Low-grade Impulsivity Ruins Lives Too

Identifying “Garden Variety” Impulsivity

The first step on the road to change

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

Garden-Variety Impulsives

Serious Impulse Control issues cannot be resolved by attempting to follow advice gleaned from a quick trip around the internet — or any Series of articles written to help you improve your level of self-control and accountability.

If you suspect that your problem with impulsivity is severe enough to need professional help beyond ADD Coaching, THAT is one impulse I encourage you to act on immediately!

But that is NOT what this article is designed to help you identify.

I want to encourage those of you whom I call the “garden-variety impulsives,” to stop comparing what you do to the far end of the impulsivity spectrum.

I’m hoping to be able to convince at least some of you to stop fooling yourselves into believing that you don’t really have a problem, as the joys of life that could be yours remain forever out of reach.

Because “low-grade impulsivity” is something that can be changed relatively easily in a “self-help” fashion or with some focused work with a private ADD Coach or in a Coaching Group.

Life looks up when you do the work.

I’m talking about the kind of behaviors that the Wikipedia article on Impulsivity describes as

“a tendency to act on a whim, displaying behavior characterized by little or no forethought, reflection, or consideration of consequences — actions that are poorly conceived, prematurely expressed, unduly risky, or inappropriate to the situation, that often result in undesirable consequences which imperil long term goals and strategies for success.”

You don’t necessarily need outside intervention to teach yourself to overcome low-grade impulsivity — at least most people don’t. There is a lot you can do to help yourself and get your symptoms under control – which I will outline in articles to come.

But the FIRST step is to identify what you’re dealing with, and accept the need for change.

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Identifying the chronic life spoilers

In this relatively short, edited excerpt from a much longer article, I’m going to review and illuminate a few things that might help you identify a type of impulsivity that passes for almost normal.

That is, it would pass if impulsivity oopses didn’t happen so darned frequently, in one or more arenas that make you feel so darned lousy about yourself afterwards: so immature and out of control, so stupid, so incredibly . . . well . . . impulsive!

These are the thoughts and urges that, when acted upon, impair the ability of others to trust your behavior, your word or your intentions – and undermine your ability to trust yourself.

Check off any of the following ten things YOU can relate to:

  1. Retail therapy that leaves you chronically late paying your bills because you simply can’t resist a bargain.
  2. Running out to the store for one or two items you suddenly realized you needed for tonight’s dinner party and coming home with four bags of groceries and so little time to get ready that you’re not very nice to the guest who arrives early.
  3. Fits of “mouthing off” that continue to ruin relationships you care about.
  4. Your inability to overcome your sweet tooth, even though you are desperate to lose weight for an upcoming event that is important to you.
  5. Your immediate agreement that “Yes, you DO have time for just one quick drink before you have to leave”  with nary a thought for the promise you made to a loved one, following your last little fender-bender, that you would never drink and drive again — at least nary a thought until after the glass was already empty!
  6. Breaking things “accidentally” as a result of rough handling when you’re angry.
  7. Repeatedly getting into hot water with your significant other because you can’t resist the lure of your iPhone™, even when the timing is clearly inappropriate.
  8. Accelerating rapidly to get through every yellow light before it turns red, or angrily honking your horn at the idiot in front of you who has the gall to actually stop when the light is yellow (or laying on the horn the nanosecond the light turns green when you are stopped at a red light – even if you have plenty of time to make it where you are going).
  9. Sleeping with your Ex – again – even though you truly know the relationship is over and you’re ready to move on.
  10. Blurting out an item you swore you’d keep secret, telling the entire story “before you can stop yourself” – like somebody’s age and why they lie about it, for example, or the fact that friends are considering adoption because they haven’t been able to conceive, or that Joe was shopping for engagement rings already, even though it had only been a couple of months since . . .

Does this list remind you of anything you do?

Deconstructing the Dynamic

The items above span a selection of sensory modalities and arenas of action, but they all have two things in common:

1. acting with little to no deliberation

and, in the heat of the moment,

2. choosing immediate to short-term benefit over long-term gains.

The tracks of our tears

Allowed to run rampant, impulsivity can have more than a few negative effects in our lives, both personal and professional.  Some impulsive actions result “merely” in embarrassment and frustration in the moment, but many effect our lives in a more long-term fashion.

The far-reaching effects of unmanaged impulsivity can lead to chronic disappointment, hopelessness, and loss of confidence in your own talents and abilities.

Everybody loses. We may well be fed up with we perceive as constant nagging from loved ones or micro-managing from bosses and supervisors. Our family and friends probably feel hurt and resentment due to what they believe is proof-positive of our “insensitivity.” Bosses and colleagues in our work environments wonder why they don’t fire us for our “irresponsibility.”

Still, those of us who most need to develop new habits of behavior frequently have no idea what others are thinking about when they suggest a need for change is in order.

Does your “life resume” include many of the following items?  Any?

  1. A history of getting into trouble for acting out in school? Are there any suspensions or expulsions for fighting, bullying or arguing with authority figures on your record? Did you ever have to switch schools due to behavioral issues?
  2. Has an exasperated comment that you talk incessantly ever been aimed your way from more than a person or two? Do you find yourself having to justify items that popped out in anger or frustration?

How often do you say things you’re later ashamed of or cause you to cringe in embarrassment (or things that cause embarrassment for those you care about)?

Do you struggle to keep a secret or resist the urge to gossip? Have you ever damaged a relationship or lost a friend when you lost the struggle?

  1. Have you lost or seriously damaged relationships, even marriages, because you “can’t behave appropriately,” or be counted on keep your promises?
  2. Do you have trouble following corporate rules, adhering to a 9-to-5 routine, or have a ready string of excuses for a series of missed deadlines you can’t be positive won’t continue to occur?
  3. Are former employers reluctant to give you a positive recommendation? Do you have a background of multiple job changes or losses? Did you quit suddenly, or were you fired unexpectedly? Have you been fired more than once?
  4. Do you feel the need to do “a million things at once” – either because “you can’t stand to be bored,” or because you can’t seem to stop yourself from jumping from thing to thing?  How many items linger unfinished as a result?  Do important items like paying your bills frequently get put on the back-burner or overlooked while you are chasing the activities of the moment?
  5. Has your insurance ever increased due to speeding tickets or multiple accidents?  Are you fearful that it might?
  6. How’s your weight, by the way? Do you find it practically impossible to resist eating fattening foods, even when one of your goals is to lose weight?
  7. Once past the tempestuous teen-aged years, have you ever given in to the temptation to shoplift something you really wanted but couldn’t afford to buy?  If you got away with it once, did you find it more difficult to resist trying it again?
  8. Do you seem to have a greater number of sexual relationships than others?  Do you avoid commitment, even when you think you are in love, because you don’t want to give up your “freedom?”  Is infidelity part of your profile?  How about those “internet infidelities” – even though they haven’t been physically consummated.

If more than one or two items on either of the above lists describe your behavior or characterize your life, you are struggling with impulsivity to at least some degree.

Help is on the way

Rewiring the Impulsive Brain

FORTUNATELY, we can “rewire” brains that seem to be hard-wired for impulsivity, but not once the starting gun has been sounded and we are merrily off in our typically impulsive manner.

We need to develop new habits – new actions that follow old cues – automatically.

  • The more often we utilize new pathways (even in our imagination), the more strongly entrenched they become.
  • The less frequently we access old pathways, the less effect they have on our behavior.

But it takes time and usage – “rehearsal” – which is why developing a new habit takes so darned long!

Practice and Rehearsal

By mentally rehearsing new ways to respond to old situations, you will begin to notice that the gap between impulse and action is beginning to widen “in real life” too, making it more likely that you will react differently in the moment.

“Priming” the cognitive pump will allow you access to new options in the future, strengthening the response pathways you CHOOSE to use, rather than jumping into action every time a new idea enters your awareness.

Studies have also suggested that selective attention can alter emotional responses arising from affective (feelings-based) representations that are active within working memory. (Thiruchselvam et al.)

Not only that, your self-esteem will increase and you’ll be happier.

According to psychologists and Psychology Today bloggers Robert Biswas-Diener and Todd B. Kashdan [What Happy People Do Differently]

“Truly happy people seem to have an intuitive grasp of the fact that sustained happiness [ . . . ] requires growth and adventuring beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone.”

STAY TUNED – Future articles from the Impulsivity articles of The Challenges Inventory™ Series will explore various “back-stage and under-the-hood” dynamics, along with some additional ways to manage the various presentations of several types of impulsivity — articles that will help you figure out how to deal with life more effectively.

BY THE WAY, if you will let me know where your struggles with impulsivity lie (in the comments section below), even if I don’t have time to respond to each comment comprehensively, I will make it a point to include suggestions targeted specifically for YOUR challenges with impulsivity in the upcoming series.  

That amounts to Free Coaching
if you’ll make the time advantage of it!!

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IN ANY CASE, stay tuned.
There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come – in this Series and in others.
Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some one-on-one (couples or group) coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series, click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end, or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page. Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)


Related articles right here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com
(Some repeated – in case you missed them above)

Related articles ’round the ‘net

BY THE WAY: Since ADDandSoMuchMore.com is an Evergreen site, I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

22 Responses to Low-grade Impulsivity Ruins Lives Too

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  7. Dizzy Chick says:

    Great post, as usual.
    I used to have a huge problem with impulsitity, imagine that coming from someone with Bipolar disorder. haha
    Now i don’t really have that, except where food is concerned. I’m having a heck of a time not eating stuff when I know I want to lose weight. I make excuses. I really want to lose weight. It’s really hard. I’ve never had this problem before and I’ve never understood why others have it, until now.

    I’m having trouble trying to do something with my site too. I need to change my favicon…site image..and can’t figure out how. The instructions that are given, well I don’t even have that function show up on the page they send me to. I can see it on other sites of mine, but the one that I have with my own domain name, it’s not there. My resident computer wiz is going to look at it later, but I don’t know how he’s going to figure this one out.

    I did have someone say that my reblog button was gone, but suddenly it was back and she used it. Who the heck knows. I wish I was more computer savy so I could just build my own website. I did just start a facebook page for my blog. we’ll see how that goes.

    good to be able to do things and come by here.
    I’m kind of distracted and busy dealing with my father’s declining health.
    he is how in hospice.



    • Wait a bit on the favicon investigaton: it’s not you, it’s the evil WordPress Fairies again!! WordPress is having ALL KINDS of site issues: adding code all by itself, removing items like sidebars, list numbers, and like buttons (and several bloggers have complained about disappearing and reappearing reblog buttons, btw) – the WordPress gremlins never seem to go away and D-I-E!!!

      It seems to come in spates – everything is okay for a while, then things start going nutso (frequently followed by an announcement of an upgrade that makes functionality for writers even worse). I always wonder if it means they’ve hired a new employee or fired an old one. In any case, the idea of testing code before posting is clearly something that slips through the cracks in the interview process.

      I’m less understanding than I might be because I lost two solid hours of work earlier this morning (between 2 and 4 AM, so I was NOT AT ALL a happy camper!). The lost work included graphics and links it took time to locate and format, or I might not have discovered the text edits that disappeared as well until later.

      Poof! Somehow *older* versions of the draft were overwriting later ones. This happened an article earlier, practically ready to post, and I thought perhaps that I’d done something odd. On that one, after another hour of searching, I found the latest edit several hour back in the restore post listing. Explain THAT, if you will.

      On this morning’s post, the graphics were still in my media library and I could save about ten minutes by sifting through my browser history – but I went to bed in disgust, knowing that it would be a waste of additional time to attempt to report it to the so-called “Happiness” Engineers.

      (Rant, rant, vent) If I could TRUST the site, I’d have made this a Monday Grumpy Monday post!

      Weight: I am a stress eater vs. an impulsive one. I can reduce the damage somewhat by paying attention to what I stock in my kitchen. If I let my pantry get low and things get stressful, I’m sunk! Eating out adds pounds, if I go grocery shopping, things look good that I don’t usually buy, etc. NOT buying adds stress, so I don’t go Krogering, I end up eating out – BAD! lol 🙂

      I’m glad you seem to be doing better, health-wise – it’s great to see you over here. Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment – especially as you deal with hospice care. I am so sorry to hear that you have that stress added to your life, and hope his transition is a peaceful one.


      Liked by 1 person

      • Dizzy Chick says:

        Ah! WordPress strikes again!

        I think I’m both an impulsive eater and a stress eater…and when I’m sick eater, after all “eat something you’ll feel better”, right? I eat when I’m happy, eat when I’m sad. Geez, do I ever not b eat? Ha! It’s very difficult for me because I have to depend on others to shop for me, cook for me…. I can make plans all I want but if I don’t have help and support from those who feed me, then I’m doomed to fail.
        I hope to go back and catch up on posts I’ve missed. I always miss you.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ditto, re: catch-up. I just left a comment on your great “stress management” post – sort of an ode to my dog, I’m afraid. 🙂

          When my leg was badly broken I had to depend on my roomie and sister for groceries – and just about everything else for the month I wasn’t allowed out of bed, even to go to the bathroom. I had a really tough time being dependent – and had no idea how to get my needs really met in that situation. I was so grateful for any help at all, that I’m afraid I wasn’t forthcoming about what would help most until I was so frustrated I didn’t do it well or graciously.

          I don’t know how you stay so cheerful if you have to live like that the majority of the time. I think you need to reframe success and failure under those terms, don’t you?

          Glad we’re both in a place where we can be back in touch.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Dizzy Chick says:

            I’m not always cheerful, sometimes I’m a bitch. A person can take just so much. I was feeling good today, physically and did way to much. But feel good about it. Now, just let me feel good tomorrow so I can finish.
            Impulsively and b eating. I was out yesterday, after PT and I was hungry. It’s hard to find quick food I can safely eat. I saw a place and impulsively got fries and a milk shake. I have felt bad about that milk shake ever since! Stuart ate most of the fries, so the guilt is less there.


            • Give up the guilt, girl! You deserve a break, don’t you think? Every once in a while a girl just has to have a milkshake and share a plate of fries. xoxoxoxo, mgh


            • Dizzy Chick says:

              I’d be ok with the occasional milkshake and fries, but I’m doing way too much bad stuff just saying…oh what the heck. Who cares. or just not thinking at all, it’s fast, it doesn’t bother my husband much, just give me food. and I need to lose 20-30lbs. ugh. I will get better, I’m determined. But not today, today is the anniversary of my mother’s death. today is pizza in honor of her. 🙂

              I don’t know if I said on my blog or not, I think I might have, but the tub thing isn’t about vertigo. I only get in when I’m doing well. I’ve had vertigo in the tub a couple of times, I deal with it. If I didn’t do things because I might have vertigo, I wouldn’t do anything!

              I don’t take a bath here because our roommate uses that bathroom and doesn’t keep it as clean as I would like. As I’ve told him to! It was agreed I’d use that tub before he moved it. I clean it after I use it but I don’t feel I should have to clean his bathroom every time before I use it. And if I’m going to take a bath in there, the whole bathroom is going to be clean. To my satisfaction.
              umph! I’m particular.

              I have a hard time in the shower, but I do what I need to do. I have a stool in there and a shower head that comes off and I can turn it on and off from the head. That helps. I take a lot of “Navy Baths” meaning I wash up in the sink most days, and only shower about once a week. Now that’s it’s summer the shower taking has to increase, and i’m not happy about that.

              Okay, enough off topic and enough of my bitching.
              Try to stay cool. It’s crazy hot here right now.


            • How clean a bathroom needs to be is one of those things that is person-specific. I can tolerate a lot more when I’m the only one using the bathroom, but if it is shared, it really needs to be clean-clean-clean every time I want to use it, or I am on the warpath (especially now that I am older – and *especially* the bathtub).

              For those of us who take baths, that means cleaning the tub every single time it is used – for ANYTHING! People who shower can’t really relate – as long as it doesn’t *look* dirty, most of them think that we’re being overly fussy. They actually believe that cleaning even once a week is a lot to ask – because they think of it like they think of the floor. After all, they stand to shower, right?

              I’ve never had much luck convincing a person who showers that I don’t want to sit where their feet have been unless the tub has been disinfected first. You’d think I insisted on them running a marathon by the way they respond. I use Scrubbing Bubbles, and it really only takes 2 minutes TOPS if you do it every single time. (Spray the Bubbles the minute you get out, towel off or wrap up in a terry-cloth robe, then spray the tub with water until the water runs clear.)

              I’ve also never had ANY luck sharing a bathroom with a man. I end up r-e-a-l-l-y resenting being stuck policing the bathroom – and they resent my being the tub and sink police. It’s usually a bit better with a lover (leverage 🙂 ), but not always.

              My ex-fiance was truly slovenly. When I first moved into the house where he was living I spent – no kidding – an entire afternoon chipping away what I’m sure were years of grime and soap scum out of the shower in the en suite master. I promise I am not a fussy housekeeper – some of my friends who are super housekeepers would probably say that I was slovenly myself – so if I say it was bad, know that anyone else would probably have been afraid to enter the room!

              Anyway, I immediately claimed the bathroom down the hall as my sole province. The best I could get was his promise not to use “my” bathroom. EVER. And I didn’t go into “his” bathroom again. I didn’t want to do time for murder, after all, and I’m sure he continued to do what he had always done: NOTHING. 🙂

              With a male roommate, pretty much forget about it. From your past descriptions, your male roomie doesn’t sound like the most considerate of men in any case – he seems not to pay attention to any details that don’t directly affect him, so my heart goes out to you. I truly get it.

              Bitch away, my friend — I would too! (actually, I’d make the tub one of those deal-breakers: DO IT or you are gone, no discussion and really no kidding!) It’s really not too much to ask to have a roof over his head, right?

              Muggy here today – so it feels hotter than it is (which is hot enough).

              Liked by 1 person

            • Dizzy Chick says:

              I feel the same way about bathrooms. Stuart isn’t so bad, but not as fastidious about it as I am. In our old house the shower and tub were separate so I kept the tub clean, he was to keep the shower cean. LOL that shower was often in need of help. I can’t say just men, I’ve had female roommates who are just as bad. I think people who shower only generally keep the bathroom messier. I clean the sink, and counter area every day. If you do a quick wipe down you don’t have to work at it. Toilet, a swish and flush, it’s easy. The hardest part for me is keeping hair off the floor. 😠

              I agree this is a deal breaker.
              I just can’t seem to get it through everyone’s head that I’m serious.
              I think one day something small is going to break this camel’s back and I’m going to blow up for him to get out!
              Glad this is on your site.

              I saw my psych dr yesterday and she said she’d write me a note saying I can’t have a roommate because it harms me to live with a depressed person. She is awsome. She really would write something, if I could think of the right thing.
              I know having him here while I’m dealing with my father dying is very hard on me.

              Thanks for listening.


            • Well, from over here it seems you have more than enough to deal with – including fighting the slide into depression yourself, especially with the added stress of your father’s failing health and your inability to take some of the burden off your sister due to your own health issues… recent move . . . and more!

              You don’t need the “right” thing, simply the honest thing. I would find that conversation beyond tough myself, but you simply can’t prioritize his mental health over your own.

              What does your hubby think?

              Liked by 1 person

            • Dizzy Chick says:

              Hubby agrees that it’s complicated. He is not as bothered by having a roommate as I am. He says that if it is not good for me then things have to change. I really want it to be that he wants him out as much as I do. I don’t want to feel guilty about asking him to leave. I don’t want it to be all about me. It’s very difficult. To say the least.
              Thank you again for listening.
              You’re the best.


            • No, my dear – YOU are the best. And you deserve better.

              Here’s my take on it:
              1. You agreed he could move in because it would be helpful and take some of the burden off of hubby.
              2. He knew the deal before he moved in.
              3. He also knew his own mental “temperature” and whether he could DO what he said he would do.
              4. He’s not living up to the agreement.
              5. He’s adding to your level of stress by what he is NOT doing (lousy for you),
              and finally . . .
              6. It’s NOT “all about you” – it’s all about him.

              Yes, it is difficult because you consider him a friend, and depression is something you understand and forgive. But that does NOT mean you need to facilitate it. It doesn’t mean you allow *his* depression to be more important than your own mental and physical health.

              You didn’t take him to raise – nor could you, given what is going on with YOU, even if you wanted to.

              Set the boundary, restate the ground rules (which HE must write down AS you restate them), give it a [short] timeframe, after which he needs to GO, if he is unable to be helpful (vs. hurtful).

              PERIOD. This is so unfair to YOU!

              Liked by 1 person

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