How To Stop Being Impulsive

This is is part of my live-learning series! I will be updating this post as I continue through my journey. I apologize for any grammatical errors or incoherent thoughts. This is a practice to help me share things that are valuable without falling apart from the pressure of perfection. 

Why I’m Writing This

I’ve always been impulsive. Deciding I wanted to do this was impulsive.

I’ve often just had inspiration or a thought and ran with it. Sometimes that has taken me to good places. Many times it has taken me to bad ones.

I have a few theories around this based off some initial research.

Childhood Trauma

We all have trauma. It’s hard to gauge how bad yours is. But, I know there were some difficult moments in my childhood that did not give me the most positive perspectives on relationships and the world.

There seems to be a pretty direct link between childhood trauma and impulsivity. I’m sharing resources below and will come back to reference better here in the future.

Concussions

I had at least one major concussion during hockey that actually consisted of two hits. I couldn’t remember what year I was in or who my girlfriend was. 

Being young and reckless already, I did not rest and heal the way I should have. I partied and stayed out late and did all the things a dumb hockey player from a rural area living in a bigger city for University would do. 

Bi-Polar Disorder

I have had major swings in my mood for several years now. I’m often ashamed and scared to admit this. One of the biggest reasons is the connection to psychotic breaks and psychedelics. I love psychedelics and they have so much healing potential so I sometimes block that connection out. For almost every clinical trial, you would not be able to participate if you had any of the symptoms or diagnoses I have.

2020

Every year you grow a bit. But, I still had my fair share of impulsive moments in 2020. I always love this time of the year for self-reflection. This year, I had a few impressive late entries to the impulsive list that were more significant and harmful than other recent memories.

Considering all of this, I wanted to take some time to try and understand impulsivity better so I can work to improve my decision making and hopefully help some others like you along the way. 

Resources

Impulsive Behavior: When Is It an Issue?
Impulsivity: Definition, Symptoms, Traits, Causes, Treatment
How Do I Stop Being Impulsive? Strategies for Adults with ADD
Impulsivity – When You Just Can’t Stop Yourself And It’s Ruining Everything – Harley Therapy™ Blog
Why Are Impulsive Behaviors So Hard to Control? | Talkspace
Why Are You So Impulsive? | Psychology Today Canada
5 Reasons We Act Impulsively | Psychology Today Canada
Impulsive Behavior: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
Impulsivity: Cause and Symptom of Anxiety

First Notes

What is impulsivity?

In psychology, impulsivity refers to a personality trait that leaves you prone to acting on your impulses over thinking things through and considering the consequences.

This means you have a tendency to make rash decisions, say things you wish you hadn’t, and indulge in risky behaviours.

Risk Factors For Impulsive Behaviour

– genetics

– environment

– brain function

– brain injury

– physical changes in the brain

– childhood trauma

Damn. 

Reasons Why We Act Impulsively

Ego Depletion

Making a series of decisions that involve conflict—trying to impress others, responding kindly to rude behaviour, or planning a wedding—leads to ego depletion, and ego depletion leads to a loss of motivation.

Busyness

The more busy you are the higher the chance you will behave impulsively. 

Stress

Of course. 

Alcohol

Interesting. Alcohol weakness inhibitory control. That makes sense. I’m glad I’ve stopped drinking. 

Blood Sugar

I did not know this but glucose is a crucial component of willpower:

“Evidence shows that exerting willpower lowers blood sugar, which reduces the capacity for further self-control. Brains are energy hogs. Your brain uses about 20 percent of the energy your body consumes. Ironically, caloric restriction in dieting produces lower glucose, which undermines the willpower needed to resist food intake. The glucose itself doesn’t enter the brain, but it’s converted into neurotransmitters like serotonin. A lack of neurotransmitters increases impulsivity. For example, people with hypoglycemia, the tendency to have low blood sugar, are more likely to have trouble concentrating and controlling their negative emotions when provoked.”

Sharing Emotions Too Openly

One of the things I found right away is one of the traits of impulsivity is sharing emotions too brazenly.

I have been known for that since my breakdown at 21. During that time, my perspective changed so much. I realized how much weight I was bearing because I kept things inside. So, I started sharing. 

Examples of Impulsivity:

From Healthline:

Bingeing

Overindulging in things like shopping, gambling, and eating
destruction of property: destroying your own or someone else’s things in a moment of anger.

Escalating problems

Taking minor situations and making them more urgent and important than necessary.

Frequent outbursts

Losing your cool far too often, even when it’s clearly uncalled for.

Lots of starting over

Abruptly joining and quitting groups or wiping the slate clean in search of a fresh start.

Oversharing

Talking without thinking and sharing intimate details
physical violence: overreacting by getting physical in the spur of the moment.

More risky sex

Engaging in sex without a condom or other barrier method, especially with a person whose STI status is unknown
self-harm: hurting yourself in the heat of anger, sadness, or disappointment.

Impulsive Behind Closed Doors

This is also fascinating. There are a lot of people we don’t consider impulsive because they are successful (in some cases very). 

“But their impulsive nature will be wreaking havoc in some part of their life, even if it is behind closed doors with their intimate relationships, finances, and substance habits, including overeating.

Genetics Seem To Play A Factor In Impulsivity

The trait of impulsivity is connected to specific regions of the brain, especially the prefrontal cortex. 

Connection with Borderline-Personality Disorder (BPD)

This is fascinating. At some points, I remember questioning if I had this but I somehow arrived at the conclusion I did not.

a person must meet the two major diagnostic criteria for the disorder:

1. An impairment of personality functioning, either in terms of poor self-image and self-criticism or instability of goals, aspirations, values, or career plans

2. An impairment of interpersonal functioning, either in terms of a lack of empathy (due to negative attitudes and hypersensitivity) or the inability to sustain intimacy (due to mistrust, neediness, or the fear of abandonment)

Decision-Making Matrix

This is something I have pondered and worked on for a long time but haven’t been able to implement. 

We make so many decisions in a day that it seems impossible to run through this “checklist” of questions before you make one. 

It would be really nice to implement for major decisions though. I will revisit and share.

Impulsivity Impacts Relationships

This makes sense. Impulsivity can cause negative effects in both personal and professional relationships.

This hit me: 

“Impulsivity might even be behind making poor choices in partners, giving precedence those who you feel will ‘put up with you’ over those who you actually feel a connection with but are scared you’ll just hurt. And this can in the long term lead to more loneliness as well as depression.”

Get Enough Sleep

The last few days I have felt more impulsive than normal. I don’t know if that’s true. But, I have not been getting great sleep with a few wakeups in the middle of the night, some difficulties getting to sleep, and then lingering in my bed in the morning which I do not usually do.

Recovering From Unhealthy Eating

It was Christmas time and I ate a lot of sugar and unhealthy food. I am not seeing a direct research signal on this but it has such an impact everywhere else I’m sure it can contribute.

As I work through this and get back to healthy eating I will monitor my impulsivity and try to improve. 

Depression Fosters Impulsive Behaviour

“When you are feeling depressed, engaging in some novel, impulsive behaviour can give you a brief dopamine rush. You are basically self-medicating your depression with impulsive behaviours, like overeating, drinking to excess, hooking up with someone you don’t really like, or engaging in any other reckless behaviour.

Unfortunately, and predictably, this high wears off quickly and the depression remains.”

Impulsivity and Procrastination

“A failure to be able to self regulate can manifest itself as procrastination (or many other problematic behaviours such as compulsive shopping, substance abuse or problematic gambling), and impulsivity is a key correlate of measures of procrastination. The more impulsive an individual is, the more likely he or she will procrastinate.

Two Aspects of Self-Regulation

From Shalev and Sulkowski:

Locomotion:

Entails initiating and maintaining goal-directed behaviour without undue distractions or delay. This aspect of self-regulation is about the “getting on with it” or “making something happen.”

Assessment

The aspect of self-regulation concerned with evaluating goals and plans in relation to alternatives. It’s about thinking, not acting per se. This includes the potential for chronic and continuous preoccupation with the evaluation of the self and comparison to others.

Their research suggests that impulsivity is characterized by high assessment and low locomotion.

The language of Impulsivity

Looking through the lens of speakai.co, I am wondering what keywords and phrases could help me identify when I am being impulsive.

If I can, I can build it into custom categories and insights in Speak and also monitor intuitively. 

A lot of our impulsivity comes through language. I’m a stream of consciousness speaker and I often say things that I had put no thought into. Again, that has made for some amazing moments and relationships and also some moments I’ve damaged someone and our connection.

Here are a few good resources specifically on speech and impulsivity:

Improve Relationships by Decreasing Verbal Impulses
Impulsive Behavior: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
Foot in Your Mouth? Adult ADHD and Curbing Impulsive Speech

Some advice from these resources:

– Pause and take a breath before you speak

– Monitor other people’s body language

– Try listening instead of speaking so much

A Pattern of Year-End Impulsivity

Every end of the year I make a resolution to make more content and share more. I have this big manic burst at the start of the year and then burn out.

I hope I’m not going to do that this year. But by digging through my notes imported into Speak through Evernote, the pattern was clear. 

How To Stop Being Impulsive

I’m still early on this but have already learned a lot.

Label When You’re Being Impulsive

This is going to be a super crucial task for me moving forward. I know I already do this intuitively but it needs to be much more conscious. Every time I do something impulsive I would like to make a note and also tag some factors of why I think that may be. 

We need to trace back what is leading to impulsive moments if we are going to do better!

Think of The Consequences

When you are impulsive, you are acting in the present moment, rarely thinking about the future and what these current decisions may bring. 

To overcome impulsiveness, you need to thoroughly think of the consequences of your actions. Ideally, you write it down.

One thing that helped me is the 24-hour rule (or get a sleep rule), where say, I get an email that frustrates me, I don’t respond back for a day or at least until I have a good sleep. 

How can we apply this to all our decision-making?

Focus On One Thing At A Time

“He who grasps at too much loses all.”

When you are doing too many things at once you take on too much of a cognitive load, you increase stress, busyness and more. Focusing on the individual task at hand and not doing too many things at once in your life seems like it can have a significant positive impact. 

From Harley Therapy:

“To get your impulsivity under control and stop sabotaging good things it’s recommended to find support, such as the help of a professional psychotherapist. Several treatments psychotherapeutic treatments have been found to be effective for impulsivity.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps train your mind to think in less dramatic ways, which helps you to be less overreactive and make better choices for yourself.

Mindfulness, a practise of learning to notice how you are feeling and thinking as it happens, has been found to be very helpful in impulsivity related to borderline disorder. One study found that participants with patients no longer matched a diagnosis of the disorder after being treated with mindfulness.

Dialectic behavioural therapy (DIT) combines both cognitive therapy, mindfulness, and other things like metaphorical thinking. It was designed especially to help with impulsivity sufferers.”

That was a lot to take in. I’ll process, connect with others and revisit. Please reach out if you feel you have something you would like to discuss or contribute. I hope all is well in your world ❤

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