When you learn how to regulate your emotions, you will make better decisions, be less impulsive and explosive and feel calmer and happier. Making good, rational decisions goes a long way to ensuring a stress free life.
- Do you make decisions on the run?
- Do you sometimes have a knee jerk reaction and afterwards regret it?
- Are you careless about thinking things through to a logical conclusion?
If you said yes to one or more of the above, you are among a large number of people who make decisions impulsively. Impulsive decisions can have serious consequences. Impulsive actions can create havoc in your life and lead to stress and anxiety.
Some examples of catastrophic results of impulsivity in your private life.
- One common arena where individuals do not think things through is in the area of “love”. Two people meet in a bar and go home together. It feels right at the time but frequently leads to long term heart break and sometimes even safety issues.
- Think about impulsivity in the bedroom. An individual may know intellectually about the benefits of a condom but “in the moment” throws caution to the wind resulting in unwanted pregnancies and STD’s.
- Another common mistake is “impulse buying”. You are standing at the cash register and are seduced by the chocolates next to you. You did not mean to, you really did not want to but bingo, you eat a chocolate on the spot because you “could not help it”. Impulse buying of fancy cars, boats and houses frequently leads to financial ruin.
- A big decision like quitting a job is frequently done in a moment of rage. An employee may have a good job but is disgruntled by the attitude of his boss. Instead of exploring company policy and trying to resolve the issue, the employee quits and for a day or two feels triumphant. “I showed her. No one is going to speak to me like that.” Soon after that reality hits when there is no money coming in. The boss is doing just fine, the business is continuing as usual but the ex-employee has messed up his life by not thinking it through.
- Aggression often occurs in an impulsive manner. A person is cut off while driving and, without thinking, stops and threatens the driver. The results can be serious and in some cases have proved to be fatal.
This is often the point where people consult with me. They are anxious and stressed because they have life problems they now need to sort out, which did not have to be there.
How impulsivity can affect your society negatively
The broader impact of impulsive decisions was brought home to me in the recent Brexit vote where a majority voted to leave the EU. You would have expected after the vote, the “leavers” would have been jubilant. They were not. They were astounded that their side had won because predictions had been that the majority would vote to stay.
Here are some of the replies made to reporters who asked why people had voted to leave. You will notice how rife impulsivity was.
- I though ‘remain’ would win so I voted for the underdog to be fair. It was an automatic reaction I have for underdogs.
- I did not realise what the consequences would be. I did not think it through enough.
- I did no research on the arguments being spewed by politicians. I tend to be a follower and like Boris.
- I thought change might be good and jumped at the chance.
- I am sick of the establishment as it is, so I pushed against it rather than voting for something I believe.
- I wanted to stay in the EU but could not be bothered to vote on the day. It did not enter my mind that my vote would make a difference.
Not one person interviewed said that they had examined the facts and, based on hard evidence, decided that ‘leave’ was a good option. In other words, it is possible that millions of people voted for a momentous break up that was not rooted in rationalism but on whim. Britain is now chaotic because of impulsive decisions and who knows how destructive that it will prove to be.
The Australian federal election that was held last week also provides a case in point. Bill Shorten, the opposition leader developed a scare campaign saying that the Liberals were going to privatise Medicare. For 24 hours before and during the election, text messages were sent to voters saying “You will lose Medicare if you vote for the Liberals” and signed by Medicare (this was a scam and these messages were not sent by Medicare but by Bill Shorten).
My point is that by sending scary messages at voting time, voters got scared and impulsively did not vote for the Liberals. The scare campaign cleverly tapped into impulsive decision making. I believe the ramifications are enormous and have created more chaos that in the long run will not be good for any Australian.
How to prevent being impulsive
The antidote to impulsivity is to calmly and rationally think through one’s options. It is the ability to hold on and tolerate the discomfort of not having what you want, or think you want, right then and there. It is a skill that can be learnt. We call it learning how to regulate your emotions.
The neo-cortex is the part of the brain that engages rational thought and limits irrationality. Impulsivity (absence of involvement of the neo-cortex) can be caused by immaturity of the brain such as in children, adolescents and individuals with ADD and ADHD. It can also be influenced by drugs and alcohol which inhibits higher order functioning. Moreover, it can also be exacerbated by anxiety because when you are anxious, your primitive brain is firing and your smart brain is de-activated.
Teaching children to self-regulate
Children are not good at emotionally regulating because their brains are not fully developed.
Step 1: Teach your child to identify when she is losing control. You can have several discussions where you identify what calm feels like and what “hot” feels like.
A picture like this is helpful because it shows your child how temperature rises and when to stop.
Step 2: Once your child understands this, you can teach “STOP THINK DO”
Explain to your child: When you feel your temperature rising STOP.
Take a minute to THINK: what do I want to achieve and what is the best way to achieve it?
Once you have decided what the best course of action is, carry it out: DO!
Teaching adolescents to regulate their emotions
Adolescents are notorious for poor impulse control. They can engage in high risk behaviours on a whim. It can be a frightening time for parents and may be difficult to teach them a method of self-regulation. However, if they are amenable to learning, STOP THINK DO will be applicable to younger teenagers.
For older adolescents, the adult tools are appropriate.
Teaching adults to manage their emotions and be less impulsive
At Anxiety Solutions CBT Psychology Practice, we utilise a four step process that enables you to be less reactive. This process was formulated by Renee Mill, the Principal, and is exclusive to this practice.
Basically you will learn to identify when you are working yourself up. You then learn how to STOP which is key to preventing an impulsive reaction. Once you have stopped, the process enables you to choose tools that will facilitate constructive problem solving and calm personal interactions.
The process is easy to learn and takes a few minutes to execute. Once you have learnt the process you will find that your anxiety is greatly reduced and every day stress is minimised.
If you want to change your life and be more in control, then give us a call on 02 9328 5899.