mindset miscellaneous

ADHD, Self-Control and Impulses

While I’ve never been diagnosed with ADHD, I never been tested either! I admit that when many of my friends relate to their symptoms to me, I can whole-heartedly relate. Lost car keys – check; impulses purchases – check; mindless daydreaming – check; rumination – check ….

One of the hallmark signs of Adult ADHD is a lack of inhibitory control, also known as response inhibition. It’s a key executive function that permits inhibition of impulses and behavioral responses to stimuli in order to select a more appropriate behavior, consistent with an individual’s goals.

Inhibitory control is impaired in those who have addiction and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (adhd).

Maintaining self-control is an important aspect of inhibitory control. For example, successfully suppressing a response to eat cake when one is craving it while dieting requires this type of self-control.

In healthy adults and ADHD individuals, inhibitory control does improve with low (therapeutic) doses of medication. Equally important, inhibitory control may be improved over the long-term with consistent aerobic exercise.

Here are some examples of difficulties with response inhibition (self-control):

  • Checking your phone and chatting with friends while studying, reading or doing focused work.
  • Multitasking and doing things that distract you from your job.
  • Interrupting conversations.
  • Ruminating on negative thoughts and problems; Not being able to turn off the negative thoughts.
  • Reacting to a driver after being cut off in traffic.
  • Responding angrily to someone who has annoyed you.

Adults with response inhibition issues may have difficulty at home and work. These challenges might include eating or drinking too much, having angry outbursts, interrupting conversations, impulse purchases, spending too much time on social media, gaming or surfing the internet.

Here are some tips to help curb impulsive behaviors:

  • Recognize which behaviors are causing trouble as it relates to impulse control. Identify life areas where impulses get in the way. List situations where you are more likely to behave impulsively.
  • Acknowledge this is a brain issue. Doing this will create a distance between the issue and you, which might allow you to NOT feel like it’s your fault or that you are a bad person because of these behaviors.
  • Create a problem-solving plan. If you are eating too much, brainstorm ways to keep problematic foods out of your environment. If you spend too much, consider getting rid of credit cards and pause before purchasing by thinking about why you are really “needing” an item prior to purchasing. If angry at a coworker, pause, count to 10, and calm down before responding or sending an angry email that might damage your relationship.
  • Practice mindfulness. Notice when impulses come up. Take time to think about why you are doing what you are doing before acting. These small steps can help to keep track of your inner dialogue and help reduce impulsive behaviors. Over time, this helps you recognize what might be an unproductive state of mind so you can pause and maybe choose another better activity.
  • Learn and Reflect. After identifying behaviors, creating distance, crafting an action plan, and practicing mindfulness, reflect and learn what modifications are working for you. What does it feel like when you are successful in managing the impulsive behaviors? Continue to note and acknowledge your progress over time.


As an individual who has many of the symptoms of ADHD, I’d love to hear your struggles and strategies.


I work with mid-life men and women who want to feel younger through improving their relationship to food, movement and mindfulness.

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