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ADHD and Impulsivity: 6 Ways to Stay In Control

Reading time | 5 min

Spontaneity is a part of life. Very few people want their lives to be mundane or boring. Instead, most want variety. In my view, that’s all a normal part of the human experience.

But what does it mean when you’re impulsivity is not about being spontaneous and fun? What happens when you’re so random that it impacts your life in a negative way?

For many of us who live with ADHD, the condition comes with a side helping of impulsivity that may look fun on the outside, but can actually affect our lives in ways that are far from amusing.

One of the first times I recognized that I had a problem with impulsivity was when I was 21 years old. I had headed out for a weekend with friends: We shopped, ate, and drank to our hearts’ content. But when I came home, I realized that I’d overdrawn my checking account by a huge amount. I only had $50 left until my next paycheck. It wasn’t fun anymore.

Impulsivity leads you to do what you feel in the moment. It means you might say whatever is on your mind, without thinking about the people you may hurt with your words. It means you might change your life in an instant, based on an impulsive decision that was also made in an instant. Impulsivity can take the goals and plans you’ve been working towards for years and wreck them in seconds.

Along with distractibility, impulsivity is one of my least favorite ADHD symptoms. I prefer to be the one in control of my decisions, not ADHD.

How did I learn to curb my impulsivity? It’s been a long journey to get here, but I did it. Barring times of great emotional stress and pressure, I’ve managed to minimize the role impulsivity plays in my life.

I believe that you can do this for yourself, too. Impulsivity doesn’t have to control your life — you have the ability to take back control and make the decisions you want to make.

Here are the most important tips that helped me make some important changes. I hope these approaches might be helpful for you, too.

Be aware of your triggers

In my experience, certain situations cause impulsivity to flare up. For me, when I’m feeling excitable, emotional, or frustrated, I find that impulsivity tries to rear its ugly head. That’s why I wait to make big decisions until a time when I’m feeling calm.

When you feel your emotions and frustrations rising, stay aware of what can happen. Are you also feeling impulsive? Try not to make any serious decisions while you’re experiencing a heightened emotional state. Give yourself time and space to calm down before you do or say anything that you might regret.

Put boundaries in place to protect yourself

I believe that boundaries are the building blocks of good mental health. Setting good boundaries helps me feel safe and keeps me moving toward my goals. It also helps me rein in my impulsivity.

There are a few different ways you can set boundaries for yourself when you’re trying to curb impulsive behaviors. Try to avoid people, places, and things that trigger behaviors that you want to stop. For example, when you’re feeling impulsive, avoid any places where you love to shop, drink alcohol, or gamble.

Ask for help from the people who love you

I feel incredibly lucky to have supportive family and friends who want me to be well. If you do too, I suggest taking the time to explain to them how they can support you in curbing your impulsivity.

Do you have a time of day when you feel especially tempted? Does having a large amount of cash in your hand make it difficult to resist spending it? Whatever it is, allow the people you love to help you.

They can be listening ears or the keepers of your bankcard. If you make a mistake, allow them to comfort you. I believe that as long as we’re moving towards healing, everything should be OK.

Life transitions make for extra impulsivity

In my experience, major life transitions can trigger a burst of impulsivity. Are you making a big move? Have you ended a relationship? Have your financial circumstances changed? Even if the change is positive, this can still be a time of significant stress.

I’ve found that the best way to cope with a big life transition is to treat it just as you would treat any other time of stress or pressure: Don’t make any major decisions. Hold off until you’re feeling steadier. You may find that once life has calmed down, you’ll be able to see things more clearly.

Be prepared to apologize if your behavior hurts someone

Sometimes impulsivity may lead us to do or say things that can hurt the people we love. This is embarrassing and frustrating. If this happens, I believe it’s important to own up to it.

I find that it’s not helpful to try to explain away your behavior. Instead, come to the person you’ve wronged humbly and admit your mistakes. Don’t pressure them to forgive you. Give them space. In time, most likely, the rift will heal.

Forgive yourself when you make mistakes

We all make mistakes, and you will, too. Nobody is perfect. When you do make a mistake, it’s critical for you to forgive yourself. I’ve learned that beating myself up doesn’t do any good for my personal growth and recovery.

Instead, try to learn from your mistakes. Identify your triggers ad move forward with the knowledge that you can do better.

The takeaway

Although it took time and effort, I’ve learned to curb my impulsivity and take control of my decisions. I believe that all of us can achieve this. Don’t let impulsivity stand in the way of the goals and plans you have for yourself.

Take the time to learn what triggers your impulsivity, and then guard yourself against those triggers. Reach out to the people who will help protect you and comfort you as you manage your feelings. I’m not saying it’s easy, but with time, you can learn to tame your impulsivity and regain a sense of control in your life.

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

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