Managing our Impulses: A Call to Action

In the world of marketing, a Call to Action (CTA) is the part of an advertisement where the viewer/reader/listener is asked to do something – call this number, visit this website, buy this thingy on Amazon.

We are bombarded with CTAs, and we often tune them out.

But CTAs don’t just come from the media. Our brains do a fabulous job of continually presenting us with CTAs, also known as impulses.

I recently participated in an interesting discussion of ADHD and impulsiveness in the Facebook group for the Big Self School.

One member of the group posted the following question:

I have ADHD and I thrive on spontaneous experiences. However, I've recently discovered many of my ideas may not be the best, most informed decisions ever made. How do you go about making sure your ideas/decisions are a good idea?

My son has ADHD and is a bundle of impulses. He is also a bundle of laughter, love, empathy, and joy. I wouldn’t change a thing about him.

For example…

Mom: “Son, when you use the last of the toilet paper, you must replace the roll.”

Son: “Okay, Mom.” *twinkle in eye*

Five minutes later…

Image is a toilet with a pyramid of toilet paper rolls on the tank.

When should we follow our impulses or ignore them?

Impulses are not inherently wicked. Some of my greatest successes have been a result of following a CTA.

However, if we followed every CTA our brains (or the media) delivered to us, we’d get nothing done. So, how do we decide when to react and when to ignore the impulse?

Follow the impulse when:

  • It is consistent with your big-picture goals. This is assuming that you have set specific, measurable goals in the first place. If you haven’t, try this method.
  • You have discussed the idea with someone you trust (and who is preferably, more “down to earth” than you), and they agree that it is a reasonable course of action.
  • It causes no harm, takes little time, and brings joy to you and others (see toilet paper pyramid above).

Rethink an impulsive action when:

  • The impulse is masquerading as procrastination…even if it is a “noble” distraction.* If it takes you away from a task you should be finishing, recognize the impulse for what it is.
  • After taking a few minutes to think it through, the urge to follow the impulse fades. It is cognitively easier not to start something than it is to stop doing the thing once you are engaged in it.
  • The primary driver of the action is a “gut feeling.” That may work on cop shows but doesn’t tend to function optimally in real life.

I love spontaneity. My Myers-Briggs personality type (ENFP) indicates that I am a person who thrives on variety. Sometimes I will create variety just to keep things interesting. For example, when I drive somewhere, I almost always take a different route back home.

Learning productivity skills has not stifled my love for spontaneity nor my ability to be impulsive from time to time. Being systematic in some areas of my life has given me bandwidth to follow my bliss in other areas.

Setting goals every year, AND tracking my progress toward those goals, gives me comfort that I am not wandering aimlessly through my life and work. So, if there is a weekend when I want to, well, wander aimlessly, I can do it without guilt.

Managing my calendar as if my life depended on it means that I don’t have to worry that my son is going to be left waiting outside the aquatic center with no parent to pick him up. So, if I want to get a massage, I schedule one.

Downloading my brain onto my Outlook Tasks list lets me know that I am not going to forget what I need to do. And! If I finish my tasks for the day, I am free to follow my neurological impulses all the way to a lovely game of Spider Solitaire.

Calls to Action can be wonderful and transformative. But look at them as coffee beans. If eaten raw, a handful of coffee beans can cause unpleasant physical…issues.

But, when coffee beans are roasted, ground up, put in a filter, and passed over with hot water, they become something warm, delicious, and uplifting.

Just don’t forget the filter.

*Hat Tip to Jon Acuff’s hilarious and useful book, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done.

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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


  1. Darla Elam

    I just realized how susceptible I am to CTAs when following the command to submit a comment despite pressing demands elsewhere! Safe to say, a lot of this resonates with me, and I find that I just can’t put Melissa Gratias away as she always seems to offer a little nugget of wisdom and insight. Besides, dagnabbit, people need to be appreciated.

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Darla! I’m dying here. Bwwaahahahaha! Thank you. Needed this. Breathing. Onward..

  2. Bonnie

    What a great article. I often want to fall for shiny objects but I bookmark them, sleep on it and buy or not and then move on.

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Bookmarking…good strategy!

    • Melanie

      I really appreciate your take on this! Filtering, creating, editing, whatever you want to call it. It’s really important to remember that there is a way to make this concept work for everyone despite your personality type. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Toni Carrigan

    Absolutely awesome! This is such a struggle for me but you’ve listed so many great ideas on how to handle my impulses. It’s also wonderful knowing that these struggles don’t have to keep me, or others, from living a full, and responsible, life.

  4. Diane N. Quintana

    Great insights, Melissa! I really love your comment that if something takes little time, does no harm and brings joy – why not? (love the toilet paper pyramid). We all have to have a chuckle now and then, don’t you think?

    I don’t often get pulled away by random CTAs. I am a scheduler, a follower of tasks and mini-goals set for the day, and I love to see my ‘to-do’s done.

  5. Jamie Steele

    I love the reminder that you can be sponateous and keep track of a calendar at the same time.

  6. Sheri Steed

    I have two children with attention deficits, so this one hit home for me. You’ve inspired me to greater research on the topic.

  7. Seana Turner

    I’m laughing about the “noble distraction.” It is so easy to see this in other people for what it is, but then we turn around and defend our own similar behavior. Feelings and instincts are real, but I love that you point out that they should not always dictate our actions. Sometimes we need to push through, other times we need to stop and redirect.

  8. Sabrina Quairoli

    Great tips to help with focus and stay on track! I just created a list for a new home improvement project that my husband and I are doing in my college son’s room. Since he is away at college, it is a perfect time to do this. Most of the time, my husband will keep all these steps in his head and rethink them continuously. I rather have it on paper. So, this morning, he gave me a gift…a gift of a to-do list for my son’s room project. It was great! While there was a little, “see all the tasks we have to do” snarkiness going on when I received the list. I didn’t care. It was on paper, and we could manage it with all the other work we are doing. =) I added a few detailed steps to the list for me so I could get it off my brain too. =)

  9. Hazel Thornton

    Ha ha….I read your post (which was actually on my to-do list for today) right after falling down an impulsive candy corn research rabbit hole. Well, I guess it caused no harm, took little time, and brought me joy. 😉 I’m an organizer, so I know all the goals/scheduling/tracking stuff. But I haven’t been doing it lately. I need to get back to the “finish my tasks for the day”, THEN “follow my neurological impulses” routine. Thanks for the nudge!

  10. Janet Barclay

    This goes hand-in-hand with shiny object syndrome, where a new idea is the shiny object. I constantly remind myself that giving into those distractions is rarely the best use of my time and energy, unless it happens to tie in with a current objective. If it doesn’t, I’ll make note of the idea to consider in the future.


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