How to resist an impulse

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“There is perhaps no psychological skill more fundamental than resisting impulse. It is the root of all emotional self-control, since all emotions, by their very nature, led to one or another impulse to act.” Daniel Goleman

It soars through you like a wave. The impulse to do something you will regret later. The urge is so irresistible, that you feel there is no other way. You just have to do it. Have another drink, although it is way beyond bedtime. A cigarette after managing to not smoke for three days. The ice-cream dripping with chocolate sause that you kept in the fridge. Just in case you get visitors. We know these impulses so well, and despair when we cannot do anything to stop them. Walter Mischel found in his famous Marshmallow experiment, that children who managed to postpone having a marshmallow and get two later if they waited, had better results at school and success later in life. Unbelievable, isn`t it? That just one experiment like this, can predict what happens years later? For some this might even lead to a feeling of despair: Especially if you struggle time and time again with resisting those impulses. Is it really impossible to stop the urge when it threatens to take over? Sometimes it honestly is. When you are stressed, have too many things to think about, have no time to think through what you do during a day or feel tired, you might slip on some of your promises to yourself. Studies show that choosing and resisting alternatives, drains mental energy. In the evening you might be so exhausted that willpower simply vanishes. BUT: We can trick our gratification searching brain. First: Prepare for the fight. Do not keep what you are trying to avoid, around you. Don`t buy that chocolate bar. To avoid doing so when you are stressed, plan to go shopping when you are not hungry. Shop everything you need so you don`t need to pop into the store later. If you feel bad from not having your usual way of regulating those difficult emotions or cravings, find alternative positive activities. Talk to yourself a LOT: I am strong. I can do this. I am actually doing it already by trying to resist. Good work! And if you manage to resist the impulse, for just one or ten minutes, be sure to tell yourself what accomplishment it is. Because you have just rode on the wave instead of letting it sweep you away. Even without a surf-board. Because who actually learn how to resist impulses? If we haven`t had good role models, like many of us haven`t (especially today when everything happened two minutes ago), how could we have learnt to resist? Luckily, the marshmallow experiment showed that if the experimenter learnt the children how to resist impulses, for example by distracting them (having interesting toys in the room, asking them to close their eyes) they managed to do so in the future too. Every time you find creative ways to resist your urges, your willpower grows. It is hard work, and sometimes it feels like it`s all for nothing. But just think about how happy people who have really tried to change, often are. Why might that be? I think you already have the answer: Because it is immensely gratifying to doing what we know in our hearts are right.

But, we have to balance resistance with acceptance. Sometimes we push the brakes to often, leading to us stopping impulses that are healthy and bring life to us.

From the blog feed your soul: My concern, however, is the squashing of the other impulses, the ones that guide us to life-enhancing decisions. The impulse to express a truth even if it is unpopular. The impulse to say no, when social mores would have us say yes. The impulse to radically change a life that looks perfectly fine from the outside but feels like death on the inside. I am afraid that we will begin to live only in extremes, much like the stratification of our socioeconomic classes. We become like the addict, powerless over any whim or desire, or we become the ascetic who deems any impulse evil, and the control over our desires the mark of superiority.

Is it possible to live in the middle ground, where our impulses can go through a highly developed discernment filter and we honor all ways?

I love those thoughts from the blog. And in my opinion, it is possible to find that balance. But first we must learn the skills to stop impulses first, and then we must learn to let go. Finding the balance can`t be done if we lack the knowledge and experience necessary to either resist or let go. So if you want to resist more, can it harm to try?

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