Instinct vs impulse

As I grow older and realize life is growing shorter, I give in to my impulses far more often than I should. Of course, when I was young, I was poor and didn’t have the money or time to buy that pretty pillow or the stack of books on Mayan history. I was forced to stop and consider alternatives, thus saving me from a lot of bad decisions. Those pillows really don’t match the cushion. I knew it at the time, but they were pretty.

But how does one differentiate impulse from instinct? I fell in love with my husband at first sight, and we’ve been together since we were teenagers. That had to be instinct, didn’t it? Knowing I needed to write was definitely instinct, growing out of my need to be heard even though I was ignored by all around me.

Impulses are often defined as bad—they’re an instantaneous urge that distracts, diverts, and wastes time and money. Instincts are defined as coming from experience: emotional, intellectual, even physical knowledge. Very often, we resist instinct because it’s telling us to do something that won’t be fun and will very likely be hard work—like writing a book which will eat up a year of my time.

But when I see something pretty that I really want, I still tell myself it’s instinct, that someday in the future that pillow/book/shirt will be just what I need. And because I’m a goal-driven, creative person, I almost always make that happen and regret it if I don’t follow the impulse. So how in heck do I differentiate?

How about you? Do you give in or resist impulse? (and googling dream houses when you’re supposed to be working is an impulse—I’m here to tell you!)

6 thoughts on “Instinct vs impulse”

  1. I think the only thing that can help us differentiate between instinct and impulse is age/maturity. And maybe I say that because I am of an age plus I was in the same boat as you meaning I didn’t have the funds to splurge on impulse when I was younger. So maybe that set up a pattern for me that I followed throughout my life. Or maybe I’m just not an impulse person!

  2. I am not sure there is truly a difference. This may be a matter of semantics. Both are “right-brain” driven. And the right brain doesn’t do fine-tuning.

    When you write you conquer the difficult job of balancing right and left brains. This is the only way you could ever create the way fiction writers do.

    I expect you use the same talent when your right-brain says “Do This!.” As for mistakes, you don’t publish your mistakes, because there are drafts, editing, proof-reading, etc. Shopping doesn’t allow for that.


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