Stop and Think: Why Impulsivity is Dangerous and How to Tame it

Stop and Think

We all have a natural temperament – some of us tend to be shyer, more outgoing, riskier or more reserved; impulsive behavior is typically exhibited throughout childhood and adolescence and becomes a more defined part of our personality as we get older. Some may correlate impulsivity with spontaneity – planning a random trip or making a quick decision to get away from the weekend can be seen as healthy and adventurous. While this is true, impulsivity is a bit different, according to scientists.

The New York Times notes that studies have linked impulsive behavior with higher risks of smoking, drinking, and drug abuse. Individuals who attempt suicide, experience aggression, compulsively gamble or shop, and have a personality disorder or attention-deficit problem are often associated with high impulsivity. What is happening in the brain that makes impulsivity so dangerous?

Charles Carver, a psychologist from the University of Miami, explains that individuals whose prefrontal cortical areas are not functioning well experience difficulty in controlling behavior, which can lead to dire consequences. Fortunately, impulsivity can be tamed by understanding how your own personal impulsive behaviors occur. Understanding what triggers you to make quick decisions can help you identify times when more thought is needed or when you need to slow down.

One way that you can practice slowing down is through mindfulness; Psych Central states that simply focusing on the present moment without adding judgment is a great way to simply live without acting on anything. Next, challenge negative thoughts that you have and do something to help you work through it. This could mean taking short breaks during a challenging workday, or timing yourself to get something done. Lastly, make it more difficult to act impulsively by adding another step to the mix. If you’re apt to shop compulsively, leave your credit card at home or put items on a 24-hour old so you can think about it more.

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