I’m notorious for this. When I act impulsively, I make terrible decisions. Whether it be in an argument or while driving a car, I have 0% success with mindless choice making. I say mindless because little or no thought goes into these decisions; they happen as a result of impulse. I can’t tell you how many times I have been guilty of this. It is paramount to my regret as it stands now.
Part of my rebuilding period was to have a close look at this issue. I have worked with therapy groups and individual counsellors to better understand why I choose to act without thinking. I suppose it’s fundamentally no different that the fight-or-flight reflex, but extended into a more mental role. Part of what Margaret has helped me understand in our work together is mindfulness: the goal of which is to slow everything down and consider each incremental step along the path to choosing. I tend to hurry through this process, leaving no time to consider anything. The thought of leaving space for though is scary, because I used to fear that if I didn’t react or decide that whatever was going on would rapidly get worse. But time is not the enemy; it’s an ambassador to resolution. The situation may seem stressful, but there is no acute need to respond if that response is not relevant. Impulsive reactions are not valuable. They’re like blind guesses, based on little or no information. I can see that making rapid decisions is easier than considering alternatives, and that’s the reason why it has to change.
So mindfulness takes those panicked moments and slows them down for alternative considerations. It’s a process that is hard to initialize, because one has to be aware of when to stop. If introspection doesn’t alert you to the moment when impulse dictates action, then it is not working. I’ve had to learn from zero how to achieve this. My best example is when I drive anywhere: I can be super alert of my surroundings, checking my blind spots and being aware of all things going on around my vehicle. I can be treated poorly by aggressive drivers and not flip out. I can sit in traffic and not get frustrated. Everything slows down, and I render my understanding of the priorities of my emotional responses. Do I really feel like getting upset that some guy cut me off will accomplish anything? If I get angry that the traffic is bad, who suffers? Certainly no one outside of my car gives a damn what emotions I’m going through. It’s on me. I can have these completely unnecessary reactions, or, I can understand that the situation my be frustrating but not dive in to emotional chaos because of it. I don’t have a reason to surrender control of my actions and feelings. I may be in a spot that causes an emotional reaction, so I see that, recognize it, and diffuse it before things get out of hand.
This may be somewhat redundant. But mindfulness has been a huge resource in my mental health journey, and is therefore important. I don’t know if I could have made the progress I have without this new skill. It takes the teeth away from poor decision making, and leaves me some room for discussion instead. I hope that this practice finds a place in your life, as it has in mine. And with excellent results.