top of page

The ultimate guide to breaking impulsive behaviors


Have you ever noticed how some people seem to be able to control their impulses and others just can't stop themselves? I know that when I'm feeling stressed out by work or life in general, it's like my emotions are on hyperdrive. Suddenly, I find myself doing things that make no sense at all because they're so impulsive (like eating the entire container of cookie dough).

So how do some people break these behaviors? And what can you do about your own? In this article, we'll explore impulsive behaviors: what causes them, how they affect our lives, and what we can do about them.

What are impulsive behaviors?

Impulsive behavior is a pattern of acting without thinking about the consequences. It’s an addiction that can be hard to break because your brain creates a false sense of confidence and excitement, making you think it’s okay to act on impulse.

Impulsive behaviors are not just about acting without thinking, but also can include:

  • Risky sexual activities such as unprotected sex or multiple partners at once

  • Dangerous driving or riding motorbikes while intoxicated (and having accidents)

  • Poor decision-making skills when gambling money away, buying items you cannot afford to show off how wealthy you are

What causes impulsive behaviors?

Impulsive behaviors can be caused by several things. One of the main causes is environmental factors. For example, if you grew up in an environment where you were constantly criticized or put down, you would probably have low self-esteem and feel worthless. This feeling may lead to impulsive behaviors such as binge-eating or gambling because they provide quick fixes to make them feel better about themselves.

Another cause is trauma and depression. If you were traumatized as a child or experienced some kind of abuse, this will eventually lead to depression later on in life which can cause impulsive behaviors like drinking alcohol excessively or self-harming yourself for your brain not focus on the pain it feels mentally and emotionally.

Other causes include addiction (such as alcoholism), inner critic/inner child issues (for example when someone has a voice inside their head telling them "you're fat", "you're dumb" etc.), low self-efficacy (the belief that they can't do something), low self-worth ("I'm nothing") and lack of self-compassion ("I deserve this").

What are the consequences of impulsive behaviors?

Impulsive behaviors can have a devastating effect on your relationships, work, health, finances, and social life. When you are impulsive, you don't think about the consequences of your actions. You just do what feels good in the moment. This can lead to all kinds of problems down the track such as getting into debt, abusing alcohol or drugs, having unsafe sex, and driving while intoxicated.

Your relationships might suffer because you don't listen to or consider other people's feelings when making decisions.

You may have trouble keeping a job because you don't do what's required, or you're fired for poor work performance. You may have trouble at work because you're easily distracted or get into arguments with co-workers or superiors.

You may struggle with poor diet and exercise habits which can lead to weight gain, heart disease, and diabetes.

You may find yourself being attracted to people who are bad for you and may have trouble maintaining a healthy relationship.

You may have trouble following through on responsibilities, such as paying bills, taking care of your kids, or doing household chores. You may find yourself making excuses for poor work performance or other negative behaviors.

You may have trouble with addictions, such as social media, alcohol or drugs. You may find yourself making rash decisions that have negative consequences.

How impulsive behaviors are formed

Impulsive behaviors are formed by a combination of factors. These include:

  • Genetics - some people are more vulnerable to impulsive behaviors due to their genetic make-up;

  • Personality traits - certain personality traits make people more likely to engage in impulsive behaviors, such as being impulsive, depressed, or anxious;

  • Childhood trauma - childhood trauma has been linked to higher levels of impulsivity later in life;

  • Environmental factors - environmental factors such as abuse and neglect can increase the risk of impulsive behavior later in life.

The science behind impulsive behaviors

Impulsive behaviors are more than just bad habits. They're the result of specific brain chemistry that can be difficult to control, even for the most disciplined and determined of us.

Let's take a look at some of these areas in detail:

  • The limbic system (located in your brain) is responsible for processing emotions and memory, which means that if you're feeling emotional when you make decisions, those emotions will influence how you choose to act.

  • The frontal cortex (located in your brain) is responsible for regulating decision-making processes—even if we have the best intentions, sometimes our impulsive behaviors happen before we can process them and make choices based on logic rather than emotionality.

  • The hippocampus (located in your brain) helps us form memories related to experiences with similar situations or stimuli; this could explain why some people find it easy to resist temptations while others struggle with compulsive behavior patterns despite repeated attempts at self-control over time.

  • The amygdala (located in your brain) plays an important role in fear responses; this might explain why some individuals have difficulty controlling their impulses when they come across something they perceive as threatening or unsafe.

Impulsive behaviors and emotional challenges

Sometimes, impulsive behaviors are a symptom of an underlying emotional challenge. This can be hard to see when you're in the moment and feeling really out of control, but taking time to reflect on your feelings can help you identify what's going on.

If you notice that your impulsive behavior is related to something specific in your life, try asking yourself these questions:

  • Are you feeling overwhelmed or stressed?

  • Is there something else going on—for example, do you have any upcoming deadlines at work or are there other big changes happening in the next few months?

  • Is the stress level increasing over time rather than decreasing as expected? If so, these could be signs that things may be getting too much for you right now.

  • What do I need to feel better? What would help me feel more grounded and secure so I don't feel like lashing out every time someone makes a mistake around me?

When do impulsive behaviors become an issue?

If you are experiencing any of the following, your impulsive behavior is causing harm:

  • It is causing problems in your relationship with a partner or spouse.

  • It is leading to arguments with friends or family members.

  • It's affecting your ability to keep up with work responsibilities and deadlines.

  • It's getting in the way of your finances (i.e., you're making impulse purchases that put you in debt).

If this is the case, it may be time for some serious reflection on what's going on inside of yourself—and if there are ways that you can change these behaviors for good!

Impulsive behaviors are symptoms, not the root cause

It’s important to remember that impulsive behaviors are symptoms, not the root cause of your problems.

For example, let's say you have a colleague who always seems anxious and stressed out at work. You notice that they drink coffee every day, even though they don't seem like the type of person who would need it to stay awake or alert during the day. They also smoke cigarettes far more than most people do in your office environment. This sounds like an unhealthy habit for sure…but is it? Is it possible that this person has an underlying issue outside of their health habits?

Yes! It could be as simple as stress from working long hours every week or as complex as dealing with trauma from childhood abuse—or even both things combined! In this scenario, drinking coffee may be one way for this individual to cope with their anxiety and depression; smoking cigarettes might be another way—and both are likely signs that there's something deeper going on within them overall.

Trauma, inner child, and impulsive behavior

You’ve heard of the “inner child,” right? The one inside you that wants to do whatever it takes to make life easy—even if your brain is telling you not to. Impulsive behavior is all about getting what you want when you want it, but there are other things at play too.

Trauma experiences have a big impact on your ability to manage emotions and impulses. In particular, trauma can cause people who were once able to manage their impulses, control their emotions, and delay gratification as children (or even as adults) will find themselves unable to do so as an adult after experiencing trauma.

The inner child can be thought of as being part of our unconscious mind—a place where our true self resides but is buried under layers upon layers of protective defense mechanisms that we put in place at a young age because we didn't know how else protect ourselves from the abuse or neglect we experienced growing up.

How to stop being impulsive

To stop being impulsive, it’s important to identify what triggers your impulsive behavior. For example, for me, going out with my friends is a trigger for wanting to buy things impulsively because I want to look good and fit in with them.

To prevent impulsive behavior from happening again, you need to understand why it happened in the first place. In this case, my friend had just bought some new clothes and she was talking about how much money she spent on them and how nice they made her feel so I wanted an instant boost of confidence by buying something myself too.

Then there's the matter of breaking away from negative mental patterns that may have contributed to your impulsiveness in the past or even at present (e.g., low self-esteem).

Here are 8 techniques that can help:

8 techniques to prevent impulsiveness

  • Become aware of impulsive behavior

  • Find patterns behind your behavior

  • Observe your self-talk

  • Identify your triggers

  • Break from negative mental patterns

  • Reframe your negative self-talk

  • Reinforce new behaviors

1. Become aware of impulsive behavior

Identify the triggers and patterns that lead to impulsive behavior. For example, if you tend to stim when you're stressed, then you might want to avoid situations where this happens. If a situation triggers an emotion like anger or frustration, it's important to identify what's causing those feelings before acting on them impulsively. You can also make sure that there are other people around who can help keep you from acting impulsively in certain situations (such as at work).

Notice how these emotions feel in your body (e.g., butterflies in the stomach, tense muscles) and notice whether they seem familiar or like something new each time they occur so that there is continuity between different types of self-talk but no repetition over time within each type itself (e.g., "I'm feeling nervous again." vs "I'm still feeling nervous after all these years").

2. Find patterns behind your behavior

There are many different ways of breaking impulsive behaviors. The first step is to identify your impulsive behavior, so you can develop strategies that work best for you. To do this, write down a list of the signs and symptoms of your impulsive behavior. Make sure to include:

  • What happens when you feel like doing impulsive behavior?

  • What happens before you do impulsive behavior?

  • How does it make you feel physical (for example, in your muscles)? If possible, try taking note of every single emotion or sensation that occurs before, during, and after doing the behavior. This will help with tracking progress later on!

  • What kind of thoughts goes through your head just before doing an impulsive behavior? Don't worry if there aren't any at first—this is normal! You can always come back later on when things get easier if need be :)

  • What emotions arise in response to those thoughts about what happened yesterday/last week/last month etcetera...

3. Observe your self-talk

One of the most powerful tools for managing your behavior and breaking impulsive habits is observing your self-talk. Self-talk is any internal dialogue that we have with ourselves—it's what we say to ourselves inside our heads. It's important to understand that self-talk doesn't just include thoughts about our actions but also includes the way we think about other people and the world around us.

Let's take an example: if you're trying not to eat chocolate, then you might find yourself thinking things like "I don't deserve this," "I'll enjoy it more later," or "If I eat this now, I can have a healthy dinner later." These are all examples of negative self-talk because they focus on something negative (e.g., guilt) instead of being focused on something positive (e.g., enjoying yourself).

4. Identify the triggers

To change a behavior, you need to identify what triggers your impulsive behavior and what thoughts lead up to it.

Identify some of the main triggers for your impulsive behavior. These could be certain people or places, emotions such as anxiety or anger, feelings of boredom or frustration (or any other physical sensation), or situations where there's an opportunity for distraction (e.g., social media). Once you have this knowledge, try not to put yourself in those situations as often—if there aren't many opportunities around you then they won't happen!

Once you have identified the cause of your impulsive behavior (for example, stress at work), you can address this root cause by reducing or eliminating it from your life. In some cases, it may be enough just knowing why we are behaving irrationally; but if not then we need to take action steps towards solving our problems rather than running away from them.

5. Breakaway from negative mental patterns

When you are dealing with a negative mental pattern, it can feel like your brain is stuck on repeat. This is because we all have built-in biases that affect our thinking and decision-making processes. For example, we tend to view things in black or white terms rather than seeing them as shades of grey—this means that when something happens we either view it as good or bad rather than seeing the positives and negatives. The way to break away from this is to think about how you can view things differently. For example, if you’re feeling stressed because you have a lot of work on your plate, take some time out to refocus your mind on the parts of it that are positive rather than negative. You might have more flexibility or freedom in what you can do with your time at work than you realize—so focus on those aspects rather than just complaining about the negatives.

6. Reframe negative self-talk

Reframing is a cognitive behavioral therapy technique that helps you change your attitude about a situation. It's best used when you're feeling low, but it can also be useful if you've just had a bad day or are feeling stressed. If you have an impulsive personality and tend to say or do things without thinking, reframing can help with this too!

Most people are aware of the negative effects of their self-talk—especially if they're prone to saying "I'll never get this right" or "I'm so stupid" over and over again. But what we don't realize is that there's another side: positive self-talk! Positive self-talk is just as important as breaking negative self-talk because it helps us feel better about ourselves and gives us confidence in ourselves. This means that when we're trying something new (like going for an interview), our brain will be able to think more clearly about how well we'll perform based on the positivity rather than the negativity in our headspace

7. Reinforce new behaviors

Reinforcing new behaviors is a critical step in breaking impulsive behavior. You want to make sure that you are rewarding yourself for making good choices and avoiding impulsive actions. Try using a star chart, or even just writing down the number of days you were able to resist the urge.

  • Reward yourself with non-food treats such as getting your hair done, buying new clothes, going on an adventure with friends, or doing something special at home (turning on all the lights in every room).

  • It’s also important that when you do give in to an impulse, it doesn’t throw off your progress for long-term success. If you have been successful with your goal for several days and then eat junk food one day because of stress from work or school – don’t beat yourself up about it! You are human after all! Remember: small steps lead to big changes!

Seeking professional's help

If you have tried to break the habit of impulsive behavior on your own and have not been successful, seek professional help. There are many different types of professionals that can assist you in overcoming your impulsive behavior. Talking to a therapist, doctor, coach, family member, or friend who will listen without judgment can be very helpful. A mentor or spiritual leader may be able to give guidance as well. If all else fails then consider speaking with a psychiatrist who can prescribe medications that could help control impulsive tendencies.

Tools to break impulsive behaviors

Understanding the root cause of impulsive behaviors will help you to understand that you're not inherently bad or stupid, but rather that your actions are being influenced by a negative thought pattern. You can then take steps to change your thought patterns to break the cycle.

You'll also need some tools for dealing with the feelings and emotions associated with impulsive behaviors, so here's a list of some helpful ones:

  • Mindfulness meditation - Read up on this handy technique for coping with anxiety and stress!

  • Meditation music - These tracks are designed for relaxation, stress reduction, and meditation. They're great for blocking out background noise while working on an important task or just taking some time out from life's daily stresses (and yes, they're great if you want to fall asleep).

  • You can use some of these tools to help you break your addiction:

    1. Konvos — Self-talk rewiring routines

    2. Headspace — Meditation techniques to sleep easy

    3. Breathwrk — Breathing techniques to sleep easy

    4. CBT companion — A companion app to practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques.

Further sources for reading

If you're looking for a more in-depth review of impulsive behavior and its consequences, here are some other sources you may find helpful:

  • The Impulsive Brain by Laurence Tischler. This book examines the role impulsivity plays in our everyday lives and how it can be managed effectively.

  • Impulse Control: Why We Overeat, Buy Luxury Items We Don't Need and Act Out in Other Useless Ways by Rick Hanson Ph.D. This book explores the causes of impulsive behavior, and how we manage it on an individual level, and offers practical strategies for managing your impulses more effectively.

  • Impulse Control: How to Overcome Impulses That Sabotage Your Goals by Kenneth W. Adams Ph.D. et al., PhDs (paperback) discusses different ways to deal with urges that interfere with your goal-setting progress—such as procrastination or binge eating—and provides exercises to help you get past these obstacles so they don't stand in your way anymore!


We hope this article has helped you understand what impulsive behavior is and how it can affect your life. If you’re struggling with impulsive behavior, remember that you are not alone. Many people have experienced similar challenges and have found ways to overcome them. By following the steps identified in this guide, you can systematically address and break your impulsive behaviors.


bottom of page