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How to Turn a Rant Into a Productivity Power Tool

Ranting doesn’t have to be a waste of breathe and time. You can turn a rant into a powerful tool for productivity. Learn how to transform your sense of victim hood and irritability to self-empowerment and mental clarity.

By decoding the emotional mess behind a rant, you can find out what changes need to be made in your life to save yourself heartache and time. But you have to brew in the icky feelings first before you can understand what caused them — and then do something productive about it.

The rewards of a heartfelt rant don’t come easy. You have to put in the work, sweat, and maybe tears and refine your art of rant. You have to be willing to lose control before you can create order from emotional chaos.

Here are seven crucial steps for turning a rant into a productivity power tool:

1. Give Yourself Permission to Rant

Society has a hard time stomaching anger. The slightest drop in the bloodstream is sign that you’re savage. But anger is merely a signal that was biologically hardwired over centuries of evolution. It’s there to alert you of danger — things in your environment (or even from yourself) that prevent you from successfully attaining your goals in life. Now that threat may be real or perceived, but that’s beside the point. When your body goes into alert mode — it’s your job to pay attention and do something about it.

To give yourself permission to rant, you have to see anger for what it really is: a signal of threat. Once you realize that anger is just a signal you need to pay attention to, you don’t have to feel guilty, dangerous, or immature for getting the urge to rant.

Ranting gives a voice to upset, irritation, frustration, and anger. Ranting helps you connect with that signal of threat. Give yourself permission to rant all out, until you know what that signal is.

You can say to yourself, “Man, I’m really fired up right now. I’m going to take this time to get this rant out of my system. Because it’s important that I pay attention to what’s going on, so I can make sure I’m not ignoring something dangerous to my health, productivity, or success.”

2. Pick a Time and Place

Once you give yourself permission to rant, you need to figure out when, where, and how you’re going to do it.

When: The best time to rant is as soon as you start to feel upset about the trigger. When circumstances don’t allow, you can reschedule to later. Later is fine, but too late can give you time to cool off and think about things from different perspective. Which makes it harder to get in touch with your original feelings.

It’s not a good idea to go to sleep before a rant, because that will calm your nervous system and make everything appear to be okay for a while. Appearances deceive; if everything was A-OKAY then you wouldn’t have had the urge to rant in the first place.

It’s also not a good idea to eat a big meal before a rant, because digestion zaps your energy and ability to get all riled up. Avoid mood-altering substances period, as they’re neither helpful nor healthy.

Where: Ranting needs to be done in a place where you feel comfortable enough to be completely honest about how irked you feel. Your rant needs to be in raw form for you to shape anything meaningful from it. If it’s fake, it’s just a waste of time. If it’s forced, it’s not useful. If you’re trying to be logical, coherent, presentable, or politically correct — you’ll cut your rant short with sugar-coating and unnecessary defensiveness.

Ranting is all about you and your completely biased viewpoint — so only rant in a space where it can be all about you. That usually means in private.

In Good Company or in Private? It’s okay to rant in the presence of a good friend or someone else you trust — but only if they can respect your rant and not to interrupt or influence what you really have to say.

It’s also okay to rant in a public space as long as no one is harmed in the process, like on your personal blog. Keep in mind, online anonymity has its merits — for things like job security, maintaining friendships, or building your personal brand. Also keep in mind that people who rant in public usually try to please an audience or entertain instead of really get to the core of their feelings. That’s not ranting in raw form, but domesticated rant. And it falls short because it’s diluted.

3. Set Some Ground Rules

After you’ve figured out when, where, and within whose company you’re going to rant, you need to stick to the plan. It’s important that you are the one steering the rant, and it’s not driving you by the horns. In order to turn a rant into a productivity power tool — you need to use the rant as a springboard to finding constructive responses to clear problems in your life.

To accomplish this, you have to rant on your terms, and not just spew for the sake of it. Your aim is controlled recklessness, not just recklessness. That requires ground rules.

The first ground rule that you should have for any rant is:

“I agree not to harm anyone (including me) physically, emotionally, or psychologically, in the process of my personal rant.”

This is where having an audience can get tricky, and drawing the lines gets tough. Again, it’s safest to rant in private.

A second important ground rule you need to have is:

“The purpose of my rant is to be brutally honest about how I feel in regards to Billy/the weather/Aunt Jane/my car. In order to get clear on how to ultimately improve my relationship with Billy/the weather/Aunt Jane/my car. Or to walk away from the unhealthy relationship.”

Your short term goal is to rant about Billy/the weather/Aunt Jane/your car. But your long term goal is to figure out how to go about your business with them in the most productive way. When you set this ground rule going into the rant, you have more room to really let loose in the short-term to be as productive as you can in the long-term. The short-term is all about identifying problems. The long-term is all about finding solutions.

A third ground rule you need to have is:

“I won’t act on any rash decisions. Instead, I’ll wait until I’m completely done ranting, have transitioned back to normal-mode, and have ideally waited for at least 24 hours before taking any action.”

This also gives you freedom say things that you won’t really act on or plan things that you won’t really do. The point is that if you feel like acting on certain things or doing certain things — you need to acknowledge that. Which is a separate issue entirely from actually following through. And this ties into Step 7.

Are there any other helpful ground rules you can think of?

4. Rant Your Heart Out

Even if you give yourself permission to rant, pick a time and place, and show up — ranting can still be a challenge. First of all, it’s not comfortable losing control or feeling helpless. It’s no fun to admit that you’re upset in the first place. And it’s certainly no party acknowledging how rude your coworker was to you yesterday or how inconsiderate your next door neighbor is of your cat.

Here are some tips for ranting your heart out:

Cut to the chase: Don’t worry about explaining yourself, or building up to what you really want to say with a story first. Just say it. Say it loud. Say it clear. Exactly how you want to say it. Is your best friend a big meanie because he ditched you for a girl? Then start there with “Bigger-Than-Big Meanie.”

Don’t make excuses: So your pal fell head over heels for this girl? And it still hurts? Stay with the hurt, don’t make excuses. Glossing over his actions and looking for excuses won’t do you any good. It will distract you from getting in touch with the problem — that your best friend is not spending time with you anymore. And if you’re distracted from the problem, productivity goes out the window. Because you’ll either hold a grudge and grow resentful over time, resort to passive aggressiveness, overtly seek revenge, have trouble focusing on your work, end the relationship in an abrupt, unfair, and painful way, or slowly let it eat away at your self-confidence.

Suspend reason: Reason has no place in a rant. Period. Reason is for speaking calmly over a business meeting, or drafting up a contract with your landlord. Ranting is for getting in touch with how you really feel about something that’s rubbing you the wrong way. Ranting is for focusing entirely on you — so you can get clear on what needs to be done to better focus on your health, productivity and success.

Jump the gun: Does it feel like your best friend is going to come around anytime soon? Or does it feel like the more he courts his new lady friend, the more he’ll ignore you? Until you’re just a speck of dust on his radar? Well, if it feels that way, voice it. Get it all out of your system. Project the worst possible scenario. It could very well happen. It’s important for you to look at. Because that’s just evolution working for you. Anger was designed to alert you of danger, both present and future. It’s dangerous to your psychological health to associate with a best friend who treats you like a speck of dust. So jump the gun, and listen.

Forget your manners: Okay, “Biggest-of-Big Meanies” is a little weak. If it’s too weak for your rant, replace it with a stronger descriptor. That may mean saying goodbye to political correctness or respect or understanding — or whatever else comes with being a best friend. Ranting is not about political correctness or respect or understanding. It’s about zoning into to what’s absolutely bothering you and fleshing that out through the words that voice the raw feelings. That may mean recruiting a whole list of not-nice words.

Be uncensored: The best way to kill a rant is to censor it. And then you’re left with unexpressed feelings and a problem that goes unaddressed. So keep it uncensored. And that means saying naughty words if it feels natural. Did you know that swearing can actually be useful to your mental and physical health? A 2009 study showed that people who said their swear word of choice were better able to tolerate pain in a controlled experimental set-up than those who didn’t. Swearing helps you cope with pain (which anger also signals to) because it gives it a voice.

Center on yourself: Ranting is all about you. How you were wronged. How you’ve been slighted. The respect you deserve. Your efforts that go unacknowledged. Keep the rant all about you — you’re the center of attention. Don’t try to psychoanalyze why Billy hates your cat — just stick with how it makes you feel. Or, if psychoanalyzing why Billy hates your cat makes you feel better, go ahead. The point is to only rant about what ultimately makes you feel heard. Even if you’re ranting alone in your room, you’re still being heard. You’re bringing a problem to your conscious awareness so you can then deal with it productively.

6. Decode Your Rant

After you’ve finished ranting, take as much time as you need to transition back to normal life. Get a drink of water. Take a cold shower. Go for a walk. Fix some dinner for you and your cat.

But after you’ve had a nice break, you need to recall that second ground rule:

“The purpose of my rant is to be brutally honest about how I feel in regards to Billy/the weather/Aunt Jane/my car. In order to get clear on how to ultimately improve my relationship with Billy/the weather/Aunt Jane/my car. Or to walk away from the unhealthy relationship.”

That ground rule keeps you accountable — responsible — for turning your rant into something productive.

In order to make your rant useful, you need to decode it. Figure out how you can translate raw feelings into actionable steps — that save you heartache and time, as well as other personal resources.

Here are some suggestions for decoding your rant:

Look for the boundary violation:

Things don’t tick you off for no reason. You usually get ticked off when someone or something violated your personal boundaries. Personal boundaries are imaginary limits that you make up in order to protect your health and sanity. These limits prevent you from expending your time or other personal resources beyond the critical point. Because when you do expend your time or other resources beyond the critical point — you end up being stressed out, unproductive, and eventually in poor health.

You might have a boundary for the latest time during the day that you’ll answer a text. Let’s say you go to bed at 10pm each night, and need at least one hour to unwind before bed. On a normal night, you stop all email, chatting, and texting at 9pm. You go to bed an hour later and wake up the next morning feeling recharged and refreshed.

Now let’s say that one night you forget to turn off your iPhone. You get a text from your friend at 9:15pm. You go ahead and text back, thinking it will be quick. But he texts you again and twenty messages later, you see that instead of asking you a harmless question (which he did with that first innocent text), your friend really wanted to talk about his messy breakup with the once girl of his dreams.

At this point, it’s 9:45, and you’re getting really antsy. Instead of being all ready for bed, you’re remembering that your friend did, after all, dump you for this girl. And now that she’s gone, he’s crawling back to you?

The point is, you’re likely upset for a lot of different reasons. One of them being that you’re not going to get to bed at your usual time. And you’re not going to wake up in the morning feeling recharged and refreshed. Because ultimately, you violated your own boundary (of not texting after 9m).

Be honest about whether you allowed that violation:

In the example above, you’re the one responsible for the boundary violation. Much of the time, boundary violations do involve your action, or at least your consent. So it’s good practice to note whether you have a role in the ordeal.

Locate the personal resource that you need to protect:

Boundaries are put in place to ultimately guard your personal resources. When you effectively manage your personal resources, productivity is the natural by-product.

The three most popular topics to rant about are lost money, wasted time, and wrecked relationships. Each of these is a vital personal resource in your life. Money and time are important for obvious reasons having to do with your survival and mental health. Relationships are important because it’s through them that you get many of your needs met, such as moral support, good company, affection, and having someone to turn to when things get rough. Other resources include energy, attention, empathy, and creativity.

Any time you rant, it’s about some personal resource that you’ve lost or are in danger of losing — or some personal resource that you’re in danger of losing. And if it’s not directly a personal resource, it can be viewed as one or it gives you access to another personal resource. Figure out what that resource is, and then follow the next suggestion.

Recover and/or protect your personal resources when possible:

After you know what resources are in jeopardy, it’s time to take action. Confront the sleazy online business to get your guaranteed refund. Carve out some vacation time to make up for all the overtime. Call up your friend since second grade, and see if you can work things out.

Doing so means managing your resources more effectively. This is the core of productivity.

Clue in on shady characters:

And then there are times when you can’t recover lost or damaged resources. And you have to cut your losses and move one. While you do, make sure to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Avoid shady characters, or shady situations, that will likely only drain more of your valuable resources. Whoever you cussed out in your rant is a good candidate for a shady character. Again, your rant will give you clues about who to look out for, and who you can’t trust.

Set a contingency plan that protects your boundaries and your personal resources:

This is where everything comes together. Get it down on paper what you’ve learned from your rant.

Write down how you’ll modify your behavior — in order to cut your losses and minimize more losses in the future. Doing so not only saves you time and other valuable personal resources. It also saves you heartbreak because you’re no longer the victim. Instead, you’re taking control of your life and you’re much more aware of what’s going on.

7. Plan a Productive Course of Action

Photo by Jon Whiles

The whole point of ranting your heart out is to help you move forward. And help you figure out what you can afford to leave behind.

You can turn a rant into a productivity power tool when you pay attention to your personal boundaries that are put in place to protect your personal resources. Such as time, money, energy, and attention.

Ranting is just anger bubbling to the surface. Anger is just a signal of some past violation or future threat (real or perceived) to your personal resources. When you rant full force and listen to the signals, you keep your personal resources well-guarded, save yourself a lot of trouble, and can figure out the best way to move forward as productively as you can.

Melissa Karnaze is an experimental psychology masters student. She's interested in how we can use technology with greater mindfulness, writes about emotional productivity at Mindful Construct, and loves how the web is changing the world.

  • Published 07/21/10

Comments (3)

  1. traffikator

    Awesome! Awesome is all i can say. I have been trying to say these exact words to myself and my partner and each time it results in a verbal and emotional fight. I am trying to save a relationship which I feel is draining the life out of us. Now it just got further complicated. Thanks for this article. I really think we are onto something here. I have had this thought and suggestion for many years now. Only have not had the place and time to express it. I will like use this in the future.

  2. tim

    ..keen, logical, and procedural insight…

  3. Melissa Karnaze

    @traffikator, it’s common for people to not want to hear something that makes them feel threatened or uncomfortable. The idea of ranting your heart out scares a lot of people.

    I’ve found that instead of trying to convince others to do it because it’s healthy, at least two things get through to them better —

    (1) Being a role model, showing that when you rant for the sake of being more productive and responsive to life, it doesn’t have to be messy or damaging.

    (2) Being there for them when they start to rant or get upset; sometimes people just need another person to give them permission, and they take the rest from there. And the more you can sort through your own ranting, the more you can support someone else through theirs.

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