You have problems controlling your impulses if you act too quickly on your feelings. Then you may not have learned How to control your impulses like a pro as yet. Perhaps you constantly suffer negative consequences because you act without careful thought. If you had stopped to think, you would not have gotten into all that trouble. Maybe you ended in jail, struck someone you cared for or just got drunk. This set of exercises is for those people who lose control over their behaviour. It outlines the skills necessary to healproblems with impulse control.
The first thing you have to understand is that you are held accountable in our society only for what you do. You are not held accountable for what you think or how you feel. Your movements are what count. That is what people see. That is how people judge you. You can think about robbing a bank all day long and you will not get arrested. But if you rob a bank, then you have committed a crime and might be in big trouble. To control your impulses, you must learn to control your movements.
HOW TO UNDERSTAND YOUR FEELINGS
To control your impulses, you need to understand your feelings. Feelings are impulses and feelings motivate action. They are a powerful force. The direct behaviour. Each feeling is connected to a specific activity. Let’s examine several feelings and the actions they stimulate. There are only a few basic feelings. Fear, anger and sadness are a few of them. Fear motivates you to run, anger motivates you to fight and sadness motivates you to recover a lost object. Examine each feeling and the movement to which it is attached. Learn that each feeling motivates a specific action and learn what each feeling is and the action it initiates.
HOW TO DEVELOP GOALS
Now it is time to take a close look at exactly what you want to change as you learn How to control your impulses like a pro. Remembering that behaviour is movement, Question: take a piece of paper and detail exactly what you want to do differently. For example, someone who physically abuses his or her spouse or kids would want to write down something like this: “I want to stop hitting my spouse and children.”
Study each of your goals. Is it reasonable that you can attain this goal? Make sure that the goal is written in behavioural terms. It needs to be a movement you can see, hear or feel.
WHAT I WANT TO DO DIFFERENTLY:
Now that you have the specific behaviour you want to change, we can look at exactly how you are going to change.
Feelings as you navigate how to control your impulses like a pro
All feelings are friendly, even the painful ones. They help us adapt to our environment and give us energy and direction for action. The skill necessary for dealing with feelings appropriately is to learn exactly what coping skills to use when having a particular feeling. Feelings should not be ignored; they should be acted on. Which action to take is the skill you want to learn. You need to spend some time with a few feelings and learn coping skills for dealing with these feelings. Then you must practice the new skills until they become automatic. You cannot just learn what to do. You must practice the actual behaviour until it becomes second nature. This will take a lot of time and practice. Do not try to do this perfectly; just make progress.
Anger gives chemically dependent persons more problems than does any other feeling. You can relapse into old behaviour when you feel angry and frustrated. Anger gives you the energy and direction to fight. Anger is good and fighting is good, so long as the actions are appropriate. The problems arise when we fight all the time or at inappropriate times.
Anger is friendly. It needs to be listened to and expressed. You need to learn how to use your anger assertively rather than aggressively. Much of this work is taken from Your Perfect Right, an assertive guide by Alberti and Emmons (1986). They found that verbal and physical aggression rarely is necessary and can even be harmful. Acting on your anger assertively is a much more effective means of getting what you want.
Here is an assertive formula that you should memorize and practice until it becomes automatic: I feel ____________________________________ when you _______________________________________. I would prefer it if _____________________________________.
When you feel angry with someone, you start by describing how you feel. Thats how you start How to control your impulses like a pro! Then, in behavioral terms, describe what the person did that led to your feelings. Then, again in behavioral terms, tell the person what you want him or her to do. As we would teach you at our wellness center, let’s try it in a situation to show how the assertive formula works.
The Aggressive Response
Bob comes home from work one hour late. Barbara, his spouse, is hurt and angry.
Barbara: “Where have you been? You’re such an incredible jerk!”
How is Bob going to be feeling – attacked, hurt, angry, defensive? He might retaliate and say something like this:
Bob: “What a nag! You’re always mad at me!”
The Assertive Response
Barbara: “I feel hurt and angry when you’re late. I would prefer it if you would call me and tell me when you’re not going to be on time.”
The assertive formula gives the other person accurate information that he or she can use to remedy the situation. The person knows what he or she did and knows what to do differently.
Try the assertive formula at least two times today. After each use, write down the situation and how it turned out. Notice the feelings that you have. If you are like most people, you will feel much more in control of your feelings. You also will get more of what you want. This will lead to less anger.
How to control your impulses through Fear
Fear is another difficult feeling for people. Fear motivates you to run or withdraw from a dangerous situation. Fear is friendly. Withdrawal is friendly and it can be adaptive, but it also can be inappropriate. It is important to think accurately and consider the consequences before you withdraw. What are the pros and cons of withdrawing from the situation? It is not appropriate to run from all of your problems even if they are scary. If you did, then you would not solve any of them. You must learn to stand your ground even in a painful situation. That way you can work a problem through to resolution. If you find that you always are running away, then you must find other coping skills to use when you feel frightened. The same assertive formula works here:
“I feel _____________________________________ when you ___________________________. I would prefer it if ____________________________.”, works as well with fear as it does with anger. If people know you are frightened, they often respond positively to your fear. It even helps to share your fear with someone who is not involved with the immediate situation. Remember to share your feelings. This is a major coping skill. It can be used with all feelings.
By now you know that using the right behavior at the right time is the real secret to success when dealing with impulse control problems. It is the movements – the behavior – that people are responsible for, so you must practice not moving quickly. You have to delay action until you have time to think and plan. Some people have to back away from the situation entirely to give themselves the time to think. They might have to go for a walk, a run or a drive. They might have to leave the house or the places of conflict and give themselves some space.
You know yourself the best and you know beforehand when you are getting ready to lose control. You must practice catching this increase in your feelings before you lose control. At this point you must move away from the situation. You cannot stay there and hope to achieve control. That is too dangerous. Do not worry. You are going to come back to the problem and the situation is going to be addressed but you need some time to get away from the problem. If you stay in a situation where you have lost control, then you are playing with fire. Do not do that to yourself.
Exactly what coping skills to use in a particular situation will take some planning. As it is with all metal health work. We need coping skills! This planning must take place before the situation and it must be practiced until it becomes automatic. At our mental health clinic we can’t stress the importance of this enough!
In the block below write down the situation you are having difficulty with. Now brainstorm with your counselor, a friend or partner. What else could you do in that situation? For example, Barbara is trying to control her tendency to hit her children. She made this plan when she feels angry with them again:
When I’m getting angry, I’m going to do the following:
1. Recognise my anger
2. Step back from the situation as far as necessary to feel the anger go down and then:
a. Go into another room b. Go for a walk c. Go for a drive d. Go to my mother’s house e. Go talk to a friend next door
f. Call my sponsor
3. When I’m thinking clearly, I will plan my response. I might have to do this with someone I trust
4. Come back to my children and try my plan
5. If I get too angry, I will go back and repeat the whole procedure. This is what we teach at our wellness center as a core aspect of How to control your impulses like a pro.
The Mental Health Consequence
If you want to How to control your impulses like a pro then it is important to take a careful look at the consequence of your behaviour. You will not learn from your actions unless you see clearly what happens when you act in a certain manner. On another piece of paper, write briefly what happened each time you lost control of your actions. Under each situation, write down the negative consequence that resulted from that loss of control. This must be done in great detail. Take a lot of time and think. Do not blame anyone else for what happened. Concentrate on your own actions. Use every situation you can think of. The more clearly you can see the negative consequence of your behaviour, the more you will tell yourself never to act that way again. You can learn from your behaviour if you stop, think and plan before you act.
We have looked carefully at the behaviour you want to change. We have studied the trigger, thought, feeling, behaviour and consequence. Now let’s go over what you are going to do when you are in a high-risk situation. What is your plan when you feel impulsive? First, think of the word STOP.
S – Stop: Stop and commit yourself to a rational response
T – Think:
1. What is the situation?
2. What is at stake?
3. Get your thinking accurate
O – Options:
1. What are the options?
2. What are the pros and cons of each option?
3. Choose the best option
P – Plan: Carry out the plan
You can do this. You no longer have to be a slave to your impulses. You can change your behaviour. You have all of the necessary skills. Perhaps stick the below affirmation to your mirror? Power is the ability to choose right action.
S.T.O.P. “I can choose peace, rather than this”.
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We are here to help with inpatient treatment at our wellness center for addictions, depression, burnout and anxiety as well as other personality and emotional issues. Don’t stay stuck. Enjoy learning about How to control your impulses with us and change your life as a consequence.