Impulsiveness is when you do something without any forethought, reflection, or consideration of the consequences. It can be unnecessarily risky and associated with undesirable, rather than desirable, outcomes. Examples of impulsive behavior are excessive spending, substance use, sex, fighting with others, and self-harm.
Emotional states are often the catalyst for impulsive behavior. For example, have you ever said something to someone that you regretted because you were in a bad mood? In that moment you were probably not considering how what you said may impact the other person or how it would impact you once you realized how it impacted the other person. If this is something you struggle with, the following are some steps you can learn to get your impulses under control.
Step 1: Understand how your impulsiveness functions
Everyone’s impulsive behavior is different, which is why it is important for you to understand how your impulsive behavior manifests. You need to uncover the early warning signs, identify the emotions that trigger your impulsive urges, and learn to identify the thoughts and feelings as they are happening in the moment.
Focus on the thoughts, emotions, urges, and physiological sensations you are experiencing in your body and explore that. Name it in your mind. For instance, “I am noticing a hot sensation across my body, here is the anger that makes me want to criticize my partner” or “I am noticing my heart racing, here is the anxiety that makes me want to drink alcohol.” Writing in a journal and talking it through with a therapist is a great way to gain awareness into this process. Its not easy at first and you may not notice your impulsiveness until after you are impulsive. It’s an ongoing practice.
Step 2: Interrupt the Impulse
Sometimes you can setup conditions that make acting on the impulse harder or you can condition yourself to follow certain steps before you allow your self to act. The following are some examples of impulse interruption:
- If you notice your body is getting hot and that you are feeling angry, you can step away from the situation and write down your thoughts and feelings before you choose to return to the situation and respond.
- If you struggle with alcohol abuse, you can get rid of all the alcohol in your place of residence so that it is not readily available.
- If you struggle with spending impulsively, you can force yourself to wait 48 hours before you make any purchases and run your thoughts about the purchase by a loved one who has better spending habits than you.
Once you understand how your impulsiveness functions and you implement your impulse interrupters, its time to challenge your negative thoughts and take action. For example, let’s say you notice you are feeling anxious and have you the urge to drink alcohol to self-medicate your anxiety. You labeled the thoughts in your mind by saying, “I am noticing my heart racing, here is the anxiety that makes me want to drink alcohol.” You removed the alcohol from your place of residence, but now you are noticing that you are motivated to go out and buy more. You notice a negative inner dialogue about being a failure and how nothing matters so you should just drink.
It’s time to challenge those negative thoughts by saying, “I am not a failure. Things matter. This anxiety will pass. I am going to tolerate this feeling until it passes. Alcohol will make things worse in the long run, remember the negative consequences it has caused in the past. Temporary relief will be followed by an increase in future suffering.” After you challenge your negative thoughts, its time to take action. Go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Call a friend. Engage in physical exercise. Eat something healthy. Drink a relaxing tea. Take a hot shower or bath. Get creative.