How a Lack of Impulse Control Is Hurting Donald Trump -- and Could Hurt Your Business, Too
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Whether you love or hate Donald Trump, there’s one thing you cannot deny: His lack of impulse control is costing him dearly.
Related: 7 Signs Your CEO Needs to Grow Up
The most recent indicator is this past weekend's Washington Post revelations: Trump (in what he later defended as mere "lockerroom" banter) with then-Access Hollywood reporter Billy Bush, picked up by a live mic, discussing how and where he would grope beautiful women, simply because . . . well, he could.
But those revelations were hardly an isolated incident. Consider Trump's previous 3 a.m. Twitter rants, his name-calling and the fact that during the first presidential debate, he interrupted his opponent Hillary Clinton more than 50 times.
In short, it seems that the GOP candidate for president simply cannot help himself, and that's become one of the greatest threats to his candidacy. Before the first presidential debate, according to the political website FiveThirtyEight.com, Clinton had only a small lead, with a 55 percent chance of being elected. But that percentage jumped to 72 percent just after the debate; and in the subsequent week, her lead rose as high as 80 percent (equating to 5 percent to 6 percent of the popular vote).
Next to come will be this week's polls, post-Trump tape, post-second debate, and they may well be even worse for the candidate -- considering not only his comments about abusing women but the reaction from his own party: a virtual stampede of GOP leaders away from his camp.
There's a reason for all this anti-Trump feeling, says Andrew Shatté, chief science officer at our company, meQuilibrium, which offers digital coaching to counterract employee stress.
“His lack of emotion regulation, his inability to contain his feelings and impulse control, and the ability to delay gratification are serious drags on his ability to bear up under stress,” Shatté says of Trump.
This problem isn't limited to politics, either. It can cost those leading companies, too. When you lack impulse control, hitting the brakes isn’t easy.
Certainly, we all are capable of losing our cool: Consider that in the first presidential debate, Clinton interrupted Trump 17 times, herself. And during the vice-presidential debate, Democratic candidate Tim Kaine interrupted the GOP's Mike Pence a less-than-impressive 70 times while Pence interrupted Kaine 40 times. (Let's face it: Courtesy was in short supply that night.)
So, yes, we all have our less than stellar moments. But making a habit of lacking impulse control can lead to too many instances of saying what you later regret and engaging in behaviors that get you into hot water. And that habit can hurt our resilience, not to mention affect our reputations. “We are not born with impulse control,” leadership coach and stress resilience expert Cynthia Ackrill, M.D., told me. “When we’re kids, we’re upset when we don’t get what we want. But, over time, we learn that following some impulses is not a good idea.”
The frontal lobe, which is responsible for impulse control, is the seat of executive function and rational thought. “And it’s more brakes than gas pedal,” says Ackrill. Meaning: The better your brakes, the more capable you are of stopping yourself from saying or doing things you’ll regret.
While the occasional blip in impulse control doesn’t signal a disorder, it’s worth noting that, as Psych Central reports, one in three adults in this country suffer from some kind of mental disorder (a total of more than 75 million people). And 10 percent of them struggle with impulse control. That's significant.
What these numbers tell us is that Trump is hardly the only one with this problem -- so chances are good that you have encountered someone like this in your workplace, too. If that's true, here's what to do:
How lack of impulse control could affect your office
When an employee lashes out, reacts emotionally or exhibits other unpredictable behavior, a culture of fear can be created -- and that can ramp up collective stress levels.
Anxiety and frustration are two of the most viral negative emotions, says science officer Shatté. “Someone in the workplace who fails to regulate these two emotions will infect others, and it will spread rampantly through an entire organization,” he says.
Jude Miller Burke, author of The Millionaire Mystique, echoes Shatté. “The ability to manage our emotions is key to creating a healthy work culture and managing employees,” says Miller Burke, a business psychologist and executive coach. A boss or coworker with impulse control issues makes others feel "unsafe,” she explains, making it difficult for others to focus on work, not to mention shutting down creativity, collaboration and trust.
What managers can do to keep this behavior in check
“If someone has thrown their computer against the wall or is blurting out inappropriate things, a referral to the employee assistance psychologist or human resources department is appropriate,” says Miller Burke. “Practice compassionate accountability by expressing support for whatever the employee says their issue is, but set firm limits about appropriate behavior at work.”
Also, she adds, be careful not to unwittingly “reward” bad behavior. Examples would include leaving the moody and angry person alone or letting a bully dominate meetings so that everyone else gives up and lets him have his way.
How to reduce your own risk
Chronic stress makes it harder to control our impulses. “It’s like riding your brakes down a steep mountain,” says Ackrill. “Sooner or later, they’re going to wear out.”
So, if you yourself have an impulse control issue, here are a few ways to practice impulse control and strengthen your brakes.
Tune in to your own behaviors. Do you say things that come back to bite you? Do you get upset easily and often? “Other signs of a lack of impulse control include overspending, overeating or anything else that’s not in your best interest,” says Ackrill.
Trap the feeling, map the thought. When you feel the urge to act out emotionally, acknowledge the sensation, and follow it back to the thought that initiated it. When you can train yourself to do this before you act, you can prevent doing things you’ll regret.
Get plenty of rest. It’s no surprise that the less sleep you get, the more emotionally reactive you'll be. Practice good "sleep hygiene": Shut off electronics an hour before bedtime, and create an evening ritual that relaxes you, whether it’s a hot bath, stretching or meditation.
Don’t take it on. When someone exhibiting a lack of control triggers you, remember that it’s not about you. “Recognize that this is their problem, not yours,” says Ackrill. “Take a deep breath and visualize a kind of virtual space suit around you that repels bad energy.”
Consider Plan B. You can’t change another person, but you can seek help if the situation becomes untenable. Escalate the issue to a manager, or re-route the call or refer the customer to someone else who can help. You must be aware of your own limits and be willing to ask for help so that you don’t wear out your own brakes, too.
The good news is that you can get better at it, and boost your own resilience as a result. “You can train and strengthen your ability to resist impulsive behavior,” says Miller Burke. “It just takes work.”