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Brain Hack For Reducing Impulsivity In 20 Situations

By December 9, 2015Blog
Reducing impulsivity

Achieving Goals In All Areas Of Life

We’ve all cringingly been there, said or done something we wish we hadn’t because we’ve acted out of impulse.  Impulsivity, which is entirely different from intuition, is when we act without thought or reflection to consider the consequences of our actions.

Being impulsive can thwart the achievement of our goals and as the new year approaches, many of us will be thinking about minimising or releasing bad habits and addictions from our lives.  Those bad habits or addictions may be things like alcohol, overeating, overspending, cigarettes, other drugs, treating others unfairly or lack of self-care. Ultimately, impulsivity can make us feel like we’re out of our own control and it can make us feel annoyed at ourselves and can make others annoyed at us too.

Often, the bad habits we’ve entrained ourselves with can feel tough to let go of but the reality is, when you know how the mind and body works, when you are deeply motivated to change something and when you commit to changing it, human beings can achieve some pretty amazing permanent changes in a relatively short space of time.

So, what might research tell us about impulsivity and how to curb it in order to achieve greater self-control and thus help you to achieve your goals?

Impulsivity Research 2015

Research published last month by Berry et al. (2015) demonstrated that the mere visual exposure to a natural environment results in less impulsivity in people when compared with visual exposure to built-up environments.

The participants in the study were split into two groups, one to be exposed solely to images of natural environments (e.g. mountains, forests, lakes) and one to be exposed solely to images of a built-up environment (e.g. buildings, cities, roads).  After viewing images they would make a decision to receive a smaller hypothetical monetary reward now or delay gratification and receive a larger hypothetical monetary reward later on.  For example, they would be asked on the computer screen, “Would you rather have $50 now or $100 in ‘X’ number of days/weeks/months/years?”  Experimenters used varied monetary rewards and delayed gratification by 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, and 25 years.  This exposure to images followed by a decision making task was repeated over and over again and the total experiment lasted about 24 minutes.

The aim of the experiment was to see if visual exposure to natural environments, relative to built-up environments, made people behave less impulsively and, therefore, made them better able to delay gratification, and whether this visual exposure influenced time perception.

They found viewing nature scenes as opposed to built-up city scenes made people (a) behave less impulsively and (b) perceive more time to have passed than actually had and this lengthened time-perception in itself may have something to do with decreasing impulsivity.

Perhaps when we feel we have forgone a reward for longer than we have, this mere perception of “having done well for longer”, reinforces our resolve for not acting impulsively.  Of course, if we think we have spent longer without something than we have, and then, feeling encouraged and stronger, we decide to do without it for even longer, we can feel good about ourselves and can also make better decisions about important goals.

If a few minutes spent viewing images of nature makes us more thoughtful rather than impulsive, i.e. have a greater capacity for self-control, then we can achieve goals, all sorts of goals.  So what is it that you want to achieve and how could spending at least a few minutes viewing scenes of nature (whether photographic or actual) help you to achieve your goals?

20 Situations Where Impulsivity Is Killing Your Objectives

Here is a list of things you could apply this approach to.  View photographic or actual scenes of nature for at least a few minutes, to become more thoughtful about your minute-to-minute decisions by being less impulsive when you:

  1. Are about to let your anger erupt at your loved ones
  2. Are considering handing in your notice to your employer because you’re feeling inadequate in the moment
  3. Are perusing online dating profiles of potential mates in a negative, impatient state of mind
  4. Are about to spend money on clothing or accessories you can ill afford
  5. Are making decisions about something you’re feeling emotional about like how to deal with an abusive or critical person in your life
  6. Are about to indulge your fourth bottle of wine this week when it’s only 6pm on Wednesday evening
  7. Are considering sending a regrettable email to someone who has offended you
  8. Are about to start an emotional or physical affair with someone because you feel so miserable about your marriage
  9. Want to get back with your ex because it feels easier than being alone or having to find someone else, even though you know he/she treated you like dirt
  10. Are about to inflict emotional or physical self-harm on yourself because you’re “not worthy of happiness and love”
  11. Want to text your partner’s ex-spouse because they keep interfering in your life
  12. Want to launch into an un-motivating speech to offload your frustration and scare your staff into action
  13. Think your teen child is doing drugs, have zero evidence and an already strained relationship
  14. Want to get your partner to spend more time with the kids and think chastising him/her is the best way to achieve this
  15. Should be spending time working on your business but frequently allow other fun distractions to get in the way because you have no-one to immediately answer to
  16. Are about to sign up for a 12 month gym membership because your friends are when you know deep down you hate gyms and would rather get fit elsewhere
  17. When you’re about to open your third bar of chocolate even though you vowed to your loved ones to lose weight for the sake of your health and longevity
  18. Are tempted to serve your partner with divorce papers to show them how serious you are even though you haven’t properly tried to work on fixing the problems
  19. Are tempted to impulsively post something on social media you may regret hours later
  20. Are about to break something you love because you’re that angry during yet another argument with your partner

Those 20 are just to get you thinking.  I’m sure there are many other situations and goals that you can think of where applying this brain trick will help you to reduce your impulsivity and thus, achieve your ultimate, long-term, important goals.