“I have an itch I MUST scratch!” “I just HAVE to check Facebook/email/Twitter…again!” “I NEED that drink!”  “I just HAVE to tell that person what I think about them right NOW!” “That milkshake is calling my name; I MUST answer!”

How many times have you had these or similar thoughts? Maybe it was less of a cohesive thought and more of a strong, urgent feeling.  That strong, urgent feeling is just an impulse. There are times when giving in to an impulse may be ok, but many times, giving in to our impulses can get in the way of us reaching our goals, changing habits, or making more constructive choices.  What can we do when an impulse strikes again? Let’s use the example of someone wanting a large milkshake but also wanting to make more healthy choices.

1) Recognize that that strong desire to (insert undesirable action here) is just an IMPULSE.
“The milkshake is NOT actually calling my name. (Milkshakes can’t talk!) This feeling is just an impulse. I do not have to give in right now.”

2) Think about your choices.  Since it is just an impulse, you do have a choice of what to do.  What are your options?
“I do not have to get the milkshake. I could distract myself until the urge lessens.”

3) Imagine what is likely to happen if you follow each option.
“If I drink the whole thing, I might enjoy it for the moment, but I may regret it later. If I distract myself, I may gain a better sense of self-control, feel proud of myself, and be closer to my health goal.”

4) Make the choice that seems best at the end of the day and follow through unless you have good reason to change your mind.
“I choose to not give in to the impulse and get the milkshake. I believe that, at the end of the day, this is the best choice for me today.”

5) If you get upset, take a small time-out to calm yourself down and think about the greater reward to come.
“I really want that milkshake, but I’m going to do some deep breathing and imagine how I will feel a month from now if I keep it up.”

Recognizing that an impulse is JUST AN IMPULSE can be a very freeing experience, and with practice, it can become a regular way of thinking. As you recognize impulses for what they are, you may find yourself seeing your options more easily, taking time to weigh your options, and making decisions that will get you closer to your goals.

(Adapted from our Back On Track resiliency curriculum by Mary Ortwein, Sharon Bryant, and Benita Peoples)

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