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Spontaneity and It’s Evil Twin Impulsivity

prefrontal cortex

If you were to look in a thesaurus, you would probably find the words spontaneity and impulsivity listed as synonyms for each other.  Both states are unplanned,unconstrained, and governed by natural impulses.  To be impulsive or spontaneous is to be flexible, able to bend in a new direction at a moment’s notice.  However, they really aren’t the same when examined more closely.  Impulsivity is actually the evil twin of spontanaeity.

It’s a sunny day and your best friend calls you in the morning to see if you can take the day off to go on a picnic.  If you’re spontaneous, you consider the offer, take stock of what work is mission critical, and decide if your co-workers can cover for you.  If all of these variables check out, then you clear it with your boss and you enjoy the day.  On the other hand, if you are impulsive,  you say “yes” immediately, call in sick, and head off for  a day of fun giving no consideration to the long range consequences or who is affected by your actions, including yourself.

Impulsivity is seldom a good thing. It is one of the variables that lead people toward high risk behavior. It sabotages follow-through and leaves good ideas unfinished.  It is rash, erratic, and unpredictable.  It is frequently present in individuals who have had damage to the pre-frontal cortex area of the brain by way of head injury or stroke.  However even without a neurological event,  impulsivity is commonly seen in children, adolescents and many adults.  There are impulsive  shoppers (compulsive shoppers are driven by a different psychological force), people who say whatever comes to mind,  or those who find it difficult to stay on task when a new possibility presents itself . Just because one has reached a certain age does not guarantee that impulse control has been mastered.  Impulse control takes physical maturity, self-awareness, and often strategies to bring it under control.   The brain develops in response to the demands one places upon it. For some, this is requires great effort but the pay-off is well worth it.

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