HOW TO CONTROL YOUR IMPULSE
“Want” is an amorphous word.
People “want” to lose weight – and yet they also “want” to eat that bag of potato chips.
People “want” to talk to that attractive girl – and yet they also “want” to avoid getting rejected.
Which want is the real want?
And if one is better for us than the other, how do we follow through with the “good” want and stop succumbing to the bad?
First, understand that not all wants are the same. Some are impulses, some are desires.
We have a lot of unmet needs and anxieties that we deal with on a regular basis. Some we are aware of; some are subconscious – but regardless of where they are coming from, we are constantly seeking to get them met.
Simply put, we want to feel better. And we are always trying to find out how.
One of the most common ways we do it is to seek escape.
Ask yourself: when you come back from a long, stressful 9-5 and turn on the computer to watch porn, do you think it’s because you are actually horny? Or is it because you’re desperately seeking release from the toil of the day?
Same goes for the cupcake you crave in the bakery window. Are you actually hungry, or is there some spike of instant pleasure that eating it gives you, taking you away from whatever unpleasant responsibility you’re confronted with?
If you want to learn how to control your impulse, you must first understand what an impulse is.
Impulses are short-term escapes, either temporarily giving us pleasure or relieving us from pain. Though not all are terrible, they never serve our long-term goals, and often conflict with them.
If you’re in good shape, exercising regularly and eating well 90% of the time, eating that occasional cupcake won’t be a problem. A spontaneous indulgence, it’s not going to screw up anything for you long term; indeed, it’s simple pleasures like that that often make life so rich and fun. I remember vividly back in Philadelphia every once and awhile I’d walk down to Termini Bakery and get myself a cannoli. I didn’t do it often, and that made it all the more enjoyable. If your impulses are occasional like these, you have no need to learn how to control your impulse.
But let’s say instead of once every couple of weeks I did this every day. And let’s take it even further and say I did it despite the fact that I desperately wanted a six-pack that summer.
Then, you’d have a classic case of an impulse conflicting with a desire. Then you would need to learn how to control your impulse.
Desires are long-term aspirations; visions and goals for ourselves often influenced socially but solidified internally. The deeper the desire, the stronger its hold on us.
When we talk about willpower and developing healthy habits we’re often talking about ways we can make our day-to-day align more with our desires, not our self-destructive impulses.
But there’s only one problem:
Failures and impulses feed off of each other, and impulses tend to directly contradict your desires.
For instance, a common issue I encounter with the guys I work with is that they are addicted to porn.
I don’t need to tell them to stop. They know it affects their focus, they know it affects their motivation, and they know it affects how they show up when they talk to a girl.
(Indeed, aside from impacting your ability to maintain dominant body language and presence, porn decreases testosterone, which impacts the pheromones you give off to women. Yes, women can literally smell it when you’ve been masturbating.)
Yet what’s the first thing they do when they whiff on approaching a girl they’re attracted to?
They go home and turn on the computer to masturbate – and then, feeling even more guilty and frazzled by their self-sabotage – go and masturbate again.
The cycle of personal collapse goes something like this:
Failure to move towards desires -> Lower self-esteem -> Emotional pain and stress -> Need to escape pain and stress -> Impulse indulgence
The movie “Thanks For Sharing,” which focuses on the interactions of a bunch of addicts, does a great job of showing this vicious cycle first hand. Insane as it may seem, the more self-destructive behavior you indulge in, the more self-reproach you will feel – which means the more self-destructive you are likely to become.
How do you break the cycle? How do you learn how to control your impulse?
Well, first of all – you must develop self-awareness.
Awareness of how your impulses are ruining your life is the first step to any recovery; to learning how to control your impulse. Impulses are so unconscious, so automatic, that if you do not constantly keep yourself aware you will find yourself doing things that you will regret later.
There’s a reason why those with eating problems claim they are snacking “uncontrollably” – they are doing it without thinking; they are on autopilot. They can’t control themselves.
But self-awareness of what you’re doing to destroy your life is not enough. You must also be aware of the things you do that improve it. You must learn how to control your impulse.
Enter The Golden Rule Of Cycles: For every vicious cycle, there is a virtuous one that mirrors it.
There is one silver lining to vicious cycles: in them lies the key to a virtuous one.
Change the variables from negative to positive, and the feedback cycle will shift in turn.
This is one of the major reasons why small actions can make such a huge impact in your life.
Little victories = Big victories, not simply because little victories accumulate, but because they create psychological momentum.
This is why consistency is so important, because consistency creates at least the illusion of little victories, which propels people onwards towards further, greater ones. It is one of the best ways to learn how to control your impulse.
Success in moving towards desires -> Higher self-esteem -> Emotional confidence and calmness -> Desire to increase confidence and calmness -> How to control your impulse
If you’re not stressed out, if you don’t feel anxious – then impulses lose their allure. You don’t need to escape from anything, so you don’t indulge in them. You have learned how to control your impulse.
But how do you begin this cycle? How do you get your first victory?
Want to know how to control your impulse? Hint: Start your day right.
It’s a common trope throughout the self-improvement community that “you can choose to act differently any time you want.”
And they’re right, you can.
But man is it hard sometimes.
If you’ve wasted your day and fallen into a negative feedback cycle, it is not easy to turn it around suddenly at 4PM and still squeeze out a couple of productive hours.
There are always one-off exceptions, but if you want consistent progress towards your desires you need to start your day off on the right foot. You need to get the momentum going from the second you wake up. It is the way to learn how to control your impulse.
This is a broad-strokes outline here is what I do every morning; I highly recommend you play around with it and find something like it that works for you and helps show you how to control your impulse:
– Set objectives for the next day BEFORE you go to bed. (For me: 3 Priorities)
– Wake up before 6AM. (For me: 5AM)
– Eat and/or drink something you know gives you energy. (For me: Tea and Green Smoothie)
– Get your mind and body exercising in some way. (For me: Meditate and Calisthenics)
– Move to an environment that is conducive for your goals / desires immediately once these rituals are over. (For me: Coffee Shop / Library, not house)
Notice the objective of these rituals – limit distractions and maximize energy.
When it comes to avoiding and learning how to control impulse, idleness is your enemy – and nothing leads to idleness like distractions and low energy.
There is a reason wise men throughout the ages have expressions like “idle hands make devils work” – idleness leads to impulse, and impulses are the number one way you can wreck havoc on your life.
If you want to be successful, you need to subjugate your impulses to your desires. You must learn how to control your impulse. You need to keep moving.
With few exceptions, you desire the things you do in life because you know they will make you happy and bring you some sort of peace, validation, and fulfillment.
The difference between successes and failures is that the former understands their impulses are self-destructive coping mechanisms, and so they build systems that eliminate the need for them. They learn how to control their impulse. They create virtuous cycles in their lives instead of indulging the vicious ones.
This is a difficult step. You have to be ready to give up everything. To learn how to control your impulse you must change a lot. For most, this is a bridge too far.
Yet it is the only bridge to the dream world you imagine for yourself.
Late last year I realized I was living a life based mostly on impulse – and it was exactly that impulse that was holding me back from where I wanted to be, not only in fitness, not only in my relationship, but in my business.
I knew if I wanted things to change I had to die, and so I spent the fall coming to terms with my coming death.
Not my literal death, of course, but the death of who I had become, so I could become reborn.
Are you ready to die?
At a certain point you have to ask yourself – what are you living for?
Are you living for instant gratification, or are you living for your future?
Most people today live only for impulse, encouraged in their self-destruction by a consumption-obsessed society. They will die unfulfilled, wondering what else their life could have been.
Only a few will conquer themselves and their impulses, and pursue their desires, living a life with no regrets.
What about you? Will you learn how to control your impulse? Which path will you choose?