Learning Self Control

There are times in all our lives that we do or say things out of impulse. We do them because we feel like doing them, and we usually regret our actions later upon further deliberation. Acting impulsively is satisfying in the moment, and gives us instant gratification. Individuals that act out of impulse regularly suffer adverse and unpleasant consequences. They might end up with many regrets about their lives, and find that bad things keep happening to them, and many don’t understand why they have such bad luck. In many cases, their misfortune has little to do with luck, but a product of their inability to control their impulses during pivotal moments, and bad decision making. Lets look at some examples of acting or talking out of impulse:

  • A couple has a fight, and one of them vengefully sleeps with someone else.
  • Drinking, driving and getting a DUI.
  • On a lonely night, ordering an entire pizza at midnight and eating the whole thing.
  • Calling your ex for the twentieth time this week, even after she told you she was done.
  • Throwing a glass in a moment of anger and hurting a bystander.
  • Quitting your job in a huff because you’re mad at your boss.
  • Having unprotected sex with someone you just met.
  • Ending a relationship out of fear of commitment.

Every action has a consequence that follows. Sometimes the consequence is immediate, like the sting of a needle, and other times it takes months before you see the consequence. Delaying gratification is not something that we can do naturally. It is not an innate skill, but a learned one. It is something to be practiced. Children often have impulse control deficiency, and we teach them words like “wait”, and “no” and explain to them “if you do this, then this will happen”. Parents set the stage for children by implementing consequences at home for their behaviors. If they clean their room, they can play. If they hit, they go to their rooms, and so on. Children learn about consequences in the safety of their homes, and then generalize their skills to the world outside in school and beyond.

Adults are merely overgrown kids in many ways. We want pleasure, we get angry, we are emotional, and we want satisfaction. We still want just as much as children want. The only difference is that we should know better. Individuals who are anxious, emotional, intense, impulsive, or who lacked proper role models growing up end up making the mistake of choosing to indulge their impulses right away without much thought of tomorrow.

What can be done to tame impulses, and help us make better decisions? If you are reading this, and feel like you could use some help making better choices in life, try these useful tips:

  • Know that you are free to live your own life.
  • Know that you have choices in every situation, even if they are not immediately apparent.
  • Know in what situations you tend to be the most impulsive, and think about them in your quiet time.
  • When you are angry or anxious, identify how you are feeling.
  • If you feel heated up and angry, count to 20 slowly before you act.
  • Sleep on it. If you feel the same tomorrow, then do it.
  • If you feel like you might act inappropriately, leave the situation.
  • Remind yourself that every action has a consequence, and think of what those might be.
  • Remember that your actions can hurt others.
  • Find an outlet for your anger such as exercise, punching a pillow, screaming, anything that helps you cope.