How Being Impulsive Can Change your Life for the Better

by Alli Polin on November 14, 2017

As we grow up, we’re taught, “Don’t act impulsively! Think things through before you do something you’ll regret!” That’s not always good advice. Being impulsive isn’t intrinsically bad and in fact, can transform your life and relationships in positive and meaningful ways. 

Instead of avoiding things we might regret when acting on impulse, what about regretting the things that never happened because we ignored the impulse?

Don’t get me wrong, being impulsive can get you in a load of trouble and into bad situations but I want you to consider that impulsivity can also make your life good.

I’ve always wanted to go to Japan, but the flights from my tiny town are outrageously expensive. Every once in a while I researched the price of flights and four things quickly happened:

1) I had the impulse to research flights.

2) The cost was high, and I told myself we couldn’t do it.

3) My story changed, and I began to focus on all of the reasons not to go. 

4) Staying put and holding on to our money made more sense than ever.

Impulse >>> Rationalization >>> Inaction

Lucky for my family there was one time I did something unexpected… I pulled out my credit card and booked the flight. I didn’t bookmark the flight or think about it endlessly or share all of the cost and pros and cons with my husband so he could weigh in. Non-refundable and paid, we went to Tokyo and Kyoto in October 2015 and it was amazing. 

The impulse-rationalization-inaction cycle happens countless times a day for all of us. Going to the gym, cleaning the house, writing a book – you name it, you’re probably great at talking yourself out of it. 

The enemy of action isn’t always time, (although, “no time” is a favorite excuse for most of us.) it’s delay and the shifting stories that we tell ourselves. 

The Desire – Impulse – Rationalization – Inaction Cycle

Desire: I want to get in better shape. 

Impulse: I should go to the gym now before the day gets away from me.

Rationalization: I need to crank out a few things for work first. After all, it’s how I pay the bills.

Inaction: At the end of the day I’m tired. Maybe I’ll get going tomorrow… Let’s turn on the TV and open the chips. It always helps me to unwind. 


Desire: I like a clean kitchen; an organized house. 

Impulse: I should clean up the kitchen after my child baked brownies. 

Rationalization: Wait. Why am I cleaning up their mess? What lousy kids I have. 

Inaction: I don’t clean. The kitchen deteriorates, and so does my mood. 


Desire: I want to get promoted. 

Impulse: I need to talk to my boss about my career path.

Rationalization: She’s busy. What if she thinks I’m ridiculous? I don’t want her to think I’m a demanding pain. 

Inaction: I’ll have a meeting with her in three months anyway for my annual review… In the meantime, someone else on the team gets opportunities because nobody knows I’m interested. 


Desire: I want to support my friend who wrote a book.

Impulse: I should buy it now. Help publicize it.

Rationalization: I’m busy. I can buy it on Amazon anytime. It doesn’t really matter if it’s their launch week. Besides, I’m too busy publicizing my own work. I’ll just congratulate them on Facebook. They’ll never know if it’s on my bookshelf. 

Inaction: I forget to buy it at all. 

How Can Following Your Impulse Change Your Life for the Better?

1) Differentiate between LOVING or GIVING or DREAM MAKING impulses and EMOTIONAL impulses. 

When we take action on impulses that help others, make our dreams take shape or change our lives for the better… good things are in motion. 

When we are caught up in an emotional frenzy, usually in an argument or another conflict, our impulse can lead us astray and leave more pain or damage in our wake. 

This is not ALWAYS advice, as in, ALWAYS follow your impulse. Instead, notice the heart of your impulse and where it is pointing you.

2) Notice when you shift into rationalization mode. 

All change starts with awareness, not only of your desire and impulses, but also your rationalizations (hello, excuses!) too. Don’t be so quick to talk yourself out of taking action that helps you and others. 

3) Your impulses are like whispers in your ear about your hopes, dreams, and values. 

Imagine that fleeting impulse to clean up the kitchen after your child baked brownies. You value a clean home; you love your child, and you want to be helpful… there are a million reasons to honor that impulse, but most people don’t. They choose to get frustrated and angry that the other person didn’t have the impulse to clean up after themselves. 

Listen to your whispers before shifting gears into blame and anger. 

 

If you have not already, I strongly encourage you to read Leadership and Self Deception by Arbinger. As Arbinger reminds us, every choice you make, every impulse you ignore or honor is either moving you closer to having a heart at peace or a heart at war. What do you choose?

My Advice?

Say “I love you” first.

Buy your friend’s book today. 

Go for a walk after dinner instead of waiting of the gym tomorrow. 

Be impulsive in the best possible ways. 

Create the life you want instead of waiting for the perfect moment

Your time is now. 

If you want to change your life, it starts with you. You can wait, or you can create… Be brave. 

Do you honor your LOVING, GIVING or DREAM MAKING impulses or are you masterful with rationalization?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary Gruber November 14, 2017 at 7:49 am

Love this, such a thoughtful piece. Sometimes I find it’s a battle between procrastination and immediate action. That said, there is no time like now nor will there ever be again. If your whispers are about your hopes, dreams and values, say them out loud, first to yourself and then to someone else whom your trust completely. You might be surprised with, “Yes, let’s do it!” We move toward what we think about or we paralyze ourselves with inaction as you so wisely point out. Thanks for this bushel of thoughts to start this day and continue this week as we move toward our dreams. Wonder-filled!

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Alli Polin November 17, 2017 at 6:08 am

Gary,

You’re right, when you hear the whispers… the next step is to stop whispering and say it out loud. It’s interesting what happens when we take a passing thought and say it aloud, even when we’re the only person in the room. It’s a critical link between thinking about it and owning it.

Grateful!

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Terri Klass November 14, 2017 at 9:15 am

I love this post Alli because I never looked at being impulsive as a positive. I thought that it was far better to be methodical with all of our decisions and choices. But once again you have shown us the flip side of a coin and it makes total sense.

I am going to rethink some of my “long-term” goals here and see what I can jump at. By the way, I bought the book you mention and I can’t wait to read it. That I was impulsive about!

Definitely will share your wonderful insights today Alli!

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Alli Polin November 17, 2017 at 6:10 am

I know I had the message to “think before you speak” told to me time and time again. It’s great advice, but there are times that our thinking and considering becomes rationalizing and moving away from where we most want to go.

Can’t wait to hear what you think of the book!

Alli

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John Bennett November 14, 2017 at 11:01 am

Two thoughts come to mind as I Consider this post:
(1) Your thinking on impulse fits well I believe with the notion of planning only for the initial direction / steps for any effort. In fact, the first step should be “value / help vs. emotion).
(2) I’m reminded of the late Stephen Covey noting that humans are the only specie on earth that can pause to Consider between stimulus and response. This post reminds us all that this pause need not, indeed should not, be the time to rationalize our quitting.

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Alli Polin November 17, 2017 at 6:15 am

John,

Always look forward to your Covey insights and I think you put this one so well. A pause need not be the time to rationalize our quitting. YES! Here’s to a pause AND inspired action!

Thank you!

Alli

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LaRae Quy November 15, 2017 at 1:02 am

I needed to read this! Like others in this stream, I’ve never looked at impulsiveness as a virtue! I’ve always been rational and thorough in my thinking, often shoving emotions to the back so my head could make the decisions. Where they always the right decisions? I don’t know but I do remember that I wanted to join the Peace Corps right out of high school…but that would have impulsive. So, I went to college and pursued a diploma in something terribly boring but guaranteed to get me a job (Management major). It might have still ended the same but somehow I think I missed a real opportunity as a young adult…

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Alli Polin November 17, 2017 at 6:17 am

Wow! Clearly, the impulse to join the Peace Corps was pointing you in the direction you needed to be headed. Fashion buyer wasn’t it. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing your story. Has me thinking…

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Chery Gegelman November 15, 2017 at 4:55 pm

Love this Alli! (And wondering what my hubby would think if I impulsively purchased plane tickets back to Africa!) 🙂 I would be happy to give you credit! 🙂

Seriously – this was a great reminder that action is always better than indecision and procrastination. Thank you!

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Alli Polin November 17, 2017 at 6:18 am

Hummm. Plane tickets to Africa sound awesome! (just don’t bill me 🙂 ) Even now, I have some more adventures calling my name and am holding onto the money instead of saying yes to the adventure. I feel an impulse… will let you know how it turns out.

Thanks, Chery!

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