ABOUT Impulsivity

Risk, Reward & Impulsivity

Managing the gap between impulse and action

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Part of The Challenges Inventory™ Series

Many professionals agree that “impulsivity” is one of the most confusing of the official terms in the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual updated and published by the American Psychological Association).

The confusion is especially problematic because impulsivity is one of the diagnostic criteria for Attention Deficits.  The biggest source of confusion is linguistic.

The term “impulsivity” is unfortunate.

So many concepts are implied by the root word “impulse” that, even once we identify impulsivity as an area that needs to be managed, it’s really tough to figure out how to do it — or even what’s involved.

The truth is, we are ALL are at the effect of “impulsivity.”  Impulses drive the conscious actions that contribute to much of our forward progress.  Even “instincts” are driven from impulses – the only real difference is that those impulses are below the level of consciousness.

Another biggie among the ADD problems is activation.

What IS activation, if not an impulse.

Murkier and murkier, this examination toward clarification!

Okay, let’s not get into semantic discussions that split hairs. Individuals will be considered “impulsive” only when impulse leads to action without a pause for thought.  That works, right?

No way!  

Not only is that concept untrue, it is misleading. “Impulsivity” in the sense defined above is not necessarily dysfunctional, nor is it always undesirable!

  • Are we “impulsive” when our cars skid on icy roads and we manage to avert a multi-car pile up through quick thinking and quicker reactions?
  • Is a mother “impulsive” when she yanks her toddler out of harm’s way as the contents of the pan that caught the child’s fancy cascades from stove to floor?
  • Are policemen and women “impulsive” when they turn their bodies AS a bullet zings toward them, so that it narrowly misses vital organs?

What about the day traders on the floor of the stock exchange?  I think we’d agree they are decisive, and that they would not last a day in that job if they were not.

That’s right! Not only is “impulsivity” of the type illustrated by the examples above NOT maladaptive, it is “hard wired” into our brains as a survival mechanism.  So we can agree that a hair-trigger leap from intention to action is laudable as long as safety and security are at stake, can’t we?


Here’s the “hitch in that git-a-long” —  risks to safety and security are a matter of perception. We may or may not be in actual danger, at least not in any fashion with which most of the world would agree.

With the perception of a threat to our well-being, our bodies are designed to respond rapidly and efficiently with what we call our “fight or flight” reaction. The survival of our genetic ancestors depended on their biological ability to respond effectively to dangers where strength needed to be marshaled immediately.

  • Few of our potential cave-ancestors who did NOT have that hair-trigger response to impulse remained alive long enough to contribute their genetic material to the human genome.
  • Those individuals who were able to pause for a moment to check to see if their perceptions were accurate lost the advantages of speed of response, and it cost them their lives.
  • As a result, impulsivity became “hard-wired” into the human brain.

Beyond “Response Hyperactivity

The description of impulsivity in the DSM fits many impulsive children (often blurts out, has difficulty taking turns, interrupts or intrudes on others repeatedly and often).  It doesn’t address the mechanism of action (the underlying neurology).

Because it doesn’t, recognizing the full spectrum of difficulties that domino from a problem with impulsivity in the rest of the children (and most adults) is a real challenge.

As a result of the DSM description, impulsivity is most frequently viewed through the lens of it’s commonalities with cognitive hyperactivity (a mind in overdrive).

It is often explained that children who blurt out answers before raising their hands — or those who have trouble waiting their turn — struggle with “appropriate” behavior because their mind is hyperactive, racing rapidly from thought to thought, without pauses for reevaluation that is more characteristic of the neurotypical brain.

They blurt out the answer, for example, because they they have to hurry up and answer the question before their mind intrudes with the next thought.  Likewise, chronic interruptions of impulsive adults are explained using the same rationale.

Maybe so, but then what?

One of the most important tasks of “growing up” is the maturation of the ability and the development of techniques to over-ride a great many of our sudden impulses, along with the habit of doing what we know.

Brakes!  But HOW do we get those?  What’s involved?

Until we take a look at what’s going on “back stage” (or “under the hood”) — as we attempt to figure out what’s really going on with faulty brakes, we have only those theories from  motivational psychology to look to for help.  Are we back to “You don’t want to badly enough?”  Is that REALLY all it is? (um, no)

Where will we look to explain why impulsivity leads to problems with drug addiction, personality disorders, and makes attention deficit hyperactivity disorder so difficult to work around?

That “back-stage, under-the-hood” stuff is central to what I will explore with you in the rest of the Impulsivity Series, as I examine the questions raised above   Those questions and others will be addressed in articles to come – so stay tuned.

How to find content on this blog lesson below:

Your connection to articles about Impulsivity will be found on the lower of the two menubars at the TOP of this site (above this article, right?)

Far left on the lighter grey menubar,
in the following drop-down category :

The Optimal Functioning eBook Series™ –
The Impulsivity Rundown™

HOVER, don’t click, to see the drop-down

(for the “tech challenged,” – hover means to move your mouse pointer on top of [whatever] to see what else it might do – but don’t click it!)

NOW – once you see the dropdown menu –  slide your pointer down and double click only when it is on top of the category you want (Impulsivity, in this case, right?)

IMPORTANT:  if you “wander” the pointer off the sides of the menu, the menu will close again — No biggie, you’ll simply have to start over with that “hover” part — unless you stay tracked as you move the pointer to select your option. (Mindfulness practice, anyone?)


You’ll then see a very long page of “excerpts” — a “blogroll” of articles in the category you clicked.

  • The newest article will always be on top – oldest at the bottom.
  • At the bottom of each”snippet” of article will be some kind of  “read more” prompt.
  • Click THAT to get the whole article. (By the way, for the “tech challenged” among you — that’s how it works on MOST blogs.)

If you visit often, you may also catch an Impulsivity title among the newer content on the long list of links to my latest content — on the skinny column to your immediate right —->
(scroll up or down, if you don’t see it yet).

The EASIEST way . . .

is to sign up for notification of new articles.  Simply give your email to the nice form at the very top of that same skinny column to your right —->

Whenever I post a new article, you will get an email with a link to it.
CLICK and you’re done!  Stringent NO SPAM policy.

HOWEVER you do it, stay tuned — there’s A LOT to know, and a lot more to come.
Get it here, while its still free for the taking!

HEADS UP: if you will let me know where your struggles with impulsivity lie (in the comments section below), even if I don’t have time to respond to your comment directly, I will make it a point to include suggestions targeted specifically for YOUR challenges with impulsivity in the upcoming series.  

That amounts to Free Coaching if you’ll make the time advantage of it!!

COACHING LINKS at end of all posts

Related articles right here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com

BY THE WAY: Since ADDandSoMuchMore.com is an Evergreen site, I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

17 Responses to ABOUT Impulsivity

  1. Pingback: PTSD Awareness Post 2017 – Part II | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  2. Pingback: Stroke & Attentional Disorders | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  3. Pingback: Suicidal Kids linked to ADD/ADHD more than Depression | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  4. Pingback: PTSD Overview – Awareness Post | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  5. Pingback: More Best Practices for Habit Creation – Part 2 | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  6. Pingback: Why you can’t and how you can – Part 1 | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  7. philippinewanderer says:

    I think this was an excellent article and I could relate to numbers 3, 4, and 10.

    I have a strong impulse to return to the Philippines. I ventured to those islands on at least four separate occasions and each time, I left the states with the intention of moving there for good. I would sell all my belongings that I was not able to take with me, be driven to the airport, catch a non-stop 15-hour flight to Japan and then a 3-5 hour flight to Manila. I had no savings just my ATM card for my checking.

    The longest stay there was a 2-year period. I had finally built up the resolve to live there, but then, I felt a need to “show” our daughter to her grandparents because they were already old, my Pilipina wife (I married her for the sole purpose of getting her a visa)was granted a 2-month “Visitor’s Visa” to America. However, she would not return and caused a multitude of legal problems for me; I was unable to return.

    Now it is simply a matter of getting my financial house in order and that time has almost come and then I will go once again, and for good. Unless I am crazy and continue doing the same thing but expecting a different outcome?


    • Soooo tough about your wife – trashy behavior from her, and I know you are too good a guy to put your beautiful daughter in the middle of it.

      I don’t understand why good people get shabby back. Distinction: kindness vs. weakness. Not your fault if others can’t see the difference.

      Sounds like those around you do NOT deserve you. TAKE your turn. Follow what YOU want for *your* life. Continue to love your daughter and play “poker” with the rest of the world — they must turn over a “kindness” card before they get to see your next one.

      Getting in “kindness” debt is continuing to do the same thing, expecting a different result. I can’t believe I had to be totally helpless before I learned this myself.




  8. andy wolmer says:

    I agree


  9. Suzette says:

    I would have to argue that your examples of good impulses are really more instinctual than impulsive.


    • ABSOLUTELY!! My point was that these “instinctual” reflexes, given the definition of “impulsive” that introduced them, might ALSO serve as a reframe of how we think about impulsivity overall.

      So MUCH gets lumped into the “impulsivity” basket — and I firmly believe that we will remain powerless to effect change toward intentionality that serves us until we become clear about what we’d like to be different, in what arenas, and why.

      Thanks for “reading with your brain engaged” – and for taking the time to add to the discussion.



  10. annieller says:

    The “impulsivity” link worked just the way you explained and I am making my way around your site easily – will post more about my experiences with impulsivity asap, I am devoid of all impulses at the moment – unless trying to focus enough to drag yourself upstairs to bed is an impulse.


  11. free iphone geocaching app says:

    Hello, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your website in Chrome, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, superb blog!


  12. Pingback: What’s the most impulsive thing you’ve ever done? « Elias Cresh

  13. Fernanda Lindau says:

    URL: wordpress-seoplugin.info
    Hello Web Admin, I noticed that your On-Page SEO is not that great, for one you do not use all three H tags in your post, also I notice that you are not using bold or italics properly in your SEO optimization. On-Page SEO means more now than ever since the new Google update: Panda. No longer are backlinks and simply pinging or sending out a RSS feed the key to getting Google PageRank or Alexa Rankings, You now NEED On-Page SEO. So what is good On-Page SEO?First your keyword must appear in the title.Then it must appear in the URL.You have to optimize your keyword and make sure that it has a nice keyword density of 3-5% in your article with relevant LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing). Then you should spread all H1,H2,H3 tags in your article.Your Keyword should appear in your first paragraph and in the last sentence of the page. You should have relevant usage of Bold and italics of your keyword.There should be one internal link to a page on your blog and you should have one image with an alt tag that has your keyword….wait there’s even more Now what if i told you there was a simple WordPress plugin that does all the On-Page SEO, and automatically for you? That’s right AUTOMATICALLY, just watch this 4minute video for more information at. WordPress Seo Plugin


    • Web-admin response (lol) – yep, that’s me, along with chief-cook-and-bottle-washer and everything ELSE, currently! Off the map & unable to work for the past 4+ years due to health and personal challenges, I’m RE-bootstrapping, so it will be some time before I can afford staff!

      Thanks for your post – Even though Akismet marked you as spam, I decided to approve you because your info is useful, not only to me, but generally.

      UNFORTUNATLY, this is a WordPress.com site, which does NOT allow plugins and restricts widget usage (primarily) to those built into your theme. I am hoping that implementing Thesis on my “self-hosted site” (as they call it), will IN FACT be as straight-forward as everybody swears it is with WordPress. (Not my experience so far – I think I could have coded Webster’s dictionary in less time!)

      Anyway, once I’m spending less time HERE and more time THERE, I’ll take a look at your video and check out your recommended plug-in. Until I can hire some help, my time is totally covered up by the need to know NOW stuff.


And what do YOU think? I'm interested.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: