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Impulse Control Strategies

We all face challenges when it comes to impulse control. Learning impulse control strategies will improve your overall well-being and increase your ability to achieve your goals. Whether it's resisting temptations, managing our emotions, or staying focused on long-term goals, self-control plays a crucial role in our everyday lives. 

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Impulse control refers to the ability to regulate and alter our responses to avoid undesirable behaviors, increase desirable ones, and achieve long-term goals. It involves managing urges, regulating emotional responses, and controlling movements. 

As I’ve mentioned, impulse control is closely tied to emotional regulation because if we don’t regulate or manage our emotions, we react impulsively, often suffering negative consequences for our outbursts.

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Types of Impulse Control

Before talking about impulse control strategies, we need to understand impulsivity. There are three primary types of self-regulation:

Impulse control: 

This involves managing urges and impulses. People who struggle with impulse control may act without thinking about the consequences of their actions.

Emotional control: 

This refers to the ability to regulate emotional responses. Individuals with difficulties in emotional control may find it challenging to manage strong emotions, leading to overreactions, outbursts, and lasting negative moods.

Movement control: 

Movement control involves controlling how and when the body moves. Those with difficulties in movement control may experience restlessness and have trouble remaining still. These people fidget or “stim,” the common term for self-stimulation. These are movements done without thought.

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The Importance of Self-Control

Self-control plays a vital role in our day-to-day lives, impacting various aspects of our well-being. We assume that self-control is something we naturally develop. However, most people need to take an active role in learning to do this. It’s not automatic. I’m sure many of us have either said to a small child (or had it said to us), “Get yourself under control.”

But the thing is, they don’t know how. Some neurotypical children figure it out by modeling and imitating what they see. For many neurodivergent kids, they need explicit instructions and tools in order to learn. 

Research has shown that people with better self-control tend to be healthier and happier in both the short and long term. For example, students with greater self-discipline have been found to have better grades, higher test scores, and increased chances of admission to competitive academic programs. Learning the impulse control strategies that work best for you will have a long-term positive impact.

Techniques for Improving Impulse Control

Now that we understand the importance of self-control, let’s talk about some of the impulse control strategies you can employ:  

Learn About Your Disorder

Educating yourself about impulse control disorders is an essential first step in managing and improving self-control. By learning about the disorder, its symptoms, triggers, and treatment options, you can gain a better understanding of your own experiences and develop strategies for managing them. It also allows you to actively participate in your treatment plan and communicate effectively with healthcare professionals.

If you were not diagnosed until later in life, this must be your first step. If you don’t understand the underlying causes, making change will be more difficult. If you were diagnosed younger, you probably have this step covered.

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Habit Reversal Training

Habit reversal training involves identifying specific behaviors or actions associated with impulsive urges and consciously replacing them with alternative actions. For example, if someone feels the urge to engage in hair-pulling, they can practice deep breathing exercises as a replacement behavior until the urge subsides. Habit reversal training provides an effective outlet for releasing tension associated with impulsive urges.


Keeping a journal can be a helpful tool for understanding and managing impulse control disorders. By documenting your urges, behaviors, emotions, and environmental triggers, you can identify patterns and gain insights into your condition. Journaling also provides an outlet for self-reflection, allowing you to process your thoughts and feelings in a healthy way. Sharing your journal with a therapist can aid in their understanding of your disorder and guide your treatment plan.

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Create a Risk Plan

Identifying high-risk situations and developing a concrete plan for dealing with them is crucial for managing impulse control disorders. If certain locations or people trigger impulsive behaviors, try to avoid them if possible. If avoidance is not an option, outline a series of steps to follow when faced with an urge in those situations. These steps may include engaging in alternative behaviors, seeking support from a trusted individual, or removing yourself from the situation altogether. Having a formalized risk plan can provide guidance and structure during challenging moments.

Seek Therapy

Therapy is an invaluable resource for individuals with impulse control disorders. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a specific form of therapy commonly used to address impulse control issues. CBT helps individuals identify negative thought patterns, develop healthier coping mechanisms, and regulate their emotions effectively. Working with a therapist can provide guidance, support, and personalized strategies for managing impulse control disorders.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice that involves being fully present and aware of the present moment without judgment. Incorporating mindfulness techniques into your daily life can help reduce stress, increase self-awareness, and improve impulse control. By practicing mindfulness, you can learn to recognize and observe your thoughts and emotions without acting on them impulsively. Mindfulness exercises such as deep breathing, body scans, and meditation can help you cultivate a sense of calm and control.

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Join a Support Group

Participating in a support group can provide a sense of community, understanding, and validation for individuals with impulse control disorders. Connecting with others who share similar experiences can help reduce feelings of isolation and provide a space for sharing coping strategies and success stories. Support groups offer a supportive environment where individuals can learn from one another, gain valuable insights, and receive encouragement on their journey to improving impulse control.

Engage in Activities You Enjoy

Finding activities that bring you joy and fulfillment can be a powerful tool for managing impulse control disorders. Engaging in hobbies, sports, or creative outlets can provide a healthy outlet for emotions and serve as a distraction from impulsive urges. By incorporating enjoyable activities into your daily routine, you can reduce stress, increase overall satisfaction, and decrease the likelihood of engaging in impulsive behaviors.

Improving impulse control is a journey that requires patience, self-reflection, and the implementation of various strategies. By learning about your disorder, participating in therapy, practicing mindfulness, and engaging in activities you enjoy, you can strengthen your self-control and lead a more fulfilling life. Remember to be kind and patient with yourself throughout this process, as developing impulse control takes time and practice. With the right support and techniques, you can build healthier habits, regulate your emotions, and achieve your long-term goals.

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