Book review: Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a hard book to read, in my opinion. Sure, maybe it is for people who have suffered a recent loss: a parent, a sibling, a son or daughter, a spouse. In that case, there are tons of insights that someone who needs a spirit guide, a confidante, could use.
Ms. Sandberg’s husband of eleven years, Dave Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey, dropped dead suddenly, during a vacation, leaving her with 2 young children and pieces of a shattered life. Option B is her way of coping, and describes the 2 years following that event. Her friend’s quote: “I know you want Dave back, but Option A is not available. Let’s just kick the shit out of Option B.”

Ms. Sandberg, who is well known for her book Lean In, is Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, is good friends with Mark Zuckerberg, with Mark Cuban, with Elon Musk, and with many others. At times her casual references to conversations with these folks, as well as contacts with those who responded to her posts on Facebook of her tragedy and her response to it in the following years, seems a bit entitled. How does one empathize with a widow and single mom who has access to all these resources?

And yet, she navigates these waters with grace. Her vulnerability, honesty, raw emotion, are channeled, over time, into productivity, into insight, into lessons learned for others following her path. She also learns from others and revels in their stories as well, as sources of healing.

Her chapter on resilience is particularly apt.

After spending decades studying how people deal with setbacks, psychologist Martin Seligman found that three P’s can stunt recovery: 1. Personalization-belief that we are at fault; 2. Pervasiveness-belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and 3. Permanence- a belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever.

She speaks of ideas about self-compassion and self-confidence. Think of 3 things you’re grateful for, and write them down, EVERY night. This has been shown to be as effective as anti-depressant medication for improving depression symptoms over time. For confidence, write down what you have done well: contributions. This can improve self-confidence over time, especially after major setbacks.

Bouncing forward: ideas about pre-traumatic growth (that is, not waiting until trauma, to grow your own mindset): on your friends’ birthdays, write notes to friends thanking them for their contributions to your life. Gratitude to others often benefits the giver as much as the receiver.

Taking back joy: ‘playing music at the edge of our capabilities is what the psychologists call a “just manageable difficulty.” This level requires all of our attention, giving us no room to think about anything else. Many of us remember being happiest in flow-the state of total absorption in a task.’

Raising resident kids depends on 4 core beliefs:
1. They have some control over their lives.
2. They can learn from failure
3. They matter as human beings
4. They have real strengths to rely on and share

She cites Carol Dweck, the famous educator, on the concept of a Growth Mindset: ‘I am not yet as good as I am going to be.’ Learner’s mindsets can easily be influenced, based on the type of feedback they get from teachers and parents: move away from statements like: ‘you’re smart’ and toward: ‘you worked really hard on this.’ Value persistence and grit (a growth quality) over intelligence (perceived as a static quality: something you have or don’t have).

Asking for help is the heart of building resilience. Sometimes just being there is supportive and appreciated.

CMIO’s take? Resilience takes many forms. In human matters, it is an effective response to trauma. In recent years, to a CMIO, resilience is not just a personal reflection on the difficulty of the job. It is also a stepladder offered to colleagues suffering unprecedented levels of professional burnout related to electronic systems with as-yet inadequate coping systems, inadequate practice efficiencies and inadequate cultural wellness safety nets. A worthwhile read.

Review: The Practicing Mind: Bringing Discipline and Focus into Your Life

The Practicing Mind: Bringing Discipline and Focus into Your Life
The Practicing Mind: Bringing Discipline and Focus into Your Life by Thomas M. Sterner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beware! This pretends to be an eminently readable book about practicing music or sports WHEN ACTUALLY it is about mindfulness, Eastern religions, happiness and a guide to living your life fully. Wow.

The author reads his own book on and is quite relaxing to listen to. I was happily enjoying this book at the superficial level of learning how to be Present during practice to improve skills, and then began to realize the deeper levels of meaning. He draws a contrast between the young mind, being told to “practice for 30 minutes” and finding the tedium and the disappointment crushing, as one’s expectations of the skills one would LIKE to have being always out of reach. He compares this to an adult learner, who, with more life experience (we hope) is typically practicing music or sports more for enjoyment. In the second case, the thoughtful, present learner, can experience the actual practice as enjoyment: “I am always getting better, even this minute.”

A wonderful metaphor the author provides is that the sailor, who is always fixated on the horizon in the direction of travel of his sailing ship, finds that the horizon always recedes, and is constantly frustrated at his lack of visible progress. Instead, the sailor who looks at the waves constantly crashing against the bow, and the visible crests and troughs, the fish, the dolphins that constantly pass by, is not only aware of, and enjoying the present, but also the inevitable forward progress he is making. The second sailor is much more aware and satisfied in the moment.

The author speaks about the overlapping 4 S’s, as a way of thinking about being Present, with the concrete example of “cleaning out the garage: an overwhelming task that begs to be deferred”:
-Simple: break a big task down into bite-sized parts, think of only part of the garage
-Small: “I will only clean from the northwest corner, three lateral feet until the window.”
-Short: “I will only spend 45 minutes on this task and consider it done.”
-Slow: “I will be aware of every movement and action that I am taking.”

He notes that if we can pursue the 4 S’s in any task, large or small, we can find ourselves in what others later called “flow state” where time disappears, one is focused and can actually enjoy accomplishing tasks. And if done well, this actually takes no MORE time, and often takes less time, because we are less distracted and perform better and more accurately.

I have applied these principles myself to practicing the ukulele (itself the embodiment of simple and small), to rehearsing my kata for karate, to writing a blog, and, when set up properly, to answering my inevitable backlog of email. Mihaly Cziszemnihalyi’s Flow speaks to this, as does Daniel Pink’s Drive.

CMIO’s take: where can YOU apply the 4 S’s in your life? Life lessons appear in the most unexpected places. Here’s wishing you can apply a few principles of the Practicing Mind in your life.
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Read more. Post less. 

The opposite of a recursive meme: Here’s a social media post telling you to stop reading and posting on social media.

Why? I love my increased reading this past few years. It results in more creativity, more interesting things to say at work and at home, and a more fulfilled thought process. 

How? during my commute, a book club or 3, books piled on the coffee table, ignoring and trimming magazine subscriptions, choosing a book that fills a knowledge gap at work, stopping my podcasts. And trimming my social media and TV consumption (the hardest). 

Great suggestions in the Harvard Business Review article. Good (book) hunting to all of you.