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By Brianna Wiest

Impulsivity is a huge problem – particularly for our generation – because we confuse it for feeling “inspired” or having a “gut feeling.” We’re taught to follow our instincts and trust ourselves, to conduct our lives based on our innermost desires. When we don’t understand what this actually means – which requires a good deal of emotional intelligence – it leads to being impulsive about our thoughts, relationships, work, money, and so on. It creates incessant anxiety. It’s become one of the hallmarks of personal turmoil in our generation: all transitory passion, no sustainable purpose (so nothing gets done).

What we’re still confused about is how our emotional bodies communicate with us vs. how our minds work when they aren’t cluttered with irrational thoughts. We’re still not aware of being souls within bodies, and the problem with this is that we identify with our physical selves (what we have, who we are, what we do) as opposed to our nonphysical selves (how we think, what we believe, how we feel) and therefore mis-assign “navigational” responsibilities. We entrust our physical impulses to guide us toward mental or emotional fulfillment and wonder why we come up short. Practically, this tends to look like overspending despite wanting to be more financially secure, overeating despite wanting to lose weight, and so on.

Allowing our impulses to jerk us around makes us unhappy, despite it seeming like we’re “doing what we want, when we want,” which we think is an objective “good.” This is because our impulses are often in contradiction to our desires, but it takes a great deal of self-awareness to not only be conscious of this, but also be able to control it in a healthy way.

Right now, what we lack is the ability to see things objectively, to identify genuine desires, to know what our real instincts feel like/ how to listen to them, and when it’s okay to give into the right impulsivity.

Mostly though, we don’t want to have self-control because we equate it with being boring. We think we’re going to remove all the joy from our lives – but it’s really the opposite. We’re going to remove the unconscious, unintentional actions that keep us from joy. Or, more accurately, we’re going to remove all the unconscious, unintentional actions that keep us from peace, because joy is what we chase when we lack peace.

Let’s clarify, however: real joy may come from having Taco Bell whenever you feel like it, but when your desire to have Taco Bell overrides your desire to be healthy – something you deem more important – that’s when you need to take action. (Make sense?) So here are four things you’ll need to know to start.

1. The point of consulting your “gut instincts” is so you aren’t lead by your impulses.

Your impulses are mostly just your survival responses. They are very “fight or flight,” do-what-you-need-to-do. Following them and them alone keeps you in “survive” mode, rather than “thrive” mode. The way you tell the difference between your gut instincts and your impulses is that your gut instincts are not transitory – they don’t crop up and then disappear. They’re quiet and consistent.

2. What you get impulsive about is a signal that there’s something missing in your conscious choice-making.

Do you spend too much money? That’s usually an indication you feel a lack of “safety,” and want things surrounding you to feel good again. Do you leave and re-enter relationships recklessly? That’s usually a signal that you’re doing everything but listening to your instinct about how you feel about someone, perhaps because you don’t like the answer. Pay attention to what you’re getting compulsive about. Usually, it’s what happens when your body goes on auto-pilot to survive because you’re not conscious giving it something it needs.

3. Use your gut instincts for the big questions. Use conscious, intentional choice making for everything else.

Your instincts can tell you what you’d like to accomplish in this life. Your brain can then instruct you on how to navigate your day-to-day experience to make sure you’re putting in the work to get there.

Your instincts can tell you whether or not you want to be in a relationship with someone. Your conscious, intentional choice-making can help you navigate how to treat them in your day-to-day life.

Your instincts can tell you that you’re unhealthy and need to stick to a routine, get more sleep, etc. Your conscious choice-making can help you actually get there.

4. Consciously choosing is all about knowing what you want in the long term, and then considering the consequences of your actions in the short term. It is about thinking before you act, and considering the consequences. 

If nothing else, remember this: having self-control and being aware of your over-impulsivity is simply making your unconscious habits conscious. It’s stopping, stepping back, and thinking: what are the consequences of this action? Is this what I really want?

For example: I want to write a book. Tonight, however, I do not feel like writing for the hour that I have designated. If I don’t write, I’ll feel immediately relieved, but I’ll also be a chapter behind, and if I keep on with this habit, I’ll never do what I really want.

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