It’s perfectly natural to do things that you regret. It’s part of being human. But if you find yourself saying or doing things that you later feel awful about multiple times a day, you may have issues with impulsivity. If your impulsive behavior has strained your career or relationships, you may ask yourself “Why do I have such bad impulse control? What’s wrong with me?”
If you find your impulses hard to control, you may be facing ADHD, addiction, bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, or an impulse control disorder. Genetics, childhood trauma, and brain injury can all contribute to impulsivity. (Please don’t diagnose yourself, these are just some examples of why people struggle with impulse control)
Most people occasionally act impulsively, but if your impulsiveness negatively impacts your day to day life, it may be time to address it.
Not sure if your level of impulsivity is normal or not? Below you’ll find some tools to help you analyze your behavior. Impulse control can be learned, no matter how old you are.
How Do I Know If I’m Too Impulsive?
Food for Thought
If you’re trying to figure out whether you have an issue with impulse control or not, here are some questions to reflect on. Sit with these questions and try to be lovingly honest with yourself.
- Do you often interrupt people or say things you don’t mean?
- Do you have trouble managing your spending?
- Do you plan vacations or nights out ahead of time, or wing it?
- What percentage of your nights out are spur of the moment?
- Do you plan your workday or complete tasks off the cuff?
- How easily can you manage your eating and drinking?
- Do you move houses often?
- How frequently do you change jobs?
- Do you finish projects or courses you start?
- Do your thoughts race and jump around? What’s your decision-making process like?
Please remember that impulsive behavior isn’t inherently bad. The ability to go with the flow and be spontaneous can be a beautiful thing. But when your impulsivity is negatively impacting your relationships, job, or home life, it’s time to take a closer look at why.
Write it Out
Journaling is a tried and true method of working through emotions. Once you’ve decided that your impulse control needs work, the first step I would recommend is to keep a record of your impulsive behavior.
Start by noting recent behaviors you (or others) consider impulsive. Reflect on those behaviors and list negative consequences of them, if any. Then list positive consequences of those same behaviors, if there are any.
Once you have a decent sample of situations where you become impulsive, do you notice any patterns? For example, do you see yourself having less impulse control when you have a big project due at work?
When you recognize your triggers, you can begin to manage your behavior around them.
Learning How to Control Impulses
Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, yoga, journaling, and breathing exercises, can help you learn to manage impulsivity. But if you feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, reaching out to a licensed therapist is the next step.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common strategy used to work through impulsive behaviors. It challenges the way you think and can help you give meaning to your experiences. CBT aims to correct your impulsive behavior by interrupting your thought process when you experience triggers.
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is another frequently used approach to combat impulsivity. It centers around building four skills: staying present, getting along with others, controlling your emotions instead of letting them control you, and stress tolerance. DBT focuses on giving you what you need to manage your emotions and reactions, and make better choices from that place of stability.
Impulsiveness and spontaneity can be amazing personality traits – as long as those behaviors don’t harm those around you. No matter your age or your history, you can learn impulse control and be a better coworker, friend, or partner.
You can start that journey to healthier decision making today – and if doing it alone seems overwhelming, one of my team of therapists here at Pittsford Therapy can support you.