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Impulsive Behavior

Impulsive behavior means exactly what it sounds like: acting on impulse, or acting without thinking. Sometimes acting on impulse means the difference between life and death. If you’re walking across a road and a car is speeding toward you, there’s no time to stand around thinking of what to do. An impulse tells you to leap out of the way and you follow it without questioning. Sometimes, though, impulsive behavior can cause lasting, serious consequences.

Think First, Act Later

When is it crucial to think before acting? When you’re:

  • Angry with someone
  • Listening to a friend’s emotional secrets
  • Taking an exam
  • On the job
  • On a first date
  • Drinking or with people who are drinking
  • Shopping
  • Gossiping

How Impulsive are You?

Do you tend to think first and act later, or are you prone to impulsive behavior? Or does it depend on the situation? A few questions will give you the answer:

  • Do you plan ahead, or do you make decisions on the spot?
  • Do you feel strong urges to do things that are hard to resist?
  • Do you feel alive only when you are doing something thrilling or dangerous?

If you do tend to act impulsively, you might know that it’s hardest to resist your impulses when you’re angry. If you get angry enough, you probably think you won’t feel better until you take action. Gaining self-awareness may be the best way to help you cope with strong impulses that arise from strong feelings such as anger.

Getting to Know Your Impulses

Here are some ways to get to know your impulsive side. Think about:

  • When you’re most likely to act without thinking or when your urges are hardest to resist
  • Who brings out your tendency to follow your impulses (Example: a friend who eggs you on or is even more impulsive than you are)
  • In what situations you’re most likely to act on your urges (Example: when drinking alcohol)
  • When you most regret your behavior (Example: after a fight)
  • When you take the biggest, most regrettable risks (Example: when you’re frightened or furious)

Tips for Controlling Your Impulses

Do you have strategies for putting the brakes on your impulses when you should? Keep these tips handy for when you need them:

  • Walk away from something you want to buy on impulse. It will still be waiting for you later, after you’ve had time to think over the purchase.
  • Take a deep breath or talk with a thoughtful friend before impulsively yelling at someone out of anger.
  • Practice calming strategies, such as muscle relaxation, yoga and cardiovascular exercise such as jogging.
  • Write a list of pros and cons of a tough decision before acting.
  • Make a mental outline of what you want to say before saying it.
  • Do some research on a purchase, decision or a proposal before you act on it.

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