I remember when my son Ajinkya was just about 7-8 years old, like all the other kids, he was very fond of Tv channels like cartoon network and Pogo. Once I was watching some of my favorite programs and that was also the time for his favorite show on the cartoon network. The TV remote was in my hand. He just came in and snatched the remote from my hand and started putting the number of his favorite channel. I was taken totally aback and was in fact very angry at him, in spite of being only about 8 years old. I shouted at him at the top of my voice and just snatched back the remote. I had lost my impulse control on that occasion.
Impulse control is the ability to identify your irresistible urges/impulses, taking a pause to think and then controlling impatience, anger, the attitude of jumping to the conclusions, being judgmental, and being irresponsible. In our day to day life, we may face a lot of situations, where this quality will be tested.
The following could be some of the examples of impulse failures or potential triggers which will really test your patience and your tendencies to react:
- You just can’t wait to start to eat after the whole meal plate full of your favorite dishes comes in front of you, never mind all the other people who are with you are waiting for some others to join the party.
- A shop-keeper gave the change to you, but you were in too much of hurry to check if its correct or not, only to realize after going home that he had given Rupees fifty less, however, once you go back to him he flatly denies it.
- On your teenage daughter’s insistence, you gave her your add-on credit card and you were shocked to realize that she has wiped out all the credit limit.
- Your ten years son is not good at studies and on top of that, it’s a regular scene to see that the drawing-room is in a total mess by his toys, books, and other litter. He just doesn’t listen when asked to clean up and make the room neat and tidy again.
- Your colleague has just got the promotion/salary raise and you have been denied. Whenever he comes in front of you, in the presence of your other peers in the office, you don’t waste a single opportunity to taunt him, just to vent out the envy bottled up inside you.
- Your spouse is irritating you with the same instructions in loud and nasty tone again and again, even when you assured them to do as they say.
- There is a wedding going on the complex that you live but those people have the least civics sense. They burst crackers, blow loud music, and go cheering at 2.00 AM in the morning.
- You have parked your car on the roadside in no man’s land nor it is a “No-Parking zone” nor it’s obstructing the traffic/pedestrians, still a person comes out of the building outside which you have parked the car and starts fighting with you asking you to remove your car from there as if his dad owns that road.
- You have only one weekly off i.e. Sunday and you plan a nice little siesta for at least two hours in the afternoon. You are just about to surrender yourself to the sleep gods, and your neighbor’s pet dog starts barking at the top of his voice.
- You have lost your job today. You come home dejected, tense, angry, tired, and full of anxiety/fear about the future. Just as you rest your back on the sofa and spread your legs, a group of eight to ten people comes to your place asking for contributions/donations for festivals like Holi/Navratri/Ganeshostav.
- There is some seemingly very attractive sale being offered on some online shopping site and you end up buying lots of those items only to realize that eighty percent of those were not required and now you are anxious and worrying how you will clear the credit card bill due next month.
- You have posted your vacation and other photos on face-book and can’t resist the temptation to see every five minutes, how many likes, comments, and shares you have received from your friends. The same is true with other social media handles like WA and Instagram.
- There are some casual talk/discussions going on in a group of friends’ when suddenly one of your friends mocks you or taunts you for no reason and other friends burst into laughter making hand gestures and jeering at you.
- You have been made in-charge of an off-shore project/installation and commissioning of an hugh equipment and given the authority of spending say up to rupees five lacs per month on the project towards self and your staff sundry expenses like food, snacks, local traveling, etc. One month due to some reason, you saved about rupees 1.5 lacs. You get a strong urge/temptation to pocket that money, by forging some bills.
- You are not a habitual drinker. Once you go along with your friends to the party. You like some cocktail very much and already had some drinks but still have the urge to have one more and one more and one last one… it goes on… All this happens knowing fully well that you will have a head-splitting pain the following morning.
- You are traveling in the super crowded Mumbai local train in the evening peak hours, having somehow boarded from Dadar, and going towards Kalyan. You are able to barely keep both of your legs on the ground, and your upper body swings in sync with the fast-moving train and the ever-increasing movements of the people. You pray to the almighty that you don’t get suffocated and reach home one piece. That’s when you experience a strong push from behind from an energetic and frustrated man who was late to get ready for alighting at his station and trying to make his way to the gate.
You may have many more examples you experienced yourself or happening around you in society. In all the above examples we may have either lost the self-control/patience or our impulse control has been severely tested or situation is pregnant with emotional outbursts or irrational/ selfish behaviors or behaviors for which you may have to regret later.
Being angry or furious are not the only signs of being victims of loss of impulse control. Any reaction or a tendency to act very fast without much thought, low frustration tolerance syndrome, constant irritability, impulsiveness (in buying anything/taking decisions), excessive greed for material pleasures and possessions, are all the signs of loss of impulse control.
Thus, if you see closely in all the above examples, you are a potential candidate for losing your impulse control due to either of three emotions viz. fear, anger, and desire. Some of the examples of each of the emotions which may manifest into emotional reactions or loss of impulse control:
- Fear: Fear of losing your job, fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of the future, fear of death, fear of public speaking, fear of loneliness, fear of losing money, fear of losing control, etc.
- Anger: the anger of not being respected, the anger of not being able to live the life the way you want it, the anger of not being understood, the anger of betrayal, the anger of being cheated, etc.
- Desire: the desire of pleasure, the desire of power, the desire of success, the desire of controlling others, the desire of growth, the desire of security, the desire of approval, etc.
The figure below shows the various aspects on which impulse control is heavily dependent on:
- Self-awareness: If you have to control or manage something, you have to know that those things exist inside of you, which can come only by having some self-awareness. If one is not able to peek inside themselves, the least they can do is to ask some of their trusted friends/colleagues for feedback about their behaviors.
I must know my general tendencies to trip on people or go mad at situations, be constantly in the mood of aggression, being impulsive on some purchasing, and finding it very difficult to hold back the urge to react impulsively, get back at something or somebody. If I am in no mood to accept that I go wrong most of the time in my behavior or I am in the constant state of denial, it’s difficult for me to make any changes inside me.
2. Self-regulation: This is one of the most important factors on which impulse control depends. It refers to the act of taking responsibility for our emotions. When you have some degree of self-regulation, it helps us to express emotions without being overwhelmed by them and in developing long, meaningful, and cordial relationships both at professional and personal levels.
Since impulse control is all about your behavior, the key is how much do you value your ‘core values’. Thus, if you have no defined or set values in your life, it is very easy to fall prey to the frequent temptations of money, material comforts, lust, and other attractions. Any violation of the core values may give you instant gratification, but in the long run, it is bound to produce bad feelings, whereas, connecting strongly with them makes you feel more authentic and empowered.
The key is to develop trustworthiness i.e. you trust yourself; you can trust that you will respond to your emotions by doing what is the best for you and for those around you in any given situation. People have the confidence in you that all your actions and behaviors will be inside the strong boundaries set by you and that you will never breach them. People can also trust you even if, in some scenarios, you may show knee-jerk reactions, but they know that your values will hold sway in the end and you will do what is right in the given situation.
3. Identifying stressors: The next important aspect towards impulse control is to identify your emotional triggers- in which conditions they set you off… For that, you need to reflect upon your feelings and behaviors and you will notice that you display a definite pattern the way in which you react or respond to everyday life situations. On the face of it, it may seem to be an automatic response to thoughts and events and the use of the word trigger is critical because the reaction occurs automatically without much self-control. However, if one works on those triggers, the reaction just like everything else we do is a matter of choice.
To be able to manage our impulses, we need to take charge of our emotions rather than allowing them to rule over us, and identifying stressors is one way towards it. The following are some of the stress elements due to which we may lose our impulse control:
a. Internal stressors: these can be temporary and applicable for a certain situation, depending upon your moods, anxieties, fears, and personality traits such as pessimism, perfectionism, and suspiciousness. One thing we must bear in mind is, it is the thought which gives rise to emotion and emotion will give rise to behavior. So, the above factors can distort your thinking and perception towards other people.
b. A person/place or a situation: You may get stressed and hence lose your impulse control due to a particular person with whom you may have some unpleasant past memories or some particular place which can trigger fear or nightmares because of the perceived danger or some situation like facing a dreadful boss/ a job interview can make your nervous.
c. Family issues: you may face some financial issues like a loss of money, loss of a job or being cheated by someone for a hefty amount and you may vent it out on the family quite often. These feelings of anxieties, worries about future/betrayal, etc. can take a toll on your impulse control. Sometimes, relationship changes with your spouse and dealing with unruly teenage children can also determine your emotional health.
d. Work pressure: if you don’t like the job, the office and the boss you are working with and on top of that continuously under the pressure of meeting challenging deadlines, budgets, and targets, you are a potential candidate for loss of impulse control.
e. Change: most of us like to be in the state of the status quo, i.e. our comfort zone. Any change in that, like a change of job, the additional responsibility of a team, change of city, changes in working due to technological changes and challenges in learning them, etc. can decide on how you maintain your composure when triggered with some external event that is deviating from the set norm.
4. Empathy: empathy is another very important aspect of the impulse control wheel. If you can be always in the mode of seeing the perspective of the other person, from where they are coming from, and trying to understand what they are going through, you will have much better control over your impulses. We are sometimes so very involved in our own way of looking at things, people, and situations that we fail to look from the other’s point of view. Our self-centered ways of dealing with every aspect of our life can mask our capability to think for other person and we may lose impulse control. (for more information on empathy and how you can improve it, you may visit my earlier blogs https://www.shrikantmambike.com/emotional-intelligence-empathy-part-1) https://www.shrikantmambike.com/emotional-intelligence-empathy-part-2) https://www.shrikantmambike.com/emotional-intelligence-empathy-in-professional-life/)
5. Managing relationships: failures to manage your impulses and frequent tripping over the people around you, especially your loved ones like, spouse, children, parents, very close friends, etc. can ruin these very delicate relationships so much that, they may no longer be your loved ones or you may cease to be in their loved one’s list. It’s OK if you are not able to manage your anger and other disruptive emotions once in a while, your closed ones will still be willing to understand you as ‘one-off case’ and let go off, but the problem starts when it becomes your routine to vent out your frustration on others, have contempt and disrespect for people around you, taking people for granted, self-absorbed perspectives, resorting to bulldozing and intimidation tactics in the office, spousal abuse, (both mental as well as physical), etc. The person may realize his/her mistake for losing out on his/her impulses and may even regret later, however, you may find that some bonds are difficult to be repaired once strained.
You will lose respect in your office (in fact, you may also make a laughing stock of yourself) if you throw/break things in a fit of rage as you find it as the easiest way to vent out your anger.
Here again, impulse control success will depend on how much you value your relationships with others. It has to take precedence over your overtly inflated egos, false sense of pride, arrogance, rudeness, conceitedness and being one up over the other attitude.
How do you handle your partner’s emotions?
The relationship between husband and wife can be really tricky and testing the strength of the bond between the two when one of the partners loses it all on the other.
Once I came home late in the evening after having a torrid and not so good day in the office. I expected my wife to keep everything ready and something special made for the dinner. I lost it all on her when she had made the same old vegetable and dal/rice of which I was not at all fond of in those days. I got mad removing all the office frustration on her. But she remained as composed as ever and to come with “by the time you take a wash, let me make some pulao or dal fry and jeera rice for you or should I order something for you?” This loving response removed all the aggressiveness out of me and I said “No, it’s ok, I can manage with whatever is there”- this time in a very soft tone.
The situation could well have boiled and exploded had my wife also lost her impulse control. She tolerated my unpleasant behavior because she knew that something really frustrating must have happened at my office and my mood and behavior will soon change for better. Just imagine what would have happened had she too lost her impulse, and said: “if that is so, then you better cook yourself or why don’t you pick up a parcel on the way home from your favorite restaurant?” But by accepting my negativity for a while and not seeing it as a personal threat, she was able to diffuse the potential tension in our relationships. She’s aware that any relationship has to be a give and take for it to work. She was nice in the situation even though she was not treated with respect. But she knew that when she’s going to remove her frustration or lose her impulse control on her husband if she would have an off day, he would support her in a similar manner.
Such inevitable unpleasant instances are a given in any relationship. However, for the emotional bond to succeed in the test of times, both parties must realize that these relationships are too important to be derailed and life is all about making sacrifices for each other. These sacrifices include handling the small unpleasant conversations which the other may bring to the table.
5. Adaptability: Not all the conditions, situations and people will be in our control and never all the time. There will be occasions where we will be challenged in one, more, or all the above factors when things will not go as per our wish or the outcomes may not be as what we had expected them to be. Nor the conditions will remain the same as they have been. In fact, change is the only constant in life. The key here is to change yourself by managing your impulses to fit in the changed circumstances. Responding effectively to the new challenges and overcoming them and adjusting yourself to the situation and managing your teams while maintaining your composure is all about adaptability.
Charles Darwin wrote: It’s not the strongest of the species nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.
How to be more adaptable while maintaining your impulses:
- Practice holding back your first response long enough: It is very usual and easy to use your first natural solution(?) of reacting to any changed or challenging situation at the workplace or even at home. But it would be good to get into the habit of thinking about what could be the better second and third solutions. You need to stay in control by adapting and thoughtfully responding to the situation rather than reacting.
- Listen: curb that natural instinct to interrupt in between when the other person is talking, by controlling your impulses. When you listen, you are nonjudgmental and ready to take information which may give you an important breakthrough in deciding your further course of action in handling any situation.
- Get feedback on your behavior: people who reflect on their behavior and performance are more likely to be flexible in adapting to changes in their environment and therefore better able to identify alternative ways of behaving to be more effective in given situations.
- Try laughing at yourself: Having a sense of humor about yourself will equip you better in handling your impulses, rather than tripping on others when things don’t go as expected. When you fail, reflect on what went wrong, make adjustments, and don’t make the same mistake again.
Ways to handle my Impulses: ( while some ways are already discussed in my earlier blog https://www.shrikantmambike.com/emotional-intelligence-impulse-control/ below are a few more/different techniques by which you can achieve control over your impulses)
- Reducing the strength of stressors: If you are not able to overcome your stressors completely try to reduce their effect by using the coping mechanisms. Say e.g. you are experiencing very frequent late-night marriage celebrations in your area, rather than losing out on that group, the better option will be to either use earplugs or fix soundproof aluminum windows for your balconies, Or if it is too stressful for you to go through bumper to bumper traffic to reach office, try starting from home very early and leaving office before the traffic starts. If you find it very difficult to carry on with your abusive boss, looking out for a new job may not always be a viable solution. Try making peace with him, talking to HR, or changing the department/ changing the area of territory/ division, etc.
- Change your perspective: From experience, you will realize that sight or just a thought of some people who in the past have done something wrong to you, will throw you into a spiral of anger or depression. For such people first have some compassion and try to let go of all those emotions attached with the disturbing memories (It is very easier said than done, though, it’s a process and will depend on the extent of damage the other person inflicted on you). Next, try if you can learn something from those people. E.g. one of my bosses in my previous companies always played divisive politics with me like dividing my team and reducing my responsibilities, targets, and ultimately forcing me to leave the organization. However, I always admired him for some of his qualities like he was a picture of honesty and integrity towards the organization, being always very punctual of time and very prompt in replying to any emails (no mail was kept un-replied for more than twenty- four hours max.). So, whenever I think about him, although for the first few minutes I have all the unpleasant memories, I remember all those things I learned from him, and that have been really helpful in shaping my career in the last few years of my job. This change in attitude towards him negates the negativity, bitterness and helps me to have better control over my impulses before I vent it out on someone else around me. Still, better (now this may seem to be too idealistic to most, but recently I tried it successfully to overcome years of anger and resentment using this technique) is to consider the person because of whom you frequently lose your impulse control, as your guru and have the attitude of learning even from your enemies. This change in your perception will give you better control over impulses. The same technique can be applied when you get angry with your loved ones. e.g. in my case, till not so long ago I use to lose my impulse control over my wife (very rarely though, or do I think it that way, she may have other opinions about me) and get mad on her due to some reason. However, ever since I have become her student at her online Yoga classes, I consider her as my guru which reminds me that I cannot trip on my gurus and helps to manage my impulses.
- Prepare yourself: Recognize due to what reasons/habits/ or behaviors of the people around you, you trip on them. Then, where ever possible try to negate those reasons by correcting/taking those actions yourself which those people fail to take in spite of you requesting them to do/not to do. E.g. these days as there are no maids coming home due to lockdown in corona so, like most husbands, I help my wife in washing utensils at the kitchen sink. My wife is habituated of keeping the instrument of cutting vegetables (in Marathi we call it as Vili) near the sink. It blocked, created obstruction for me to wash utensils, and even hit my elbows more than once, hence I requested her to remove it from there and place it somewhere else. However, she never remembered to change its place. Each time I saw it, I would lose my temper. Once I lost it some much that I threw Vili on the ground. However, next time on, having realized that my wife will never remember to remove it before I get into the kitchen to perform my duties, I would coolly pick up that instrument and place it with lots of love and care in one of the corners of the kitchen before getting along with my duty of washing utensils. Now, she has realized her mistake and removed it from that place. Also, never lose your temper by jumping to the conclusions that the other person is behaving in a particular manner just to displace you out of your head.
- Living in the present: Most of us go mad or show greedy tendencies because we focus on the fears/uncertainties of tomorrow or the worries and troubles of yesterday. However, if we can choose to live in the current moment, and just focus on today without caring for tomorrow, we can make good of the opportunities that are available. In other words, we need to be mindful of all our activities most of the time, if not always. (kindly go through my detailed blog only on mindfulness https://www.shrikantmambike.com/emotional-intelligence-5-ways-to-increase-your-mindfulness/)
The more you are mindful and living in the ‘now’ the more is the possibility of you having the impulse control because most impulsive reactions are a result of we having some past beliefs about our self, about people or situations or perceived dangers about the future which most times are not true. With poor impulse control we may be always in the panicky mode.
Conclusion: The key to maintaining impulse control is to have a reality check on whether ‘I become impatient easily’, ‘I often regret not giving more thought to my words, actions and decisions’, ‘I often make impulsive purchases’ ‘people around me have an impression about me that I am always hot-headed’, etc. If the answer to all the above is in the affirmative means you need to work big time on your impulse control.