In today’s world desires are met almost immediately. We all enjoy having instant answers from the Internet, skipping commercials, and next-day shipping, but we should know that in this climate of speedy satisfaction, it’s much harder to strengthen that part of the brain that controls one’s impulses. The reason it is important to have well developed impulse control is because there are links between this ability and success, as well as the reverse: studies show a connection between poor impulse control and addiction. Without giving up the convenience of a more efficient lifestyle, there are ways to develop one’s impulse control.
Impulsivity is the inability to resist temptation and to sacrifice present gratification in pursuit of future attainment. It is not typically defined by one act, but rather by a pattern of behavior.
People who have good impulse control have less behavioral problems and are more likely to achieve success in school, work, and relationships. This is because people who can control their impulses think before they act and speak. They are better able to resist peer pressure and wait their turn. They can tolerate frustration, handle stress and manage anger. They are also more likely to utilize critical thinking skills to solve problems.
In a recent newspaper article titled “What Drives Success?” Authors Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld state that successful groups of people in America (Jews among them) share three character traits, one of which is impulse control. Research has also determined that self-control is twice as important as intelligence when it comes to academic achievement!
Those who have difficulty controlling their impulses may be more prone to drink excessively or abuse drugs. A study using rats at the University of Cambridge found that the rats with higher levels of impulsivity developed compulsive drug use.
Roy V. Tellis, of The SAFE Foundation said, “Addicts don’t think; they act. What appears as an addict’s irrational and dangerous behavior, such as using drugs before taking a drug test, driving drunk and offering outlandish excuses to explain repeated lateness and absences, are clearly traced to a lack of impulse control.”
There is strong evidence that some teenagers are at higher risk for drug and alcohol experimentation, simply because their brains work differently, making them more impulsive. In addition to drug abuse, impulsivity has been linked to suicide. There are also documented links between damage to the right orbitofrontal cortex of the brain and disorders of impulsivity and compulsivity, such as drug addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder, and attention-deficit disorder.
The good news is that it is never too late to improve your self-control. Experiments done with rats found that training the brain to resist impulses actually increases the strength of electrical signals in the brain.
If you would like to be less impulsive, practice mindfulness. Slow down, take time to evaluate your surroundings and circumstances, and try to control your response to them.
Identify your feelings, and then give yourself some time to study the choices you have to express what you feel.
Identify the areas of your life where impulse control gets you into trouble, and create “speed bumps” or obstacles between yourself and those situations.
If you know that you tend to be impulsive, designate someone who you can go to for corrective feedback; someone who will tell you if you are acting impulsively or if you need to give the matter more thought.
Before you act on impulse, take a moment to predict how your actions will affect your future.
Being unable to tolerate frustration can be a big factor in having poor impulse control, so know that when you are frustrated, it’s time to give yourself a “time out” to think about what you should do next.
Try to surround yourself with people who are likely to weigh the consequences of their actions. Spending time with people who are not impulsive can help you keep your own behavior in check.
If you struggle with drug abuse or alcoholism, the first stop is to seek professional treatment. It’s the most effective path toward living a healthier life. With therapy, you’ll learn how to manage undesirable emotions, practice mindfulness, and make appropriate, thoughtful decisions.