How can we avoid rash impulsive behavior?
Question: Many times we speak insensitively or act indiscreetly on the spur of the moment and later regret: “If only I had thought a bit before doing like that…” How can we avoid such rash impulsive behavior?
Short Answer: By developing an internal pause button. Getting impulses may be unavoidable, but acting on them isn’t. A pause button helps us place a wedge between our impulses and our actions, and thereby gives us the time to think and choose the best course of action.
We act rashly when we become the servants of our impulses instead of their masters. Gita wisdom explains that our impulses tend to dominate us when we let our lifestyles and attitudes be determined unduly by the mode of passion. The modes are subtle psychological forces that shape our perception of and reaction to matter. The mode of passion especially gears us to a perpetual action mode; when the mode of passion influences us, we feel a sense of self-worth and control primarily in getting things done – fast. Fast responses may be occasionally helpful in situations where the best response is self-evident and our impulses guide us to that response, as in, say, rushing to a fire extinguisher when a fire breaks out. But most real-life situations are not so black-and-white in terms of the wrong and right responses; they involve subtle and multiple shades of grey that we overlook due to our urge for fast responses. We may get a feeling of control by responding quickly, but that feeling is frequently counterproductive because our uncontrolled reactions often cause the situation to veer out of control.
Gita wisdom encourages us to regain our rightful position as the master of our impulses by cultivating the mode of goodness. The Bhagavad-gita (14.11) states that the mode of goodness illuminates our senses with wisdom. This indicates that the mode of goodness gives us the inner illumination with which to use our outer senses wisely.
How can we cultivate the mode of goodness?
One practical and powerful way is by installing and activating an internal pause button. Just as a pause button halts an electronic device in mid-action, our internal pause button halts our psychophysical device – our mind and body – in mid-action.
We can improvise till we arrive at our own individualized-and-standardized pause button.
How can we develop such an internal pause button?
By designing for ourselves a custom-made response to sensitive and provocative situations.
This custom-made response may incorporate any or many of the following:
- Taking deep breaths,
- Recalling an insightful wisdom passage
- Reciting an inspiring scriptural verse
- Chanting an empowering divine mantra.
- Repeating a universal traditional prayer
- Offering a personal contextual prayer
According to which responses either solo or combo work for us, we can improvise till we arrive at our own individualized-and-standardized pause button. The button is individualized in the sense that it works for us individually. It is standardized in the sense that it is a standard response that we can activate in crisis without having to think because crises often paralyze our thinking. The underlying basis for all individualizing and standardizing of the pause button is its workability; it should work to catalyze our paralyzed thinking.
How long do we need to press the pause button?
Usually a few minutes or even a few moments – whatever it takes to regain our orientation and concentration. Just as we pause an audio or video till we get a clear understanding of what was said or depicted, we need to pause ourselves till we get a clear understanding of what just happened.
Some of us may protest, “In real-life pressure situations, every moment is precious; spending any time for pausing is an unaffordable luxury.”
But we need to ask ourselves: in real-life complications, won’t regretting and rectifying an impulsive reaction amount to an unaffordable penalty?
Restraint is safer and cheaper than regret.
Pausing doesn’t mean doing nothing; it just means doing nothing without thinking.
We may wonder, “How can I just sit doing nothing when things scream for action?”
Pausing doesn’t mean doing nothing; it just means doing nothing without thinking. When we pause, we may seem to be doing nothing externally, but we are doing a lot internally. If we can muster the will and the guts to pause ourselves, we will be surprised at how often we come up with an optimum response that best tackles the situation. Then we will realize that pausing involved doing a lot: it involved catalyzing our thinking that had been paralyzed by our impulses.
We may still doubt, “Won’t analysis of all the consequences discourage us from choosing the bold response that we might have chosen impulsively? Won’t pausing cause us to choose a weaker response?”
Pausing doesn’t necessarily mean choosing a weaker action; it essentially means choosing the wiser action. Sometimes, after pausing, we may well choose the same course of action that we would have embarked on impulsively. But still pausing will benefit us significantly both in the short run and the long run:
- In the short run, we will be acting with an awareness of the causes and consequences of our choice, and so will be better prepared for the various possible emerging scenarios.
- In the long run, we will have strengthened our internal muscles by exercising them to pause our impulses, and so we will be better equipped to discipline our future impulses.
As we practice activating the pause button while responding to impulses, gradually activating the pause button will become our default impulse. The more we habituate ourselves to subordinating and educating our impulses, the more we will find our response-choosing time decreasing and our response quality improving. Thus, in the court of our own life-experience, the indispensable potency of the pause button will stand vindicated.
To recap, our patience in activating the pause button will enable us to use our resources aptly. We can state this potency of the PAUSE button as:
PAUSE = Patient + Apt + USE