Grabbing the mic at karaoke, summoning the courage to say ‘hello’ to a new person, joining an impromptu game at a party: we’ve all taken small leaps based on impulse. Impulse prompts action, and action is the basis for change. Unfortunately, impulsivity has a bad reputation, associated with whims on the small scale and colossal mistakes in the big picture. But does that mean we should stop acting on our impulses?
Van Gogh warned, “Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” We accomplish monumental tasks in a series because it’s hard to accomplish greatness in one swoop. But I’m gonna push back: impulsivity involves risk-taking, and risk-taking is central to greatness. If we stay too long in the Ponder Zone, we could miss our window for change.
Allowing our thoughts to impede worthy actions is a mistake. Listening to the pulse behind an impulse is the surest way to tap into the heart of what we need, and to take the kinds of leaps that will propel us into the future soundly. So if we’re going to do this, if we’re going to act before we think, these three steps are designed to get the most bang for our impulsive buck.
Lead with Heart.
My son smells like cookies. I don’t know how, in the midst of playing in the yard, he doesn’t smell exclusively like dirt, but when I kiss his cheek, it smells like sugar & vanilla. And that reminds me how powerful love can be. Messages of the heart are fierce. Latch onto the warmth that spreads across our entire bodies when we hold someone special, a true North in deciding how we know where to find our center. That’s not a fair weather feeling. Every time I hold someone I love, I find that feeling. And the next several breaths are the calmest, sweetest I take. So what’s all this business about the heart as a faulty guide? Just like we feel worry and disgust in the pits of our stomach, we find inspiration and truth in the palpitations of our hearts. Impulses that follow the passions & people we hold dear are the chords of the heart: a worthy direction to take. Embracing the moment to show someone we care, to extend a helping hand, to be brave about speaking up—-these are actions we can safely take without taking time to think.
Live in the dynamic.
Eleven years ago, my husband and I road tripped down to Key West. It had been a long day in the car, and by the time we reached 7 Mile Bridge, the storm that had been brewing was in full force, lightening strikes crashing down on either side of the narrow road, rain pelting the windshield. Nervously, we made it into town, only to be lost searching for our boutique hotel among the dark, one-way roads, wet with pounding rain. For navigation, we’d borrowed a friend’s Garmin, but now she was stuck on repeat: “Turn left. Turn left. Turn left.” Aimlessness is a terrible feeling. We need direction because, without it, the minutes slow down to seconds and at the same time, our hearts our pounding a hundred beats per minute. Impulse can be comforting because it carries with it a feeling of certainty: a direction. Impulse is the urge to act. And that’s better than wallowing in the unknown. When I act, there is a reaction. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s moving forward. Inertia is only valuable when the stored energy eventually finds a purpose. For what it’s worth, I choose the dynamic.
Listen to the Trees.
We may never know if falling trees in isolation make a sound, but we know to listen when they fall in our presence. In the same token, whether or not we follow our impulses, we owe them a listen. The paths we don’t take are just as important as the ones we do because if they make it into our realm of consideration, they must be speaking to an element of our spirit. Great thinkers and inventors cut paths where none exist, but they have to start somewhere, and I’d like to believe that beginning includes a series of impulses and moments of double back. On our weekend family hikes, we start with a single trail and then diverge. Sometimes, a decision to follow a fork takes us away from where we want to be; most times, it leads to new discoveries and a beautiful adventure in Nature. Listening to the impulse to turn or turn back is the journey.
A Call to Action
Action doesn’t have to be big. Action may be initiating a conversation, making an inquiry, or speaking up when we have an idea. In action, we are brave because action is easier to notice than thought, and action makes us vulnerable. But it is within the things we do, that we propel our lives forward, and bodies in motion are a beautiful thing.