How I Learned To Relax & Embrace My Impulsive Side

Photo: Gordon Salmen / EyeEm
I decided to have a baby because I was bored of hangovers. It never occurred to me to drink a little less, stay in every other Friday night and book in the occasional Saturday morning yoga class. Instead I woke up one afternoon, my mouth full of acrid hangover and immediately concluded that a baby was the answer. Two Nurofen, a Coca-Cola and a box of ovulation sticks seemed the perfect antidote to another 4am finish.
I pressed life’s eject button and landed as a mum with a very different reason to be awake at 4am. Making drastic decisions on a whim and actioning them in a week became a bit of a habit. It seemed so much easier to choose an extreme exit from partying than it did to exercise some discipline and just go out a little less. Crashing into the next situation was much more appealing than having to work through anything boring, difficult or tedious.
If I have a big decision to make, it can almost feel too big to cope with, so I solve it with a close-my-eyes-and-run approach. I quit a 12-year career after giving it the overnight test, we moved into the first flat we saw, we put our kid into the one and only childminder we’d met (I still regret that choice).
London hasn’t been working for me lately, for all the usual complaints: it’s too expensive, too status-led, too cold. My solution was Bali. Obviously! We went as a family to try and live there for two months and for lots of reasons found that moving with a child to a different continent probably isn’t the answer to hating London. But why did I impulsively leap to an extreme solution, 18 hours' flight away? A weekend in Rye might have fixed it.
Impulsive behaviour can be described as ‘low-effort, feeling-based behaviour’. It’s basically easy to be impulsive; it allows you to bypass rigour, self-control and discipline. "Some people just operate on a more emotional, instinctive level than a cerebral one," says Sue Firth, a behavioural psychologist. "It might seem like you make rash decisions, but people can be processing things in the background, then when they arrive at a solution it feels sudden."
This really resonated with me; I find it hard to think logically about a problem, like when you try to do mathematics that’s beyond you. So instead of working through anything strategically, I hold the thought somewhere in my gut. And I let it percolate.
It might sound oxymoronic but I truly find comfort in chaos. I enjoy being thrown into a situation and then just having to deal with it. I get less stressed by the idea of a one-way plane ticket than an organised trip. "It’s not cool jumping from one thing to another, you know?" my boyfriend informs me. "It’s annoying." He’s right. I don’t say any of this to sound provocative or fun or cool. And I’m starting to see how annoying it is to be with someone who doesn’t think anything through logically.
"Sometimes all you need to know is what you don’t want, you don’t have to have all the answers," says Sue. This is the complete opposite of the advice I would normally expect to hear from an expert, but it makes total sense. Understanding the things you want to change can be enough.
Sue explains a process she thinks could be helpful for anyone with a poor attention span, the kind of person you might call ‘flighty’ or ‘impulsive’. She calls it Freedom of Thought. "Allow yourself to think of all the ‘what ifs’ and just play with them, play with the stupid thoughts, the brave ones, the unspeakable ones." I guess Sue is basically saying to daydream. "If you have a low boredom threshold it helps to know you’re not trapped before any resentment builds to combustion level."
Tania Keeling, a life coach who works with people to create a balanced, happy life tells me: "The most important thing for anyone to ask themselves is ‘What do you really feel in your heart?’" Even Malcolm Gladwell championed ‘The power of not thinking’ in his lauded book Blink, looking at the benefits of following our instinct rather than doing the kind of process thinking and analysis people are expected to do when presented with a big decision.
My impulsive moments have led to my son, my flat, being a freelance writer and two months in Bali, where I realised I didn't want to live but I did learn to surf. So here, in this not-thinking think-piece, I’m realising that the impulsive among us are probably always going to work on a gut level; it’s almost hardwired into us and hey, it gets us out of doing tedious pros and cons lists. But maybe sometimes I should trust my instinct to not follow my instinct.

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