How Can You Control Your Impulses?

November 28, 2019

It’s Nigel here again, with some tips to hold your feet to the fire so you can keep creating the best life possible.

Over the last 5 weeks, I took care of a 1-year old dog who was rescued off the streets by a friend of mine here in Mexico.

Zola is a cute dog, but she’s mostly a wild beast.

Nigel Cook, accountability coach
Do you have better impulse control than Zola?

On many of our walks, she would constantly pull on the leash because she just wanted to go where she wanted to go. “Nigel who?” “What leash?”

She would try to drink nasty puddle water that is most likely full of contaminants (gas, oil, antifreeze, dog and cat poop, mystery grease, etc…). The streets outside the tourist areas in Puerto Vallarta can be quite dirty.

Zola would lunge at every cat she saw and aggressively bark at dogs three times her size.

One time, I found her chewing my sunglasses and when I went to grab them from her, she immediately peed on the couch where she had been sitting and munching on my sunglasses.

As you can imagine, taking her for a walk and having her in my house was often a frustrating and unenjoyable experience for me.

This was my first time to be fully responsible for taking care of a dog. I started out with almost no knowledge or experience on how to live with or take care of a dog.

So, I watched a lot of dog training videos and did some training with her every day.

She learned fast and in the last week or two with her, her behaviour improved quite a bit.

Dogs can control their impulses. So can you!

One of the key dog training focuses is all about teaching the dog to control their impulses.

The dog learns, “If I can control my behaviour and impulses, I will get what I want (a food treat, continue the walk, praise/affection, etc…)”.

The best example of this is when I would drop pieces of cubed chicken on the floor and say, “Leave it.”. She knew that if she made any move towards the chicken, I would snatch it away and she wouldn’t get it.

If she didn’t move towards the chicken, I made her wait 4 or 5 seconds and then would give her the chicken.

I could see her fighting herself, really wanting to snap up that tender chicken.

Her mind (and body) was going, “Yes! No. Yes! No, wait a bit. Yes, go for it! No, I’m just going chill a bit so I can get my chicken.”

Zola would actually move away from the chicken so that she was less tempted to eat it. She self-corrected and decided to physically remove herself from the chicken because she couldn’t handle being so close to it while having to ignore it.

That’s impulse control.

This same impulse control can help us humans out immensely.

The mindset to have is: “I’ll get what I want if I control my impulses and delay gratification.”

This type of impulse control is crucially important when working on your business/career goals, personal goals, as well as health and productivity habits.

Examples of giving in to your impulses

  • Choosing the impulse for entertainment instead of exercising, finishing important chores/errands or working on your business. “I’ll just watch one episode.” And you end up watching 5 episodes.
  • Following that quick impulse to eat high-sugar or high-calorie food when you’re trying to lose 30 lbs.
  • Indulging in the impulse to drink alcohol as one of your favourite ways to de-stress, be social or relax (even though it usually gives you insomnia or you sometimes drink too much).

How can you control your harmful or negative impulses?

Here are a few ideas for you to experiment with:

1. Practice awareness or mindfulness

Observe your thoughts, habits and behaviour. Become a scientist…of you. A You-ologist.

Notice those moments when you have a sudden impulse to eat sugar, drink alcohol, blurt out some angry criticism, watch youtube videos instead of working on your business and any other potentially negative impulses.

Sometimes just practicing awareness can help “short-circuit” the automatic, impulsive behaviour.

Mindfulness helps you develop self-control.

2. Pre-plan how you will deal with the impulse

Write down a short plan of what you will do when the impulse is calling you.

What activities will you do instead of the impulsive behaviour?

For example:

"When I have the impulse to get angry, I’ll 'sit' with the anger, practicing detached awareness. I’ll take 3 deep breaths, smile and say to myself, 'I can handle this and I will find a solution to deal with the situation that’s provoking me'. I will burn off the anger by doing something physical like going to the gym, going for a walk or playing guitar."

“When I have the impulse to have more than 2 alcoholic drinks, I’ll visualize all the worst-case scenarios of over-indulging (feeling sick, making terrible decisions, not controlling what I say, etc…). I will switch to my favourite non-alcoholic drink of mineral water with fresh lime juice.”

If you don’t pre-plan, you will be much more likely to follow your usual impulse or automatic behaviour and old habits.

The new plan will prepare you to have the new behaviour that you want.

3. Create very strong reasons to avoid your impulse habit

When your conviction is strong, it’s a lot easier to stick with avoiding a negative impulse.

“If I avoid this impulse habit of eating sugar, I’ll have better health, avoid the low-energy crashes, have my ideal weight, sleep better and have stable moods too. I want all those benefits so I will avoid this sugar treat that will rob me of what I really want.”

You need to tell yourself a “good story” about why you’re making habit changes.

Review your story frequently to help lessen the power of your negative impulses and strengthen the power of the new positive habit.

4. Remove yourself from the impulse trigger

Just like Zola had to walk away from the chicken I threw on the ground, physically remove yourself from the impulse triggers that you want to avoid.

Don't keep sugary treats in your house if you're trying to avoid them.

Put your cell phone in a different room if you're trying to focus on work and not waste time on trivial things you're doing on your cell phone.

Limit how often you hang out with people who drink alcohol, if you're trying to minimize drinking.

Gaining mastery over impulses

I hope these ideas help you to gain more self-mastery over any “autopilot” behaviours that you would like to minimize or avoid.

Don’t be too harsh on yourself for your indulgences. Just recognize that you have some impulsive habits, recognize that they cause some level of harm to you and that you’d really like to be free from them.

Then, make a quick action plan to minimize those harmful impulses and make sure your plan includes some form of accountability in it. You can and will change when you direct your mind to it!

Got a question or comment? Just reply in the comments section below.

Keep going for your goals,


PS: Want to reach your goals faster? Check out one of the online accountability coaching programs and book a free Coaching Call.

About the Author

I'm Nigel, accountability coach and creator of Holding Your Feet to the Fire. I offer online accountability coaching to help my clients reach their goals faster and support them every step of the way. Check out the Online Coaching page to find out how this accountability system will help you reach your business, career, financial, health and personal goals.

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Nigel Cook

Currently coaching online from Vancouver Island, Canada. 

Originally from Vancouver Island, Canada.

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