Oh, Those Darn Impulses! How Do We Control Them?

by | Mar 27, 2013 | Communication

What is it that causes us to act out impulsively? And what are the ultimate costs of those impulses?  It seems almost common place these days that I see people getting caught up in their emotions and acting on their impulses with behavior that does little to help them get what they want.  Recently, I heard the story of the young lady in Florida reacting impulsively in front of a judge. Due to her lack of emotional awareness and self-management, she flipped the judge off in response to an increase in her fine that had been raised from $5k to $10k because of her flippant attitude.  This stunt landed her a 30 day contempt sentence.  http://tinyurl.com/b6cgow6

We also saw during the Super Bowl the tension increasing on the side lines when half of the lights in the stadium stayed out for over 30 minutes.  One of the coaches was seen on live TV berating an individual who came over to discuss the situation with him.  Clearly, there is a bit of stress being a head coach at the Super Bowl and the ensuing delay with the lights going out was frustrating for everyone involved.  When the individual came over to explain what was happening, the coach lost it emotionally. This was a clear demonstration of  someone experiencing an emotional hijacking.  It also demonstrated the challenge of managing our behavior when we are under stress and in interactions with others.  http://tinyurl.com/cfrbwh5

In most of these incidences we wind up sabotaging ourselves, whether others are involved or not.  This dynamic played out during a golf tournament a few weeks ago when Rory McIlroy became very frustrated with how he was hitting the ball and walked off the course, out of the tournament and drove home.   That impulse caused a vitriolic backlash on social media for Mr.  McIlroy and possibly damaged his credibility in golf circles.  Now, if you are a NFL coach or a top ranked professional golfer, these impulses seem to have little bearing on your future beyond the embarrassment that inevitably follows.  Unfortunately, young people who look up to these individuals as role models learn a message that won’t serve them well in their future; but that is a different discussion for another time. We generally hear an apology as we did from the NFL coach and Rory McIlroy, once the individuals have a chance to calm down and consider their behavior.

Unless you are in the public eye, your outbursts are not likely to be featured on live TV, thank goodness!  Many of us have experienced some outburst in our lives when we became emotionally overwhelmed.  We likely experienced some serious consequences when we acted out inappropriately at work or in our relationships.  This type of behavior can damage our credibility, our relationships with our co-workers and family members, and impact our future opportunities.  The consequences we pay can further inflame our emotions which have a huge impact on our behavior.  It can spiral into a vicious cycle if we do nothing to stop the madness. All we have control over is this moment yet, what we do in this moment may have a lasting impact down the road.  It is important to become mindful of our behavioral tendencies when we experience tension, frustration or anger. These emotions, along with fear, tend to negatively influence our impulses and can be costly in the long run.  Any time we direct our emotions towards someone else in a negative way, we are often the ones paying the biggest price for those outbursts.

The challenge is that when you are in the midst of an emotional hijacking, you are not thinking with your rational mind.  Your responses, in those moments, come from your reptilian brain and your behavior follows the logic of a reptile; not really something you want your boss to witness, is it? The more you know about yourself and how you respond to circumstances in life, the better equipped you are to minimize the negative consequences of losing your self-control.

How do you contain your impulses?  Become more aware by reflecting back on previous experiences or current circumstances and seriously evaluate how your responses impact your outcomes.  Once you acknowledge your opportunity to improve, you can take some intentional action steps to respond more appropriate or calm yourself before you respond.  This is a learning curve and may take some time to master.  If you are in leadership or on a team and want some good feedback, explore the opportunity to have a 360 survey done to help you learn how others experience your behavior.  It can be tough feedback but you cannot change what you do not acknowledge; better to tackle the opportunity to improve early so as not to cost yourself opportunities later.  Working with a professional coach or mentor can be of great value in implementing new, more effective responses that are more in alignment with the results you want to achieve.  That is also a productive way to take charge and control those darn impulses.