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8 Tips to Help Adults Manage ADHD Impulsivity

Reading time | 3 mins

Impulsivity is a hallmark symptom of ADHD, but what exactly is it?

It’s a tendency to hastily do something in the moment, without reflecting on your actions first. However, these decisions can sometimes have the potential for harm.

Here are some signs that may suggest you’re impulsive, along with some tips to tame impulsivity in adults.

Are you impulsive?

If you're unsure, do you:

  • spend more money than is in your bank account and find yourself in debt?
  • practice addictive behaviors like gambling, binge-eating, or excessive online shopping?
  • interrupt others during conversations?
  • say things you wish you hadn’t because you didn’t see your words coming?
  • frequently take risks like abusing recreational drugs or practicing sex without a condom or other barrier method?
  • make important decisions without thinking of the consequences?

These are all symptoms of ADHD impulsivity. Talk to a mental health professional about whether you tend toward impulsivity.

The upsides and risks of being impulsive

Impulsivity isn’t always a bad thing. Creativity is “impulsivity gone right,” according to adult psychiatrist Edward Hallowell, MD.

It’s often the inspiration for an artist to create paintings, songs, and poems. It can also help standup comedians to think on their feet. Entrepreneurs sometimes even need to take seemingly impulsive risks to be successful.

But impulsivity can also get you into trouble!

Financial impulsivity can put significant strain on your relationship with your partner. You could lose a job due to addictive behaviors like gambling, or you might say things to your children or friends that you wish you could take back.

Tips to tame ADHD impulsivity

Are you looking for ideas to help reduce your impulsive ways? Here are a few tips to help you get your impulsivity under control:

Make a reminder

We often already know the solutions for our problematic behaviors. We just need to put them into practice. Write a list of things that you’re prone to doing impulsively and strategies to tame those behaviors. Keep it close to hand.

Put yourself in a friend’s shoes

Picture someone you love doing what you’re about to do. What advice would you give that person?

Abide by the 24-hour rule

Wait 24 hours before buying things you like. You may find you don’t really want or need the item after all. This plan can work with all kinds of potentially dangerous or unhealthy activities.

Try the buddy system

Tell someone you trust about your impulsive habits. Ask that person to signal you when you need to stop yourself.

Home in on social cues

Too chatty? Practice taking a step back to allow others to talk. Try to become more aware of other people’s facial expressions for signs of frustration or boredom. Ask questions if you think they might be a quiet type or if you think they have zoned out.

Snap out of it

About to say something inappropriate? Put a hairband or rubber band on your wrist and give yourself a snap to curb yourself from saying what you’re thinking. (No, it’s not OK to tell them that their hairdo looks like a bird’s nest.)

See it coming and have a plan

Think of alternative ways around impulsive behaviors. Don’t jump to participate in things you know aren’t safe or things you can’t afford to do. Say, “Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.”

Find professional support

A therapist who specializes in ADHD can offer strategies to tackle impulsivity and keep you out of trouble. You can also try one of the many online or in-person support groups for adults with ADHD.

Wonderful ADHD resources, support groups, and clinicians are available online at Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) and the Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA).

Being impulsive is just one aspect of ADHD. And not all people with ADHD are impulsive!

Impulsivity can create problems. But don’t forget, it can also benefit you if you know how to use it in positive and creative ways.

For more information on how to manage ADHD, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team. 

Sources:

  • Hallowell EM, et al. (1995). Driven to distraction: Recognizing and coping with attention deficit disorder from childhood through adulthood. New York, NY: Touchstone Books

NPS-US-NP-00493 SEPTEMBER 2019