How to stop being impulsive

Updated February 21, 2017

There are moments when impulsive behaviour comes in handy, but more often than not it gets you into trouble. The root cause of impulsive behaviour usually stems from feeling overwhelmed by your emotions. Jealousy, anger, insecurity or fear can lead you to act in ways you'll later wish you hadn't. Learning how to stop being impulsive isn't easy; you have to learn how to control yourself and think before you act. If all else fails, remember to breathe.

Identify your feelings. Observe yourself to determine what emotions rise up in you when your impulsive behaviour starts. Do you feel bored? Angry? Ignored? Reckless? Out of control? Learn your own triggers so you can control your behaviour the next time you feel an impulse attack coming on.

Think about the consequences. Following your impulses can have positive consequences, but usually your impulses make you do something you regret. Think about the time you got angry with your boss and sent a mean e-mail about him to everyone in your office, or the time you yelled at your husband for cheating on you when he was really planning your surprise birthday party. The next time you want to follow the impulses triggered by negative emotions, think back to how it turned out for you the last time.

Take ten deep breaths. If you take a moment to feel your body before performing an impulsive behaviour, you'll notice you're taking quick, shallow breaths or not breathing at all. Begin to breathe deeply, relishing the clarity and focus you'll soon feel.

Memorise something to tell yourself. For example, if you're a compulsive shopper, when you feel impulsive, tell yourself, "I have everything I need." If you're having anger impulses, say "I'm not going to let (fill in the person/situation) make me do something I'll regret later." What you tell yourself doesn't have to be a coherent sentence; it could be a poem, song lyrics or a reciting of the alphabet. Just say something to let your brain know that you're aware of the impulse, but you're doing your best not to give in to it.

Get some air. Find a way to get distance between you and the situation that's making you feel impulsive. If you're having an argument, go for a walk and get some air. If you're shopping, leave the store. If you're frantically calling a love interest who isn't responding, turn your phone off and do something you enjoy.

Ask yourself what you really need. If you're ready to spend your rent money on a new dress, say, "What is the feeling I'm searching for?" If the answer is the feeling of luxury and being special, find a less expensive way to fulfil your need. Get a manicure and pedicure, or go to a fancy restaurant and order the most decadent dessert.

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About the Author

Oubria Tronshaw specializes in topics related to parenting and business. She received a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Chicago State University. She currently teaches English at Harper Community College in the Chicago area.