How to Curb Your Impulsivity When You Have ADHD

ThePauseIf you have ADHD and run a business, you know your impulsivity can sometimes get you in trouble. You want to buy that new piece of equipment right now, without checking your budget. You want to implement that new business direction right now, without having thought it all the way through. You want to say what you want to say now, before you forget it, even though it means interrupting your client.

Not good. Not if you want your business to be successful.

So why are you so impulsive? It all has to do with creating a pause.

Dr. Ari Tuckman explains the relationship between impulsivity and the executive functions. “Executive functions” is an umbrella term for a set of mental processes that help connect past experience with present action. They include working memory, sense of time, remembering to remember, emotional self-control, self-activation, hindsight and forethought, and problem solving.

Dr. Tuckman says the executive functions “live in that little space between stimulus and response.” People without ADHD are able to hold back an automatic response to the world around them (like the urge to react or do something right now). This critical ability to stop creates a pause that allows them to think through the various response options and then choose the best one — and it usually happens in a split second. This gives the executive functions time to do their thing.

People with ADHD have difficulty stopping long enough to create that pause, which means you can’t use your executive functions reliably, effectively, or consistently. Tuckman says, “As a result, they get distracted, forget things, leap without looking, etc. — the symptoms of ADHD you know so well.”

So how can you create your own pause?

As a business owner, you’ll want to set up some rules and boundaries for yourself. And you can do it! It takes some effort, but the payoff is worth it. Try these suggestions and see if you can become aware of a pause and help it grow.

Pause #1. Create a rule to wait 3 days for major purchases: When I was a little girl, I always wanted everything right now. My mother was pretty wise, and I remember very plainly being told that I couldn’t have whatever it was right then, even if I was spending my own money — that I needed to wait 3 days. If I still wanted it 3 days later, I could have it. I also remember being very amazed 3 days later, when, most of the time, I no longer wanted whatever it was that I so desperately needed 3 days prior.

I took this strategy into adulthood. The fact that I knew I could have it in 3 days was a big comfort, and it took a lot of tension off of my decisions — all I had to do was wait. And I was always so thankful when the 3-day wait ended, if I no longer wanted the thing, to have the use of this strategy, especially in business.

How to implement it: If you have an assistant or someone who does your purchasing, let them know of your new policy to wait 3 days before purchasing anything major. Ask them to be the gatekeeper and help you to remember the new policy. If you work alone, put a sign above your desk: “Wait 3 days.” It will help!

Pause #2. Review ideas with peers, advisors, partners, or staff before implementing: You’re the boss, right? So you can do what you want when you want. And this may be why you’re running down every rabbit hole and not getting a whole lot accomplished. Or starting and stopping many different good ideas, chasing shiny objects.

If it is a good idea, then running it by someone else will only make it better — they may see something else to add to it. And if it’s not, you will have created the pause you needed to stop yourself long enough to consider other options.

How to implement it: If you have partners or colleagues, get in the habit of getting their input on all of your ideas. It’s amazing what even the forced pause until you can show someone your idea will do — ideas flourish with time. If you have staff, they often have great suggestions for making your ideas better, and, they can see the red flags for not moving forward with duds that could embarrass you or the company. If you work alone, find a trusted peer or ask your spouse — or work with a coach or advisor. Or join a mastermind group.

Pause #3: Put a rubber band on your wrist. You can feel that anxiety building up when you want to interrupt someone — it usually doesn’t hit you completely unaware. You know you need to say something and you can’t wait to butt in! There’s usually time when the person is finishing a word or two before you can interrupt anyway — use that time to snap your rubber band! This will give you a little pause. You simply cannot afford to be interrupting clients.

After you’ve shocked yourself with the rubber band snap, write down a quick note about what you wanted to say — even if it’s only a word. You should always have a notebook with you anyway, so don’t tell me you don’t have anything to write with. It’s okay if you make a quick gesture or put your hand to your face like you’re stopping yourself from talking — if the other person notices, you can say, “I almost interrupted, but go on. I’ll make a note of what I want to say because it’s important.”

How to implement it: Right now, get a simple rubber band, one that will snap, and put it on your wrist. When you feel the interruption anxiety, snap it! You don’t have to make a big deal out of it or do it noticeably.

You can mess up and keep trying

The pause does not come naturally to people with ADHD, so don’t get discouraged — you will probably mess up. It’s part of your brain chemistry at work, and it has nothing to do with your willpower or your professionalism. The best thing about these strategies is that you can mess up and then try again — so keep trying.

Each time you are aware of the pause, whether you were successful with creating one or not, you will get closer to creating one next time, and to getting better at curbing your impulsivity. And when you have ADHD, curbing your impulsivity can help you build a stronger business.


  1. Hi Marcia,

    I will definitely try the waiting for three days before making a purchase! I know that impulsive feeling only too well :)

    x x x

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