Instant Decision Making: Are you impulsive or spontaneous?

 ‘Somewhere in your career, your work changes. It becomes less anal, less careful and more spontaneous, more to do with the information that your soul carries.’
Ben Kingsley

Looking at Values.

The media is rife with scandal at the moment. The drama that arises out of others’ misdeeds, damaging mistakes, personal dysfunctions and lousy decision-making might make for juicy and tantalising reading, viewing or listening. But how does this serve life or further our evolution as a species?

We might have noticed in our personal lives the chaos and unhappiness that can result from snap decisions driven by life-negating beliefs and values – in short, by our impulsiveness. Companies who use old paradigm, manipulative marketing strategies thrive on such human shortcomings by offering us impulse-purchases in the hope of stimulating our moment-to-moment consumption. This plays to the thoughtlessness that besets most of us from time to time. So we find ourselves behaving in ways that ultimately cause disappointment and detract from our overall happiness and well-being.

Whilst taking steps to improve our mindfulness might help to reduce our impulsiveness, there are additional approaches we can adopt to improve quick-fire decision making. These are incremental shifts that move us from impulsiveness to spontaneity.

The shift

What’s the difference between impulsiveness and spontaneity and why is spontaneity more desirable?

Here are some ideas:

Impulsiveness is:

  • Destructive
  • Something that springs from egoic desire
  • Off track
  • A knee jerk reaction to conditioning
  • Fearful, angry
  • Ungrounded
  • A lack of or misplaced faith – recklessness
  • Entangling
  • Chaos creating
  • Unauthentic
  • Reacting to wants/desire

Spontaneity is:

  • Creative
  • Something that springs from an intuitive nudge or Divine Will
  • In the flow
  • Joyful, peaceful
  • From a sound base of groundedness
  • Faith based, trusting
  • Liberating
  • Supporting of order and simplicity, although may also appear messy.
  • Authentic
  • Responding to needs.


We might be looking at taking steps in various ways to improve our life situation – a new job or a move to self-employment, new home, new relationships. Any changes we intend to implement on this level, however well orchestrated, will only feel fulfilling and meaningful, I would suggest, if they emanate from intentions and motivations that spring from the heart, the wellspring of human life – our humanity.

 Last year at about this time I asked the question: ‘If we were to make ‘life’ a defining value in our lives in place of ‘money’, what would we be doing differently?’

Alignment with Nature.

We might look to the natural world for some inspiration to assist us with this question. Nature, of course, makes life a defining value. And nature, rather than plan well in advance, tends to respond spontaneously in the moment to whatever events are affecting and influencing it, be they related to food supply, weather or environmental changes, or changes in relationship with other beings. As human beings, I’ve noticed we don’t tend to pay so much attention to spontaneity, preferring to be in our heads and plan ahead, with the occasionally diversion into impulsiveness. Perhaps because of confusion between impulsiveness and spontaneity, spontaneity can be perceived as rather frivolous, superficial and maybe unprofessional when it comes to making use of it in our working lives, for example. To my mind, however, impulsiveness and spontaneity are two quite different processes and there is a very clear distinction energetically.

When we consider many of the problems in our society that lead to unsustainable behaviour, they are mostly related to man’s assumptions around being entitled to plunder the earth’s resources, rather than reverently living within its means. Impulsiveness, for me, originates in this paradigm, whereas spontaneity is all about being in alignment with the natural world, including our own hearts and living and working from this viewpoint. Spontaneity, I would suggest, arises naturally from being on a continually proactive path of alignment with this kind of sustainability. It arises when we make life the defining value, rather than materialism. Impulsiveness might start out on the same path, but very quickly begins to react, rather than respond, to events around it thus quickly leading it off track and heading into darker territory.

Watching Feelings.

Clues that we’re being impulsive could include: general feelings of anxiety, disappointment, chaos, discontent, feeling scattered and inconsistent, heightened excitement followed by depression.

Clues that we’re being spontaneous could include: feelings of ease, contentment, joy (rather than excitement), peace of mind.

When we notice these feelings – signposts pointing to whether we’re making decisions based on impulsiveness or spontaneity – one suggestion might be that we refer to the 2 lists above and ask ourselves questions such as:

Is this move destructive or creative?

Am I in the flow or off track?

Do I feel fearful and angry around this decision or faithful and trusting?

Am I reacting to my wants and desires or responding to my needs?

In  my experience, the answers to these and similar questions point, in the moment, to a spontaneous and life-serving route forward. By simply tuning into our feelings around a situation that calls for a quick decision, we re-align with what is most likely to serve us.


6 Responses to Instant Decision Making: Are you impulsive or spontaneous?

  1. Tess Giles Marshall February 15, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

    Sally – one of your best posts ever. Brilliant analysis of the differences between impulsiveness and spontaneity – I’d never even thought of the differences between the two. Thanks for this!

  2. Sally February 15, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    Thanks for the encouragement,Tess, especially since I found it quite a challenge to write!

  3. Alison Clayton-Smith February 16, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    Agreed, a really interesting post and fits with something I’m working on at the moment personally. I often say yes, I’ll do that and then feel anxious about it after. Your distinction between excitement (which is what I tend to go on) and joy is really helpful. I shall keep coming back and reflecting on this post.

  4. Sally February 16, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

    Alison – thanks for sharing your response. it might be enlightening to explore your deeper motivations for saying yes. Some common ones I’m aware of that can lead to impulsiveness are: seeking to please others or gain their approval, avoiding conflict or complexity, idealism (i.e unrealistic expectations of ones capabilities or time and energy required for the task.) Often these arise from conditioned behaviour patterns, so mindfulness required to bring them up into awareness. And you know all about mindfulness! :)

  5. Sally Branch March 21, 2013 at 11:03 am #

    I love this, thank you Sally. Yours is one of the most inspirational blogs I’m signed up to, and I’m signed up to a few :-)
    I have only recently recognised the tendency in my own life towards impulsiveness, and what to do about it. I’m learning, for example, that rather than responding to a situation immediately or not at all, I can take time to think through and come to realise what i want to say and do. And that also helps me see the other’s perspective more clearly! And I have learned to respect my need to take this time, and to refuse to be rushed!

  6. Sally March 21, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    Lovely to read your words of encouragement, Sally.

    I can certainly relate to ‘refusing to be rushed’. For me, that call to rush often arises from within me, rather than originating with anyone else, if I’m honest. It took me a while to realise that it’s possible to make an ‘instant’ decision without feeling rushed. Seems paradoxical, doesn’t it?

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