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Take Pause: 3 Things to do before acting on impulse

April 23, 2014

You might have been told growing up to "Think before you speak". While this is great practical advice that undoubtedly would have saved you a world of trouble throughout your life, at times it seemed impossible not to say or do something in the moment that you would regret later. Acting on impulse applies to those moments of verbal or physical actions that seem impossible to control. We all know the consequences of saying something in an impulsive moment that causes riffs in our relationships, or acting on an impulse (that little voice in our minds that tells us something is a good idea when it isn't) that later leaves us questioning our sanity and self-discipline. In the aftermath of these moments, we wonder "Was that me?" "Was that the good person I know I am who tries their best to be kind, gentle, compassionate, tolerant, and loving?" It is sad to realize that during those moments of impulse, we either hurt the ones we love, or hurt ourselves. There are so many resources for learning how to curb impulse. Many of these lessons can be summed up in three basic steps.

 

The first is Awareness. Know yourself very well. Know what your triggers are. In other words, know the reasons or things that typically cause you to react impulsively. These could be anything including hunger, tiredness, sickness, loneliness, agitation, nervousness, fear, sadness, anger. Observe when you are in a neutral state, observe when you are in a positive and negative state. Notice the difference in the way you speak, react, and act toward yourself and others when you are in each of these states. How do you begin to notice more? One way is through meditation or mindfulness. The Tibetan's word for meditation is "Become familiar". Become familiar with yourself, your thoughts, your triggers. When you notice that you are in a predominantly negative mood and your triggers are present, before speaking, before acting or reacting, take a pause, take a deep breath, take time to sit quietly with your emotions and become aware of what is going on inside of you. For example, when you find yourself in an argument with your significant other, your first impulse may be to yell and say something hurtful out of impulse. When you notice that urge arise, take a pause and notice where you are at emotionally. Is something else going on that can help you understand why you have a strong desire to react? Perhaps earlier that week, you heard news that one of your friends passed away and you are grief-stricken and haven't truly processed your feelings. Be aware of what is going on inside you so you do not react impulsively to what is going on outside.

 

The second is Acceptance. Rather than trying to get rid of or avoid your feelings, accept that the feelings are part of your experience right now. Have you heard the saying "Whatever you resist- persists"? This is so true, when you consistently resist your emotions, and fight against them, you are that much more susceptible to reacting impulsively because the reaction can seem so much easier than accepting and feeling the uncomfortable emotions. Accept that you have feelings and that your feelings need attention. The feelings will dissipate in time.

 

The third is Action. To truly curb the impulsive action or reaction, you will need to go through the first two steps awareness and acceptance in some degree. In order to act and react in a way that honors the person you want to be, you will need to be aware and be accepting of your emotions. You can then choose actions and words that honor yourself and others. Right actions are actions that are in line with your values, your goals, the person you want to be, and the life you want to lead. The next time you find yourself wanting to react impulsively, take a pause, be aware of what is truly going on inside, and be accepting of whatever emotion you’re experiencing. The action you will likely choose after such reflection will likely be calmer, gentler, more compassionate, and more loving. Freedom from impulse and from causing harm to ourselves and others lies in that brief moment before the reaction. You can do it.

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