Ep #57: Controlling Impulses

By: Dr. Sherry Price

Drink Less Lifestyle with Dr. Sherry Price | Controlling Impulses

When that urge comes up to drink, do you find yourself caving in more often than not?

I’m sure you’ve tried some strategies to control your impulses in the past, but there’s a reason why they haven’t worked.

This week, I’m sharing some stories from my clients, as well as my own life, on why we need to change tactics if we want to start controlling our impulses, and the benefits of delayed gratification.


Loving what you’re learning on the podcast? Then you have to come join EpicYOU. It’s my monthly coaching program where we take the tools I teach on the podcast even deeper to up-level your life. You’ll learn how to create your most amazing self and get personalized coaching in a community of like-minded women. Join EpicYOU here!


What You’ll Learn in this Episode:

  • How to get clear on the patterns and triggers that lead to your urge to drink alcohol.
  • Why meeting yourself with ultimatums and rewards will never help control your impulses.
  • How to start creating effective boundaries around your drinking, so you can control your impulse to drink.

Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Drink Less Lifestyle Podcast with Dr. Sherry Price, episode number 57.

Welcome to Drink Less Lifestyle, a podcast for successful women who want to change their relationship with alcohol. If you want to drink less, feel healthier and start loving life again you’re in the right place. Please remember that the information in this podcast does not constitute medical advice. Now, here’s your host, Dr. Sherry Price.

Well, hello friends. If you are listening to this podcast right when it drops it is the last week of October. Oh my gosh, I’m so excited because this weekend is Halloween. It is one of our favorite holidays. We throw a huge backyard bash every year. It is so big, it is so epic. And of course, this year we are not going full on, full out, full everything. We are having a more toned down version. But it just gets me so excited because I love thinking about the tradition that we’ve created.

We have a haunted tunnel, flying ghosts on pulley systems, creatures that are animated, jumping out, crawling out of things. It is just so epic, really it is. And I know we’re going to throw a much more tuned down version this year but it’s still going to be fun. I still can’t wait to celebrate see all the kids and their screaming and their excitement. And we get to dress up and partake. And I love looking forward to fun activities. I love to create this type of experience for people where we get to come together, enjoy each other’s company.

And then we get these memories that we can look back on for a lifetime. It’s just so much fun which is why I’ll be creating some amazing retreats for the ladies coming in 2022. I cannot wait to have these epic experiences with you all and we get to come and enjoy each other’s company, connect, learn together, grow together. And I think these peak experiences is really a key part of life. And I love creating those moments and being with others. And I know for me, connecting with others and helping others is really something that makes my heart sing. So, I can’t wait to do more of it.

And also, as we are wrapping up this month, I just want to give a shout out to all the ladies who are pursuing their boundaries inside Epic You. I have been sharing with the ladies how I’m going through this process as well and how well it has worked in one area of my life that has just blown my mind. Our daughter has been in our bed for the past couple of years because of her anxiety, because of her diagnosis and it’s just really hard for her to get to sleep. And so, I’m applying this boundaries work in my own life. And I have to say, for the whole month of October she is in her bed sleeping.

This has been such a huge dramatic shift for us. And it’s just a testament to doing this work and how it can change the results you get in your life. I am just overjoyed because I didn’t think this moment would come for a couple more years, as I was sharing with the ladies. And just the research I’ve been doing on children with these diagnoses and these kind of conditions that it was more like 13 or 14 that they get out of your bed. And it’s happening now. So, it just goes to show you that this work can truly be life changing and it can truly work when you apply it.

And I know I’m seeing a lot of results in the ladies as they’re sharing where the boundaries have worked for them. And it just makes again my heart sing that we are just living our lives more fully and going after these things that make it feel more epic. So, hats off to me, hats off to the ladies for doing this work and seeing how the results are paying off. And for November we will be doing a deep dive into how to be more productive while feeling refreshed. I think a lot of us, we think that the more productive we are the more that we have to expend energy.

And I want to be teaching this system that I have learned for my life is where you get to show up with more energy, more refreshed to be more productive. So, it’s kind of backwards thinking and I love how I’m going to break it down and the tools that I’ll be teaching for November. So, if you want to feel productive, yet not burnt out and want to still feel refreshed and like you have energy for your weekend, your family life and after work, I invite you to come join us inside Epic You for November. It’s going to be awesome.

So, what I wanted to talk with you today is about thinking about as you’re wanting to drink, as that impulse comes up, as that urge comes up to drink. That if you feel you keep caving into the drink that you are giving into impulses. So, you’re missing a key skill which is impulse control. So, think about it from the time we are born. When our parents are raising us as young kids, as toddlers, they’re always trying to teach us about impulse control. We see something and we want it. We want the toy. We want the chocolate. We want the thing. We want the toy that our sister or brother has.

And we’re just impulsive. And we reach for that thing because we want it now. It’s about instant gratification, give it to me, I want it now. And that’s how a lot of us are with drinking. It’s like, hey, I want that drink and I want it now, it’s 5 o’clock, or it’s my witching hour. I have this trigger that’s happening, and I don’t know what to do with this impulse and so I just want to drink.

Now, as we go back to the example with the child, think of what we do as we’re parenting them. We hold up dangling carrots and say, “Hey, if you have good behavior, or do these chores, or don’t fight with your sibling, or whatever, you get good grades”, whatever it is as they advance through life. We reward them. They’re trained to get rewards. If you do the good behavior, I will reward you. Early on we might have behavior charts. We might give them gold stars. We might do all of these things that’s going to encourage that positive behavior.

And as kids get older, we might use other tactics. Maybe they get more screen time, maybe they get an allowance, maybe they have an ability to earn money or whatever it is. But we’re constantly looking to, hey, do the right thing and control the impulses. And sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. And I find for a lot of parents, this tactic can backfire because they are feeling like they’re almost bribing the child to do the right thing.

And as we’re parenting, we’re telling ourself that we’re doing the right thing. We want our kids to embrace the behavior that will serve them throughout life. So, in our minds it’s not that we think we’re bribing our children. We actually think we are doing something constructive that’s going to serve them later in life. Now, I want to take it back to an example that totally backfired for me.

My daughter has an amazing voice. When she sings it’s like the heavens open, it really is the most melodic beautiful sound ever. And I know I’m a parent. And I know I’m her mom. And I’m probably pretty biased. But we get this feedback about her voice from anyone who hears her. But here’s the thing, she doesn’t like people hearing and commenting on her voice. It actually annoys her. So, when she was five or six years old I thought, oh my gosh, I want to break her out of this mold. I want her to be able to develop this talent because it could serve her in her life.

She may love this talent. She truly enjoys humming and singing. And any time she hums or sings you can instantly know the song or the tune. She is so on pitch, she is so on key. So, I thought, great, I’ll sign her up for singing lessons. And I knew she wouldn’t go for singing lessons. I just knew she didn’t want anybody hear her voice. She was even a little ashamed to have us hear her voice in the house. But I thought, but I know the right thing to do for her. And this was at a time where her favorite candy was Skittles.

So, I take her, and I tell her, “We’re going to meet somebody.” And they’re going to just hear her voice and maybe she’ll sign up to do singing lessons. So, she agrees to go along with me. And I have a bag of Skittles on my purse. So, we meet this lovely lady who sang opera, and this is what she does. She works with kids one-on-one in her home where it’s quiet, where they’re not on stage. And I’m thinking, my daughter is so going to embrace this because I’m embracing it.

Well, we get there, and she doesn’t want to sing. The lady just asks her to sing her favorite song, my daughter doesn’t want to sing. And I pull Skittles out and I say, “Honey, if you sing, I’ll give you some Skittles.” Thinking I’m doing the right thing. Well, let me tell you, the look of death I got when I pulled out those Skittles. My daughter was onto me. She was like, “I may be young but there’s no way this is going to work.” And it didn’t.

She wouldn’t sing for the lady. And the experience totally backfired. And there was some repair I had to do in that relationship because my daughter took it pretty much to heart that I somehow betrayed her, and she let me know. And I realized I did. I was forcing my agenda on what I thought was great for her life. And I know as parents we should be always looking out for our kids. But it’s the way, and the tactic, and the strategy that either gets them involved or doesn’t.

So, one of the key criteria I want you to think about is when you are wanting something to happen. You have to start with buy-in from the person. So, in the example here, I needed to start with buy-in from my daughter of why this was a good idea, why I thought it was a good idea and does she think it’s a good idea. And that’s not what I did. I didn’t get her buy-in. I didn’t get her desire for singing lessons. I didn’t even know she wanted them. I wanted them. And so, what I did was a tactic that just forced my wishes and my wants. And basically, chose bribery as a way to try to incentivize her and it didn’t work.

Now, just like most kids, adults don’t want to be told what to do either. They don’t want to be forced or coerced into doing anything. So, they don’t want to be bribed into it and they don’t want an ultimatum. And oftentimes that’s how we parent, from bribery or ultimatums, or ways that we’re not actually getting our child involved. And by doing it this way we’re never going to change their mind. We are going to make them more dead set on their own thinking on why they shouldn’t do it, rather than being collaborative on hey, maybe I can think something differently.

So doing force or pushing your way to control a situation generally backfires. The person becomes more defiant. They become more opposed to what you want. And they may just want the opposite of what you want just to spite you. Because now it’s about you being wrong. And that we can’t agree on this topic. So, I love this example because as we tie it back to how we treat ourselves with alcohol, we might find that we’re not creating our own buy-in. We might find that we are coming at it with an ultimatum. You shouldn’t drink tonight.

We’re coming at it as if you don’t drink Monday through Thursday then you get the reward of having as much alcohol as you want or having some alcohol on Friday and Saturday. It’s that rewards system. And we think that this is the most likely way to get the result that we want. But I want to tell you, when you give ultimatums, and you don’t create buy-in from yourself or from others it’s the least effective way for long-term habit change. It’s the least effective way. Yet that’s how so many of us try to cut back on drinking and that was me too.

Giving myself ultimatums, saying, “You’re not going to drink tonight.” It’s very punishing. And it’s almost demeaning, demeaning to yourself. And that’s what I realized when I pulled those Skittles out of my bag. My daughter’s eyes looked at me like death. She’s like, “You just tried to undermine me, and I caught you.” And I’ll never forget that expression. And I think a lot of us try to cut back on alcohol that way. We try to undermine ourselves and put these ultimatums in place and says, “You are not getting alcohol.” And we wonder why it backfires.

I was just coaching a client who was using this strategy and wondering why it wasn’t working in her own life. She was telling me as like, “I just tell myself you can’t drink tonight. I just keep telling myself that and I never seem to follow through, why is that?” And it’s because it’s the same principle. It’s applying these ultimatums. It’s saying it’s this way or the high way. And let me tell you, the last time you gave an ultimatum to somebody, did it work? If you tell somebody an ultimatum like, “Hey, you propose to me or marry me before the end of the year or else.” The guy is gone.

It doesn’t work. Ultimatums don’t work. And if they do work, it’s very slim chance that they work. Even hear about it in the workplace. You’ve got to create buy-in. When you’re managing somebody, you want to create buy-in from them, so they want to do the right thing. They want to meet their quota or whatever it is that they’re held accountable to do. And so, giving people ultimatums, we’re not creating that buy-in. I remember giving an ultimatum to my daughter saying, “You can’t come in our bed at night, you can’t sleep here. You need to sleep in your own bed. You’re a big girl, you can do that.”

I was creating this environment of an ultimatum which was so different than creating a boundary. And guess what? The ultimatum never worked. And when I was setting up our relationship on bribery that wasn’t working either. So, when the result isn’t happening the way you want it to happen, you have to look at the strategy. What’s the action we’re taking that’s not producing the result? And so, ultimatums rarely lead to what we want especially around drinking, especially around alcohol.

Now, whether you’re working with others or just working with yourself, you’ve got to create buy-in. You’ve got to connect with that part of you that really wants not to be drinking so much alcohol. And that’s where ultimatums don’t feel good because they come from this heavy handed kind of place, and they come from this punitive kind of place, and it feels bad. And if we’re creating our own feelings of feeling bad, we’re not going to want to stay feeling bad. And we know the brain knows already that alcohol makes us feel good.

So, ultimatums are the quickest thing that lead to caving in because we’re creating more bad feelings. Now, setting boundaries can lead to creating good feelings. Good feelings help you motivate to take good actions. And when you create buy-in with the effective boundaries you feel good. My daughter feels great about sleeping in her bed at night. Women feel great when they drink a lot less and they’re not coming at themselves so punitively and so harshly. They just have the wrong strategy going in. And when you learn the right strategy, the process is so much easier.

And if you think about ultimatums, they’re oftentimes done on impulse. If you don’t sing, you’re not going to get these Skittles. If you don’t do x, I’m going to break up with you or whatever. So, I want you to notice how you might be doing this to yourself when it comes to drinking less because it’s not going to be effective. It’s not effective for kids. It’s not effective for adults. So, we don’t need to keep using the strategy if it doesn’t work. There are other strategies, better strategies with more efficacy that we should be utilizing.

The second thing I want to talk about when it comes to looking at our impulses and gaining more control is we have to notice the triggers. When we are not aware of our triggers, we are less equipped to be able to handle them. Now when I was doing my own work to understand all of my triggers, I learned some pretty key things. And I’ve shared some of my triggers on the podcast before. One of them was my anger.

I just didn’t know how to calm myself down without storming the fridge for more chardonnay. It was the quickest relief I could get in the moment, when I was mad at my daughter, when I was mad that homework was taking more than an hour, when I was mad at how my workday went, when I was mad with a colleague. I don’t know. I just couldn’t seem to learn to calm down because I didn’t have to learn it. I just stormed the fridge, poured a glass of wine, or two, or half a bottle, or a whole bottle, whatever it took to calm down.

Another trigger was just having that witching hour, 5 o’clock, be in after work, needing to transition from my work life to my home life. It seemed like I wanted to do that transition so quickly and wine was effective to get me there. So that was another trigger I had to deal with.

Another trigger which surprised me was that when I looked at the times when I overdrank, there was a commonality happening during the day. And you know what this commonality was? It was my consumption of Coke Zero and caffeinated drinks. The more coffee and the more Coke Zeros I had, the more wound up I felt during the day, would trigger me needing more alcohol to unwind at the end of the day.

Now, had I not been doing this work with a coach I would have never saw that. I would have never explored that because I just didn’t question the other patterns that were happening in my life. And it makes total sense. If you rev yourself up throughout the day with all this caffeine and you wonder why you can’t rev yourself down at the end of the day, why you can’t relax, why you can’t get the edge off, makes total sense. So, I noticed this trend, the days I had less Coke Zeros I had less drinks. It required less alcohol to calm me down.

So, knowing that was a trigger was hugely important to be able to develop successful strategies. So, getting a handle on this really made me see it’s not really about the alcohol. It was about other things I was doing in my life that were just triggering me. And when we don’t have good impulse control, when we don’t know how to decrease the triggers, when we don’t know how to create buy-in from ourselves, when we don’t know these strategies, it feels like we’re helpless, it feels like we’re powerless. It feels like the drink is just going to happen.

I would just cave in and drink another Coke Zero. I didn’t realize it was a similar type of process going on as it was with alcohol. So that’s how we overdrink in terms of Diet Cokes, and cake, and candy, or drinking. And we just keep thinking that’s the answer. But it’s not and it worsens the condition, which takes me to area number three.

Where do you get your pleasure from? Where do you get your dopamine hits from? If they’re always coming from these substances, these concentrated substances from outside of our body, the body we are training it to constantly want these substances. If my body’s craving energy or a pick me up I would turn to a Coke Zero, or some coffee, or let’s go out for some pizza instead of the salad I brought.

And I’m training my brain to constantly get these things from the external environment. And here’s the thing. They cause a huge dopamine hit, a rise higher than we’re able to get from other sources. And when you get a huge uptick, what’s going to happen hours later? You’re going to get a massive crash. We get the high of the high and we get the low of the low. And guess who likes being in the low of the low? No one, not one toddler, not one woman, not one man, no one loves to be in the low of the low. We will always seek a way out of it. It’s human nature.

And then what does your brain tell you? What the hell is wrong with me? Why do I keep reaching for the candy when I know it’s not good for me?  Why do I keep reaching for the alcohol when I know it’s not good for me? And we turn it into a moral, or a character flaw that’s in us. And I want to say, no, that’s your circuitry. When you train your brain that it’s all about the highest dopamine hit it could get, of course what’s going to follow is the lowest of the low. And you’re setting your neural pathways up for this to keep occurring. It’s a feedback loop that wants to keep feeding itself.

Think about any substance of abuse, whether it’s cocaine, amphetamines, opioids, alcohol, sugar, they all come with that super high that people love and chase for, kill for, rob grocery stores for money to be able to afford it. We are seeking that super high. And then we go mad when we’re in that super low, which gets us moving and motivated to go seek more of it. And then the brain has less control over impulses because you’re not training it to have control over impulses. You’re just giving in to each and every impulse.

Do you see how this sets you up for a lifetime of feeling not good about yourself and other things to start fading away? First, it’ll be your food, then it’ll be the drink, then it’ll be amounting to weight, and then you get diseases because you can’t control the amount of food or the amount of time you spend at work because you’re overworking, or wherever your dopamine hits are coming from. And this cycle is why you feel so depressed, and anxious, and miserable.

And I will tell you, in your mind you drive yourself nuts. How many of you feel like you’ve driven yourself to almost misery with your relationship with alcohol? I often would say to myself, “I don’t know why I keep doing this.” And I would blame myself, which would only make me make more poor decisions in the future. I was feeding the impulses. And the more you feed these impulses the less able you are to control them. And this is why learning impulse control is essential. It is one of the key skills I teach in the Drink Less Lifestyle program.

We have to learn to empower our prefrontal cortex so that we have impulse control. And when you practice this skill, it has been shown that it increases your prefrontal cortex mass. It increases the ability to make better decisions in the future. Learning impulse control gets you off of that massive emotional rollercoaster where you’re super high and super low. It comes back to control my friends. You’ve got to learn impulse control which helps you learn to control your drinking, which helps you to control your emotions better.

My anger is not nearly as bad as it was five years ago. I’m not as emotionally labile as I used to be. Now, that’s not to say I don’t get angry. It’s just not off the charts where I throw things. I’m able to utilize this skill, I handle my anger better. I handle my relationship with my daughter better. I’m able to handle her unique challenges and see new solutions that weren’t available to my brain before because it was caught up in the impulsivity. It was caught up in the oh my gosh, I need to react rather than respond.

When you can implement these skills, you’re no longer in reaction mode. You’re no longer yelling, and screaming, and doing the things, and drinking just out of control. What this does is allow you to give you that space and that ability to respond the way you want to. It’s a skill that has really helped stop living for that instant gratification, that instant next hit and go after gains that lead to my long term benefit. And we know impulse control is a good thing, delayed gratification is what gets us the successful life we want and takes us to our results.

And we can even look at the Stanford marshmallow experiment back in 1972 where they studied kids who either ate their reward, their marshmallow early on or who waited, delayed gratification, and ate the marshmallows later on in the study. And if we look at the children who were willing to delay gratification, they ended up having higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills and overall better life measures.

I love teaching my daughter these skills about delayed gratification and impulse control. I want her to be equipped with this as early as she can because here’s the thing, if we constantly give in to instant gratification, we’re never going to lead the life we want. We’re not going to be able to control our relationships with ourselves to show up as the person we want to, whether it be at work or in our personal lives. And this hurts the brain, this doesn’t allow us to execute the way we were optimally designed.

And when we don’t feel optimal, we’re going to complain about how lousy we feel, how lazy we feel, how unmotivated we feel, and we’re just going to keep dreaming about the things we want rather than going out and doing the things we want.

So, my friends, to get the skill of impulse control we’ve got to create buy-in for ourselves and stop using ultimatums as a way to motivate us. It doesn’t work. We need to be able to look at the triggers and notice why they’re triggers and how to deconstruct them, so they no longer trigger us leading to us taking more impulsive action.

And finally, looking at those dopamine hits and if they keep coming from these concentrated substances like alcohol, we’re only promoting that circuitry in the brain even more. We’re not pruning it, we’re promoting it, it’s growing. It’s staying active and alive and it’s going to be harder and harder to break it. And who wouldn’t want to learn these tools? Because they get you to the weight you want to be, they create the relationships with food, and alcohol, and all the things in your life where you can start to feel amazing again.

Alright my friends, this is one of the most valuable skills you can teach yourself is impulse control. It will serve you in your life a multitude of times over and over. This one skill has allowed me to make better decisions in my life and that’s what I want for you. Okay my friends, thank you for joining me this week and I’ll see you next week.

Thanks for listening to the Drink Less Lifestyle. If you’re ready to change your relationship with alcohol, check out my free guide, How to Effectively Break the Overdrinking Habit at sherryprice.com/startnow. That’s sherryprice.com/startnow. I’ll see you next week.

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