Many years ago, I was at a train station in England. I saw that a train was leaving for York in the next five minutes. I immediately started running to get to that platform. But I didn’t make it, which turned out to be a good thing. Because in my haste to make the train, I completely forgot that my backpack was still in a locker.
Luckily, there were three tracks between that train and me, so there was a buffer between the impulse and the consequence.I often wish there were such mental tracks between us and other rash decisions. Like sending that angry email to ‘reply all.’ Like repeated texts to the person who has already made it clear that it’s over. Like buying the more expensive car that is going to add $200 to the monthly payment.
But since there’s not, we have to teach ourselves to stop and think before acting on an impulse. I am still not terribly good at this (after decades of both practice and suffering the consequences). But it can be done, often with just some simple questions before pushing the ‘send’ button or signing the dotted line:
- How will I feel about this in two days? (If you’re not sure, why not wait the two days and see how you feel.)
- Will this action hurt other people’s feelings? Is it worth it?
- Who else will be affected? (If my kid can’t go to summer camp because I chose the fancier car, is that a good trade-off? I’m not saying it’s not. I’m just urging some reflection.)
- Am I going to be able to still work well with others if I do this?
- What am I giving up by doing this? (Peace of mind, collegiality, financial security)
I’m not saying that we should never act on impulse. But for some of us, impulse is our standard operating procedure, and it hasn’t been working that well. For people like us, a little thought between impulse and action would be a very good thing.