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Improving Impulse Control Through Mindfulness

by Sarah Kumm
Director, Transparent Love
Pure Life Alliance

Research shows people with addictions struggle with the ability to organize and delegate mental processes, emotions, and actions; particularly as they relate to completing a goal. Examples of this include: impulse control, working memory, emotional control, self-monitoring, task management, planning, prioritizing, organizing and time management (Zylowska, 2012). Weakness in these areas result in reduced willpower. Willpower is sometimes called self-regulation.

Low Self-Regulation

The ability to self-regulate is usually developed in childhood. Self-regulation provides people with the ability to direct their own attention, thoughts, emotions, and impulses. The ability to direct attention is important as it allows people to choose what they are going to pay attention to. Without self-regulation a person is not aware of the choices they can make. Awareness of one’s choices is the first step in being able to change them.

This is important for individuals who struggle with addictions because often their bodies operate on auto pilot. This lack of awareness about one’s choices enables them to continue repeating negative patterns of behaviors, which leads to acting out. It is often easy to find excuses and place blame elsewhere, however the choices we make we must take responsibility for.

Self-regulation, or willpower, is not an endless resource. We drain our tank of willpower as we use it. People who struggle with addictions typically have a smaller tank of willpower and when they run out they can no longer self-regulate. There are ways to replenish willpower and one of these ways is practicing mindfulness.

Increasing Self-Regulation Through Mindfulness

Mindfulness can be practiced formally or informally throughout ones’ day at any moment. Mindfulness puts people in a place to be able to direct their attention, and make intentional informed decisions as appose to acting impulsively. Focus in one’s everyday life seems to be forced or stressed, where mindfulness should be more of an openness to one’s surroundings. It is about being alert and relaxed at the same time. It should be an observation of what is going on in and around one’s self, and acceptance of the situation without judgement. Mindfulness requires heartfulness it requires one to practice compassion for themselves and others. Compassion and acceptance allows for growth in one’s life (Zylowska, 2012, p.5).

Mindfulness includes five principles (Zylowska, 2012, p.15):
  • Being nonreactive — Not automatically reacting to thoughts and feelings
  • Observing with awareness — Paying attention to sensations and observing how thoughts, feelings, and actions interact
  • Acting with awareness — Paying full attention to what your doing, not being absentminded or acting automatically
  • Describing with awareness — Finding the right words to describe what your thinking or feeling
  • Being nonjudgemental toward experience — Not criticizing your thoughts or feelings, being open to what is going on inside of you without negative judgement

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