People with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) might have greater difficulty paying attention, concentrating, and staying organized. They may also have less impulse control.
This article walks through what impulsivity is, how impulsivity is related to ADHD, and how to manage it.
What Is Impulsivity?
Impulsivity can be defined as "a characteristic of human behavior that can be both beneficial and detrimental to our everyday lives.”
Impulsivity is when someone acts without thinking or has trouble with self-control. For instance, the desire for immediate rewards or the inability to delay gratification is a major component of impulsivity. Individuals who have difficulty with impulse control may interrupt others in conversations or make significant decisions without considering the magnitude of the long-term consequences.
Impulse control is found in the same part of the brain as executive functioning abilities, an aspect of functioning that individuals with ADHD tend to have difficulty with.
Psychiatrist Tim Bilkey, MD states: “Decision making is part of the prefrontal cortex, which is the thinking part of the brain behind your forehead. People with ADHD have an even greater delay in the maturity of this part of the brain, which may explain some impulsive traits that they have.”
Impulsivity and ADHD
As mentioned previously, we all have most likely had moments of acting impulsively. However, individuals with ADHD tend to experience an ongoing pattern of impulsive behaviors.
Every individual is unique and impulsivity might not look the same in every person with ADHD. Generally, impulsive behaviors are driven by emotion, and therefore logic can sometimes be forgotten. Examples of impulsive behaviors in individuals with ADHD can look like:
- Interrupting others in conversations
- Having difficulty waiting their turn or waiting in line
- Blurting out answers in class or blurting out answers before questions have been fully asked
- Jumping from one activity to the next
- Engaging in reckless or risky activities
- Having temper outbursts
How to Manage
The first step in managing impulsive behaviors is having the ability to recognize them. From there, you can begin to develop an inventory of strategies to help manage and improve impulse control.
Recommended reading: Impulse Control Strategies For Children With ADHD
Recognize Impulsive Behaviors
Recognizing the situations in which you tend to act impulsively is important for knowing what behaviors it is you are managing. No two individuals with ADHD look the same, therefore it is vital to know how your experience with ADHD affects your life. To begin, it might be helpful to:
- List the recent behaviors you engaged in that you consider impulsive
- Make a list of behaviors you engage in that other people consider impulsive
- Identify the negative consequences of recent impulsive behaviors
- Identify the situations in which you become impulsive most often
By practicing mindfulness, you are bringing your awareness to the present moment.
Mindfulness allows you to be more in touch with your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. In addition, practicing mindfulness will put some distance between you and your urges, allowing you to recognize your urges before acting on them. In addition, it might be helpful to practice various relaxation strategies to have better control of your impulse control. Some ideas can include:
- Practicing guided imagery
- Listening to calming music
- Practicing deep breathing techniques during the day
- Exercise as frequently as possible
- Learn and practice muscle relaxation
Check-in with Yourself
Stop! Let’s think about it first… An aspect of mindfulness includes checking in with yourself throughout the day. The goal of checking in is to become aware of the inner dialogue that comes before engaging in impulsive behaviors. Asking yourself the following questions might be helpful in managing impulse control:
- What am I feeling right now?
- Will this behavior have negative consequences? Positive?
- What am I hoping to get from engaging in this behavior?
- Just because I am having this thought, does not mean I need to act on it.
Make it Harder to Act Impulsively
There are various ways to make it more difficult for you to act impulsively, especially knowing the circumstances when you tend to act on impulse. For instance, if you typically overspend when going shopping, leave your credit card at home and only bring enough cash for what you need to purchase. If you tend to interrupt others or blurt out answers during class, it might be helpful to write your thoughts down on a notepad before saying anything out loud. This will allow you to think through what you are about to say, and decide whether or not it is worth sharing. There is no evidence that sugar makes an ADHD person more impulsive.
Engage in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
Engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy for ADHD and participating in training programs for parents can be beneficial in helping you and your child manage symptoms like impulsivity.
A cognitive behavioral therapist will not only teach you ways to learn and strengthen positive behaviors, but they will also eliminate unwanted and problematic behaviors. They will work with you or your child on managing impulses and decreasing impulsive behaviors. As previously mentioned, these behaviors can include interrupting conversations, engaging in risky behaviors, and connecting thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Managing impulsive behaviors can be challenging at times, especially if you are a parent of a child who has ADHD. Individuals with ADHD tend to have difficulties with impulse control, inattention, and hyperactivity.
To manage impulsivity, it’s important to recognize situations in which you would act impulsively, practice mindfulness, check in with yourself, find strategies to make it harder to act impulsively, and potentially engage in cognitive behavioral therapy.
Just remember to be patient with yourself and your ADHD child. The more you teach your ADHD child self-control and mindfulness, the better your results will be in the long run!