ADHD, Impulsivity, and Ouch Moments

According to Hallowell and Ratey’s book Driven to Distraction, a symptom of ADHD can be impulsivity – or not a planned course of action. Certain things are conducted as the result of an impulse, and therefore are done “without thinking.”


I like many people tend to think of the negatives associated with impulsivity, although there are times when impulsivity can be a positive thing. Many creative endeavors may have begun with an impulsive thought or action and turned into something wonderful. In the field of Psychology, we hear about the benefits of functionally impulsive individuals and how they can quickly take advantage of unexpected opportunities, think on their feet, and are mentally agile.

Then there is the dysfunctional impulsive. According to Adrian Furnham, Ph.D., “These people say whatever comes into their heads without thinking first.  They make appointments without checking they can honour them.  They buy things before considering whether they can afford them.  They jump in, just do it before considering difficulties, implications, pros and cons.”


And it is this last bit that I can relate to…

Last summer I was playing rec softball. I had not played for a long time, but was asked by some friends and decided why not. Although my skills in the sport are average, they needed someone who could at least get in front of a ball when fielding and take something resembling a swing when hitting. Check both boxes.

Fast forward to a warm summer evening. I hit a double and am on second base. I’m feeling good. The next batter hits a line drive past the second baseman, and I am on my way to third. At first I thought, “I’ll make it no problem.” But then I hear and see my teammates emploring me to get there fast as the ball was quickly on it’s way from the outfield.

This is where things get a little blurry in my mind. I remember sprinting toward third base. I remember seeing the third baseman reach out his glove to catch the oncoming ball. I remember beginning to slide into third base like it was game 7 of the World Series, and everything depended on me getting there safe.

What I forgot was I really didn’t care if we won or lost. What I forgot was me being out there to have some fun, do something different, and play a sport I hadn’t played in a while.

What I forgot was that I had shorts on, and the infield was not so much a soft dirt pad but a hard layer of gravel. Add to that fact I really had no business sliding because of my utter lack of skill in this area, and I was looking at a painful situation. I heard a collective gasp from pretty much everyone participating or watching, and I knew I had made a mistake. I looked down, and saw the beads of blood begin to pop up on my skin.

As the game progressed, my leg began to hurt a bit more, and bleed a bit more. I went home after our second game (of course we had a double-header, and I couldn’t back out!), and tried to tend to my new wound. Let’s just say showering wasn’t fun. The next few weeks (yes, weeks) weren’t fun either as sleepless nights and a trip to urgent care led to a life a little less active for a while.


This brings me to my point of impulsivity. When looking back on the scene, I couldn’t understand what it was that led me to think sliding on gravel with shorts on was a good idea. That is the point…I didn’t think. I had thought about a lot of other things throughout the game, but when that moment came it was as if all rational thought escaped my brain and I had to slide no matter what.

I had created planned courses of action in almost every other situation. Heck, I may have even thought about what to do right before that line drive to the outfield was hit and I was leaving for third base. But in that instant everything went to instinct, and my instinct was wrong. I paid the price, and still have the proof of what impulsivity can do in the form of a scar.

So what did I learn? With impulsivity, there isn’t always a reason why. Or sometimes it’s the most illogical reason and we do it anyway. What else did I learn? That as a personal trainer, when I discuss with my clients that many times sports and health are NOT the same thing, I have experienced just that.

Tune in next time for that topic.