Our society places a lot of emphasis on planning. In elementary school, we are asked what we want to be when we grow up. In middle and high school, there are entire elective classes devoted to making plans for college and beyond. In college, we throw around the terms “five-year plan” and “ten-year plan” more often than we throw back shots. Our goal is to prepare ourselves for every moment and lead a nearly scripted life, which is not inherently bad, but ignores and stigmatizes one of the coolest things humans are capable of. The impulse decision.
I may not seem like the ideal person to sing the praises of impulse decisions, considering I have severe anxiety and carry around a color-coded weekly planner everywhere I go. However, the few times that I am impulsive, it has led to some incredible situations so far. I applied to JMU on an impulse, two days before the application was due, and have had the happiest and most fulfilling two years of my life so far. I decided to audition for the campus show choir on an impulse and realized how much I had missed having music and dance as parts of my daily life. I’ve skipped class on an impulse (sorry, mom), turning around right as I’ve reached the building, and promptly experiencing a beautiful day on the quad (and petting more than a few dogs in the process, which is objectively better than Theories of Communication). These, however, are singular anecdotes; what else can be said for impulse decisions?
An impulsive desire is completely unmoderated. We’ve stigmatized impulses because they haven’t been filtered, haven’t had their pros and cons weighed against each other, haven’t been judged and rationally decided upon. It is very rare that our impulses take into account the effect they will have on other people, and so we tend to view all impulses as selfish and lump them in with the ones that are violent, hurtful, or harmful (which should absolutely not be acted upon). But why do we tamp down our self-contained impulses? The desire to tell your barista you love her eyeliner, or to sign up for intramural soccer, or to pick that flower growing in the sidewalk crack? People, myself very much included, prefer to stick to a rigid plan because it provides security. We make ourselves resist impulses because we have no idea what will come of them: if the barista will sneer and tell you to get lost; if you’ll hate everyone on the team; if picking that flower makes you late to class. We are thinking three steps ahead, and there simply isn’t room for sudden variation.
But, though impulses are selfish, that also means that they provide personal happiness. Seeing your barista blush and smile; getting a chance to play a sport you’ve loved since middle school; simply carrying around a piece of nature for the rest of the day. Strong impulses are indicators of strong personal desire, whether or not you are consciously aware of it. Your mind is breaking through your filter and your rational decision-making processes to scream “THIS IS WHAT I WANT.” That’s powerful. And when it’s harmless, it is good.
So compliment your barista. Sign up for soccer. Pick that flower. Obey these small but strong desires, and don’t be afraid to make your day better.