Controlling Your Impulses

Whether it’s saying words you’ll regret in the heat of the moment, spending money without thinking, or grabbing one more donut you know you really don’t need, learning to control your impulses can be one of life’s biggest challenges.

The apostle Paul wrote that self-control is one of the “fruits of the spirit,” the results of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives (Gal. 5:22-23). Yet Paul also confessed, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Rom. 7:14-15, NIV). Paul’s words resonate with anyone who has regrets what they keep doing, but nonetheless keeps doing it.

It’s easy to get caught in a self-destructive pattern, doing the same thing over and over, without even knowing why you’re doing it. How can you begin to control your impulses? Consider the following:

Recognize your triggers. Step back and consider why you’re doing what you’re doing. Many people impulsively do things to fill emotional needs, but never truly address them. If, for example, you binge eat because you feel lonely, stressed, or anxious, working through those feelings can help you be mindful, rather than mindless, the next time temptation strikes. Hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness can be particular triggers.

Substitute. If, for instance, you find yourself repeatedly consuming junk food, replace it with something healthier but just as enjoyable, such as fruit.

Plan ahead. Whether it’s being careless with money or arguing with your parents, planning ahead can help you make wise choices and manage conflict. In those cases, it may help to designate a certain amount of money for recreation and stay within budget, and find “relaxed” times to discuss issues with parents. Being sure you don’t only communicate with your family when there’s a problem can help lay the groundwork for productive conversation as well.