Have You Connected With Someone Today?

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and as you may know, my hometown has been ordered to shelter-in-place until at least April 7. We’re the first in the country to do this.

I’m not going to lie. This is a scary and uncertain time. Over the past week, I’ve observed (and experienced) intense fear, sadness and grief. I’ve also observed (and experienced) amazing optimism, patience, kindness, strength and generosity in myself and others.

In addition, I’m seeing that people are figuring out different ways to be together, apart. 

For example:

  • Over the past few days, I have talked to friends and family members I haven’t spoken with or seen in months.
  • People in Italy are singing with each other from their balconies
  • I’ve engaged (while six feet apart, of course) with people I’ve encountered outside my home. We’ve listened to one another. We’ve laughed together. We’ve shared hopes, opinions, advice and fears. 
  • My local exercise studio has put their classes online so we can still work out together, from home.
  • My best friend and I started sending short videos back and forth on the app Marco Polo (which honestly I didn’t know existed before yesterday), seeing who can make the other person laugh harder.

Although we’ve all been told to practice social distancing, it doesn’t mean we have to be disconnected from one another. 

In fact, this is an incredible opportunity. An opportunity to figure out what real connection means to each of us, and to learn how to bring this connection into our lives when it matters most. 

How do you like to feel connected? Do you like to reach out to your loved ones, or do you prefer that someone to reach out to you? Do you like a little conversation followed by a break and some solitude, or chatting continuously throughout the day? Do you want to talk about what’s going on, or do you want to stick to the non-virus topics for the time being? Ask for what you need, and ask other people what they need. Be honest. Meet somewhere in between.

Whatever it looks like, take some time today to seek out a connection. Just one. Your friends, your family, your coworkers, your neighbors…you never know who might be feeling really scared or alone, who might desperately need to connect with someone but for whatever reason feel that they can’t.

If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis and need to talk to someone right now, reach out to Crisis Text Line. Volunteers are available 24/7 to listen and help, for free.

Like the virus itself, we’re not taking these social distancing precautions just to protect ourselves, but to protect each other. Because we’re a community, and the success of a community relies on everyone working together. Even when we’re apart.

PS: If you like meditation and want a free guided mediation for anxious thoughts emailed to you, click here for one I made several months ago. It’s free. 

“Sometimey” Friends

Photo by Joanna Nix on Unsplash

What are we to do about “sometimey” friends?

I learned the term “sometimey friends” from my grandmother many years ago. The definition is pretty self-explanatory, but for the sake of this blog post:

A sometimey friend is a friend who is…sometimes your friend and…sometimes not.

A friend who sometimes wants to hang out and sometimes doesn’t even text you back.

A friend who sometimes makes you feel like their bff and sometimes ditches you for someone else.

As opposed to fair-weather friends, a sometimey friend’s presence in your life is not solely contingent on how well or badly things are going for you. The sometimey friend’s pattern of closeness (and distance) is unique to that particular sometimey individual.

As most of us have learned, there are many different levels and nuances when it comes to the umbrella of friendship. In theory, there is nothing wrong with having – or being – a sometimey friend.

Problems are likely to arise, however, when your expectations and desires conflict with reality (or another person’s expectations and desires).

If you’re expecting a sometimey friend to be a consistent best friend forever? There are going to be issues.

Conversely, if you want a friendship you can generally dip in and out of and your friends are expecting you to show up consistently and be ride-or-die? There are going to be issues.

There is power in being honest with yourself and others about the type of friendships you want, the type of friendships you are able to offer, and the the things you need in order to feel valued and fulfilled in a friendship.

As in the dating process, it helps if all parties can be honest and communicative about these things initially, as well as on an ongoing basis.

But as we know, this doesn’t always happen.

Instead, we often have to observe others, ourselves and the situation, come to our own conclusions about what is going on, be honest with ourselves and ask:

If this never changes, can I accept it?

There is nothing wrong with deciding that you cannot. Sometimes you just aren’t looking for the same things as someone else.

There is also nothing wrong with accepting a sometimey friend for who they are, if you are okay with having this type of friend in your life. If, for example, you have several close friends and are comfortable including a couple of sometimey friends in the mix, you can enjoy that setup if it works for you.

Be a good friend to yourself first, and start by being honest with yourself about what you want, need, and are able to offer another person. Don’t be afraid or ashamed of the answers. There is power in your truth, and it takes bravery and a healthy amount of self-love to embrace it.

What kind of friend are YOU? Take the quiz and find out!

The Challenges of Adult Friendships

Photo by Hannah Rodrigo on Unsplash

I do a lot of clinical work with middle school students. Friendship is a major component of life in middle school, and in both my clinical and personal experience, friendship at this stage of life is usually accompanied by a LOT of ups and downs.

There are dramas, fights, hurt feelings, competition, mean-spirited rumors, cliques, people who are best friends one day and enemies the next. Friends who slowly fade away. Friends who are not sincere. Research suggests that one half of middle school friendships will last less than one academic year.

I talk a lot with the middle school students I work with about learning what makes a good friend – how to recognize one, and how to be one. Oftentimes, this handout, Cactus & Flower Friends by plantlovegrow.com, serves as a really helpful guide to starting a conversation with students about this topic.

It’s almost a given that preteen and teenage friendships are destined for choppy waters.

But by adulthood, we’re supposed to have put all (or at least most of) the interpersonal drama behind us and learned all the ins and outs of healthy friendship. Our younger years were supposed to be rife with unstable and tumultuous friendships…not our twenties, thirties, or beyond.

Still, many of the adults I’ve worked with have shared that they continue to face challenges in the arena of friendship. Less often due to rumors and cliques, and more because of issues such as:

  • limited time for friends due to work
  • limited energy to invest in friendships
  • partnership and/or kids consuming time that could otherwise be spent cultivating friendships
  • being new to an area and not knowing anyone
  • feeling that they’ve outgrown existing friendships
  • feeling that by adulthood, everyone already has their friend group “set” and aren’t looking for new ones

Friendship-related challenges DO continue past adolescence and into adulthood, they just have a different appearance.

It’s important for us to talk about the challenges of adult friendships and how to overcome them. After all, just because you aren’t a teenager anymore, doesn’t mean friendship ceases to be an incredibly important part of a fulfilling life.

If you’re reading this and wanting to take inventory of your current friends situation, I recommend starting with the same handout I use with middle school students. You can use it to begin an objective conversation with yourself (or maybe…a friend?) about healthy and unhealthy friendships. Share any insights you had while doing this exercise in the comments below. You can also take my quiz to see what kind of friendship attachment style you have:

What kind of friend are YOU? Take the quiz and find out!

I’ll be talking more about overcoming the challenges of adult friendships in the coming weeks, so join my email list to get notified of new posts.

How Connected Are You, Really?

Photo by Gigi on Unsplash

Years ago (circa 2010), I resisted buying a smart phone because I didn’t want to feel too “connected” to others. I didn’t want to see my emails as they arrived in my inbox all day long. I didn’t want to be able to browse Facebook while I rode the BART train. Having a cell phone on my person at all times was connection enough.

Now, it’s normal to be online at all times, to be reachable 24/7. In many cases, it’s what’s expected of us.

In 2013, I caved and got my first smart phone. Now, I can’t imagine life without it. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that.

Social media, telephones, email, DMs, Instagram, FaceTime, text messages, smoke signals, The Internet…

They were all created so we could connect more easily with one another. No matter the distance. Or the time zone.

But how connected are we…really?

According to the Health Resource & Services Administration: “Two in five Americans report that they sometimes or always feel their social relationships are not meaningful, and one in five say they feel lonely or socially isolated.”

In 2020, we have more ways than ever of staying in touch and connected with our loved ones. Why, then, have rates of loneliness doubled in the past fifty years?

The answer is likely multifaceted, but I wonder if part of it has to do with the quality versus quantity of connection.

In my work as a clinical psychologist – as well as, you know, being a person in the world – I’ve encountered so many people who say that they feel overwhelmed and actually stressed out by all the different methods of communication at our disposal. Instead of interpersonal connection being a source of emotional replenishment, relaxation, and just plain fun, it’s begun to feel more like a job. Another item to check off our already-packed to-do lists. AKA High quantity.

In addition, although advances in technology have made makes it easier for us to communicate, I’m sure I’m not alone in noticing that it has also allowed our communication with one another to become…briefer. People used to write each other long letters. Then it was long phone calls. After that, long (by today’s standards) emails. Then, posts on each other’s social media walls/feeds. Now, instead of commenting on someone’s post, we click and there’s a like, heart, laugh, cry, or angry emoji to replace a conversation. A quick acknowledgement, designed to say: “I see you.” “I hear you.” “I agree with you.” “That’s funny.” “That makes me angry.” “That makes me sad.” AKA Lower quality.

Tons of messages and notifications may be coming in all day every day, but in 2020, present, mindful, engaged communication and connection is becoming harder to find.

If what I’ve written so far resonates with you, or even if it doesn’t, I have some questions for you:

When was the last time you experienced meaningful connection/communication with another person?

What do you think made this possible?

What do YOU need to feel you’ve connected in a meaningful way with another person?

How do you make the many means of connection (email, text, phone, social media, etc.) work for you without becoming overwhelmed?

Though liking and sharing these blog posts is always welcomed, in the spirit of examining communication, I challenge you to write a short (or long) comment below, sharing your answers to one, two, or all of the questions above. I’d love to read what you have to say and respond to you (yes, you).

PS: Friendship is such an incredible antidote to feelings of loneliness and disconnection. What kind of friend are YOU? Take the quiz and find out!

Give Yourself Permission to Suck in 2020

There is a no rule that says you have to be perfect right out the gate, such as on the first day of school or work or trying a new exercise or project or undertaking.

But sometimes our critics – both self-imposed and external – will tell us we don’t have the right to a natural learning curve.

As 2020 starts, I want to remind us all that if you care and you’re trying, you don’t have to be perfect for it to mean something. For it to be worthwhile. For YOU to be worthwhile.

Reminding ourselves that we don’t have to be perfect – in fact, even giving ourselves “permission to suck” as the author John Green says, can be incredibly life-giving and liberating. If you’re sucking at something, at least you’re doing something.

Take some time to notice your perfectionistic thoughts and tell yourself you’re “good enough” as you are. Distance yourself from people in your life who don’t understand that learning and growing doesn’t happen in a straight, perfect line. You don’t need that toxicity.

Surround yourself with support, love and compassion.

You deserve it.

Build Your Flexible Thinking Muscles With This Simple Tool

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

I recently wrote about all or nothing thinking (also known as “black or white thinking”), and the negative impact that rigid, inflexible thought patterns can have on a person’s well-being.

In the aforementioned blog post, I discussed mindfulness as a powerful, key tool for challenging these types of distorted thoughts. In short: by using mindfulness, we can become more aware of distorted thinking patterns as they occur. A mindfulness foundation sets the stage for your success, because as G.I. Joe says: “Knowing is half the battle.” You can’t start to challenge or change something you aren’t aware of.

Today I want to share another tool for building your flexible thinking muscles that you can start putting into practice right this minute. It’s simple, really:

Use “and” instead of “but”

This is a technique I learned from an amazing CBT rock star therapist during my graduate training. He loved this approach so much, he almost never used the word “but” in conversation. In the years since , I have also put this into practice, in both my written and verbal communications.

Integrating “and” into your mental vocabulary instead of “but” can help to cultivate a more flexible approach to your thoughts and feelings. It reminds us that things that seem incompatible can exist and be true at the same time. They can both be valid instead of one cancelling out the other.

You can practice this approach in your self-talk, as you notice all or nothing thinking occurring, and even in your verbal or written exchanges.

Let’s put it into action with an example:

“I’m a really hard worker and devoted to my job…but I didn’t get a promotion” versus: “I’m a really hard worker and devoted to my job…and I didn’t get a promotion.”

Does one feel different from the other? Even though two “truths” can appear to exist in opposition, they are capable of co-existing.

Some more examples:

“I love my mother so much…but she drives me crazy.”

“I love my mother so much…and she drives me crazy.”

“I worked so hard to make that project a success, but it didn’t happen.”

“I worked so hard to make that project a success, and it didn’t happen.”

“You cleaned the kitchen, but you didn’t mop the floor.”

“You cleaned the kitchen, and you didn’t mop the floor.”

“My partner is loving and kind, but it’s hard for me when he’s socially awkward.”

“My partner is loving and kind, and it’s hard for me when he’s socially awkward.”

“Having a dog is great, but I hate having to clean up after it.”

“Having a dog is great, and I hate having to clean up after it.”

“I had a pretty good day today, but my depression hasn’t gone away.”

“I had a pretty good day today, and my depression hasn’t gone away.”

It might feel a bit awkward or strange to try this exercise…AND you should stick with it for a bit to find out how it goes (see what I did there?).

Remember that your brain is neuroplastic, meaning that it can change. By using this simple, easy-to-practice exercise, you can begin rewiring your brain to adapt a more flexible thinking style. Start today and see what happens!

If you’ve been using mindfulness to become more aware of your moment-to-moment, day-to-day thoughts, I doff my hat to you! You are setting yourself for success, and for changing your brain! (Isn’t that amazing?)

And if you haven’t started a mindfulness practice yet, download my free, guided audio meditation. It’s perfect for beginners and will guide you through all the steps of mindfulness mediation:

Eight Minutes to Calm: A Free Guided Audio Meditation Delivered to Your Inbox Today!

Website Privacy Policy I Website Terms & Conditions I Website Disclaimer
This site is for informational purposes only. It isn’t intended to diagnose or treat any mental health problems and is not intended as psychological advice.
© 2020 Gina Davis, PsyD. All rights reserved.

The Courage to Have a “Good Enough” Holiday Season

Lots of people feel down or angst-ridden during the holiday season, and many will say that this malaise stems not from too much fruitcake consumption (surprisingly), but from our expectations – of ourselves, others, and the holidays themselves. The fact that society and the media constantly pump us full of unhealthy messages regarding how we should feel, behave or spend time during the holidays doesn’t help.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the damage caused by All or Nothing thinking, a type of cognitive distortion that involves seeing things in absolute (ex: perfect or horrible, success or failure, always or never) terms.

Since then, I’ve come to notice that there’s a lot of cultural all-or-nothing thinking involved in the holiday narrative as well:

You’re either the Merry Whos of Whoville, or The Grinch.

You’re either Nephew Fred, or Ebenezer Scrooge.

You’re either gallivanting through the snow-lined streets dressed like an elf, handing out candy canes and holiday cheer with reckless abandon, or sequestered in your damp, dark apartment cursing the world and crying into an emptied Chinese take-out box.

You either love the holidays, or you despise them.

If you are reading this and feeling the strain of all or nothing holiday expectations (self-imposed or otherwise), I challenge you to try something different this year:

I challenge you to take a “good enough” approach.

Psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott coined the concept of the “good enough (parent)” in 1953. Winnicott, through observation of thousands of mothers and their children/babies, recognized that a “good enough” parent, by failing to adapt to every need of their child, actually helps the child to adapt to the realities of their external environment.

A “good enough” parent will not, for example, try to be perfect themselves, and in turn not expect their child to be perfect. They are realistic – instead of projecting idealized fantasies onto themselves as parents or their child, they work to understand and respect their child for who they are. A “good enough” parent will provide an amount of help or support needed, but won’t overindulge the child, and they are mindful of the child’s experience of childhood instead of over-focusing on the child’s future as an adult.

The “good enough” approach benefits the child in allowing them to be seen for their true selves, develop skills for adaptation and survival, and hold realistic expectations for themselves, others and the world.

Winnicott’s “good enough” parent concept can, I believe, also be applied to other areas of life: The “good enough” partner, neighbor, employee, adult child, friend, sister. The “good enough” high school orchestra performance, project presentation, report card, slice of pizza, performance review, art project.

The “good enough” holidays?

So how can you adapt Winnicott’s “good enough” approach to let yourself off the unrealistic expectation hook this holiday season?

Don’t expect things to be perfect, or even try to make them so. I know for some of us recovering perfectionists, this will be a challenge, but it gets easier with practice and exposure. “Good enough” is the new name of the game, and it’s better than being perfect. Perfect is setting yourself up for failure, disappointment and, at the very least, exhaustion. “Good enough” is about being authentic, kind to yourself, attuned to your true needs, and practicing compassion.

Focus instead on what YOU want to get out of the holidays, and on what you can control. Instead aspiring to live out some Hallmark Channel fairy tale (no hate to Hallmark Channel movies, by the way), maybe what matters to you personally is getting to talk to a few friends and family members, relaxing with a favorite book or show, eating some yummy food, volunteering for a few hours, or making one person smile. Reflect on what will make your holiday feel meaningful and reject the notion that things need to look, be, or feel a specific way.

Practice mindfulness. I’ve written about mindfulness many times on this blog, and it keeps coming up because it’s an amazing tool that can be applied to any situation. Mindfulness is the practice of waking up to the present moment and allowing it to exist as it is with non-judgment and acceptance.

It is NOT about trying to fight with or change your feelings or thoughts.

Don’t try to turn off the urge to make your house look picture perfect for Kwanzaa – be mindful of and acknowledge this feeling, but choose not to act on it. Don’t attempt to shut down the longing you feel for your family to get along at Hanukkah, even though they never do – feel the feelings and acknowledge that it’s hard when things aren’t the way you hoped they would be. Don’t try to jolly yourself out of feeling lonely because you don’t have a romantic partner to share Christmas with – let yourself feel everything that comes up, with gentle self-compassion.

Click here to have a
FREE AUDIO MINDFULNESS MEDIATION
emailed to you today!

In the end, choosing to have a “good enough” holiday season takes courage. It requires you to go against the grain of all the societal messaging, the dysfunctional consumerism, the perfectionism, “shoulds” and noise to instead carve out your own path and create your own traditions, based on your values and needs. It may feel scary and unfamiliar to do this at first, but the result could be a memory you end up treasuring for many holiday seasons to come.

Happy “good enough” holidays!

If you are having a really hard time and/or having thoughts of hurting yourself, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. They are available to talk to you 24/7. Even during the holidays.

Works Cited:

Beat Back the Holiday Blues (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2013) https://www.nami.org/holidayblues

To Be Good Enough (Ratnapalan & Batty, 2009) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2654842/

The Good Enough Parent is the Best Parent (Gray, 2015) https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/201512/the-good-enough-parent-is-the-best-parent

When Relaxing Is the Hardest Task of All

Photo by Verne Ho on Unsplash

At the end of yoga class last week, as we were all transitioning to Savasana (also known as Corpse Pose, the part of class in which you lie down and allow yourself to rest and relax after a period of self-exertion) our teacher said to us:

“Savasana is one of the hardest exercises we do in this class.”

My immediate thought was: “Are you kidding me?” After an hour of pretzel poses and burning muscles, dripping sweat and digging deep down for strength I didn’t know if I had or not… lying down on my back, closing my eyes, and allowing myself to rest and breathe is one of the hardest exercises we do in this class?

Our teacher continued:

“Savasana is where we send a physical and chemical message to our bodies to repair. It’s where we set ourselves up for success in the real world, after we leave this room.”

Of course, I knew what she really meant, which is that getting yourself to relax…is a challenge. Especially if you live a lifestyle that is over-scheduled, over-booked, always go-go-go, have a nervous system that is chronically blown out, and no matter how much you do, it never feels like enough.

Savasana, like the mindfulness meditation I teach my clients, is a means of restoration, rest, and repair.

We all know that relaxation and restoration are integral to setting ourselves up for success in so many different ways, but I don’t think I’m alone when I say that sometimes I feel like I have forgotten how to relax, to rest, to just be. Even when I’m “resting” I’m fighting the constant urge to “do something productive.” Even when I’m “relaxing” my mind is racing with ideas, meetings, tasks, social media, imaginary conversations, problems, hopes and fears.

For many of us living in the busy world of 2019, we have to learn (and relearn) how give ourselves both physical and mental rests in order to continue on.

If this is you, and you feel ready to find another way of being in the world and with yourself, I want to share a free audio mindfulness mediation that you can use today to begin your personal restoration journey. It’s free, it’s eight minutes long, and if you can commit to practicing it at least three times this week (that’s less than half an hour), you will be on your way to showing up differently to your life.

PS: I made this meditation myself, and people have told me I have a “very soothing voice” 🙂

Click here to have your
FREE AUDIO MINDFULNESS MEDIATION
emailed to you today.

In sharing this meditation with you, my hope is that it helps guide you to a place and practice of repair, rest and recuperation – so you can set yourself up for success in all the ways that matter most to you.

Website Privacy Policy I Website Terms & Conditions I Website Disclaimer
This site is for informational purposes only. It isn’t intended to diagnose or treat any mental health problems and is not intended as psychological advice.
© 2020 Gina Davis, PsyD. All rights reserved.

The #1 Tool for Challenging All or Nothing Thinking

Photo by pawel szvmanski on Unsplash
With me it's all er nuthin'
Is it all er nuthin' with you?
It cain't be "in between"
It cain't be "now and then"
No half and half romance will do!

- Lyrics by Richard Rodgers, from the musical Oklahoma!

When I was in the sixth grade, my class staged a production of the musical Oklahoma!

It’s amazing the things that stick with you when you learn them at a young age. 23 years later, I still remember (basically) all the lyrics from the show. 

Which brings me to this week’s blog post on All or Nothing thinking, a type of cognitive distortion that you NEED to know about. There’s a song in Oklahoma! called All ‘er Nuthin’ (see above), which – of course – inspired the yee-haw theme of today’s post. So if you’re thirstin’ for all the knowledge, read on, cowgirl!

***

Are you a person who struggles with all or nothing thinking? (Also known as black or white thinking.)

All or nothing thinking is a type of cognitive distortion, occurring in our automatic thoughts. It involves seeing things in absolute terms. When engaging with all or nothing thinking, the words “always” and “never” are common.

Some Oklahoma!-esque examples:

“I’m always so awkward at these box socials, and everyone kin see it!”

“My partner and I gotta be in sync 100 percent of the time, otherwise, we ain’t meant to be gettin’ hitched!”

“Unless I get the finest Surrey With a Fringe on Top money can kin buy, Ado Annie ain’t never gonna be my wife.”

It’s not abnormal to experience all or nothing distortions in our thoughts. In fact, some of you reading this right now may be thinking:

“Yikes! I do this! Like, ALL (or nothing) the time!”

If this is you, fear not. If the light bulb just went off in your brain, if something just clicked, you’re in the right place.

I want to give you access to one of the most important, powerful tools for addressing all or nothing thinking there is. You might say this is Strategy #1. And that strategy, is (drum roll)…

MINDFULNESS

What is mindfulness? Contrary to what some have been led to believe, mindfulness is not about is not about “wiping out” negative thoughts, “clearing” or “emptying” your mind. Instead, mindfulness is about waking up to the present moment and allowing it to exist as it is with non-judgment and acceptance.

Want to know more about mindfulness? I wrote all about it here.

But right now, consider this: If you aren’t aware of your automatic thoughts, you cannot challenge them. Which is why the foundational mindfulness piece is oh-so important. Using this tool, you will begin to notice and identify all or nothing thinking as it arises in the wild west of your brain.

If you’re new to the mindfulness rodeo, starting with a guided audio mindfulness meditation is an ideal place for you to start.

Click here to get a
FREE AUDIO MINDFULNESS MEDIATION FOR ANXIOUS THOUGHTS
emailed to you.

I’ll be sharing a number of additional strategies for addressing cognitive distortions in the coming weeks (so hold your horses!), but right now, I want you to do THREE things for me:

1) click on the link above & enter your info

2) open your free audio mediation when it arrives in your inbox

3) commit to practicing it at least three times this week. If you can commit to doing it once a day, that’s even better.

Are you all signed up and ready to commit to the first steps of your amazing mindfulness journey? Comment below and tell me your mindfulness mediation goal this week. Let’s all cheer each other on.

Yeehaw!

Website Privacy Policy I Website Terms & Conditions I Website Disclaimer
This site is for informational purposes only. It isn’t intended to diagnose or treat any mental health problems and is not intended as psychological advice.
© 2020 Gina Davis, PsyD. All rights reserved.

Managing Performance Review Anxiety: Ten Guidelines for Women in Tech

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

2020 is less than a month away! With the end of the year (and decade) comes new chapters, new beginnings, as well as evaluations and reflections on the past six months (or “half” as they say in the tech world) at work.

Performance reviews are a special season unto themselves, and they can create quite a bit of discomfort, angst and panic for those forced to endure them.

Women in the male-dominated tech industry tend to feel additional pressure in these scenarios. Many women in tech I have worked with have expressed frustrations with how they have been reviewed, the specific areas of their performance that their supervisors and/or peers have chosen to critique, being passed over for raises or promotions, or receiving what they perceive to be irrelevant or unhelpful feedback. Some have felt that racism, sexism and unchecked privilege have bled into their performance reviews.

For these reasons, I have put together some guidelines designed specifically for women in tech to assist in managing and conquering the performance review process.

***

#1 Set a Clear Intention

It may be tempting to avoid thinking about your performance review and plan to just wing it, but it doesn’t take much time or energy to reflect on what you want to get out of this experience.

What are your hopes and the areas you want to focus on? Do you have something you want to communicate? Are you wanting to be awarded a promotion or a raise? Do you want feedback about a specific area in your role? Do you want to just focus on listening with an open mind? How, specifically, are you going to ask for what you want or act on your intention?

A few minutes of reflection and setting an intention for the review can help you feel more grounded, confident and prepared.

#2 Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

Knowledge is power and the unknown tends to create a lot of anticipation. If this, for instance, is your first review at a new company and you aren’t sure about the process, what the format of the meeting will actually look like, or if you need to prepare anything specific beforehand…just ask. It will make you look responsible and attentive. Plus, knowing what to expect can help to quell some of your anticipatory anxiety.

This tip also applies to the actual review. If you receive some generic or vague feedback that makes you scratch your head, remain gracious and composed and ask for clarification.

Example: “You mentioned you want to see me take more initiative. In what specific ways?” “You said that you want me to play a role in expanding the team. In your mind, what are some of the actionable steps I should be taking to bring that to fruition?”

#3 Protect Yourself Via Documentation

This step might not feel necessary for everyone, but we have a saying in the psych field: “If you didn’t record it, it didn’t happen.” If someone says something off-color, document it. If someone gives you feedback that doesn’t add up, even after following guideline #2, document it. In fact, if your gut is telling you that you need to document your entire performance review, do it.

Of course, always ask for and obtain permission beforehand (ideally via writing; perhaps over email) to take notes or audio record (review this guide for the latter) your meeting. You can simply say that you want to document the meeting so you don’t “miss any important information or feedback shared.” And if your request for documentation is denied, document that.

#4 Practice Concise But Informative Review-Writing

Tech workers have the added pressure of having to review (in many cases) their peers as well as themselves and their supervisors. For some, it’s basically like taking on a second job.

You may have a boss that just loves lengthy prose, in which case, if you feel inclined to write a novella in your performance reviews, go to town.

That said, we are living in 2019, and brevity is generally the preferred order of the day. People want their info quickly, clearly, and eloquently stated. So unless otherwise indicated, don’t feel you have to knock yourself out writing long, meticulous performance reviews. After all, you will be writing quite a few and your time is a limited resource. Come up with a few key points you’d like to communicate and figure out how to directly state your case in three to five sentences for each. Remember that a short, direct message (or “sound byte”) is more likely to be remembered than paragraphs upon paragraphs, anyway.

#5 Use Thought Records to Challenge Anxious or Overly-Negative Thoughts

Catastrophizing that your performance review will result in your getting fired on the spot, forcing you to move back home to Virginia and live with your parents for the rest of your life? Personalizing a comment a coworker made about how you’re not enough of a “go-getter”? All or nothing thinking making you feel like a total failure for getting a few pieces of constructive criticism?

Thought records can help you put these thoughts into perspective, before and after your review occurs. Check out my posts on how to use them here and here.

#6 Ramp Up Your Self-Care Practices

I know I sound like a broken record, but if your performance review anxiety is, say, making it hard to get enough sleep, causing you panic attacks, or just weighing you down emotionally more than you’d like, there isn’t any harm in increasing your self-care practices for a temporary period of time.

Exercise, mindfulness meditation, cutting down on caffeine or sugar, eating regular meals, spending extra time with your friends, partner, or pets, whatever it looks like…why not acknowledge that this is a challenging time and take extra good care of yourself? Come up with a daily self-care plan, put it on your calendar, and stick to it. You can plan extra self-care for the week leading up to the review as well as afterwards if you like.

#7 Plan & Practice Your Go-To Response

Even though I was a psych major, I took a lot of creative writing courses in college. Whenever it was time for the entire class to critique my stories, I’d get nervous. Everyone was always really nice and supportive, but, like performance reviews, getting feedback on your work is an inherently uncomfortable process. One thing that helped me was to plan and practice my go-to response ahead of time.

If you’re a Frasier fan (as I am, but that’s another blog post), you may remember the episode where Martin goes on Antiques Roadshow with a bear clock he inherited. He tells his sons, Frasier and Niles, that no matter what the antiques expert tells him about the clock, he plans to reply with: “That’s pretty much what I figured.”

You may find it helpful to come up with a go-to catchphrase of your own. Something agreeable and gracious that acknowledges what the person has said and conveys that you are going to respectfully reflect on the feedback they’ve offered. After all, there’s no rule that says you have to have a quick rebuttal to everything someone says on the spot. Taking time to reflect and absorb shows thoughtfulness and self-possession.

#8 Remember that a Lot of the Time, People Just Need to Write Something

Whether it’s writing a performance review or a college paper, we’ve all had the experience of needing to just figure out something to write and not always knowing what that looks like. Add to this the fact that performance reviews are engineered to elicit constructive criticism, and the truth is that sometimes you wind up with feedback that…doesn’t feel all that meaningful.

I’m not saying you should automatically disregard criticism if you disagree with it, but if you’re getting feedback that seems totally out of left field and the person giving it isn’t even all that familiar with you or your work, consider the possibility that…they just had to write something.

Use guideline #2 to gain as much clarity as you can, be honest with yourself, and try not to over-personalize feedback that may not be all that personal.

#9 Discuss Your Anxieties With a Supportive Person

It helps to have a friend, family member, mentor, partner, therapist or other support person you can talk to about your upcoming performance review anxiety. Choose someone who is non-judgemental, empathetic and encouraging, someone you feel safe being emotionally vulnerable with. Let them know that your upcoming review is causing you anxiety and why. Sometimes, just sharing your feelings with someone else can be comforting and remind you that you aren’t alone. If setting up a post-review debrief with them will help you feel more secure, you can ask to schedule a check-in with them. Be sure to return the favor, let them know how much you appreciate their support and always be considerate of their time.

#10 Trust Yourself to Handle Whatever Happens

Remember that whatever happens in your performance review, you will be okay. Things might not go the way you planned or wanted them to. You might not get the promotion you feel you deserved. You may feel unfairly judged or critiqued. Or, you may come out of your review feeling relieved and flattered.

You are a strong person, and you will handle whatever happens, when it happens. Take a wait and see approach and remind yourself that you have responded to difficult or challenging situations in the past, and you are fully capable of doing this now.

***

In many ways, the performance review is an exercise in rolling with the punches, and learning how to handle and respond to whatever feedback comes your way while maintaining composure and a can-do attitude. It reminds me of this quote by mindfulness guru Jon Kabat-Zinn:

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

What are your strategies for managing performance reviews? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Website Privacy Policy I Website Terms & Conditions I Website Disclaimer
This site is for informational purposes only. It isn’t intended to diagnose or treat any mental health problems and is not intended as psychological advice.
© 2020 Gina Davis, PsyD. All rights reserved.