Monday, June 3, 2013

Managing Impulsivity

One of the Habits of the Mind is Managing Impulsivity.  I think this means two things.  First it means to take your time and of course think before you act.  It means to be deliberative and intentional, thinking things through and remaining calm.  To learn how to manage impulsivity it is important to help youth to learn to step back and take a look at whatever is before them from a different vantage point.  It means helping them to understand the importance of “go slow to go fast.”  Too often youth react rather than respond.  When you manage your impulsivity you become intentional, weigh your options, and then make a choice.  You control the circumstances rather than vice versa.

Second I think Managing Impulsivity means to be willing to postpone something that you want right now because you know that in the long run, it will be better.  We can all remember Veruca Salt in Charley and the Chocolate Factory who demanded that she have something NOW!  She had no clue how to manage impulsivity.  She could not delay her gratification, even for a minute.  As a result, she had no chance to win the Chocolate Factory.  Veruca, like so many youth, learned that everything should be instant.  If you think about it, college is the ultimate managing impulsivity.  There is a huge lure to go to work after high school and earn some money.  College and/or training for a career postpone independence.  So even when the evidence is there—statistics tell us that you more than double your income if you go to college or get job training—if you can’t manage impulsivity, you can’t wait for a better long term solution. 

So the question is, does this really matter?  You may have heard of a study that Stanford University psychology researcher Michael Mischel conducted with preschoolers.  He offered hungry 4-year-olds a marshmallow and then told them they could have two marshmallows if they could wait 15-20 minutes.  The results were about 1/3 of the preschoolers ate the marshmallow right away, another 1/3 waited a little longer, and 1/3 were able to wait for the 20 minutes.  But here are the most startling results, “Years later when the children graduated from high school, the differences between the two groups were dramatic: the resisters were more positive, self-motivating, persistent in the face of difficulties, and able to delay gratification in pursuit of their goals. They had the habits of successful people which resulted in more successful marriages, higher incomes, greater career satisfaction, better health, and more fulfilling lives than most of the population.  Those having grabbed the marshmallow were more troubled, stubborn and indecisive, mistrustful, less self-confident, and still could not put off gratification. They had trouble subordinating immediate impulses to achieve long-range goals. When it was time to study for the big test, they tended to get distracted into doing activities that brought instant gratification This impulse followed them throughout their lives and resulted in unsuccessful marriages, low job satisfaction and income, bad health, and frustrating lives. 

This is something to consider when you work with youth.  If you have ways to help young people develop the ability to Manage Impulsivity let us know by sharing the information with us and our readers.  

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