Impulsivity and ADHD - Understand & Solutions to Self-Manage


Impulsivity, what's the Deeper Meaning?

Oceans are expansive, vast, and boundless with many aspects and nuances.  The Ocean presents itself  in many ways to the human sight and experience.  The water can be calm and shallow on the edges of the shoreline or deep and foreboding with the absence of land.  The same is true with impulsivity.  It is more than what meets the eye, more than hindsight, and deeper than foresight, and way more than an extrinsic trait.  Each human vision, and experience around impulsivity can be quite different.  

Impulsivity, what's it All About? 

The definition of impulsivity is “swayed by emotional or involuntary impulses”. Impulsivity from the root word “Impulsive” denotes a brisk and abrupt action based on a person’s feelings or emotions without careful thought or analysis. One example of this is an inclination to buy things upon first glance, which often results in regret.  The behavior is often quick, not thought out, and includes spur of the moment decisions that may be harmful to any aspect of our lives; relationships, health, finance, goals, dreams and aspirations.  

Impulsivity and ADHD what are The Tell-All Tale Signs?

One of the most common signs of ADHD is Impulsivity. Impulsivity is most obvious in children who are often emotionally driven to act.  For example, the child who throws a toy out of frustration or runs across the street without looking when he or she sees something interesting. In the case of growing teens, they are more likely to indulge in behaviors based on emotion which can get them into trouble.  Examples here may be related to the hormonal shifts that are rapidly occurring at that developmental stage.  Adults can also engage in impulsive decisions when there are high emotions or a trigger from past experiences, especially if they have not learned the skills to manage impulsivity.  

Everyone  experiences impulsivity from time to time after all,  we are human and perfectly imperfect.  When impulsivity occurs in a person's life over and over in ways that do not align with goals and aspirations, it can be harmful and destructive.  In a child, he or she may have that impulse to have something right now, leading to snatching a toy that caught their attention from the hands of another child thus impacting friendships.  The teenager, buying that red dress at the shopping mall without any thought about the need  for it or cost. For adults, looking at the beautiful fancy watch with a high price tag, and paying for it with a credit card could lead to serious financial struggles when this type of behavior becomes habitual.  

Impulsivity is essentially a swift action into a decision without much thinking or consideration.  Impulsivity can show up in many areas of your life, such as in relationships, career, work, finances and spending, health, eating.  When it consistently works against your goals it puts you at such a great disadvantage.


ADHD and Impulsivity what the impact? Wiring in the Brains?

Having ADHD often sets up the brain wiring to be at risk  for increased impulsivity, furthermore, the lack of or weaker executive function skills in those with ADHD add to the problem.  

Here are some examples of the ADHD and impulsivity connection…...


  • Low levels of the neurotransmitters in the brain such as dopamine create a “craving” for interest and excitement, this may lead to impulsive actions and  risk taking behaviors.
  • Metacognition, a key powerhouse executive function skill, can be very low in those with ADHD leading  to a significant lack of self awareness as to when and how impulsivity is affecting your life and the consequences.  When you don’t know, you don’t know!
  • Other important executive function traits such as sustaining attention, prioritizing, planning, goal directed persistence are necessary for making sound choices and decisions, these traits are often underdeveloped or weaker in those with ADHD. 
  • Goal directed persistence can keep us from being impulsive yet that trait alludes those with ADHD; making choices that lead to achieving your goals.
  • Very often we just do not differentiate between needs and wants, and we are frequently just doing, or taking steps without thinking and planning first.
  • Response inhibition, the ability to slow down and not act impulsively  (which is basically the definition of impulsivity) is markedly lower in those with ADHD.
  • Other executive function traits such as time management, working memory, cognitive flexibility, initiating tasks can indirectly impact your life and ability to stay on task not acting impulsively.  These traits are also weaker in ADHD.
  • Controlling your emotions, another key player connected to executive function skills and often shows up as weaker in those with ADHD.

So, can you say it's not your fault?  Well sort of yes and sort of no…. We all have work to do on ourselves,  ADHD aside.  This is work you CAN do and be successful around taking control of the impulsivity and its impact in your life.  

Impulsivity and Life 

Impulsivity within our communications can often hurt other people’s feelings.  Very often we are not even aware of this.  Ultimately what we may see are troubles in our relationships both personal and professional.   Other areas where impulsivity may impact us involve risk taking behaviors.  A few examples are explorations with sex and drugs can often lead to serious health consequences related to sexually transmitted diseases and early substance abuse disorders.  Driving and impulsivity can have life or death consequences.   Research has shown significant risk of accidents in those who have ADHD possibly related to the weaker executive function skills, specifically impulsivity and inattention. Meanwhile, drunk driving due to impulsivity in drinking alcohol is the primary reason for engagement in various incidents of road accidents. Impulsivity in choices regarding career can lead to taking and quitting jobs more often.  This can be disastrous.  Binge-eating on food can impact your health and well being, leading to obesity or other eating disorders. Bingeing on things can hurt your good credit.

How to Self-Manage Impulsivity in Teens and Adults

Impulsivity is an intrinsic trait in part due to some of the brain wiring for many with ADHD. With this in mind, here are a few steps to follow to help you self manage your impulsivity and stay on track.   

When you practice this continuously you set yourself up for more success in achieving your goals and bring longer term happiness and peace to your life. 

  • Begin to think about the areas of your life that may not be going so well.  Those areas where you often have struggles or feel like you are “putting out fires”
  • Observing yourself presently and experiences in the past that may be related to impulsivity
  • Think about the scenarios and consider whether or not impulsivity is playing a role
  • Journaling is a great way to do this, talking with friends or work with a coach.

Once you uncover some areas impacted by impulsivity you can try the following tactics

  1. Use the  power of the pause, one of the key lessons that those with ADHD can learn! Taking the time in the moment to pause and ask yourself  the key question….. Does this help me, serve me, or get me to where I want to be in my life.  
    • There is such a thing as having a pause button - if you do not know what to do or think that the action will not “serve” you then hit that pause button.  
  2. Waiting it out and delaying the action often results in a different choice later on
    • Try to let things pass by even just for a few hours.  
    • Delay tactics allow you to identify the behaviors you want to changeUse a pro and con list and look at the results 
  3. Ask yourself the what, when, where, who, why, and how of the critical moments that allow you to act impulsively. 
  4. Self-awareness is key. Knowing those critical moments help you to understand when you need to pause and wait.
  5. Decide only when you are able to see things clearly and make an intelligent or wise long-lasting and impactful decision.
  6. If you need to - talk to a friend or pal to ask for opinions. Think twice or make second thoughts or even go over it a hundred times. Learn to ask for help from your friend or companion when making that important decision.

Seeking Professional Help

Begin at the beginning, and be sure you are receiving proper treatment for your ADHD symptoms.  Talk to your doctor about options that are right for you.  Medication, coaching, therapy, can all impact how your ADHD is managed.  Working with a coach can help you to quickly identify, clarify, and create strategies for managing any ADHD trait, especially impulsivity.  Programs created with a coach are specifically designed to be unique to you.  You can also work with a coach to develop your executive function skills that will support you further.  If you behaviors are especially risky do not delay, reach out for help today. 

Feel free to message me for assistance and guidance.  You are NOT alone….I am here for you!  There are many who can help you in your journey in achieving your goals and living your best life!  Life is not all about fighting the battle alone. It is fighting the battle with others!  I am a friend!  Journey with me….  WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER!  


Feel your life with wonders and adventures. You can become who you want to be. It may take time and effort  but the journey will be all worth it. Sail with me - and we’ll explore all possibilities.


Love to all,



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