The Impulsive (Part I)

“if you make decisions out of fear you are more likely to be wrong” – Ahsoka Tano


Unlike Twins

If someone calls us “spontaneous” we might be inclined to view it as compliment or at the very least not a negative descriptor. If on the other hand we are called “impulsive” it is somehow a bad thing. Spontaneous people are fun to be around, they make quick decisions and think on their feet. They are doers and make things happen. Spontaneity is to suddenly quit your job and go traveling. To kick off your shoes and jump in to life feet first. The newlyweds who just met in Vegas were being spontaneous when they decided to marry. To be spontaneous is to ignore the feelings of fear and self doubt and to approach life with open and willing arms. But isn’t that what impulsive people are like? Are they not sort of the same?

The good news is that they are not the same. The Webster dictionary defines spontaneous as: “proceeding from natural feeling or native tendency without external constrain” and Impulsive as “acting or tending to act suddenly and without careful thought He’s impulsive and does things he regrets.”. Most people would agree that being spontaneous is not a bad thing while acting on impulse can lead to regret. A spontaneous demonstration in support of a popular cause or spontaneous clapping and cheering is different to reacting on impulse to an insult with violence or getting drunk because the cat peed on the rug. Impulsivity has been called the “evil twin” of spontaneity.


The highest and best form of efficiency is the spontaneous cooperation of a free people” – Woodrow Wilson


Toss of a Coin

Every major decision I ever made in my life had a certain degree of spontaneity to it. In fact most things I planned do to didn’t happen instead life seemed to unfold in unexpected ways. Somehow I would make decisions on the spur of the moment and a whim when confronted with a choice. I even took to tossing a coin; “heads I do this, tails I do that” sort of approach to life letting chance decide. It was insane.

Imagine traveling or job hunting and deciding your next move on the toss of a coin or a gut feel. I would just go with the flow acting spontaneously. I met my wife with a toss of a coin. Sitting in a Pub around a table with male friends, all of us nursing hangovers from the night before, I noticed a girl at another table and caught her eye. My friends saw my glances and egged me to go over and “chat her up”. I pulled a coin out of my pocket and said “tails I go over and you buy me a pint, heads I don’t and get a round in”. Tails never fails. I never told her that story but told her my actions that night were based on a spontaneous decision, not a coin toss or Dutch courage.


Spiritual awareness unfolds when you’re flexible, when you’re spontaneous” – Deepak Chopra


Being Impulsive

Was that me really being spontaneous or was I being impulsive? I could be impulsive especially where booze was concerned and it generally led to trouble. I remember a friend of mine a Sergeant  in the Army telling me how my latest drunken spree was going to see me get thrown out. “How can you be so bloody reckless and impulsive”? he demanded in bemusement. Impulsive was what the Teachers called me every time I pulled some crazy stunt or got in to fist fights. My case officer wrote “impulsive” on my file when I was assessed during processing for entry in to the State Care system. Every time I embarked on a binge after a single beer it was put down to some impulsive behavior that seemed to come when I had a drink. I thought I was being spontaneous.

A snap decision would see me accept job and then leave it at the drop of a hat often without even any notice. I just didn’t show up after a disagreement with the boss. Confronted with a predicament or an important choice I would act on impulse and usually anger and indignation. Decisions were made on a whim and based on “f*k everything and run” (FEAR) approach. The alternative was to sit around and agonize over a decision to act and lose momentum. Without defaulting to chance, I was stuck. This was a feeling I loathed, being unable to make a decision and being immobile. Better to be moving, doing something, anything.


“Youth is impulsive. When our young men grow angry at some real or imaginary wrong, and disfigure their faces with black paint, it denotes that their hearts are black, and that they are often cruel and relentless, and our old men and women are unable to restrain them. Thus it has ever been.” – Chief Seattle


Impulsive by Nature

I did not know it at the time but impulsivity is a characteristic of people with  an addictive personality. Alcoholics get drunk at exactly the worst and most ill thought out time because they are impulsive by nature. Our Orbifrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps with decision making is dulled with chronic alcohol abuse. If we were impulsive before we started drinking, we were more likely to fall into substance abuse and become addicted.

The merry-go round of addiction relies largely on an impulsive nature. Being highly influenced by emotions is also a trait of an impulsive alcoholic. We have less ability to regulate our emotions and exercise self control in our actions.


Spontaneous but Jedi

In the Clone Wars we see Obi-wan often reacting in a spontaneous not impulsive fashion. Obi-wan Kenobi made decisions on the fly and could react instinctively to a rapidly evolving situation. Obi-wan had the ability to quickly think things through and act when required, otherwise he paused and waited for the right opportunity. Ob-wan’s master, Qui-Gon Jinn was also spontaneous and unorthodox in his approach and was also good at inspiring and motivating others. Yoda too could be spontaneous in his actions and often surprised friend and foe alike with his ability to quickly transform from contemplative elder to agile warrior. Yoda could be serious and measured and then be almost childlike in his interaction with others.

Anakin on the other hand had an impulsive nature driven by emotions. Anger, fear and frustration often clouded his judgement and allowed him to act in impulsive and reckless ways.


“A powerful Jedi you are, yet unpredictable and dangerous you can be, to both your friends and your enemies.” – Yoda to Anakin “Clone Wars – The Box”.

Danger to ourselves

Someone who is spontaneous can be impulsive and vice versa. The two are different but not mutually exclusive. If a person is spontaneous they are usually described as enthusiastic, idealistic, independent, creative and dynamic. Traits that describe Obi-wan Kenobi. Spontaneous people can switch from one thing to another quickly and act on a whim but they do so mindful of the consequences.  Impulsive people are described as reckless, emotional, obstinate, uninhibited, reactive, uncontrollable and impetuous. Words that describe Anakin as he began to spiral out of control. Anakin’s lack of self control and his impulsive nature was a danger to himself and others.

Impulsive people will sometimes rationalize their actions but in most cases will blindly follow their emotional response without any thought. When I look at the descriptors I see Anakin in the impulsive person that I once was. My goal now is to be more like Obi-wan Kenobi.


“We make our own Luck” – Obi-wan Kenobi

“No such thing as luck” – Mace Windu

The fictional Jedi believed in the will of the Force not Luck. They believed in the existence of fate however the future need not be predetermined. With free will comes the opportunity to create one’s own reality and thereby change the future. The Jedi prophesy of the coming of one who would bring balance to the Force depicts Jedi fatalism but also the power and change that one person could bring to the galaxy through the Force.

Jedi however did not place much credence on luck. They believed that luck alone can not save the day and that careful planning and completion of one’s duties mindfully ensured that desired outcomes were more probable.

Hard Luck

Anakin Skywalker grew up in the chaotic and lawless environment of Tatooine. Luck would have been a big part of surviving day to day in an environment where if Tusken Raiders did not get you, the Desert would. Existence on Tatooine was akin to the Wild West frontier;  Criminal gangs, Bounty Hunters, Mercenaries, Smugglers and Slave Traders and corrupt Merchants ruled while moisture farmers egged out a living from the terrain and tried to keep out of trouble and stay alive. Anakin depended on luck to survive. Much later as a Jedi Knight his penchant for dicing with chance continued.

“Luck of the Irish”

I used to joke that I had the “Luck of the Irish” due to the fact that I had survived many years of drunken misadventures. Fortune had smiled on me; I had not been killed or badly busted up in a fight, blown up or shot, hit by a car, mauled by a Bull in Pamplona or suffered a loss of limb in an industrial accident (although all of these things I had narrowly avoided). I still had most of my teeth, a straight nose, few physical scars and all my faculties and pieces in place. On most nights I could still drink most under the table and my liver had held up to the task. I was thumbing my nose to fate and claiming “luck” was on my side.

An honest gambler will tell you that eventually luck runs out. I had seen my gambling addicted father lose his pay month after month and still be believed that his “day would come”. It never did and he died a broke and broken man many years later.

My day however did come but not the way I expected.  In the span of a few years there were  stints in the Brig, a court martial and dishonorable discharge, run ins with the law, failed relationships, lost jobs, ailing health and a hospital admission in addition to everyday “bad luck”. These were just preludes to the eventual spiral to rock bottom.

I cursed whatever luck I had and damned God for dealing me a poor hand. I believed my “Irish Luck” had abandoned me or become “Mr Murphy”. I never once paused to think that perhaps I had made my own bad luck.

Reality Bites

Living in sober reality is accepting that some things go well and others don’t. We cannot control every single aspect of our lives or expect that things will turn out the way we want. What I have learned is it is not so much what happens to me but how I deal with it that matters.

I can view a bad turn of events as a loss or I can view it as an opportunity. If I did everything I could and things still didn’t turn out the way I planned I accepted that, picked up the pieces, salvaged what I could and went back to the drawing board or moved on.

Reverse Clause

The Stoics believed in the concept of “reverse clause” to deal with obstacles. The “reverse clause” is a back up option; it is the next best thing. In some cases it is the best thing. The treatment is entirely mental as at the end of the day all we have is our minds and the free will to choose how to respond to obstacles and misfortune. As an example if I’m on my way to the airport to catch a plane home and a traffic jam impedes my progress I can only do my best to find an alternate route. If I miss the plane, I don’t bemoan it as “bad luck” and get angry. I turn around and make the best of the situation and try to get home the next day. That’s life.

Despite everything that ever happened to me I still believe that I am “Lucky”. I still have my health and fitness, my career is going well and my family life although turbulent at times is doing well. Looking back at the times when I wallowed deep in self pity expecting life to do me favors, I can say that at the end of the day I simply made my own “Luck”. By working the steps and being true to the principles of honesty, humility, temperance and faith things started to work out.

Things do work out

Every moment in my life led me to this point. Had I never been a drunk and hit rock bottom I would never have discovered the steps and I would never have found Jedi Philosophy. I would not be the person I am today. More importantly, I would not be writing this and I would not be grateful for every sober day.

No matter what happens, fundamentally all is well. I play my part and leave it to the Force to determine the outcomes. Can you do the same or will you rely on Luck?