How Impulsivity is Killing Your Future Plans

Impulsivity can be a thrilling yet destructive force that undermines our future plans and aspirations. This Evolve article delves into the cyclical nature of impulsive behavior, revealing how it hampers emotional maturity, disrupts objectivity, and impedes long-term goal achievement. Through practical examples and scientific insights, we explore the detrimental impact of impulsivity on time management and life outcomes. Discover actionable strategies to break free from this cycle and cultivate a more stable, fulfilling future.

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Impulsivity can feel like a rush, a surge of excitement that propels you into action. However, this seemingly thrilling behavior often creates more challenges than it does certainty for individuals. Impulsive actions, driven by immediate desires rather than thoughtful deliberation, frequently lead to regrettable outcomes and thwart long-term goals. Far too often we have people knocking at Evolve’s door to help understand why people aren’t further along in their life than they would have liked. But why is this? Let’s explore how this behavior undermines our future plans and what we can do to regain control.

The Vicious Cycle of Impulsivity

Impulsive behavior is not a one-time event; it’s often cyclical. This cycle of quick, emotion-driven decisions prevents the cultivation of emotional maturity and resilience. Emotional maturity is the ability to understand and manage one’s emotions, while resilience is the capacity to recover from setbacks. When we act on impulse, we miss out on practicing these crucial skills. Over time, this lack of practice makes it harder to develop a stable emotional foundation.

Imagine Sarah, who frequently makes snap decisions about her job without considering the long-term impact. When frustrated with a project, she impulsively quits, only to find herself repeatedly starting over in new positions. This cycle prevents her from developing the resilience and emotional maturity needed to handle workplace challenges effectively.

Or consider Daren, who frequently jumps to conclusions about what his partners think, before giving them even a chance to share their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. As a result of this impulsive assumption-jumping, unrelated events between him and his partner spiral out of control into a pool of mistrust in the relationship that prevents Daren from ever really working through his unconscious trust issues, avoidant attachment, and victim-mentality. As a result, he finds himself perpetually alone and booking a variety of trips to fill a massive void in his life of fulfillment and companionship.

According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, impulsive individuals struggle with emotional regulation, which in turn affects their long-term planning capabilities (Moffitt et al., 2011). This study underscores the importance of emotional regulation in achieving long-term goals and suggests that impulsivity is a significant barrier to emotional growth.

Emotional Dysregulation and Objectivity

Another critical issue with impulsivity is its interference with objectivity amidst emotional dysregulation. When we are emotionally dysregulated, our capacity to think clearly and objectively diminishes. Impulsive decisions made in these states are often irrational and counterproductive. This lack of objectivity can prevent us from making sound decisions that align with our long-term goals, and cultivate further deep-seeded emotional issues.

Consider John, who, in a fit of anger, decides to confront his partner about a minor issue. His impulsive reaction leads to a heated argument, which strains the relationship further, beyond the point of repair. If John had been able to regulate his emotions and approach the situation calmly, he would have been more able to call upon his communication skills he had been practicing for the last 6 months and would have significantly improved his chances of effectively resolving the issue more constructively. Instead, he let this minor issue become the divide that led to it being the last person who would have ever loved him because he allowed his emotional dysregulation to drive out any rational, logical, objectivity.

Research from the American Psychological Association highlights that individuals who struggle with impulsivity often find it challenging to maintain objectivity when experiencing strong emotions (Tice et al., 2001). This inability to remain objective exacerbates impulsive behaviors, creating a feedback loop that further entrenches emotional dysregulation and poor decision-making.

The Challenge of Delayed Gratification

One of the hallmarks of impulsivity is the inability to delay gratification. This struggle is not just a minor inconvenience; it has profound implications for life outcomes. The famous Marshmallow Test, conducted by Walter Mischel, demonstrated that children who were able to delay gratification tended to have better life outcomes, including higher academic achievement and better emotional coping skills (Mischel et al., 1989).

Emma struggles with saving money because she frequently makes impulse purchases. Instead of saving for a down payment on a house, she buys unnecessary gadgets and clothes, gifts for friends when she thinks of them and lends out money to siblings in exchange for feeling like the hero. This inability to delay gratification keeps her from achieving her financial goals of living in a bayside community home overlooking the water and securing her future. After 20 years of her behaviors going unchecked, she finds herself living paycheck to paycheck in a one-bedroom apartment 2-hours away from the bayside, in a job she hates, struggling to scrap together enough money to cover her rent, groceries, and piling healthcare bills.

In adults, the inability to delay gratification often translates to poorer financial decisions, unhealthy lifestyle choices, and difficulty in achieving long-term goals. This tendency to seek immediate rewards undermines the discipline and patience required to work towards future aspirations. Studies show that impulsive individuals are more likely to engage in behaviors that provide short-term pleasure at the expense of long-term benefits (Steel, 2007).

Time Management and Life Plans

An impulsive mindset also makes it extraordinarily difficult to manage one’s time effectively. Effective time management requires planning, prioritizing, and sticking to a schedule—all skills that are often lacking in impulsive individuals. The need to please, difficulty establishing boundaries, poor time management, and irrational, impulsive behaviors lead to missed deadlines, increased stress, and a chaotic lifestyle that leaves little room for the necessary time and effort required to achieve any long-term goal.

Mike often finds himself scrambling to meet work deadlines because he procrastinates, opting instead to engage in impulsive activities like binge-watching TV shows or going out with friends. This poor time management leads to subpar performance at work and hinders his career advancement. Although he told himself the story he wanted to eventually have his own business, his scrambling nature never affords him the opportunity to learn how to be an effective business owner or leader of himself, not to mention a team. Mike finds himself in his mid-40s getting ready to go to a summertime BBQ with his old high school friends, looking at his life and the story he once had told himself while vehemently rejecting the man-child he sees looking back at him avoiding eye contact in the mirror. “If only I’d learned how to plan…” he mutters to himself satanically, before grabbing his beer and unbuttoning the last button of his sports jersey to hide the gut he’d developed over the years before running out of the bathroom.

A study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that impulsive individuals are more prone to procrastination, further hindering their ability to manage time and complete tasks efficiently (Sirois, 2014). This mismanagement of time creates a ripple effect, disrupting life plans and making it difficult to achieve personal and professional aspirations. This is where many of us struggle, and never get help to overcome.

Breaking Free from Impulsivity

To combat impulsivity and its detrimental effects on future plans, it is crucial to develop self-awareness and self-regulation. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and cognitive-behavioral techniques, can help increase awareness of impulsive tendencies and provide strategies to manage them. Setting clear, long-term goals and breaking them down into manageable steps can also help in resisting the urge to act impulsively.

Lisa starts taking a bet on herself and decides to invest in Evolve #YouDoYou Program, with the intention of practicing mindfulness and setting a longer-term goal than she’s used to in her “impulsive chapter” in an effort to save $2,500 for a vacation she’s determined to take herself on in September. It’s a visit with some friends she’d made while on her growth journey, where she’ll finally be able to check off a few things on her bucket list she’s always wanted. By the investment she’d thought a lot about, and by being able to break her goal into meaningful smaller steps while regularly meditating to stay focused, she finds it easier to resist impulsive spending and stay on track. When friends check in on her she is no longer the one of her friend-group always having drama in her life, because she finally decided that enough was enough, and had the courage to call her own BS on her impulsivity. Before she knew it she’d hired a therapist, a coach, a nutritionist, and a financial advisor who helped her vision-board her next year of goals.

Building emotional resilience through coaching, therapy, support groups, and CBT strategies can improve emotional regulation and decision-making. By recognizing the negative impact of impulsivity on our lives and actively working to develop emotional maturity and resilience, individuals can break the cycle and create a more stable, fulfilling future.

Impulsivity can feel like an ingrained part of who we are, but with conscious effort and the right strategies, it is possible to overcome it and secure a brighter, more stable future. By understanding the underlying mechanisms and making deliberate changes, we can break free from the cycle of impulsivity and pave the way for long-term success, without having the slips we inevitably face when life squeezes us kill our longer-term life plans.

If you have suffered at the hands of impulsive behaviors big or small, consider joining the Evolve #YouDoYou Program. This comprehensive program offers workshops, expert guidance, and practical exercises designed to help you regain control of impulsive thoughts, and behaviors and puts you in the driver’s seat of your emotions. Sign up now and take back the power of your future before it’s too late.

In the meantime and as always…

Keep evolving friends,



1. Moffitt, T. E., Arseneault, L., Belsky, D., Dickson, N., Hancox, R. J., Harrington, H., … & Caspi, A. (2011). A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. *Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108*(1), 1-16. doi:10.1037/a0024652

2. Tice, D. M., Bratslavsky, E., & Baumeister, R. F. (2001). Emotional distress regulation takes precedence over impulse control: If you feel bad, do it! *Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80*(1), 53-67. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.80.1.53

3. Mischel, W., Shoda, Y., & Rodriguez, M. I. (1989). Delay of gratification in children. *Science, 244*(4907), 933-938. doi:10.1126/science.2658056

4. Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. *Psychological Bulletin, 133*(1), 65-94. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.65

5. Sirois, F. M. (2014). Procrastination and stress: Exploring the role of self-compassion. *Journal of Applied Psychology, 100*(2), 1-10. doi:10.1037/apl0000019

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