Music is red, Riesling is blue. I’m a synesthete. Are you?
I’m not one to put a lot of thought into the choices I make. Some might see this as laziness or foolishness, but I see it as just the opposite. Making quick decisions is what has forced me to turn thoughts into action.
Rather than toss around the pros and cons of, say, going through with a job offer or moving to a new city, I’m the type who relies on my gut instinct and makes the decision right away. From there, I roll with whatever punches that instinctual decision creates.
For instance, I currently live in a studio apartment I initially could not afford. In fact, I still can’t. Everyone around me repeatedly told me I had made a huge mistake. I could see where they were coming from: prior to living alone, I was sleeping in a living room and had three other roommates, so it really was quite a change. Not only that, but I work as a freelancer, so my income has never been steady. I had the same doubts as my friends and family: I was equally unsure if I’d be able to make rent. But deep down I knew I needed to at least try. So I just went for it.
The day I saw my apartment, I put the money down to secure it even though I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pay the next month’s rent. Fast forward to over a year later, and I am still in this same apartment and still not entirely sure how I made it work. Even now, I still can’t promise that I’ll have next month’s rent, but dancing with uncertainty is a dance I know the steps to a lot better than I did a year ago and it all feels worth it to me. Living alone truly has changed my life, and I made the decision to do so on a whim. Or more accurately, on an impulse.
I think back to the most memorable events of my life—events that changed me and taught me valuable things about myself—and realize almost all of them happened as a result of some sort of impulsive act. Not all of these events were good, mind you. In fact, a lot of them were pretty careless, like meeting up with a stranger for an internet date and taking psilocybin mushrooms together. Or, that time I met up with a different stranger in a city I didn’t live in so we could go to a concert I really wanted to see. I suppose in the back of my mind I thought, what if this is how we fall in love? That’s why I’ve impulsively gone along with many romantic opportunities that, in theory, I really shouldn’t have. To have the kind of love story based on an impulsive decision is a lot more entertaining than saying, “we texted each other to meet up at a bar.”
Clearly, there is a drawback to impulsive behavior: it can land one in danger as much as it can in success. When I think back to my impulsive acts, I wonder if maybe I’d be better off taking the time to stop and think more before I react. Would I be living in a nicer apartment and less financially burdened? Would my love life be better? I often have this fear that if I wait on something too long, an idea or a desire, I’ll end up never actually accomplishing it. In my mind, I’d rather do something in a rush than not do it at all. Is this the wrong way to go about things?
With these thoughts, I turned to an impulse expert for help: Kansas State University professor and researcher Kimberly Kirkpatrick. She gave me some valuable insight on what it means to be an impulsive individual and how it varies from person to person.
“Impulsivity is associated with a number of maladaptive behaviors and disorders such as drug abuse, gambling, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and obesity,” Kirkpatrick says.
Fortunately for me, it doesn’t seem like my impulsivity is uncontrollable to the point of addiction, and yet I still see myself as an impulsive individual. How could this be? Well, as Kirkpatrick notes, “Impulsivity is a multifaceted construct and so individuals can be impulsive in different ways. One individual may have difficulty inhibiting actions, whereas another individual may have difficulty seeing the value of waiting for better long-term outcomes.” Alright, there it is. I’m in the latter category of impulsivity. My impulsivity is bred more out of impatience than anything else. With this in mind, I asked Kirkpatrick if this can be a good thing. She said, “Impulsivity is not universally bad. There are situations where seizing opportunities on an impulse can be quite good.” OK, great. We’re onto something.
After speaking with Kirkpatrick, I realized that what I really needed to focus on was, well…focus. That’s not to say I regret every single one of my impulsive acts. Sometimes it’s better to act on instinct than mull a decision over endlessly. Leasing my apartment is one of those acts I don’t regret. Living alone has changed me for the better and taught me a lot about myself. However, Kirkpatrick reminds me that to give in to impulsivity completely is not always going to prove fruitful or advantageous. It can land you in a bad situation. One that can be difficult to get out of. The goal is to find balance. A balance between trusting your gut, and thinking things through. Acknowledging my tendency for impulsive decisions has helped me discern when I should act, and when I should pass.