Think First: The Key to Impulse Control

The “sixth commandment” of sound character development advises that we become master of our impulses. And to acquire good impulse control you simply have to cultivate the habit of thinking before acting. Now, I’m not talking about just any kind of thinking. Rather, I”m referring to the kind of reflective, pensive contemplation that prompts a proper assessment of the moral character and potential consequences of an act before we engage in it.

A professor I knew once said that a definition of maturity is the ability to feel, think, and then act—in that order. He humorously added that one could say the definition of adolescence is the predilection to feel, act, and then think. In many ways, the character-impaired among us never outgrew the adolescent mind set. So, they never developed good impulse control. People of mature character are mindful of both their decisions and their actions. They temper their urges with reason and foresight.  They neither rush into action nor into judgment. Healthy characters think not only about what they’re about to do but also about the likely consequences of their choices.

Two Types of Disturbed Characters

In my work over the years with disturbed characters, I’ve encountered two groups. One consists of those who simply don’t take the time to think things through before they act. They’re like walking impulses. They simply act; and if they think about things at all, it is only after they act. They might even have after-the-fact regret for some of their actions. But because so many times the damage is already done, their regrets are rightfully regarded as too little, too late. The other group consists of those who actually do think about what they are doing, but their thinking is so distorted, self-deceptive, and reflective of their impaired social conscience that they let themselves do what most people would not.

Impulsive Thinking = Dire Consequences

Disturbed characters tend to think about things in an impulsive way. We call this “impulsive thinking.” They’re primarily concerned about what they want at any given moment, so they’re always thinking in a short-sighted manner. They don’t bother to think more long-range or about the likely eventual consequences of what they’re about to do. In fact, they don’t engage in very much thought, reflection, or contemplation at all before they act. And that’s why they don’t develop good impulse control.

Impulsive thinking necessarily leads to impulsive actions, and such actions almost always are a prescription for disaster. Some disordered characters who act first and think about what they’ve done later, do have some after-the-fact regret. But that doesn’t mean they won’t think and act impulsively again. And other disturbed characters never regret their impulsive acts, despite the negative fallout that typically accompanies them. But whether or not they know from past experience that they might end up regretting making an impulsive choice, it’s never really a serious consideration at the time they want something. They simply don’t spend time thinking about the potential impact of their behavior. They think only of what they want and how to get it.


One of the many benefits of correctly administered Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is that it can really help people develop better impulse control. This happens when people are confronted about the kinds of erroneous thinking patterns or cognitive distortions they engage in that keep them from engaging in sound, pro-social behavior. Impulsive thinking is one of the major thinking errors. So it must be confronted and alternate, healthier choices reinforced. Once a person has learned to correct their penchant for impulsive thinking they can to on to lead lives of greater self-discipline.

Character Matters will be a live program this Sunday at 7 pm EDT (6 pm CDT) so I can take your calls. The same will likely not be true for the next two Sundays as I’ll be traveling out of the country.  Stay tuned.

Learn more about moral character development issues in other articles on this blog and in my books In Sheep’s Clothing, Character Disturbance, The Judas Syndrome, and How Did We End Up Here?  And look for a greatly expanded discussion on this all-important topic in my upcoming book with Dr. Kathy Armistead: The Ten Commandments of Character: How to Lead a Significant Life.

21 thoughts on “Think First: The Key to Impulse Control

  1. And to acquire good impulse control you simply have to cultivate the habit of thinking before acting. Now,

    I will alway feel guilty and ashamed. I was vey naive. It was triggered by abuse towards my dog. Mind you some good did come of my stupidity. I WOKE UP. BOY DID I WAKE UP.
    I whatched James from his site Men who are abused .com. He said when talking about his experience with the Narcissist. HE SAID ” These people mean you nothing but harm”
    And IT CLICKED. These people mean you nothing but harm. This was something I had none since I was 17yrs old. My the grandmother started to ridicule,belittle, humiliate me. This was all completely gratuitous.
    After she had finished, She would act like nothing had happened, she seem gratified, satisfied, happy. She would then ask me a benile question, Like “would I like a cup of tea”
    I new then that She Enjoyed the harm and hurt she caused me. I now now thanks to Dr Simon, That it is a power ,position that these DC’s are after. These posts are GOLD.

    Thank you Dr Simon

    1. I’m so happy for you.I as well as you have been put through this myself as a young child.When I wasn’t being abuse,this was they way I was talked to.It has done so much to my young life to the point I didn’t know who I was or where I was going. I fell in love with psychology to try and understand what the hell was going on with me.And what I found is that I’m an amasing person that deserves to be loved and love myself.Psychology has saved me.Even back then as a child I used imagenation to get me through it all,and it worked.I imaged a brite future that I was going to have. I hope and pray you learn to love who you are,because you are an amasing person and you are so worth loving! GOD BLESS YOU and thank you for standing tall!

      1. Carl,

        Well said and welcome Kindred Spirit. We all have suffered so much. Regardless, when we can survive and make it out of the maze, the literal ball of confusion and find ourselves is indeed a miracle. To rise above all the control, mind f——–g and become solid empathetic individuals is a amazing and at the same time a blessing. We or at least I have even more compassion for the underdog.

        Joey, is indeed a lovely and beautiful person who has enlightened me and I am sure all the others with his wherewithal to rise above against all odds and break free. The sharing of resources and the beautiful poems that lift the spirit. Truly so many amazing people that have posted to this site over the years and shared their stories. Giving freely and sharing and loving one another and Yes, learning to love ourselves when we were taught and treated like we were a nothing.

        Thank you for your post and God bless you too.

        1. BTOV Just for you

          By Robert L. Laumeyer

          You know you can fail
          And yet not a failure be.
          When a leaf falls,
          It does not kill a tree.

          Regards joey

  2. Good morning, Dr. Simon. I attended your workshop this past week and it was fantastic. I was hoping you could send me the assignments and worksheets you spoke of at the conference.
    I look forward to attending many more of yours.
    Warmest regards,

  3. My husband any more is one warning then actions are taken. The latest round started before Christmas. Due to work and medical concerns he has not had a Christmas at home in over 33 years. It was felt with all the troubles of the last 15 years. with him demanding his rights be allowed him, no longer giving an inch in them, and the need to force him at weapon point ( usually ending in a latter ambush and a person that had held him at bay with a weapon was usually badly beaten, told the next time they interfered in his life they would not walk away, and the beating for pointing a weapon at hm was his notice that they better believe what he was about.

    his father and two others found themselves under the barrel of one of those weapons on thanksgiving 2008, My husband had refused the holiday canvas, and A young woman wanted to stay home that year. She had just started six months before in my husbands department, His father, hers, and other friends wanted her at the dinner, so his father and three others used shotguns to force him to go in her place, My husbands training in combat arts is such that getting within arms length is very dangerous if he want to be stubborn and he was very bad that day snatching one out of her fathers hands and crushed his face with the butt, he then drew down on his father and two others chambering a round. it took plant securuity and a deputy to beg my husband to please just go in and work the man laying at his feet was in terrible shape, and nobody needed to die over a holiday off.

    Christmas was as bad with them trying pistols that Christmas eve, My husband forced two men out of the back of his fathers car at 45 MPH kicked another mans face through the windshield and Chokes his father into nearly wreaking. all to keep from taking the place of a man getting his kids over the holidays. This time the sheriff caught him just heading west, The sheriff called everyone together and told all of us that he could no longer keep covering for his father and the commissioner because things were getting noticed at a higher level.

    I had planed for the next mays trip to Europe until my husband took the control of those plans out of my hands and made our reservations on the orient express as a double for us and this time he was not going to stay and work, he had trained a new person to take over on his five weeks coming in vacation that year. The boy was in a situation he had to get married to this girl. He needed the two weeks we were going on the express because he was not authorized a vacation until when she was due to deliver. In the past the company ad the union let others have the vacation slots my husband had as long as he was the warm body to fill the job need. That time he told me if we pulled the tricks we had used in the past to get him to stay and work I was going with both my arms broken.

    His father took his reservations and went to the union travel agent and traded them for a single berth for me letting the younger newly wed have the berth we were to have. His father said just to be fair about this he would kick in the cancelation fee , I was talking to the agent when I thought that maybe this year we could force my husband to take the vacation time we wanted my husband to take since the Rome trip 23 years before. I even got his union president on board with my needs that year. I made a reservation for a five week stay in a vacation rental from January the Second 2010 to February the seventh 2010 in St Croix. We felt he had worked three decades with only six days off he could certainly wait seven more months for something just as nice.

    We arranged for the union minister and steward to be at the airport to try and calm my husband down over being made to work again. The reason we did this was again we needed to make sure he looked to someone else’s greater need I was going to meet him at his work gate that Christmas with the reservations to St Croix as his Christmas and birthday gift with the two sandwhichs he got every year at this work gate instead of the ten he usually got for a book. I ended up with the demand to turn the check I was holding over with his passport that his father had, He grabbed my shoulder bag when I refused and ripped up my pass after dislocating my shoulder and throwing me across the office we were using to explain. he took the check and the rest of what I could use for money on the trip. his father was yelling if he wanted his passport back he would, shut up, be a man and do as he was told, He was strangling his father to death the next second. It took seven men to get his fingers off his fathers throat. The trip was not fun borrowing money from everyone to eat .
    When we got home a sheriffs deputy was waiting to cuff his father and me with charges filed by my husband of grand theft. the young Newly wed walked into work the next Monday and the Commiteeman and the foreman with termination papers. I got 2 months in county his father due to age got home detention. the only reason for that was that we had to sign the check over for restitution, We both were put on notice that we had abused my husbands rights the last time.

    I got out of jail let back into the house and the accounts, The one time I saw him I was telling him I needed to talk to him about taking that winter as the honey moon and life we never started together. he just spat on the floor and went to work, he was camping someplace in the state forest. on October 24th, he had let himself get so depressed he let his immune system become ineffective and developed a MRSA abscess in his spine. ME and his mother and sister watched as the wheel him past a glass wall going into surgery his doctors, nurses the whole surgical team went in in containment suits, all we knew was they had discovered him on the floor in front of his job unable to move without causing great pain we settled in to wait the long night and saw once a Dr Blue was called and other doctor ran in in containment and about ten hours later the Doctors PA came out to tell us to think about a funeral home. The dr blue that was called was his heart had stopped once She said there was still hours of procedure left, They had to put him on a heart lung machine and had to replace his spinal fliuid with hard antibiotics. To keep the infection from his brain. They were having to also do a large spinal fusion.

    They had to spend some time later trying to resesitat him I guess and the surgon just about called it. We never made the ST Croix trip, Three years later he was returned home after two more procedures and three strokes and cdiff that drop his weight so far down they though he would not survive that.

    I thought I was getting a husband back that hated the ground I walked on and I was not wrong. The next three years he told me and his father to please find a tall building to jump off of, He said we stole three decades of his life by blackmail and force. he also said that when he was out the first interference was the last either of us would make after rehab. His father said what’s going to hap-wen a cripple kicking the worlds tail.
    Nobody could have foreseen his MRSA. he should be happy he was alive and when he got home he had to be a man about it and just understand that he had to count on others so he better be nice about it. The rehab nurse had to step on his father who was laying in the doorway after a stainless steel bedpan hit him square between the eyes. by this time I was seeing an old boyfriend tired of the resent and anger my husband had. He came home a year later much to every ones surprise walking with a cane he carved polished and it was an evil thing with a dragons head and tail going down the haft, titanium teeth, 4′ long.

    I was having one more meeting with my old BF and when I got home the next morning things were not going well. My husband trapped us in the drive and I begged to take what was coming of the street. He said he would follow me into the house for what I had to say before I was gone. He cleared the drive and followed us in I saw the first second my luggage was packed. The state assigned guardianship was waiting to be sign by the other man as assuming. I knew it was not possible with him because he was married with three kids. but as my husband walked past he swept that cane. My husband went to the floor and the other man started laughing saying I was right, he is a pathetic looser. I was trying to push my BF out when my husband sat up and took the tip off his cane leaving the ice spike showing. It flew across the room like a spear fracturing my BF scull and dropped him where he stood. My husband was not done with the rage he was in. he pulled himself over and slammed his fist into him screaming whose the pathetic looser now, My husband was put in a mental health ward. My Boyfriend in ICU. His father said when he asked why my husband was in the center and I Said did he remember what he said about a cripple needing to be a man because he had to count on others, I told him what happened. We were called into the center the next week. accused of abusing, intimidating and using force to get what we wanted from my husband. He was sending his findings to the DA.

    He came home a week latter I was at the time getting ready to go to a fund raiser that was invitation only. We did not expect he would be out of the center so soon. I was just finishing getting ready to go when I heard the door open and close. I was struggling with a clasp and went out to see who had arrived expecting it was his father, Instead I ran into my very sarcastic husbands chest. HE said good I was ready to go out where were we going he had not been out in an evening for thirty one years. I knew istantly the evening was not going to be as planed or fun.

    I said I had other plans that did not include him that evening, but we were planning something fort that weekend to get every ones hash decided on.
    Figure out a time table and a way to include him into traditions that he had not been a part of for 31 years. that he could not expect everything that had happened the last twelve years to be water under the bridge, everyone had to work to reestablish ground rules in his life as to what could be allowed. when things could happen his way. he just needed to understand that before MRSA things were not meant to be the way they were it was just so many had real needs and he had to be controlled,

    He blew his top telling me that neither I or any one else under his roof had any say in what he was allowed. From that second on he was the one and final judge in what was allowed. I was scared to death by this point, I said Then pick a place he wanted to meet in four hours and we old be there I would call everyone ion the list that might have something to say about his legnthy list of grievances, we could hammer out some kind of deal including an immediat vacation trip. ways to include him in other things like holidays without causing any strife and some way to start a sex life over time. just live and let live now please I even said I was begging him to do that. HE said flatly no< I was going with him or no where.I was going to give him what I had given other men over the decades and refused him. I took for the door that second and he just ripped my dress to shreds, then ripped everything else off me and I am saying please don't it did not have to happen this way.

    There was nothing nice or forgiving these last three years, His mother died in June and to keep down the tensions his sister set up a separate service much against his brothers wish. He just had to wait an hour and not cause trouble, but he showed up. a friend of the family stopped him and said come back in an hour. My husband said get his hand off his chest and get out of his way. The police did nothing when he broke the mans arm in 4 places and slammed him off walls and concrete steps then went and sat in the front row, His father started to say something burt was promptly told one word he would share the grave with his mother tomorrow.

    For three years now I have watched him run over every tradition, Over the last vacation I had begged him to wait three more years. I would talk my self blue to get him included the next one in 2018 to Hawaii. He Could wait that long couldn't he after moving 1200 miles west, I said I gave him a son after what happened when he came home he could go up to his families place at high range and work on things up there, Jus let his father have his way one more time. e pulled a loan I was making a friend to go. He made the reservations for a double and locked them where I could not get them. When We arrived in the hotel for boarding the next day. We were asked to go to the conference room. The Agent for the lines said his father promised that he would give up our double state room so A friend son and his new bride could have it for their honey moon, My husband said his fathers promise was less than nothing to him e said No he was not giving up our berth.

    The agent said we can bump you and your wife and my husbands said who made their reservations for two last, Because if it was not him he would own the cruise lines by the time we got back.
    The agent just said nothing more she could do, she had to let us keep our berth. His father stormed out saying defiant at all times still. He said you just made my word nothing, My husband said his word was nothing to him.
    And his father went into the bar.

    We went to our room and an hour and a half latter we heard his mother telling his father to shut up and leave his son alone. he had the right to say no. His farther was screaming Come out and get your comeupins, He was yelling he had been asking for this for years. My husband answered the door with that cane in hand and used it to block a ball bat swinging art his head, My husband did not hesitate in delivering an uppercut that broke his fathers neck in return.

    There's nothing that can or will be proposed to at least get peace. We live 1230 miles to the west now with a 2 and a half year old, all the friends I had are now telling me as long as my husband lives that will not associate with me. All I tried to do since 1985. was keep peace between my husband and everyone else, get him to be the better human, Instead I ended up with a bitter, angry, human that wishes somebody would do him a favor and kill him. I a family counciling session last year he lifted his shirt and handed me a knife lifted his shirt and said I marked the spot to put it, he had a red X on his back. e said in front of everyone that's were to put it, then last week he handed me his 30 30 and put the bridge of his nose right to the barrel. Told me not to mess it up just squeeze the trigger. I through it down and ran away crying. He left an hour latter with our son and has not been back. I heard he went into Canada and the RCMP said he was in a motel in Calgary. before he left.

    I don't know what the big deal was about not taking the mid winter vacation slots, why he was not willing to figure out some ways to replace holidays others needed him to work instead of them. something should have been able to be figured out before things became violent. Why wouldn't he just tried some of the things others suggested.

    1. Callie,
      Once people start pulling out guns during domestic fights, one person is going to die sooner or later. Very likely the person to die will not be the one who pulls out a gun.
      There are decent families that have some differences which are sorted out amicably, and no outsider comes to know about those differences. And, then there are some families that are overly dramatic and vocal fighters, and neighbors enjoy the show. And, then there are some families, that scares off most of the neighbors and turn remaining into wide eyed lemur wondering who is going to die first.
      I think you belong to last one. Take care.

  4. To All

    The Flag Of Courage

    By Edward J. Costello

    I am the flag of courage
    so carry me with pride.
    I shall make the final statement
    to the moment when you tried.
    There are many coloured ribbons
    for the deeds that are done.
    Many are the medals
    for the battles that are won.
    None greater than the flag of truth
    that you are asked to bear.
    May those who stand beside you
    take pride in what they share.
    Let faith and honour hold me
    to the courage of your name.
    And I will go forth boldly
    your courage to proclaim.


    1. Joey,
      Thanks, you dear soul. Joey I know you stated one time you are all alone, so am I. Would you like to communicate via email? I think we could be supportive of each other.

        1. Joey,
          Thanks, I am trying to put some of the pieces together in my family of origin. My sis that I talk about has a lot of problems with this. Also, one of the other sis’s has extreme problems and I had hoped maybe I could help her. Many of the things you have shared are similar. In the future would you mind if I asked you some questions. When I do ask you I will try to explain why. In all I always hope there can be some healing.

          Thank you as always and love your poetry. Do you have a favorite? I have written down some of the ones you have posted an put them on my office wall. Also, I was wondering what kind of dogs you had.

          When I feel better I know a Skeet instructor who is willing to work with me.

  5. Being mindfull of who I was lead me to discover what I liked,wanted,and needed.And the only way for me to do that was through mindfullness meditation.I know to some this may sound corny or unrealistic but it was the only way for me to get in touch with myself when I had nowhere to began. My method was to lay on the floor and just concentrate on my breath.Many other thoughts will enter into your mind but that’s normal.Practice daily for alittle while and after awhile you will began to feel who you are.And in that place you will start to get intouch with yourself and your inner feelings of you.Its a great feeling to discover who you are.Your world may start to open up to the real you in this brand new world that’s all yours! Good luck to the real you.

      1. Lucy,
        I don’t think that will happen until you get done with the D and finished with SB. I think Carl is right in the deep breathing. It will open up your chest and you will have better air flow and blood supply. It will also have a calming effect on you muscle memory. As for the noise in your head they say counting and distraction. I think Joey mentioned exercising, if you can get yourself to a gym and burn off some of that negative energy that may help.

        Remember to eat healthy meals, lots of fruits and vegetables. You may hate it but spinach is full of nutrients your body is deplete of. When we are stressed our body produces cortisol that is hard on ones body, getting proper nutrition is so important for you.

        Proper rest is important, if you have a hard time sleeping the doctor can give you something short term to help you get restorative sleep. I think the most important resource you have is to vent here. I hope we all have been helping you get some relief.

        Many times our minds race and have unnecessary chatter because of anxiety and fears of the unknown. You have gone through so much and I admire your courage and tenacity to fight back. It is a very unfair fight and the CD individual is evil and that will make anyone have noise..

        Only time will help some of these feeling the others you will have to make peace with and throw them away. I like your attitude of fighting back, sucking it up and accepting the reality of what has been done to you, this is truly and amazing feat to accomplish. It will take time and I am sure you will be able to put it in perspective, you are a survivor and a winner. Not everyone has the courage and character you have.

        I hope some of the others chime in on this as this is a difficult handicap to deal with.

        Take very good care dear one. ((((Hugs)))))

  6. To All,

    Thanks for the support. This forum is a good place to vent, to help others, if possible, to share experiences.
    I still have am weathering the storm, the influx of contempt and hatred from the STBX CDN, trying to divorce but with him creating havoc with every way he can think of to create havoc it’s still a drawn-out process.
    I’ve learned his type don’t wear down. They feed off their hate. The goal is to destroy. I am his subject – the one he wants to destroy. Well, he’s finding out it’s not so easy. He can toss his bag of **** at me, I’ll dodge it and throw it right back at him. I have found I am resilient, when I believe in something, and that something is myself. I don’t deserve his bag of SH**. Right back at him.
    Thanks for all your help.

    1. Lucy,
      All of this is so crazy and it will get crazier and crazier. The malignant narc loves positive supply and he loves negative supply so long as he gets his supply. At this point in his delusional state it makes no difference as long as he still thinks he has the reins. SB is so bat shit crazy he is as naked as a jay bird riding a pig straight into a jail cell and then probably into hell singing and laughing all the way.

      1. BOTV

        Thanks for the laugh. I can visualize all that you just said. He says and does such childish things, thinking he’s “got one up” on me. I just shake my head and think look at what he has done to his brain, and that he’s reverted back to childhood bullying, arguments that a nine year old brat would make. Ivy League education and a high IQ – what a shame he did to himself.

  7. I was driving the other day and I was reminded of a phrase. ” I have been lied to, manipulated and decieved” How many times have I said that to myself ! Hundreds upon Hundreds of times. Think first. I wish I had done so. Thank You Dr Simon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *