Impulsiveness vs. Self-Discipline

by James Rudy Gray

James Rudy GrayImpulsiveness is a behavioral trait that causes many people both regrets and difficulty. Impulsivity is that tendency to act without thinking about the consequences. Some personalities are more spontaneous and flexible, which can make them more prone to impulsive behavior. However, impulsive behaviors are not limited to the more intuitive and perceiving personality types.

Spontaneity can be a healthy expression. Impulsiveness, as a trait, seldom is. Impulsive people are likely to make hasty decisions, lack consistency, demonstrate a poor ability to plan, and have a tendency to get into trouble because of impetuous acts.

They often fail to follow through on ideas or projects-even if it's their own projects! If impulsiveness remains unchecked and self-discipline is lacking, a person can easily become involved in several different forms of self-indulgence. Alcohol abuse, substance abuse, gambling, and smoking are some examples of self-indulgence.

The key to overcoming impulsive tendencies is self-discipline. If you could imagine two opposite points on a line, one end would be self-discipline and the other would be impulsiveness. When self-discipline increases, impulsiveness decreases. When impulsiveness increases, self-discipline decreases.

Self-discipline has to do with organizing your life, learning how to persevere, and practicing responsible control of yourself and your environment. In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul writes, "God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline." To have a spirit of power, love, and discipline means that we have the Spirit-given ability to control ourselves and to some degree our personal environment. Self-discipline and self-control are by-products of Spirit-filled living. Why is it, then, that so many Christians have troubles that are directly related to impulsive behavior? The obvious answer is that they are not walking in the fullness of the Spirit. Still, some Christians find it relatively easy to be organized and disciplined, while others struggle with impulsive behaviors.

There is no substitute for Spirit-filled living. There are some practical steps that impulsive-prone individuals can do to experience more self-discipline in their lives.

If you are dealing with a counselee who is struggling with trouble stemming from impulsive behavior, there are very helpful suggestions that you can give them. When these suggestions are followed, they actually influence the person to create more self-discipline in their lives:

Avoid fatigue. You will make better decisions if you are not exhausted.

Avoid alcoholic beverages, exercise regularly if you are physically able, and follow a well-balanced diet.

When making a decision, practice the delay principle before making the decision final. The delay may mean an hour or a day before you decide.

Plan your day in advance by making lists and having a schedule.

Work diligently at saying "no" to some things. Most impulsive types will take on too much and end up frustrated because of the mountain of unfinished projects.

Set reasonable goals and put practical steps in place for reaching those goals.

Do not allow discouragement to become entrenched in your attitude.

Other strategies that may help a counselee include:

Encouraging the person to work on being efficient, not perfect. Perfection is not attainable but efficiency is.

Develop a balanced approach to work and play. It is true that all work and no play makes us unhappy. By the same token, all play will lead an impulsive-type person to be even more impulsive.

Help counselees to do a past history so they can see their personal pattern of impulsiveness. From this insight, they can develop activities and exercises that directly combat their specific tendencies to be impulsive.

Teach them to be less unconventional when in the company of others. They already lean away from typical customs, structure, organization, and schedules. By being more compliant and conforming (when it does not violate scriptural truth), their impulsive tendencies will be less likely to get them into trouble.

Impulsivity has a negative impact on a person. Self-discipline is a positive force when it is not overdone. The Holy Spirit provides a person with the ability to be self-disciplined. Impulsiveness often appeals to the flesh. Galatians 5:16 says, "Walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh." It is often amazing what even a moderate degree of self-discipline can do to improve a person's overall life. James Rudy Gray, who pastors Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C., is certified
as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors,
and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors.

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