Impulsive decision making is normal human behavior and too often, the trait has gotten a bad rap. Most of us have made decisions based on a mood or a whim - decisions such as which house to buy, which career to follow, or even who to date. Most times, these decisions turn out fine. And some impulsive urges are lifesavers; without an instinct to keep yourself out of danger, for example, you literally may not survive. 

In some circumstances, however, acting without thinking can be a costly liability. Some people have made the worst decisions of their lives based on spur-of-the-moment feeling. History is littered with examples of impulsive mistakes, from Italy's invasion of Greece at the beginning of WWII to Mike Tyson biting a one inch chunk from Evander Holyfield's ear during their 1997 title fight in Las Vegas. By the law of averages, the more regularly you give into impulse, the more likely it is that some of your decisions will turn out to be reckless or even harmful. 

ENFPs are especially prone to irrational impulsiveness because every element of their personality is geared towards such behavior:

  • Extraversion: Strong Extraverts are typically pleasure seekers who enjoy the thrill associated with taking a big risk
  • Intuition: Intuitives make quick decisions and trust that they know the right answer through some sort of sixth sense
  • Feeling: Feelers are compassionate empaths who will often defy reasoning in order to help or get along with others
  • Perceiving: Perceivers are spontaneous personalities who accept distractions freely to avoid an undesirable task.

With the odds stacked against them, it's plain to see why ENFPs leap before they look, often leading to some regrettable consequences. With that in mind, here are some tips to help ENFPs tame their wilder, impulsive side. 

#1: Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness can be helpful for impulsive ENFPs since it forces you to focus your full attention on a situation. To start your practice, take a week to track your impulsive behavior. Note the feelings, thoughts and events that precede an impulsive decision. What patterns are emerging? Are you more impulsive when you're stressed? Frustrated? Excited? Do certain people egg you on? 

Once you understand your impulsive triggers, you can use mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing and meditation to ground yourself and bring your awareness back to what you're doing. Focusing on the present moment should stop you being overly reactive to what is going on around you and give you time to think about the potential consequences of your behavior before it's too late.

#2: Surround yourself with good people

As an Extravert, you naturally surround yourself with other people. But are they the right people? If your social network continually spurs you on toward risk taking, it's possible that they don't have your best interests at heart. The people who truly care about you are more likely to cringe at your impulsive behavior. Ask these people to support you and use them to give you a reality check when you feel like giving in to impulse.

#3: Use coping statements

Another useful tool for controlling your impulses is to memorize a line or phrase that will move you away from the trigger behavior. Psychologists call these "coping statements" and they can be highly effective at stopping the impulse to act. For example, if you have a tendency to indulge in one too many drinks, you could practice the statement, "I don't want another drink," or "I have everything that I need right now." Follow up this statement with a short time out such as a trip to the bathroom that will distance you from the trigger situation. Taking time away will reinforce your coping statement and give you the opportunity to come back with better intentions. 

#4: Think consequences   

Before you act, remind yourself what went wrong the last time you acted impulsively. What happened when you spent the rent money at the casino, or sent that aggressive email to the boss? What was the cost of your impulsive behavior? Thinking about the consequences of your words or actions before you say them or do them can give you an instant reality check. Psychologists have a name for the feeling that you are about to do something bone headed that will cause regretful feelings - it's called "anticipatory regret." Most people desire to minimize future regret and such desire can be a powerful motivator for avoiding the choices that previously have caused harm. 

#5: Delay decision making

Temporal discounting describes the tendency to make decisions based on our desire to have something now rather than later. Some people make optimal temporal decisions because they can see that the future reward will be large enough to compensate for them going without right now. These are the people who, for example, easily miss a night out in order to save money. If you're impulsive, you are more likely to make a sub-optimal temporal choice. That's because when the mood strikes you to do something, you do it. Delaying the same action until tomorrow won't be nearly as much fun because then you won't have the immediate desire to act. 

Everyone has chosen to delay gratification or seek immediate gratification at some point in their lives, and it is definitely possible to improve your intertemporal choices. The best tool for the job is a simple timer. Here's an example of how it might work. 

Suppose that you want a candy bar badly, but you're trying to eat healthy. Tell yourself that you can have the candy in ten minutes, then set a timer. You may choose to eat the candy after ten minutes or you may eat an apple instead. It doesn't matter. What does matter, is that you have made a rational decision to eat or refuse the candy. You haven't eaten it out of impulse; you've practiced self control. Next time, improve your temporal discount rate by adding an extra few minutes to the timer. It won't feel like much of a challenge at the time, but these small choices can add up to better impulse control in the long term.

Final thoughts

There's no magic key to fixing your impulsive behavior and most times, your happy-go-lucky, opportunity-grabbing, change-embracing nature is a strength to be nurtured, not repressed. But it's a good growing point to recognize when your impulses are helpful, and when they are harmful, and moderate the accidents waiting to happen. That way, you can learn to make decisions more carefully and stop worrying about the negative consequences of your impulsive behavior. Good luck!

Molly Owens
Molly Owens is the founder and CEO of Truity. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and holds a master's degree in counseling psychology. She began working with personality assessments in 2006, and in 2012 founded Truity with the goal of making robust, scientifically validated assessments more accessible and user-friendly. Molly is an ENTP and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she enjoys elaborate cooking projects, murder mysteries, and exploring with her husband and son.