Take small steps to curb those must-have impulses

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Perhaps you were born or raised to be an instant gratification junkie. If you are really motivated, however, you can change that. Here are some tips you might consider.

1. Try doing nothing, says advice columnist April Masini. When you crave something, delay your decision for five minutes. Next time, delay it for 10 minutes. “Other thoughts will occur to you besides your desire, and some of them may make more sense than the desire does.” You’ll also learn that impulses do pass.

2. If you buy something the minute you decide you want it, make it harder to do. If Internet shopping is your problem, get new credit card numbers and disable tools that allow you to buy something with one click of the mouse. It gives you time to think. New York therapist Kiki Weingarten asks her clients to go into stores without money or credit cards, so they can learn that the “must-have” feeling doesn’t have to be indulged every time. The feeling passes, and they’ll likely forget what it was they wanted so much.

3. Edward Dreyfus, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, suggests tweaking the issues in your life, since trying to do too much too soon begets failure. Make a small change and experience the success. If you always indulge your sweet tooth, instead of pledging to cut out all sweets forever – which will lead to a binge – start by having dessert only for dinner, not lunch, every other day. After a few weeks, make it no dessert every day.

4. Remember that even though you won’t lose a size in a few days, you’ll feel better once you add some kind of movement to your life. There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with effort, which is an immediate payoff. After a couple of even short workouts, you’ll start feeling more energized. Those results come quickly, and they’ll lead to the trimmer physique that takes longer to achieve.

5. It’s worth noting the mantra that some 12-step support groups use: “Don’t quit before the miracle happens.” Say you’ve been sticking to a healthy food routine for days without weight loss. Tell yourself: “How would I feel if I gave up today, when tomorrow could be the day I’ll start seeing numbers drop on the scale?”

6. M.J. Ryan, life coach columnist for Health magazine, explains that we have a thinking part of our brain (the neocortex) and a feeling part (the amygdala, which encourages immediate pleasure). She advises people to keep the “feeling” of what they want alive from moment to moment, so the amygdala is engaged. For instance, she had one client hang a little black dress that no longer fit in her bathroom, where she’d see it each day. She’d say, “I will wear you again.” When tempted by doughnuts, she’d think, “Little black dress.”

7. The ever-growing balance on Americans’ credit cards points to our problem with impulsive purchasing, instead of saving for tomorrow. Jay Seaton, president of Consumer Credit Counseling Services for Northeast Ohio, advises that you shop with a carefully selected buddy – not someone who’s an enabler, but someone who will remind you of your long-term goals, or even someone unafraid of saying, “Actually, I don’t think that dress is all that flattering” or “I don’t think it’s worth that price.”

8. Another slice of advice from Seaton: Take emotion out of the impulse process by thinking of yourself as a small business, rather than as a consumer. “When you want to buy something, think to yourself, “Will this help me maximize my net worth over time?”‘

Evelyn Theiss is a staff writer for The Plain Dealer of Cleveland. She can be contacted at etheiss@plaind.com.

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