How to Fix Poor Impulse Control: Pause and Think

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Psycho-Cybernetics" by Maxwell Maltz. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you often act on impulse? What can you do to keep your impulsive reactions at bay?

Emotions get the better of all of us from time to time, especially when we are under stress or pressure. One way you can train yourself to take control of how you react to situations is by delaying your response to stimuli. 

In this article, you will learn how to deal with poor impulse control by delaying your responses.

Delay Automatic Responses

Poor impulse control is the result of automatic reactions of your subconscious. When you consciously delay your response to a stimulus, you interrupt the automatic reaction of your subconscious and give yourself the chance to objectively view the fact, instead of getting caught up in your automatic emotional reaction. This delay gives you the space to calm down, take conscious control over your emotions, and decide how you want to respond. The more you practice delaying your negative reactions, the more control you have over your ability to respond positively and create positive feedback loops. Eventually, you’ll find that things that once triggered you into negative emotional states will no longer have any control over you.

  • For example, you automatically get angry and lash out whenever your kids mess up the house. You can take control of this automatic reaction by making a conscious effort to count to ten before saying anything. This gives you the space to separate the fact (the house is a mess) from how you choose to respond—you don’t have to lash out, you can decide to respond more positively. For example, you could choose to make this a fun experience by putting on some good music and getting the kids to help you clear up.  

Use Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to Calm Your Automatic Responses to Stimuli

Maltz argues that you should delay your responses to triggers. This sounds easy, but it’s difficult to practice when you’re in the middle of a trigger. You’re more likely to delay your automatic responses if you find ways to deal with your triggers before you’re faced with them.

EFT—otherwise known as “tapping” is an effective way to reduce stress and anxiety, and calm down your response to triggers that upset you. Unlike most self-help programs, EFT doesn’t expect you to just ignore or avoid your negative thoughts and emotions. The process involves: 

Accepting that you feel these emotions and calming your body’s response to them.

Understanding why certain things trigger you.

Releasing your negative emotions.

Replacing your unwanted emotions with calm or positive emotions. The first step of the process involves using your fingertips to tap on specific meridian (acupuncture) points on your face and body while you focus on the negative emotion that you’re feeling. The process of tapping on these points sends signals to the part of your brain that’s responsible for triggering the stress response in your body.

When you tap on the points and focus on the negative thought or emotion, your brain automatically calms down its stress response and associates this feeling of calm with your point of focus. In other words, your brain no longer feels the need to fuel your negative reactions when you think about this specific emotion or trigger—you’re able to think more calmly and objectively. Once you feel more objective, you then continue to tap on the points until you no longer feel any emotion around the issue.

This process is often done in advance of a trigger—for example, if you know that you lash out at your kids every time they make a mess, you can tap through the points before you get home or even while you feel the urge to lash out. Each time you follow the process, you’ll become more conscious of how you’re responding to triggers and weaken your automatic responses. As a result, you’ll find it easier to improve your responses and act the way you choose to.

How to Fix Poor Impulse Control: Pause and Think

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  • How to program your mind in the same way you’d program a machine
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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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