Strategies for Dealing with Impulsivity

Our lived experience tells us that today impulsivity can be a disorder that affects many people of all ages in a sundry of situations with a variety of objects that are the focus of pathological impulsivity. The object of the impulse in the mind of the impulsive—such as delicious food, a glass of alcohol, the slot machine, or the search for images on the internet—can become so overpoweringly tempting that the impulsive throw caution to the wind, time after time, and sabotage their own lives. Psychologists and therapists have confirmed the nature and extent of the problem.  We know that “just … [Read more...]

Overcoming Impulse Through Relaxation and the Prayer

In a previous post, I wrote about our innate double-mindedness and how those two minds are often at war with each other when it comes to addictive attractions. At the time of temptation, the rational mind finds itself hijacked by a hyperactive impulsive system that grabs our inner steering wheel driving us down the road of impulsive behavior. For the impulsive, there are certain triggers that are experienced through anyone of their five senses (or even memories of those sense impressions) that excite them and propel them toward the impulsive behavior. Focusing on those triggers or even … [Read more...]

Impulsivity: Just Say No or Just Say Yes

In the early 1980’s, First Lady Nancy Reagan kicked off a signature campaign against drug use in the United States. She called it the “Just Say No” to drugs.  The phrase was memorable, catchy, and seemed to be the essence of simplicity itself.   After years of failure in the presidential sponsored “war on drugs”, many believed that the First Lady had found something that just might work. Decades later, we know that the “Just Say No” campaign didn’t work.  In fact, some may argue that it had the opposite effect, especially in urban areas like New York City where the crack epidemic was about to … [Read more...]

Impulsivity and Self-control: The Problem of Being of Two Minds

The Apostle James once wrote, “a double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). That being of two minds, or more literally of two souls (δίψυχος), creates an instability of the will that makes the task of overcoming impulsivity especially challenging. Part of us is utterly persuaded that addictive behavior is bad for us and part of us is completely convinced that it is good for us, and the self is at a loss to explain its actions, for as Saint Paul once put it, “The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Romans 7:19). Commenting on this passage, … [Read more...]

Finding the Golden Mean Between Over-control and Being Out-of-control

In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle described virtue not only as a mean between two extremes that are vices, but also as the means to a good and flourishing life. The cowardly and the brazen can know no real happiness, for those vices bring along other trials and tribulation. Only the courageous can face troubles and peace in a way that can be helpful for themselves and others. Proportion is everything. This Aristotelian teaching was also embraced by Church Fathers like Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, and Saint Dorotheos of Gaza to name but a few. For instance, Saint Basil … [Read more...]

Impulsivity, Self-Control, and Relying on Christ

Resisting temptation, ignoring unwanted thoughts, and altering one’s emotional state when under the onslaught of impulsivity may seem to some as a fool’s errand. Yet, holy men and women have achieved success at just such endeavors for more than two thousand years. They have done so, not because they had iron wills, fewer thoughts, or a permanent smile, though in time their wills did become more conformed to the will of God, their thoughts became more centered on their Savior, and their joy in Christ could no longer be contained. The secret to their success was very simple: they were victorious … [Read more...]

Using Your Mind to Rise Above Impulses

It has often been said that executive functioning is part of that which makes us uniquely human, separating us from the animal kingdom and allowing for freedom, creativity, and complex problem solving. It is executive functioning that helps us manage time, pay attention, plan, organize, remember details, and use experience as a guide for future action. But when impulsivity takes over, all these gifts inherent in executive functioning seem to vanish and the frontal lobe activity responsible for executive functioning appears to shut down almost completely. Impulsive behavior undercuts … [Read more...]

Impulsivity, our Relationship with God, and the Problem of Self-control

It is hard not to admire someone with self-control. It’s a virtue that emboldens the brave to face any foe and often prevail. The ancient Greek historian Thucydides recounting the exploits of the legendary heroes in the Peloponnesian war once remarked, “self-control is the chief element in self-respect and self-respect is the chief element in courage.” And certainly, the impulsive lack self-control, and with it self-respect and courage to face their problems as well. The vital question is whether the impulsive can gain self-control when they need it most. With our own best efforts, that … [Read more...]

The Healing of Impulsivity in the Light of our Understanding of Personality

Gordon Allport once spoke as follows about differences among people: “For some the world is a hostile place where men are evil and dangerous; for others it is a stage for fun and frolic. It may appear as a place to do one’s duty grimly; or a pasture for cultivating friendship and love” (Pattern and Growth in Personality). These differing outlooks and attitudes reflect something unique about how various individuals engage with the world that psychologists call personality. Of course, the fathers also recognized these differences. On this subject, Elder Joseph the Hesychast also wrote: “My … [Read more...]

Impulsivity and Asceticism

Daniel Akst in his 2011 book on self-control wrote, “Exercising self-restraint can be depleting, yet it can also be ennobling.” The ennobling quality of self-restraint is something the fathers knew quite well. The Greek word for self-control, ἐγκράτεια, means continence, temperance, or sobriety by containing, rather than releasing through impulsivity, whatever passes through one’s mind. Saint Basil the Great in his letter to Ourvikio, refers to self-control as “denial of the body and confession to God…, to yearn for nothing, to not be stirred to passion by what the eye sees and the ear hears.” … [Read more...]