Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue

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Haste in every business brings failures.
Herodotus, Histories, bk. VII, ch. 10

Learning to Better Control My Impulsivity

Different Concepts, Different Meanings


Impulsivity is a non-deliberate and uncontrollable immediate response mode to stimuli. The impulsive individual does not evaluate all elements of a problem, they respond with their first impulse, which they control poorly and quickly give responses that may be erroneous.


Spontaneity is a tendency to act deliberately and without being urged-on by anyone else (inner self-regulation) or is a tendency to voice feelings or thoughts without any ambiguity (sincerity).

Impulses - Reflexes - Automatisms - Habits

An impulse is a psychic-organic force that propels me to act in a given manner, in response to sudden internal pressure. The pressure generally originates from a combination of circumstantial factors, memory of past experiences and basic needs. For instance, certain people have the immediate and irrepressible urge to respond to verbal aggression with verbal aggression, while others tend to shrink away or still others may physically lash out. If I find it difficult to control my impulses, I can learn to resist them and to respond differently and more intelligently to situations that trigger them.

A reflexive response is an incoercible behavior that is totally out of my control and triggered by a stimulus. I can however, modify or re-train certain reflexes by using appropriate conditioning.

An automatism is an acquired behavior that requires less vigilance, effort and execution time. The initial ability-learning period requires an important investment of my attention, concentration and mental energy. As my abilities improve, a large part of the operation is taken over by brain circuits, by-passing my conscious awareness; a kind of auto-pilot. But unlike reflexes, the automatic processes remain accessible to conscious control as soon as something goes wrong. For instance, I can decipher letters and words without thinking about them, but if I encounter a problem understanding a word, I go back and consciously re-examine the word that I am struggling with or cannot decipher.

A habit is a complex pattern of behavior, a way of thinking, doing and living, which is acquired after repeating the same behavior in the same circumstances. My habits can be considered as ready-made action plans employed in response to normal situations in my everyday life. Anything that disturbs one of my well-established habits contributes to creating a momentary, stimulating or frustrating imbalance, depending on the case and degree. Changing a habit requires more energy than learning something new.  The resistance to change, that I may feel when facing something new, is largely due to the presence of deeply rooted habits.

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