ADHD and Impulse Control: How to Really Help Yourself Regulate

You know the situation all too well. You’re working on a project, and you get a text from your friend group about weekend plans. You know you need to continue working, but it’s more fun to see what’s going on and it’s difficult to resist responding. 

You’re in the middle of a discussion and you have some ideas you need to share. You can't resist interrupting so you don’t forget what you want to say.  

You’ve worked with your child to complete their homework, and you’re at your wit's end. You find yourself going from 0 – 100, while nothing seems to be working.

You wish you could have more “willpower” to manage your impulses. You want to put on the brakes, so you can make better choices, but your brain’s command center is having trouble regulating its responses. 

ADHD and Response Inhibition 


Response inhibition, or impulse control, is the ability to resist or respond to a situation with appropriate actions so you can reach your goals. 


When you struggle with impulse control, it can lead to challenges with overspending, overeating, interrupting others, emotional outbursts, risky behaviors, or being easily distracted.

According to ADHD expert Russell Barkley, individuals with ADHD and related challenges can encounter difficulties inhibiting their initial response to a situation.  

As a result, there’s not enough time to think about a different or better way to respond to a situation because there’s no pausing to respond. Therefore, there’s less examination of a situation, less hindsight or foresight, and less learning from past experiences. 


Here are three proven ways to manage impulse control so you can help yourself regulate.   


Press Pause 


Individuals with ADHD have challenges postponing their reactions to a situation. Pressing pause can allow for more opportunities to respond more intentionally, and to learn from past experiences. 


When we hold an event in mind that has happened [I’m getting this text; I need to share right now, I’m angry and frustrated], without immediately responding, we can recall similar events in the past [I got distracted; I interrupted, I blew up] and use that information to make educated guesses about what may happen when we respond differently. 

We develop a sense of forethought or future thinking. From thinking forward and backward we develop a sense of time. 

Once we have a sense of time, we can hold several events in mind at one time. When we hold several events or ideas in mind at one time, we are using our working memory. This way we can keep in mind what we were working on even after interruptions.

Quick Tips:

Think about past events and consequences. What are the costs of answering that text, interrupting, and losing your cool? 
• Hold your goals in mind for your future self. 
• Ask yourself, “Is this what I want to be doing right now?”
• Pausing ideas for:

  • Texting: turn off notifications, give yourself permission to check your phone at specific times of day
  • Shopping: keep the item in your cart and give yourself a few days
  • Interrupting: Keep a notebook to jot down your ideas
  • Emotional Regulation: Take deep breaths, sip some water, and remove yourself until you calm down.


Keep Your Feelings Separate From The Facts


Give your brain time to split a situation into two parts: facts and feelings. This allows you to look at a situation objectively. 


Rather than responding with hurt, frustration, hostility, self-doubt, and other negative emotions, when you view a situation more openly, by separating facts from feelings, you’re calmly, and flexibly putting yourself in a better position to problem-solve. 

Quick Tips:

• If you were to look at the facts of the situation, what are you noticing? What, if anything evokes your awareness of similar events from the past? What would you like to be different?
• How can your examination of these events inform your choices?
• If you look at one of your emotions around this experience, what do you think your emotion is telling you?
• What’s the value of your emotion in this situation?
• What allows you to be in a place of more energy?


Develop Your Positive Inner Voice


Developing your positive inner voice allows for you to problem-solve, develop more effective plans, and have more self-control. 


When you inhibit your response to an immediate situation, your positive inner voice allows for you to create rules, instructions, plans and goals for the future.


Quick Tips:

• Rather than focusing on what you didn’t do, focus on what you can do now and in the future. 
Pausing is the first step towards awareness. Remind yourself, “I’m working on this.”
• Create a mantra for your positive mindset. 
Visualize your current and future self. What kind of visual images come up for you that you can hold onto? 
• Give yourself permission to make mistakes, which is how we all learn.


In summary, when you live with ADHD, controlling impulses can be challenging, especially when you’re scared, anxious, excited, or even bored:

Press Pause
Keep Your Feelings Separate from the Facts
Develop Your Positive Inner Voice





PS. Need support managing your impulses so you can problem-solve more effectively? 

Contact me for an ADHD Strategy Assessment and we’ll set up a game plan now!


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