Impulse Control

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As a human being you are at once the general who issues the command for a behavior and the soldier who dutifully follows it to completion. You have the power to react to a situation as you see fit. However, many people struggle with their behavior and feel that it is largely outside of their control. They react to a stimulus and deal with the consequences later. In psychological terms we call this poor impulse control.

It manifests itself in many ways like ADHD, compulsive gambling, inability to control outbursts of anger, spending inordinate amounts of time on the internet, or shopping sprees.

We want to differentiate between spontaneity and poor impulse control. Spontaneity is a good thing in life. It is your total being’s authentic interaction with the environment and allows you to freely be yourself. We usually don’t want to curb spontaneity but instead encourage it. Spontaneous, free interaction with people and situations gives life its richness and excitement.

But if you or someone you know is having a difficult time controlling impulses, and this lack of control is negatively coloring relationships or some other aspect of life there is a very simple exercise that can help. Think of it as like batting practice. It’s not game conditions but the mechanics are identical, and the more you practice the more prepared you will be for the real thing.

All you have to do is set an alarm to go off after five minutes. Find a quiet place and lie down on your back with your palms facing up. Make sure you are comfortable and relaxed. Then simply try not to move at all for the full five minutes. Be aware of yourself in the moment and attempt to keep your body as still as possible. If you do move don’t get down on yourself, just be aware of the thoughts and emotions you have directly before moving and directly after. Then go back to laying quietly.

After the five minutes are over write down what your thoughts and emotions were as you tried to stay still and failed. If you were able to lie motionless the whole time still write down how the experience was and what you were thinking and feeling. There are no judgments and remember that you can always do the exercise again. Anxiety will almost surely be a component in your inability to stay still. Whatever your thoughts and emotions, they are the correct ones to be having because they are yours. Instead of trying to change them just be aware of them and write them down when the exercise is completed. After a while you may find that this training regimen has profound benefits for other areas of your life where you feel like your behavior is a reaction to a stimulus and is outside of your conscious control.