Impulse Control Activities for Adults

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson, we'll be looking at strategies to use with students for controlling impulsive behavior. We'll be focusing on activities that are appropriate for adult aged students.

What Is Impulse Control?

Sometimes, when we come home from a long day at school, all we want is to sit on the couch and put our feet up. Maybe you'd love to have that second glass of wine, or a third cookie as well. However, as adults, we know that responsibility needs to come first. Instead of plopping down, we get a nutritious dinner ready and prepare whatever needs to be done for the next day. This self restraint is called impulse control, or the ability to resist urges.

Children have poor impulse control and develop this skill as they grow into adulthood through practice and changes in their brain development. However, impulse control can be a struggle for many older students as well, including those of adult age. Adults who struggle with impulse control can suffer serious consequences as they may be more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, drug use, over-spending, and over-eating.


These adults may feel ashamed of these behaviors, viewing impulse control as something that should have been mastered in childhood. So, what can we as educators do to help our older students? For older students especially, it's important to develop self-help strategies to improve impulse control rather than to rely on someone else for help. Let's look at some of these strategies you can share with your students.

1. Mindfulness Practice

Impulsive behavior results when people do not think through their actions completely before making a choice. They decide based on what sounds good right now in this moment. One way to combat this is to practice mindfulness, or a heightened state of awareness. Meditation, yoga, and tai chi all are ways for students to practice mindfulness on their own.

A daily meditation or yoga practice helps to slow the mind

Have your students try meditating for just five minutes per day to start. During those five minutes, students focus on their breathing and force their mind to slow down, allowing them to be more present. Over time, they can increase the practice. Many applications for smart phones have guided meditations, or there may also be physical classes or group sessions in the community.

You can also consider implementing a short yoga practice or meditation time into your classroom routine. This can help ensure that students make time for this important practice.

Mindfulness increases the ability to be able to stop and simply think, a skill that is missing from impulsive behavior. As students progress they are able to slow their thoughts and think through their actions, rather than acting on impulse.

2. Reflection Questions

Once students are able to slow down their thoughts, it's time to put those thoughts into practice. Have students write down some questions they would want to ask themselves before engaging in an activity. Sample questions might include something like this:

'How will I feel right now if I do this activity?'

'How will I feel tomorrow if I do this activity?'

'How will I feel tomorrow if I refrain from doing the activity?'

'How did I feel in the past when I engaged in this activity? Were there any consequences?'

When they are presented with an opportunity for impulsive behavior, instruct your students to take a few breaths using their mindfulness practice and then go through their questions. They can even keep the list in their phone or on a small piece of paper to keep the questions close by. Often, when impulsive choices arise, walking through this sequence of questions will reveal their self destructive nature.

3. Delay Gratification

Sometimes it can feel impossible for a person to refrain from the impulsive behavior. They may not feel like they can completely say no. In this case, it can help to practice delayed gratification. In this strategy, have your students try to not act on the impulsive behavior for just five or ten minutes at first.

They can use distractions, like reading a book, texting a friend, or doing another enjoyable activity. Over time, they can build up the skill to delay gratification even longer until the urge passes altogether. Many people find that waiting just five to ten minutes is enough for the urge to pass and for them to move on from the impulsive activity.

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