Remember writer David Mamet’s statement from the previous two posts, that every scene in a play or film should answer three questions:
- Who wants what from whom?
- What do they do when they don’t get it?
- Why now?
This week we’re dealing in a very loose way with the last question—“Why now?”—in looking at impulse control.
How urgent is that impulse? Control is important.
“Why now?” seems about a feeling of urgency, which speaks to impulse control.
I need that brownie, or new pair of pants, or fourth martini, you say to yourself, when it’s just a want that will eventually pass. Confusing wants with needs is a common problem in people’s lives and it comes up frequently in therapy.
One of the most destructive impulses that I try to help people control is a sense of urgency to talk with someone, especially a partner, about something that seems really important.
These topics include doubts about the relationship, concerns about one’s own biological clock and how the partner’s timetable meshes or doesn’t, quitting a job, setting a friend straight, etc.
That’s not to say you should never have these conversations, because they are important topics, but don’t take on the big discussions in the heat of the moment. Better to think things through in a calm, rational way and have a conversation, rather than a confrontation.
I suggest to patients that when they feel a sense of urgency, they should take that as a clear clue to “zip it” and wait till that urgent feeling passes.
If you believe that there is a “Seinfeld” episode for every occasion, this would be the one where George decides that the best action in every situation is the exact opposite of what he would normally do. While I don’t advocate a default opposite position for every impulse, I do stress making conscious decisions. And a good place to start when feeling an urgent impulse is to ask yourself, “Why now?”.
If lack of impulse control is interfering in your daily life—whether it’s overspending, ripping into your partner, or substance use disorder—treatment can be a tremendous help. If you’d like to learn more, reach out to me here. I look forward to speaking with you.