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Sure, venting feels good in the moment! To unpack, debrief, and share how something sucked. I remember I used to vent a lot at my old job, to my coworker!

But sometimes, venting can actually backfire

It can make people not want to be around you- if you’re known as a complainer, or a downer.

Why might you be venting all the time? Is it something to do with how you focus on your world and what happens in it?

When you’re complaining or venting, are you falling into these styles of Distorted thinking?

1. Filtering– Taking negative details and magnifying them while filtering out all positive aspects. Some people have specific filters like safety, or loss or injustice. They view and evaluate everything through that lens. (I definitely do this with income inequality! That’s what I filter everything through!)

2. Polarized thinking– Things are black and white. You have to be perfect or you’re a failure. There’s no middle ground. No gray area. You’re either right or wrong. This is particularly important in how people judge themselves or others. (I’ve fallen into this trap too. Trying to be perfect! Beating myself up when I fail.)

3. Overgeneralization– If something bad happens once, you expect it to happen over and over again. (I worked with an ED like this once, she said, “We tried events, they didn’t work, so we are NEVER doing them again!” Maybe they would work with a different team! You never know.)

4. Mind Reading – Without people saying so, you know how they are feeling and why they act the way they do. You think your assumptions about what others are thinking are true. (If you’ve been trained from a young age to be aware of peoples expressions instead of their voiced needs, you’ll find yourself doing this a lot! Being afraid people will be mad at you and not tell you. )

5. Catastrophizing– You expect disaster. You notice or hear about a problem and start thinking about what ifs, what if tragedy strikes? You immediately assume the worst possible outcome. (Ever been driving in the car and just assumed some accident is going to happen? No? that’s just me then? Ok. )

6. Personalization– You think that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you. You compare yourself to others, trying to determine who’s smarter or better looking. You tend to relate everything around you to yourself. (WHEW this is a tough one! When someone does something, and you just assume it’s BECAUSE OF YOU! Most of the time, most people are not even thinking about you! Just… assume that, ok?)

7. Control Fallacy– You feel externally controlled, you feel like a totally helpless victim of fate. OR you feel excessively responsible, everything depends on you, and if things do not go well, it’s all your fault. (This comes from the pattern of codependence, where you were rigidly controlled at home, and then you take that control out into the world and try to control events. Trust me, this doesn’t work out! You really have so little control!)

8. Fallacy of Fairness– You feel resentful because you think you know what’s fair but then you see people getting away with murder. Fairness is a HIGH standard! You think everything should be fair, even though most of the time life is not particularly fair. So you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. When things don’t go well, you say “That’s not fair. It shouldn’t be that way.” (I feel like we at nonprofits fall into this a fair bit. We want the world to be more fair, that’s why we started working at nonprofits. But then we saw that nonprofits can be just as unfair as the outside world. Where’s the justice in that? we yell! Ok, I yell. It was me. I did it. )

If you ARE falling into one of these 8 types of distorted thinking, how can you get out of it?

Don’t just tell yourself, “STOP venting!” that doesn’t work! Instead, let’s change the PROCESS around your thinking.

Try the 6 thinking hats exercise. One by one, you wear 6 different hats- either symbolically, or literally.

The BLACK HAT, where you are now, is the hat that thinks nothing is ever going to work out. Let yourself get in there, and name all the reasons why it’s not going to work. If you’re alone, just write it out.

If it’s highly emotionally charged, THEN try the RED hat, where you feel your feelings about the particular event or situation.

Once you’re done with the red hat, you might like the GREEN hat, as you think of all of the possibilities of what could happen in this situation.

NEXT try the YELLOW hat, where you think of some of the potential learning opportunities and potential positive outcomes from this situation, person, or event. 

THEN try the Blue hat, where you logically look at the situation from all angles. What are the simple facts? Is there something that is being overemphasized?

Finally, try the White hat, as you look over your process and your notes and see if one hat was harder than the other.  Which hat do you normally fall in? How can you try more hats next time?

What do you think of this process? Have you ever tried the thinking hats? What did you get out of it?