One of the hallmark traits of ADHD is impulsivity, manifested in actions that individuals desperately wish could be taken back.
Impulsivity is the brain’s inability to engage in self-inhibiting functions before acting. We act before we think.
What causes this? In an ADHD brain, there is a tenuous attachment to the past, the present, and the future. An ADHD brain may not be able to quickly call up examples from the past that may be relevant in the moment, which may have a profound effect on the future.
Here are some examples of impulsive actions my clients have taken:
- Cleaned out their spouse’s closet and donated what my client didn’t think their spouse needed.
- Signed up to be the Parent Teacher Organization chairperson.
- Embarked on a road trip without appropriate planning.
- Spoke their truth without thought to consequence.
- Quit a job.
- Told their boss off, thus losing a job.
Here’s a real-life example from one of my more recent clients:
“Steve” (not real name) came to me a few years ago because he struggled as an entrepreneur. Before we met, he’d decided to leave his corporate job because the demands and structure were too much for him.
As an entrepreneur in charge of his success, Steve was unable to create the structure necessary to meet deadlines, maintain relationships important to his business, manage his finances, etc. After working together for a few months and making significant progress, Steve was well on his way to creating a successful business. At this point, we paused our coaching work together.
Then along came an employment opportunity he “just couldn’t pass up.” Steve impulsively closed his business down and went to work for a corporate entity very similar to the one he’d previously left. Impulsivity strikes. Steve didn’t recall the very reason he’d left the corporate life behind before accepting the position and closing down his business.
Within a year, Steve was unable to adhere to the rigors and demands that corporate life required. So he quit. We are back to coaching. Back to creating a new, sustainable model where he can be his own boss, creating structure, support, and accountability for the success he craves.
How can we manage impulsivity?
- Take a moment to pause before speaking. Honestly, make every effort to count to five before responding. Pausing will give the thought-processing module of your brain time to catch up.
- Carry around a small notebook to record your thoughts. When something pops into your brain, write it down. Don’t blurt it out. Don’t stop what you’re doing. Writing things down creates mental bandwidth for other processing.
- Wait before you commit, or, even better, don’t commit at all. It’s okay to say “no” to requests. It’s also okay to say, “I need to think about it. Please call me tomorrow, and I’ll let you know.” Impulsively committing will drain time and energy.
- Be an active observer of yourself. Journal your thoughts. Write down where things worked and where things didn’t. Be honest with yourself. Where did you screw up? What was the situation? Where did you excel? What made that possible?
- Enlist a trusted advisor (or two or three advisors) to be an observer of you. Often, we don’t see what others see; therefore, we aren’t aware of how our actions impact them. Give the trusted advisors the ability to offer constructive feedback on your actions.
- If finances are a challenge, leave credit cards at home. If that’s not an option, put a sticky note on each credit card asking “Is this need or want?” Sometimes that short moment of pause will be enough to stop impulsive purchases.
Managing impulsivity will create stronger, healthier relationships.
What can you do to manage your impulsive behavior?
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