On Being Impulsive


This is a controversial view, and I don’t think it’s essential for you to believe or even to understand this precise point in order to make this work. I add this concept as it may be of interest to some, and to my way of thinking it’s significant. In our culture, the overwhelming consensus is that all of your thoughts are created by functions in your brain: “the mind is what the brain does”. But not everyone agrees. I’ve come across this bold and inspiring quote from the Dalai Lama in a couple of books:

“The view that all mental processes are necessarily physical processes is a metaphysical assumption, not a scientific fact.”  (4)

Impulsiveness becomes a physical, default setting. Wherever your decision to intervene originates from, I don’t know of a more effective intervention to use than that contained in “The Outline” (see Chapter 6 in EATING LESS). But just like any tool, it needs to be used before it can work!

Psychotherapist Dr Nathaniel Branden regards this kind of deliberate intervention as a choice open to all of us, and places the practice of living consciously first on his list of six principles that support self-esteem. He says, “To the addict, consciousness is the enemy.” (5)

Some thoughts…

·  Impulsivity isn’t always instantaneous. I’ve had many conversations with people who spend quite some time in that driven, semi-conscious state of desire, refusing to intervene, for example, while they go for a Chinese takeaway. This involves driving there, parking the car, getting out of the car, going into the restaurant, ordering the food and taking it home!
· Are you susceptible to “healthy” claims? Are we talking about raw spinach or reduced-fat Doritos? A good principle to work on is that if a manufactured product claims it’s healthy, it very likely isn’t – unless you’ve got very good information that tells you otherwise.
·  Be compassionate with yourself. It’s impossible to be conscious of every single encounter with food. So be kind to yourself when you don’t manage it – while keeping a strong intention to become more aware, so that you don’t simply resign yourself to failure as the norm.

1.  “A systemic review of impulsivity in eating disorders.” Waxman SE (2009) European Eating Disorders Review 17(6):408-25
2.  “Why obese children cannot resist food: the role of impulsivity.” Nederkoom C, et al (2006) Eating Behaviors 7(4):315-22 and “Impulsivity predicts treatment outcome in obese children.” Jansen E Behavior Research & Therapy (2007) 45(5): 1071-5
3.  “From mindless eating to mindlessly eating better.”  Wansink B (2010) Physiology & Behavior 100(5): 454-463
4.  “The Universe in a Single Atom” Dalai Lama (2005) New York/Broadway Books
5.  “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem” Nathaniel Branden (1994) Bantam Books


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