about money or sex but about “failed bids for connection.” (170)

…there were three parties in any relationship: you, the other person, and the relationship itself. The relationship is a meaningful entity that needs to be protected and nurtured. (170)

…we confuse resilience with closure. (174)

…grief has to unfold… (174)

I won’t make your skin crawl by saying it’s a ‘blessing in disguise.’ It’s not a blessing and there is no disguise. But there are things to be gained and things to be lost, and on certain days, I’m not sure that the gains are not as great as, or even greater than, the inevitable losses. – Allen Rucker

Building Resilience Together

We invite you to visit optionb.org to connect with others ho are coping with challenges like yours. (177)

— via reflections —

In this book we find virtually every poignant virtue central to the human journey of grief. Sandberg (and Grant) have provided wisdom, thoughtfulness, empathy, encouragement, honesty, transparency, simplicity, and hope, all in a format that is emotive, and accessible (with the footnotes to back it up!)

And for those of us “professionals” who dive deep into the psychological world of the inner soul, ready to emerge with erudite prescriptions, sometimes all you need is someone to tell their story. To this, Sandberg has given us a gift, and the world will be better because of it.

With condolences and gratitude, for Sandberg’s contribution to our collective human journey.

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