Touch a hot object. Get burned. Yank away – on impulse.
This is healthy. It sets a preconditioned response in the brain to avoid hot objects. A natural safety measure of the human mind. However, not all impulse reactions are useful.
Every time your boss hands out minor criticism you feel heat rush to your cheeks. It becomes difficult to think straight. Anger roils inside, suppressed (if you want to keep the job), pent up emotion and frustration cling for hours, or days, and you believe you hate your boss.
This is also a preconditioned response and since its long term application is likely to harm your ability to work and find happiness in what you do, it is an unhealthy one.
Was there a critical parent in the past? A teacher? A close friend, always mocking every minor misstep? Whomever it was, the experience of dealing with them created an impulse: Whenever someone close or in authority criticizes me, I become angry inside, but because they are “in charge” or “a friend,” I repress it.
It then lies there and eats away at happiness like a swarm of maggots on garbage. Vivid, yes, yet if this or something similar is familiar, then it is also accurate.
We all carry certain preconditioned responses based on our life experiences. Some come from childhood, a time when we lacked the coping mechanisms or life experience to manage events in a healthy manner. Others are based on unjustified opinions or unquantified stereotypes.
Blonde women are airheads. Men only want sex.
Neither of these statements is true, but I’d bet, depending on your gender, you agreed with at least one of them the instant you read it – and then a moment later corrected the thought. Wonder why?
When faced with information, events, and choices, our brains are hardwired to act on a hair-trigger – a preconditioned response happening in a fraction of a second, regardless of truth or usefulness. This is part of our survival instinct – think fast and the odds of survival are increased dramatically. However, we are no longer dodging into caves to avoid hungry pterodactyls (and if you are, tell me in comments because I’d love to hear your story).
In the modern world, impulse reactions not directly related to safety, (don’t touch hot without protection, get out of the way of moving trucks), are dangerous to our health and happiness.
When I was taking Bob Mayer’s Warrior Writer course he mentioned that he never responds to emails immediately. He reads them, saves them, and then comes back to respond at a later time. By doing this he avoids falling prey to impulse – giving the mind time to digest the information received and formulate a response.
Ever wanted to take back your words, spoken or written? Been caught in saying yes (or no) without thinking about the long term impact and coming later to regret the choice? We all have done these things, because when faced with a choice our minds feel a sense of immediacy – if I don’t do something Right This Second the pterodactyl will get me. *smile*
Here are three tips on how to gain power over unhealthy impulse reactions:
- A moment of pause saves a thousand apologies: Preconditioned responses happen in about .3 seconds, they cannot be consciously stopped. By taking a moment to breathe and let the initial burst of emotion pass, we gain the opportunity to respond intelligently, rather than by impulse. It is easier to give oneself a moment than it is to undo a hasty response.
- Seek Clarity: Perception, not knowledge, initiates impulse. Did your teen come home angry and yell at you without visible cause? Will yelling back help? Probably not. Give a moment to let the emotion pass then seek clarity: “Hey, I can see you are upset. Want to tell me about it?” Seeking clarity and understanding not only shows intelligence – it shows others you care, improves relationships, and increases the odds of making successful choices.
- Learn your hot buttons. Does criticism make you angry every time? Seeing abandoned socks on the floor pisses you off? Rain always dampens your mood? Why? – this is a powerful question to ask. Once we understand what triggers an impulse response we then have the capability to replace it with a healthier one.
Have any other tips on handling impulse reactions? Ever find yourself thinking: “Why do I always react like this?” Had to run from a pterodactyl? *wink* I’d love to hear your thoughts.