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When Thoughts Too Easily Become Actions

We all have some disconnect between what we think and what we do. Not every thought we have has to become an action.

This is good: it means we can reflect on our thoughts and choose the ones we want to make into reality. We can consider the consequences of possible actions, and filter out actions that might backfire in the end.

For people with ADHD, the problem is that thoughts often turn into actions quite easily. This is basically what impulsivity, a core symptom of ADHD, is about.

IdeaPeople with ADHD often fail to stop and consider the consequences of their actions. They tend to go for immediate rewards and do things right away rather than stopping to plan ahead. As a result, the gap between thought and action is smaller, and it leaves them less time to think about whether a potential action is really advisable.

For example, someone with ADHD might take on new commitments on the spur of the moment, without stopping to think about how those commitments will fit into their schedule. Or they might decide not to do something tedious but necessary, being immediately captivated by the thought of some more interesting activity without thinking through the effects of their decision.

The porous boundary between thought and action is evident in many different ADHD symptoms. People with ADHD are known for interrupting others in conversation, partly because of their tendency to immediately say whatever thought comes to mind without waiting for the appropriate moment. The same tendency can lead ADHDers to make insensitive comments before they’ve had a moment to realize the implications of what they’re going to say.

Another example: someone with ADHD might make life-altering decisions with relatively little contemplation. The thought of moving to a new place or switching to a new job pops into their mind, and they turn that thought into action in less time (and with less reflection) than most other people would.

The relatively narrow margin that people with ADHD leave between thought and action can have positive effects in the right situation. Some have argued that this impulsive nature is partly what makes people with ADHD more likely to become entrepreneurs and to take on high-risk-high-reward projects.

But in daily life, not knowing when a thought is better left as a thought, not an action, can cause all kinds of trouble. If you find yourself frequently making impulsive decisions that you regret, it’s helpful to recognize this tendency as an ADHD symptom.

You can’t just will yourself to be less impulsive, but if you know you’re prone to impulsive action in a specific area of life, you can set rules for yourself that govern your behavior in that area. For example, if you’ve impulsively switched jobs in the past, come up with a list of criteria that need to be met and a minimum amount of time to wait when you get the itch to shake up your work life again in the future.

The tendency for thoughts to transform into actions on a moment’s notice is a core feature of ADHD, so to some degree it’s one you just have to accept as part of your life. But you might find that recognizing how a variety of different behaviors all come back to (ADHD-related) impulsivity can shed light on recurring patterns across multiple areas of your life.

Image: Flickr/bartb_pt

When Thoughts Too Easily Become Actions

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2018). When Thoughts Too Easily Become Actions. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 26, 2019, from


Last updated: 20 Nov 2018
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