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How to Manage Impulsive Reactions

When I asked student athletes recently what the number one change was that they’d like to make in their life—their response surprised me. Very insightfully, most of them agreed:

“I need to be less impulsive in my decisions.”

We live in a day where everything seems to be moving faster and faster. Additionally, we tend to be impulsive in our reactions, thanks to social media. Messages come at us quickly, inviting a knee-jerk reaction. In fact, most of the students I spoke to admitted to at least one case where they fired back a response impulsively on Twitter that they later regretted.

This problem is obviously not just relevant to young people. People of all ages admit to being less patient, more impulsive and find it difficult to stop and think deeply when something surfaces that they disagree with or they feel requires a deeper perspective or some critical thinking. There is such a thing as “impulsive behavior disorder today” which is a class of psychiatric disorders characterized by impulsivity, the failure to resist temptation, an urge, or the inability to not speak on a thought. In short, it’s emotions ruling intellect. Kids who have ADHD often struggle even more with impulsivity than other students. Sometimes, all we know to do is to offer them medication. While I’m not against medication, I believe there are coping skills that can be practiced to fight impulsivity.

So, how do we slow down our impulsive reactions to people or situations?

How to Overcome Your Impulsive Reactions

1. Force yourself to sleep on it.

First of all, it’s usually helpful to push “pause” and refuse to let yourself react. Most decisions or social media posts do not require immediate responses. When I sleep on a decision I usually wake up the next day with less emotion and more logic about how to respond to that particular situation.

2. Stop and listen to other perspectives.

Usually, when I feel the need to react, I possess one angle on the topic: my angle. I find it helpful to listen to others weigh in on the topic. Perhaps I scroll through my social media feed and see what people are saying, just to gain a wider perspective.

3. Consult with people for accountability before you act.

A second cousin to the idea above, I actually identify some wise people in my circle of influence and ask them to advise me. It’s not that I delegate my responsibility to act, but I allow a person who has no dog in the fight to objectively check out the situation.

4. Jot down all the details regarding the decision.

This is always helpful to me. I actually talk through every dimension of the decision I’m considering (whether it’s a social media post or a dilemma at our office) and write down the details. This usually provides an epiphany about what’s best to do.

5. Find your “why” before you respond.

This concept has saved me more than once. When tempted to react, finding my “why” generally slows me down enough to gain control of myself. Why do I want to react? Why am I even in this situation? Why should I consider a better long-term option?

6. Be the devil’s advocate.

Still another idea is playing the devil’s advocate. Take the opposite side of the issue and argue for the antithesis of your normal impulse. Even if you don’t agree with what you’re coming up with, it forces you to see something you didn’t see before.

7. Ask a patient person what they would do.

Finally, find someone you know who has more patience than you do. Perhaps you admire them for their patience. Approach them and ask what they would do in your situation? How would they respond? Perhaps the answer is in the middle.

Before you teach these concepts to an impatient student, be sure you practice what you’re preaching. Educator Jordan Peterson said, “People have been fed this diet of pabulum, rights and impulsive freedom. There’s just an absolute starvation for the other side of the story.”  Let’s show our students the other side.


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How to Manage Impulsive Reactions