Dealing with impulsivity

How Do I Stop Being Impulsive? Strategies for Adults with ADD

Reminding myself to stop and think. When I feel an impulse rise, I ask myself: Does this need to be said? Does this need to be said right now? Does this need to be said right now by me?
—An ADDitude Reader

Allowing an alternative outlet for my impulses. For example, an alternative to interrupting conversations is to write the thought down (on paper or in a cell phone), or to have an object with you to remind you to not interrupt. I always have a water bottle with me. It’s hard to interrupt when your mouth is full of liquid, and it also acts as a fidget toy to keep me focused.
—Shaina, California

When I get impulsive, I ask why: Why do you want that? Why are you moving everything off of your desk? Why are you gobbling your food?
—Jennifer, Mendham, New Jersey

Avoiding the situations that lead to impulsive behaviors.
—Beth, Pennsylvania

Daily mindfulness practice and reviewing things that need to be done. I choose one thing and follow through, no matter what.
—Bob, Arizona

Get enough sleep. Think things through. Examine possible outcomes before you act. If you’re still not sure, ask someone you trust for feedback.
—Deleyne Wentz, North Logan, Utah

[Self-Test: Could You Have Adult ADHD?]

Giving in once in a while to an indulgence helps. I struggle most with impulsive behaviors when I don’t allow myself any treats or purchases. As for blurting things out, cognitive behavioral therapy has taught me to stop, look at a possible behavior, and ask, “Is this effective?”
—An ADDitude Reader

I sit on my hands. That reminds me not to talk, because, when I talk, my hands want to be in motion.
—Jennifer, Indiana

I can’t count the number of strategies I have tried to reduce impulsive behaviors. I rely on a combination of strategies: When shopping, I always go with a written list, including a maximum spending budget, to ensure that I purchase the items I need. For other impulsive behavior, I use self-check questions that I created with a counselor years ago. They include: Is this healthy for me? Do I have the time and ability to do this? How will this affect my relationships/job/other important things in my life? and is this something that can be undone if I decide tomorrow that I no longer want it?
—Chelsea Belinsky, Newmarket, New Hampshire

I give myself $20 each pay period for impulse buys.
—Kandy, Galva, Illinois

I take herbal supplements or Ritalin, or a combination of the two, to remain focused and reduce my impulsivity.
—An ADDitude Reader

[“ADHD Makes Me Better at My Job”]

I slowly count to 10 when I have an impulse to interrupt in meetings. I also created a mantra: Stop-Breathe-Think-Choose. I had business cards made up with this mantra, and I carry one in each pocket.
—Ann Schide, Ooltewah, Tennessee

If I’m taking my medication (Adderall, two or three times daily,) I’m able to slow down and “play the tape all the way through,” so I can anticipate consequences of my actions, and determine whether they’re worth doing or not.
—An ADDitude Reader

I overthink things before taking action. I review all the different outcomes, good and bad.
—Jessica Hubby, Ankeny, Iowa

When I shop, I put an item in my cart and decide, as I near the cashier, if I still want it or not.
—Kate Clark, Jacksonville, Florida

I adhere to a 24-hour rule. As an adult with ADHD, I use this rule to give me time to think about major decisions. This has saved me from over-committing my time and resources. It has also stopped me from sending off an angry email that might have cost me a relationship. When I tell people that I have a 24-hour rule, they usually say, “That’s a good idea. I should do that.”
—Leslie, Lakewood, Florida

I write down talking points before going into a meeting.
—F. Lorde, California

I use clinical hypnosis to help me from being impulsive. Recent research shows that hypnosis is effective in reducing impulsive behaviors.
—Maureen Turner, Burlington, Vermont

Less coffee, deep breaths, good sleep.
—Denise S., Oregon

[“The Moment I Knew It Was ADHD”]

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5 Tips to Tame Impulsive Behavior

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If you have difficulty paying attention, often feel restless, and give in to urges easily, you may be living with the hyperactive-impulsive presentation of ADHD.

Managing impulsivity is possible, even if it might feel really challenging at times.

The first step to control your impulses is to seek the support of a mental health professional who can help you create and maintain a treatment plan for adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

But there’s a lot you can also do on your own to manage and improve impulse control. By being an active player in your treatment, you can further improve your quality of life.

What does impulsive behavior look like in ADHD?

Every adult is unique, so it depends on your personality and circumstances.

In general, impulsive behavior often looks like an improvised or unpredicted course of action that’s not based on logic. It’s your emotions driving your behavior.

These impulsive actions may sometimes go against your own plans and habits, and on some occasions, they might become harmful to you or others.

Examples of impulsive behavior include:

  • Constantly interrupting conversations or say things you later regret.
  • Hopping from one activity to the next one or try to handle three simultaneously.
  • Go shopping for one item and return home with endless bags.
  • While driving, you get impatient and begin cutting in front of everyone.
  • Go out to have one drink and end up coming home with someone you don’t know.

Most people act impulsively from time to time. The difference is that ADHD — particularly the hyperactive-impulsive subtype — affects impulse control to the point that these behaviors become persistent over time and across situations.

The following impulse control techniques may help.

How does your impulsivity manifest? What are the common negative consequences? When and where are you the most impulsive?

“No two ADHD adults look the same,” says Terry Matlen, ACSW, a psychotherapist and author of “Survival Tips for Women with AD/HD.” “That’s why it’s vital to understand how your particular ‘flavor’ of ADHD affects your life.”

To become aware and identify the particulars of impulse control challenges, you can begin by taking notes and keeping an inventory.

Eventually, you’ll find a system that works best for you. To start, you could:

  • list recent behaviors that you consider impulsive
  • list recent behaviors that other people consider impulsive in you
  • identify negative consequences of recent impulsive behaviors
  • identify positive consequences of recent impulsive behaviors
  • pinpoint the places where you most often become impulsive
  • select some impulsive behaviors that might be the most harmful to you or others

Matlen also suggests reading about ADHD in adults and attending support groups and conferences that can provide further resources.

To control your impulses, you can sharpen your self-awareness by practicing mindfulness.

“[B]ring attention to the present moment and observe what is happening without judging it,” says Lidia Zylowska, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in adult ADHD and penned the book “The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD.

For instance, focus on your thoughts, emotions, and urges along with how your body feels when you’re about to be impulsive, says Zylowska.

This may not be easy at first. You might pick up on your impulsivity only after being impulsive. But with practice, you can start identifying what precipitates your impulsive behavior.

Mindfulness may also help you gain some distance from your urges. This way, you aren’t driven by your impulses but simply observing them. Then, you can decide on your actions, adds Zylowska.

Here’s how it could work:

  1. Practice how to recognize an urge before you act impulsively.
  2. Put a name on that urge. For example, “This is anger I feel.”
  3. Identify the action that emotion is leading you to. For example, “I want to criticize my spouse (because I’m angry).”
  4. Identify what you need to do to stop the impulsive behavior. For example, “I need to express my frustration without making it personal.” Or, “I need to step away, take a moment, and come back later.
  5. Approach the situation once your urge has decreased.
  6. Document your emotion, what you felt like doing, and what you ended up doing.

Use a supportive, compassionate, and encouraging voice, says Zylowska. For instance, if you want to manage your impatience, you might say: “Waiting is hard for you, but see if you can be a bit more patient right now.”

Checking in refers to taking inventory of how you feel and what your predominant thoughts are right before acting impulsively.

The goal is to pinpoint the inner dialogue underlying your impulsive behaviors. Once you do, you can challenge them.

For instance, let’s say you had to complete a job task but ended up browsing Facebook for an hour.

Carol Perlman, PhD, a psychologist who developed a cognitive behavioral therapy for adult ADHD, suggests asking yourself a series of questions.

For example:

  • What was going on when you started the task?
  • Did it feel doable?
  • Was it interesting?
  • Was any resistance in you regarding the task itself?

Maybe you started looking at Facebook because the thought of sitting at your desk for two hours straight seemed utterly unbearable, she says.

Once you’ve identified the challenges or emotions underlying your impulses, you can implement correctives.

There are many ways you can go about this. Here are some examples Perlman, also co-author of the therapist guide and workbook “Mastering Your Adult ADHD,” suggests:

  • Break out your tasks into bite-sized steps. For example, work on your task for 30 minutes and then take a five-minute break in a different environment.
  • When taking a break, plan for short and relaxing activities. Also, set up an alarm. If you stay on break too long, you may get distracted and move to other tasks.
  • Keep asking questions about the task you’re having difficulty completing. For example, “How bad can this really be?” or “Can I coach myself through the less enjoyable parts?” or “How good will it feel once I finish?”

Once you improve your self-awareness and mindfulness, you’ll be able to know where and when you typically act impulsively. The following step is to sabotage those instances, says Matlen.

For example, if you usually overspend when you go out shopping, leave your credit card and checkbook at home. Take cash instead, and take only what you need to purchase what you’ll be shopping for.

If you need to curb impulsive speech, Perlman suggests taking a notepad with you to important meetings. Instead of blurting out your comments, jot them down as soon as they come to you. Read them later and mention them at the appropriate time.

To plan for this, go back to your initial list. Next to the impulsive behaviors you have identified, write the possible impulse control solutions.

Sometimes ADHD impulsivity might be the result of being stressed or on edge, says Perlman.

Relaxing can increase your impulse control.

Perlman suggests the following:

  • Practice guided imagery.
  • Listen to calming music at all times, particularly when you need to get busy.
  • Implement deep breathing techniques throughout your day.
  • Exercise as often as possible.
  • Learn progressive muscle relaxation.

Managing ADHD impulsivity might be challenging at times, but it’s possible.

Self-awareness is the first step to impulse control, besides seeking the guidance of a mental health professional.

You can begin taming your impulsive behaviors by checking in with yourself, making it more difficult to act on impulse, and improving your mental and physical relaxation.

How to help an impulsive child gain self-control

How often have you seen children act without thinking? There are probably enough. Most children occasionally act impulsively or say something before they can stop. They may blurt out something inappropriate or run out onto the road for the ball without looking around.

But what about children who seem to have no "mental brakes" at all? If your child often interrupts people, grabs other people's things without asking, and frequently puts himself at risk, you may be wondering why this is happening. Is it about immaturity? Inability to assess the situation? Or is there something else behind the impulsive behavior? nine0003

Learn about impulsivity and how you can help your child learn better self-control.

Impulsive behavior you can observe

What is impulsivity? The normal behavior of a child involves the manifestation of impulsivity from time to time. However, when this happens frequently, it is impossible to ignore the obvious: the child has self-control problems.

Impulsivity manifests itself differently in different children. And behavior can change as the child grows. Being impulsive, the child may:

  • Acting stupid and inappropriate to get attention

  • Have difficulty following the rules consistently

  • Being aggressive towards other children (young children often fight, kick and bite)

  • Do not wait your turn in games and conversations

  • Grabbing other people's things or pushing in line

  • Overreacting to frustration, frustration, mistakes and criticism

  • Strive to be the last to speak in an argument and always be first in line

  • Not understanding how his words and behavior affect other people

  • Not understanding the consequences of one's actions

  • Take more risks in relationships, sex, driving, taking alcohol and drugs

Impulsive behavior can often make children appear younger. For example, an 8-year-old child may have self-control that is more likely to be expected from a 5-year-old child. Thus, you can observe behavior that, it would seem, should have stopped a long time ago.

What can cause children to be impulsive

Children can be impulsive for many reasons. Sometimes it really is a matter of maturity. Not all children develop at the same rate, and some simply take longer than others to learn to think and control their actions. nine0003

Lack of sleep can be another cause of impulsive behavior, as well as stress and frustration. When something bad happens to a child at school or in everyday life, impulsive behavior can be a response to stress. Young children cannot always find words to describe how they feel, and they may not even know why they are tense or upset.

Some children may be impulsive due to one of the disorders. One of the most common causes of frequent impulsive behavior is ADHD. Many children and adults suffer from ADHD, and the disorder is often inherited. Therefore, you may see some of these behaviors in other close family members. nine0003

ADHD can make it difficult for a person to control strong feelings, such as anger. For example, when children with ADHD get angry, they may start kicking furniture or saying something mean instead of experiencing their anger in a more restrained way.

There are also mental disorders, such as phobias and affective disorders, that can lead to impulsive behavior in a child.

It is easy to guess what is behind a child's impulsive behavior. For example, if a child makes a rude remark, people may think that the remark was intentionally offensive. But in many cases, such as ADHD, children are not being rude or aggressive on purpose. However, they need more help and practice to learn to slow down and think before they act. nine0003

No matter what is causing your child's impulsiveness, there are ways to help him improve self-control and gain self-confidence. And with more control over their actions, children can feel more "mature", which will increase their self-esteem.

How to help your child deal with impulsivity

Even if you're not sure why your child is acting impulsively, you can still work on strengthening his skills at home. Explore strategies for:

  • Improvements in self-monitoring

  • Development of coping skills

  • How to react when your child is upset

If you suspect your child has ADHD, learn what to do next. If your child's behavior seems completely "out of control" and you're not sure why, find out what to do about it - see a child psychologist or behavioral specialist. nine0003

Struggling with impulsivity or any other behavior problem can affect the way a child perceives himself. Explain to your child that many people experience these problems, and that self-control can improve over time by working on themselves. Talk to your child about their strengths and don't forget to celebrate even small progress as your child works on gaining self-control.

What's next?

There are many ways to help your child. To start, start writing down your observations about how the child behaves at home. This way you can get a better idea of ​​why your child may be having difficulty with self-control.

For example, if you think your child's impulsiveness is due to the fact that he is upset, try to monitor his behavior. This way you will be able to detect patterns in its behavior over time. nine0003

If you find a pattern that has been going on for a while, you might want to discuss it with someone. Your child's teacher or doctor can provide observations and help with helpful suggestions.

Modern neurological techniques such as Fast ForWord can also help you manage your child's impulsivity. Classes according to this technique not only correct impulsivity, but also develop concentration, memory, information processing, reduce hyperactivity - all these skills, as a rule, are urgently needed to develop children with ADD / ADHD. nine0003

Look at the interim results of the CDIG correction using FAST Forword:

Each column displays the student’s condition by key skills:

A - attention

t - the consistency of actions

I - impulsiveness

H - hyperreactivity



Kirill Karpenko

Impulsivity - inability to restrain one's impulses; reckless, unconscious actions. nine0003

Impulsivity is often accompanied by inattention and hyperactivity. However, impulsivity can be without these manifestations.

The opposite property of impulsivity is self-control .

Impulsivity in children is manifested in the following behaviors:

  1. Often blurts out answers before questions are completed.
  2. Often unable to wait in lines, wait in line in games or group situations. nine0032
  3. Frequently interrupts or interferes with others (for example, in other people's conversations or games).
  4. Often talks too much without adequate response to socially accepted rules.
  5. Always finds an answer quickly when asked about something (possibly the wrong one).
  6. He often changes his mood.
  7. Many things irritate him and piss him off.
  8. He likes work that can be done quickly.
  9. nine0029 Touchy, but not vindictive.
  10. Often feels fed up with everything.
  11. Quickly, without hesitation, makes decisions.
  12. May abruptly refuse food they don't like.
  13. Often distracted in class.
  14. Usually confident that he will cope with any task.
  15. Can be rude to parents, teacher.
  16. At times he seems to be full of energy.
  17. This is a man of action, he does not know how to reason and does not like. nine0032
  18. Demands attention, does not want to wait.
  19. Does not follow general rules in games.
  20. Gets excited when talking, often raises his voice.
  21. Easily forgets the instructions of the elders, is fond of the game.
  22. Likes to organize and lead.
  23. Praise and blame affect him more than others.

Correction of impulsivity

The causes of impulsivity can be hormonal disorders, genetic factors, activity of certain brain structures, improper upbringing. nine0003

Impulsivity usually decreases with age. Schoolchildren are less impulsive than preschool children. Boys are less impulsive than schoolchildren.

One of the most important ways to combat impulsivity is to teach an impulsive person to think:

- What's the problem? What is my goal? What do I want?
- What am I going to do?

- What will be the consequences of such an action?
- What else can you do in this situation? nine0184

In this case, instead of an external movement, a person performs an internal action - he speaks to himself. Some people think that talking to yourself is a sign of mental illness. However, it is not. Each person at a certain stage of language development begins to talk to himself. Even those who think they don't do this first asked themselves:

- Am I talking to myself?
- Of course, I don't talk to myself.

True, in public places it is better not to talk to yourself out loud - it will look strange. nine0003

The effectiveness of the recommendation to develop inner speech lies in the fact that rash impulses are not suppressed or restrained - they are replaced by another action.

Impulsivity is based on uncontrollable emotions, so it is necessary to learn how to control emotions and teach this to the child.

Relaxation and concentration skills also reduce impulsivity.


Methodology for studying the level of impulsivity V. A. Losenkova.


  1. Doris Brett. There was a girl who looked just like you.
  2. Lyutova EK, Monina GB Cheat sheet for adults: psychocorrectional work with hyperactive, aggressive, anxious and autistic children.
  3. Stepanov S. Marmalade torment. // School psychologist. - 2011. - No. 16.

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