10 Steps to Curb Impulsivity

by Terry Matlen, ACSW

There’s so much written about ADHD- what it is, why we have it and what we can do about it. But it’s sometimes difficult to find information on specific help for specific ADHD related problems.

For many with ADHD, impulsivity can be a huge problem. It can cause injury, empty bank accounts, end marriages and more.

Impulsive: (adj) characterized by actions based on sudden desires, whims, or inclinations rather than careful thought

Are you apt to jump into an activity, project or life experience that has been dangerous to you in the past? Perhaps you took someone up on their dare and signed up for bungee jumping. Maybe you found your "soul mate" on the internet and met him/her in real life before learning more about him and whether he was someone you could be safe with. Or perhaps you yelled at your boss, not thinking about the consequences of losing your job. More commonly, perhaps you’ve gone online to read a movie review only to turn off the computer 5 hours later with a shopping cart filled with items costing hundreds of dollars you don’t have in the bank to spend. On books you might already have. Or clothes you don’t need.

If this sounds like you, read on. Better yet, print this out and tape it to an area in your house that is highly so you can refer to it when that impulsive "itch" strikes again.

Impulsivity and hyperactivity often go together. Your mind often doesn't think of the consequences of your behavior as you find your body moving in a direction that might not be healthy or safe for you in the long run. Your brain is thinking about the present- right now- and the excitement and thrill of an activity you are about to embark on.

What to Do When Impulsivity Strikes

Of course, this isn't an easy thing to do. Impulsivity means doing things without thinking carefully and thoughtfully. So this will take some practice on your part.

  1. Whatever it is that is pushing you to move without thinking, play the entire episode in your mind, from beginning to end. Sometimes, coming to the end using a mental image, helps you to realize that perhaps the activity isn't quite as fun or exciting as it seemed.
  2. Write it down. In excruciating detail. This, like #1, will help you to slow down and think carefully about what you're about to do. Chances are, once it's played out, you'll lose interest in pursuing it.
  3. Research. Even if you already know the dangers of unprotected sex with a stranger, go online and read the statistics of you catching a STD and whether it's really worth endangering your life for a night of excitement.
  4. Promise yourself to wait 24 hours before following through with your plan.
  5. Find a safe person you can talk to- someone who is less impulsive; a person who might even seem too cautious in your mind- and ask his opinion on what you plan to do.
  6. Keep a diary of past adventures. Were they worth it? Did you hurt yourself or people you love? Refer back as often as possible to help you curtail repeated mistakes.
  7. Know your triggers. If, for example, you absolutely cannot stop yourself from spending your entire paycheck at the casino, then either avoid going, or if that's too impossible, bring an envelope with the amount of cash you CAN afford to lose and leave your debit/credit cards at home. If hormonal changes cause you to be so irritable that you find yourself saying inappropriate things to your boss, co-workers, family or friends, seek medical attention. Nowadays, there are medications to ease the irritability during your menses.
  8. Find healthier outlets. You've read it before hundreds of times, but regular exercise and meditation do wonders to keep yourself in better control. If sitting and meditating seem impossible, take up the various moving meditations or learn karate or other physical activities that combine mindfulness with movement.
  9. Make sure you're receiving appropriate treatment for your ADHD. If you still find yourself getting into all sorts of trouble, it could be that the medication you are on is not covering your symptoms adequately. Consult your physician to discuss other options, which simply might mean an increase in your dosage or a change to another ADHD medication.
  10. Remind yourself that for every action you take, there is a reaction. It could be how your behaviors affect your physical and mental health, your relationships with your loved ones, or even your spiritual well being.

The big question of all: is it worth doing for the temporary thrill of it all? What could you do instead that will be exciting and fun, but without the potentially negative consequences?

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