If You Want A Fulfilling Life, You Need Impulse Control

Keeping our impulses in check is the difference between our animal tendencies and our human evolution.

How’s your impulse control?

If I put a bucket of fried chicken in front of you, how long would it take you to eat a piece? How many would you eat before you stopped?

What if it was a bowl of chips? A 6 pack of beer? A packet of cigarettes? What if it was a laptop with an endless cycle of porn, how long would it take before you were hooked?

What if it was a slot machine, and all you had to do was reach out and pull that lever?

The biggest obstacle to your success is your own impulse control.

It’s what stops you from giving in to your natural, base instincts and urges. There’s nothing wrong with these instincts on their own; we smell something good, we see something good, we want it…that’s okay. I love a few drinks as much as the next guy.

The issue is that we are not in a position to give into these impulses 100% of the time. We need to be able to think further ahead than the moment we’re currently inhabiting. We need to choose when we allow these impulses into our lives.

1. Your Impulses Are Not Always At One With Your Best Interests

Your impulses are going to be to do a lot of shit that isn’t aligned with your long term plans. Your impulses are going to be to sleep in when you should be getting up and exercising. To watch TV instead of working. To spend your money on a new pair of sneakers instead of Facebook ads that could generate thousands of dollars of new business.

Or even to cheat on someone you love when you’d never see a future with anyone but them. That’s your impulses at war with your best interests. Your impulses are largely functioned around getting gratification in the moment. This moment. And only this.

If you want long term success, you can’t be focused on short term impulses.

2. Your Impulses Are Always Centered On The Mundane

Eating a bunch of crap. Drinking too much. Sleeping too much. These are quite completely mundane functions. They’re boring as all hell, if you really step back and look at them. Because your impulses probably aren’t telling you to cook a challenging meal that will employ the craft of the kitchen in following a family recipe. Your impulses are telling you to order in a Pizza.

The mundane might be satisfying for a little while. But there’s so much more to life that you’ll exclude yourself from if you’re set on following your impulses and you don’t limit them.

If you want to experience the best life has to offer, you can’t be focused on short term impulses.

3. Your Impulses Are Not About Improvement

Your impulses are about preserving your present state. They’re not about changing it. Your present state might not be bad, but there’s always an improvement that can be made. Because your im pulses are centered on the enjoyment of the moment, there’s no energy there for the work it takes to improve tomorrow, next week or next month or next year.

Your impulses will always keep your situation the same, or slowly worsen it over time. That’s the way it goes. Your impulses aren’t going to get you to invest your finances. They’re going to get you to blow your paycheck. Because your impulses want to preserve who you are while you’re enjoying yourself. If you change, you can’t do that.

If you want to see change, you can’t be focused on short term impulses.

4. Your Impulses Aren’t Good at Self Preservation

When someone tells you that the paint is wet, what’s your first impulse? Mine is to touch that surface immediately and find out. When someone tells you the dish is hot, what’s your first impulse? Mine is to experience the heat for myself.

When someone tells you that you can’t do anything, you often have an almost inescapable urge to do just that. Your impulses aren’t good at self preservation. Again — it’s because your impulses want immediate feedback and satisfaction.

If you want to survive in the wild, you can’t be focused on short term impulses.

5. Your Impulses Are To Consume, Not Build

Nobody has a base impulse to build a billion dollar company. Nobody. They might have an impulse to get rich, but that presents itself through gambling and buying lottery tickets, not innovating its way to a new product or a Goddamn empire. Your impulses are to consume what you see before you, whether it’s the fried chicken, the slot machine or whatever else.

When you only consume, you’re only treading water. You’re not playing a positive role in your life, your family or your community. There’s got to be something more.

If you want to build anything, from a sandcastle to a Unicorn level company, you can’t be focused on short term impulses.

6. Even Positive Impulses Are Short Term

If you read an inspiring quote on Instagram, it might make you sign up for a gym. If you eat a salad and feel good about yourself, it might make you throw out that packet of Oreos that’s been in your cupboard for the past week.

The issue is, these are still short term impulses. They’re still about that immediate feedback. That’s why gym membership shoots up in January and drops off in February. The short term impulses that made people sign up doesn’t keep you going a month later.

If you want to stick with a positive change, you can’t be focused on short term impulses (even good ones).

7. Your Impulses Are Too Easily Influenced.

Have a look at this picture. It’s a Domino’s Pizza. Now read this:

“Ground beef, rasher bacon, pepperoni, fresh mixed capsicum, red onion, baby spinach, cherry wood smoked leg ham, olives, oregano topped with tomato capsicum sauce…”

How much do you want a Pizza right now? It took me around 30 seconds to find that picture and grab that description off the Domino’s website, and now I can’t stop thinking about Pizza and how badly I want to order one for lunch right now. Our impulses are too easily influenced by everything we see and hear. That’s why advertising works. It taps into those impulses.

If you want to make your own decisions, you can’t focus on short term impulses.

8. Your Impulses Are Often Focused On You Alone

That’s a bit of a generalisation, and there are exceptions. For example, every time there’s a major disaster, there are folks whose first impulse is to kick off their shoes and run into the fray to do every single thing they can to help others. That’s beautiful.

But that’s in the heat of the moment. That’s in the immediacy of conflict. When you’re sitting on your coach flicking through your phone, your impulses aren’t to donate to a charity, they’re to perv on your ex’s photos and order yourself a new T-shirt from a banner ad. Those are decisions focused on you alone.

If you want to give, and give consistently, you can’t focus on short term impulses.

I don’t think that perfection is a good goal. I don’t think it’s an achievable goal, and frankly even if humans could reach perfection, we’d stagnate and fall apart anyway. So that’s not what I’m advocating here.

But what humans do need is to maintain a certain level of awareness of our own impulses and work towards controlling them and keeping them in check. That’s what leads to the difference between our animal tendencies and our human evolution.

This piece originally appeared on Medium


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