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THE DANGERS OF IMPULSIVE DECISION MAKING

One Choice Today Can Change All of Your Tomorrows

“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Today, Blake Layman, Jose Quiroz, Anthony Sharp, and Levi Sparks, four teenagers from Elkhart, IN, are sitting in the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, the result of an impulsive decision to rob some empty houses and get some “quick money” that went horribly wrong.  Not sitting in the jail with them is Danzele Johnson, who died after a homeowner shot him.

Obviously, it wasn’t supposed to go down this way. As Layman later told ABC News, “It was never the plan to hurt anyone or even confront anyone.”  But, the cold hard truth is that impulsive decisions can lead to serious consequences – some of them life lasting. Some of them even life ending.

The Elkhart teenagers may not have meant any real harm, but they are all looking at decades in prison. When someone is in a courtroom being tried for the results of a bad, spur-of-the- moment decision, the good things that they may have done in life don’t count very much.  Instead, they are going to be judged and sentenced primarily for that one event…in effect, for that one bad choice that they made.

Impulsive decision making is normal human behavior and, obviously, not every impulsive decision lands you in jail. Some impulsive urges such as the ones that keep you out of danger, can even be good, but on the whole, acting before thinking can destroy your chances for achieving your long-term goals in life.  Sometimes it is the “little” impulsive decisions that can, as a result of unintended consequences, cause as much grief as the major ones.

Relationships: Stepping Over the Line

Relationships are an area of life where it can be all too easy to act in the moment without thinking ahead.  One impulsive “relationship decision” can mean finding yourself in a hole that you can’t easily climb out of. Impulsive decisions such as reckless sexual behavior or starting an affair with a coworker can possibly result in starting a family before you are ready or the breakup of the family you already have.  Hanging out with the wrong crowd is another example. We all want to be popular and have people like us, but what if you find yourself with a group of people who like to get wasted every weekend? All it takes is one drive home after too many drinks to potentially ruin your life – or someone else’s. Later, you may be able to see where you went wrong, but you won’t get to turn the clock back and start all over.

Before starting any relationship, make a conscious decision to take your time. If you are committed from the “get go” to taking things slowly, you are far less likely to regret impulsive moves. In addition, identifying who brings out your impulsive side, and avoiding them, is another strategy you can use to have healthier relationships. Choosing to have relationships with people who respect you and your goals is key to making sure that you don’t find yourself in situations with people who will cause you trouble.

Finances: Lack of Spending Control

Money is one of the easiest areas of life where impulsive decisions can get you in serious trouble. It can be easy to have a light hearted attitude about money. After all, you can always earn more. But debt is no joking matter when it can follow you wherever you go and take decades to pay off. Not to mention the fact that a poor credit score can make it hard to obtain even some of life’s basic necessities such as housing or a car. According to Nerdwallet, a financial tools website, the average American household owes $15,480 just in credit card debt, not including whatever might be owed on a mortgage or student loans. As the website for Debt.org, a debt help organization, bluntly states, “Americans are drowning in debt.” It’s incredibly easy to be one of those Americans.

There’s lot you can ask yourself though, when tempted to buy something on impulse. One thing to ask is whether the potential purchase is a legitimate need or a want. If it is actually a want, rather than a need, give yourself time to think about it. Is it something you’ve wanted for a while, or are you only interested because it’s on sale? Go home and think about it.

Also, look at your credit card usage. Some credit usage is important in order to have a credit history, but credit cards make it dangerously easy to give in to impulsive shopping urges that can ultimately ruin you financially. Do you need as many credit cards as you may have? Are you charging things just because you can? If so, resolve to use cash as much as possible. And, if you don’t have the cash for a “want,” then you have the answer as to whether you should buy it or not – you shouldn’t.

Health: Ignoring the Impacts

From cancer to heart disease to diabetes, the sad truth for many Americans is that we are literally killing ourselves with some of our impulsive decisions regarding our health. Randomly deciding to watch a TV show instead of going out and getting some exercise, or choosing the hamburger over the salad are both examples of letting impulses literally get the better of you. Not to mention examples such as drinking too much because your friends are doing so, or giving in to a sweet tooth when you know you really shouldn’t.

We live in a very abundant society, and it’s not hard to decide that we want something to eat or drink in the spur of the moment. We’ve all done it. I have a sweet tooth and my own impulsive decision making downfall is usually when I see a dessert or other sugary item that I didn’t plan on buying.  It smells good, it looks good and suddenly it’s in the shopping cart. My own strategy in countering the urge to make that impulse purchase is to ask myself whether my body really needs the dessert I want to buy – and the answer is always no.

When you have a sudden desire to stop at McDonalds on your way home from work because it is fast, reminding yourself about the long-term consequences to your health can be helpful, as can thinking ahead and avoiding impulse “trouble spots.”  Besides reminding myself about my health when confronted with the sudden desire for something sugary, I don’t walk down the cookie aisle in the grocery store, because I know that’s where I will get in trouble. Recognize those areas – and avoid them.

Time Management: Not Using It Wisely

Whether we like it or not, one key to a happy, successful life is the ability to stick to a schedule so that we can reach our goals, and not just randomly let our impulses dictate our time. This is an area though where impulsivity can get in the way, and not for the better.  What if a friend wants to go see a movie with you tonight, even though you planned to study for a test happening the next day? A movie is harmless enough, but what if going means that you skip the studying and then fail or do poorly on your test?

Make a schedule and vow to stick with it. Have one that includes time for activities such as seeing a movie, but one that also takes a sensible approach to your time and allows you to meet both your daily responsibilities and the goals you’ve set for yourself.  Sometimes it is relaxing to do something out of the ordinary with your day, but waking up in the morning with no clearly planned goals can be a recipe for nothing but poor decisions, simple choices that don’t get you anywhere in the long run, waste your time and sometimes lead to major problems in your life.

To Improve: Know Who You Are

Beyond whatever specific areas of your life can use some improvement when it comes to making harmful spur-of-the-moment decisions, having a good sense of self can give you a good idea of how much work you need to invest in changing impulsive habits. Some people are more impulsive than others and if you know that you are prone to making hasty decisions without a lot of thought, map out the areas where it’s a real issue for you.  Also identify the types of situations where you are most likely to make those impulsive decisions. If you know that social situations such as parties are where you are the most impulsive, commit to being more careful when attending them.

If you find yourself chronically making impulsive decisions though to the point where there is little stability in your life, it could be a sign of deeper problems. What is chronic impulsivity? According to Out of the Fog, a support website for those with a loved one suffering from a personality disorder, examples include the man who blows his entire paycheck gambling at the casino, jumps senselessly from job to job, or engages in risky behavior simply for the thrill of it. Impulsivity of this nature makes it not only hard to have a functional life; it’s also a sign that you might possibly have a mental health condition such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Bipolar Disorder. If looking at your impulses leads you to see a pattern of regular impulsive decisions that are causing obvious destruction to your life, it’s important to seek appropriate mental health guidance or treatment.

For most people though, impulsive decisions stem simply from getting caught up in what we want right now without thinking ahead, never thinking about the potential consequences.  How often have you had the reflective thought… “well, it seemed like a good idea at the time”? We can all agree that life is better when it isn’t filled with regret about decisions that we can’t take back. Actively making a choice to avoid impulsive decisions is a step towards living a happier and more productive life. It may not be easy to eliminate all of the harmful impulsive choices in your life, but if you are willing to work at it, you can certainly eliminate most of them.

“A man can do what he ought to do; and when he says he cannot, it is because he will not.”
J. A. Froude

Written By Meghan Hogan

Copyright 2014 / Good Choices Good Life, Inc. / All Rights Reserved

Hard times don't create heroes. It's during hard times when the "hero" in us is revealed. Bob Riley