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How to Develop Impulse Control

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We operate on impulses every day.

  • We stop at the store on our way home and buy things we hadn’t planned.
  • When we’re on a diet, we have a huge dish of ice cream while watching TV.
  • We abandon our goals every day, depending on how we are feeling in the moment.

An impulse is acting instantly without thought of consequences.

Everyone follows their impulses from time to time. It’s when our impulses constantly supersede or replace legitimate needs, however, that we are headed for trouble.

When we continue to act on our impulses in the moment, we begin to undermine our goals.

With any goal – whether long-range, such as getting a degree – or short-range, such as getting your home organized – there needs to be consistent follow-through.

Spending impulsively has an especially great attraction to us. Every day we look at ads indicating that if we buy this or that, we will be happy, everything will be good, etc.

The problem is that we are not becoming happier. Instead, we are creating a larger, more serious problem. With the ease of credit cards and apps on our phones, impulse spending can create a huge financial problem.

Proactive vs Reactive

The marketing industry thrives on reactive buying. We see an ad and convince ourselves that we have to have this.

But it’s not just purchases that get us into trouble; it’s how we react to everything.

When we react to whatever is happening without some pre-determined internal guidelines, we become captive to impulsive behavior.

When we hold a typical negative response towards people, our emotions can range from anger, fear, anxiety, worry, hate, betrayal, rejection, shame, inadequate, unappreciated, upset, deflated, and so on.

When faced with situations that insult our sense of right and wrong, we get angry and want immediate retribution. We continue to build our case as we continue to dwell on how we have been offended.

Becoming Proactive

To stop reactive spending or developing a constant negative reaction to people, we must first consider before responding. That is becoming proactive.

Becoming proactive does not mean we won’t experience automatic or negative emotions. All emotions are important, and we need to pay attention to what they are telling us.

But we do not need to act on that first impulsive response. We can stop and consider before constructing a more tempered response.

Impulse Control

All life revolves around what we are doing, thinking, or how we are interacting.

  • Without impulse control, our spending will get out of hand.
  • Without impulse control, our first impulse might be to strike out in retaliation at someone when they disagree with us.
  • Without impulse control, we won’t have dynamic or satisfying conversations.
  • Without impulse control, we will be unable to complete our goals.
  • Without impulse control, we are no longer in control of our lives.

Review Your Emotions

Since emotions contribute to both our impulses and being reactive, it is important to review them.

For example, what is your typical way of responding when you get angry? Is this an ongoing emotional reaction based on your belief that people will automatically take advantage of or manipulate you?

You may feel the circumstances you find yourself in do not give you freedom to make choices. If you are constantly feeling anxious or worrying, you may have difficulty making constructive and beneficial choices.

If you constantly feel resentful, you might ask if you really want to stay in that position, or would you like to let go of that resentment and move toward something more positive?

Sometimes fear keeps us from choosing appropriately or being responsible because we lack self-worth and self-confidence.

Becoming proactive means we take the information our emotions give us and determine what we are going to do with it.

Is my reaction appropriate for what is happening in the moment or is it influenced by my past? Is there a problem I need to identify and resolve?

Proactive = Self-Directed

When we are proactive we are self-directed. We determine how we will respond regardless of what is happening. We purposefully replace attitudes, thinking, and behavior patterns that restrict us from being reasonable and rational.

We choose our mindset and how we will respond to life.

How to Change Impulse Addiction

Finances, in particular, can become a serious problem if we can’t control those impulses. Not having a budget or knowing how to manage money can have long-term consequences. In a world that seems to glorify the things we own, we might think that unless we have this or that we can’t be happy.

How can we overcome the desire to purchase impulsively if we believe that these “things” will make us happy?

To change impulse addiction, you have to be able to say “no” to the incidentals you believe you have to have in order to be happy. It requires budgeting your finances as well as your time. You may have to scale back further than you thought.

As important as it is to learn how to apply the mantra, “Yes, I can,” to your life, it is equally as important to learn how and when to say “No.”

A Personal Example

When my husband and I were first married, we had no financial cushion. He had just returned to his hometown after playing in big bands across the country, in studios and in Vegas.

We got married with high hopes of him starting his own band. He tried selling real estate to pay the bills while trying to make the band business profitable. It wasn’t. We were back to square one.

Pregnant with our first child, I could no longer work at my job, and we had to move in with his parents for a short period of time.

But there was never the thought of giving up. Instead, we looked at other options. Before letting go of selling real estate, we used his commission to buy our first little tract development home.

He realized that neither his dreams for his own big band nor real estate would take care of the needs of a family. He chose a new direction, worked at several jobs at once, went back to school to get his master’s in music education, and took a job teaching school, something he swore he would never do.

He not only was an excellent teacher, but his students loved him.

When a new community college was started, he was hired to be the music department chairman, where he taught many courses as well as building a college band that won accolades.

All the while, we were meeting the challenges of raising a handicapped child and taking care of a mom with a serious heart condition.

We started from scratch, but we worked together as a team. Later, I was able to go back to school and finish my BA degree as well as my master’s.

We had to determine where we wanted to go, set goals, and not allow impulses to deter us. It required a budget and working together and learning to say “no” on the spur of the moment.

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