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Reframing Shame & Embracing Mistakes

Reframing Shame & Embracing Mistakes

Imposter syndrome is rampant among tech workers and there are so many ways that we put ourselves down and minimize our own accomplishments without even realizing it - and shame is a powerful and dangerous emotion. But everyone makes mistakes and in fact, making mistakes and learning from them makes us smarter! The tenets of cognitive behavioral therapy suggest that these kinds of harmful thought patterns are automatic, ingrained in us from years of practice. This talk will help you identify some of those thought patterns so you can challenge them and reframe them in healthier ways!

(As given on 11/10/21 at RubyConf Denver)


Jameson Hampton

November 12, 2021


  1. Reframing Shame & Embracing Mistakes Jameson Hampton @jameybash (they/them)

  2. Raise your hand... if you have ever introduced a bug

    into production or caused a production incident Rubyconf 2021 / / @jameybash
  3. Shame is a powerful emotion Rubyconf 2021 / / @jameybash

  4. Now raise your hand... if you lied just now about

    if you’ve ever caused an incident (or if you thought about lying) Rubyconf 2021 / / @jameybash
  5. “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” —Oscar

    Wilde Learning from Mistakes • Trial and error is how we learn a lot of things, starting in childhood! • Mistakes? Everyone makes them! • Wisdom = knowledge + understanding + experience Rubyconf 2021 / / @jameybash
  6. Case Study: GitLab Outage, Jan 31 2017 • ~18 hours

    of downtime • ~300GB of unrecoverable lost production data • caused by an error made by a developer (“team-member-1”) who accidentally removed the database directory of the primary database instead of the secondary • “At GitLab we think that the people making the most mistakes frequently correlate with the people doing the most work.” Blamelessness 🎉 team-member-1 was promoted!! 🎉
  7. Talking about Mistakes It can be hard to admit when

    we’ve made a mistake! But again: everyone makes them. • Normalizes other people making mistakes (and admitting to them) • Makes you a good teammate • Inspires confidence in your work Rubyconf 2021 / / @jameybash
  8. Case Study: GitLab Outage, Jan 31 2017 Transparency (interview with

    GitLab’s Pablo Carranza, Software Engineering Daily)
  9. Combating Shame with Humor

  10. Combating Shame with Humor

  11. Basics of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) Automatic Thoughts Cognitive Distortions

    Feedback Loops Cognitive Reframing Rubyconf 2021 / / @jameybash
  12. Automatic Thoughts • Our brains are so practiced at interpreting

    the world around us that they can form really complex thoughts automatically. • Sometimes this is good and really efficient! ◦ If you see a car coming, you don’t have to take some time to deliberate - your brain knows that you should hop out of the way! • Other times, forming thoughts without reflection or deliberate reasoning can be deeply unhelpful! ◦ Intrusive thoughts ◦ Cognitive distortions ◦ Have you ever jumped to a conclusion when meeting someone new, and then felt bad about it later? Most of the thoughts we have just kind of happen to us without really thinking about them! Rubyconf 2021 / / @jameybash
  13. Feedback Loops • ...which means negative feelings are prone to

    breed MORE negative feelings! • Secondary anxiety: having anxiety about the fact that I’m feeling anxious ◦ causes panic attacks!! • Bad feelings, especially anxiety, also cause physical reactions in our bodies ◦ increase in heart rate ◦ shortness of breath or hyperventilation ◦ tense muscles ◦ stomach ache ◦ feel very hot • ...and this further reinforces negative feedback loops, because feeling bad in your body also triggers more negative emotions Having thoughts about your emotions leads to MORE emotional reactions Rubyconf 2021 / / @jameybash
  14. Cognitive Distortions • “I suspect you will find that a

    great many of your negative feelings are in fact based on such thinking errors.” — David Burns • The more you practice these thought patterns, the more entrenched they become in the way you think • The CBT technique for stopping cognitive distortions is called “cognitive reframing” • The more you practice cognitive reframing, the more automatic it becomes Describes the chain reaction of events that can cause automatic thoughts Rubyconf 2021 / / @jameybash
  15. Cognitive Reframing 1. Notice your cognitive distortions 1.1. This requires

    practice! 2. Evaluate the evidence 2.1. Try writing it down in a list 3. Practice compassion 3.1. Treat yourself as kindly as you’d treat your friends Okay Jamey, but how do I actually practice this? Rubyconf 2021 / / @jameybash
  16. Feelings Wheel Hacking Your Emotional API John Sawers emotionalapi.com

  17. Cognitive Distortions / Harmful Thought Patterns • all or nothing

    thinking • catastrophizing • fortune telling • labeling • magnifying the negative • minimizing the positive • mind reading • overgeneralization • self-blaming Rubyconf 2021 / / @jameybash
  18. All or Nothing Thinking Making the assumption that there are

    only two possibilities in a given situation; this removes any potential middle ground or room for mistakes Try reframing! I made a mistake today and my performance review is next week. There’s no way I’ll get a good review now. “Making a mistake is frustrating, and the timing on this one was particularly frustrating, but I just have to keep doing my best. It’s unlikely that a single badly timed mistake will ruin my whole performance review.” Rubyconf 2021 / / @jameybash
  19. Catastrophizing Extrapolating horrible outcomes from a small or insignificant event;

    assuming the worst case scenario will come to pass Try reframing! I caused an incident today… I’m going to get fired and then I’ll never be able to find another job. “I wouldn’t expect to get fired over a single incident, but even if I did, I found this job and I would find another opportunity.” Rubyconf 2021 / / @jameybash
  20. Fortune Telling Making dramatic, non-evidence-based predictions about what will happen

    in the future Try reframing! Last time I did a deploy, it brought the whole site down. I’m sure it’s going to happen again today. “I messed up last time, but I learned a lot from it. I’m better prepared to not mess up again. I should just take it one step at a time.” Rubyconf 2021 / / @jameybash
  21. Labeling An overgeneralization that creates a negative judgement about an

    entire person based on a small amount of evidence Try reframing! I overlooked a really obvious bug today… I’m a terrible programmer. “I made a mistake today and missed a bug that felt obvious. I’m feeling pretty embarrassed. But now I’ll know to look out for stuff like that next time.” Rubyconf 2021 / / @jameybash
  22. Magnifying the Negative Fixating ones thoughts on only the negative

    aspects of a situation; allows our negative feelings to become exaggerated in importance Try reframing! Jess found two typos in my code when she reviewed it. It must seem like I wasn’t even paying attention. “The rest of my code was good, and typos aren’t a very serious mistake. Jess caught them, so it wasn’t a big deal.” Rubyconf 2021 / / @jameybash
  23. Minimizing the Positive The counterpart to magnifying the negative; ignoring

    the value or importance of the positive parts of a situation Try reframing! My manager complimented me on fixing that bug, but anyone could have done it. She was probably just trying to be nice. “I did good today. My contributions are valuable to the team, and my manager wants me to be aware of that.” Rubyconf 2021 / / @jameybash
  24. None
  25. Mind Reading Reading too far into what others may be

    thinking; assuming you are right about their thoughts even though you don’t know what factors are influencing their thoughts and feelings Try reframing! David left so many comments on my PR. He must think I’m so stupid. “I feel self-conscious about the fact that David had so many suggestions for my PR, but he’s only trying to help me improve. He has complimented me on my work before. I’m sure he doesn’t think I’m stupid.” Rubyconf 2021 / / @jameybash
  26. Overgeneralization Drawing broad conclusions based on little evidence; assuming that

    one bad experiences means all similar experiences will always be bad; categorized by words like “always”, “never” etc…. Try reframing! Oh no! I got asked to give a demo. That NEVER goes well, I ALWAYS mess it up. “I get nervous doing demos and so I’ve struggled with them in the past, but this time I have a chance to make sure I’m prepared.” Rubyconf 2021 / / @jameybash
  27. Self-Blaming Believing that you are solely responsible for a negative

    situation, even when there are factors outside your control Try reframing! A bug I introduced caused our entire app to crash. It’s all my fault. “Even though I wrote the code that introduced this bug, my coworkers also tested and approved it without catching it. This isn’t all on me. We succeed or fail as a team.” Rubyconf 2021 / / @jameybash
  28. I’m proud of you 💚 (and all your mistakes) Rubyconf

    2021 / / @jameybash
  29. CREDITS: This presentation template was created by Slidesgo, including icons

    by Flaticon, and infographics & images by Freepik. jameybash.com jameybash@gmail.com twitter.com/jameybash Thanks for listening!