In Option B, Sheryl Sandberg gives a helpful piece of advice to the friends, family members, co-workers and acquaintances of a person who is facing some form of adversity, whether it be grieving the loss of a loved one, struggling with unemployment, or fighting a bad diagnosis.
When you ask how the person is doing, add a time constraint. How are you feeling, right now? How are you coping, today? How are you doing, this moment?
Sandberg explains that the time constraint acknowledges that a person is going through something hard and living from moment to moment. “How are you doing today” is a less generic question (let’s face it, how many times a day to we say to people, from close friends to near strangers, “how are you?”) and therefore it doesn’t presuppose a generic answer (“I’m fine.”). It’s a more spacious question, inviting an honest response, which makes it a kinder question, too.
I think “add a time constraint” is a really sound piece of advice, and one that stretches beyond interacting with grieving or otherwise struggling individuals. It also helps me to consider my perennial quest for self-improvement, my preferences, my goals, and my ability to find joy in the present moment.
For an example, when I’m occasionally asked a question like “What are your career goals” or “What are you favorite books” I draw a complete and total blank. These questions are overwhelming, and I don’t know where to begin answering them. However, if someone asks me “What’s a goal that you have in your professional life right now,” or “What’s the best book you’ve read recently,” I leap on the opportunity to reflect on my current situation and I am able to provide a thoughtful answer.
I firmly believe that examining our lives and reflecting on our experiences makes for a richer and more meaningful existence. Reflecting helps us cultivate gratitude for what’s good in our lives and make change where change is needed to improve our lives. It helps us grapple with our challenges and rejoice in our successes.
I also firmly believe that we need to set ourselves up to do the things that are good for us — like reflecting. If something is too hard, we’ll put it off. If a task is too overwhelming, we won’t begin. Adding time constraints to reflective questions can help us examine where we are, in the moment.