Interrupting Impulsive Urges
Are you the type of person who – when you have a sudden urge to do something – acts on it immediately? Do you tend to do things without giving much thought to how it might impact you or others? Has something bad or unfortunate happened as a result? If so, then impulsivity may be your personal trademark…and liability.
In some cases, people act without thinking because they are wired that way biologically. In other cases, environmental factors play in role in that parents or caretakers may not have established rules, set limits or enforced consequences with their children. These are essential building blocks that help kids learn self-control. Whatever the case, there are certain things that can be done to help.
The main idea is to interrupt your typical impulsive pattern. Two simple (but not necessarily easy to implement) strategies are to count to 10 or wait two minutes before you act on an urge to do something. Obviously, this takes practice, but even more so taking a good look at yourself – in particular – when is it that you’re most likely to act on impulse? What makes it so attractive to give in to that particular impulse?
It might be helpful to think of it this way. Think of those urges as ocean waves – you know – the waves that surfers surf on. Basically, your goal is to “ride the impulse wave,” but not be taken over by it or crash into the water. Your mantra could be “ride it out until it dies out.”
Other people use an approach in which they train themselves to be self-observers – to pay close attention to their thoughts, feelings and behaviors – and keep themselves separate from the feelings (or urges) as they occur. It’s kind of like playing the role of a sports commentator who is giving a blow-by-blow account of what they are watching – as the observer – on a football or baseball field. “OK. Now I notice myself thinking about how badly I want to say something, but I don’t want to appear rude by interrupting the person. Boy, that urge is getting stronger! This would be a good time for [insert your name] to ride this one out.” Once again, by automatically giving a “play-by-play” description of what’s happening within yourself as it’s happening – including impulsive urges – you are interrupting the pattern so it’s less likely to happen.
So what are you waiting for? Do these ideas sound doable? Why or why not? Where do you see the flaw and how might you “tweak” the strategy to make it work for you?
Christopher J. Quarto, Ph.D., PLLC
Licensed psychologist (HSP)