Impulsiveness is defined by the tendency to act on a whim, with little or no forethought, reflection, or consideration of the consequences. Impulsive actions are typically impediments to long term goals and success as impulsive action will always get in the way of things needed to get done in order to achieve long-term goals.
While a certain amount of impulsiveness is a function of a normal personality, extreme or constant compulsion is a symptom of many mental disorders, such as ADHD, borderline personality disorder, and bipolar disorder. Excessively impulsive behavior has also been shown in brain injuries and neurodegenerative diseases. Science knows that the frontal lobe plays a part in controlling impulses, spontaneity and sexual behavior (along with judgement, motor function, working memory, and a host of other functions). However, impulsive behavior is not controlled solely by the frontal lobe as it can result in several combination of factors within different networks of the brain. Studies have also pointed to lower levels of the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) as one of the culprits for excessive impulsiveness. GABA is (the most) important inhibitory neurotransmitter and is involved in regulating self-control.
Studies have shown that meditation for just as little as 12 minutes a day can help control impulsiveness. Brain imaging studies have shown that meditation results in an increase in activity in the frontal cortex. The heightened activity in the frontal lobe of the brain is what is science thinks is responsible for the increased self-control and decrease in impulsiveness. Meditation also heightens activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and the prefrontal cortex. That may explain why people who meditate habitually are happy, emotionally stable, and have increased attention span and memory recall.
As someone who has ADHD, this is great news. I am always looking for alternatives to taking medication. Although medication does help, it does alter my mood and make me quite fatigued mentally. So if you have problems with impulsion, maybe give meditation a try. Start out slowly with a few minutes each day and try gradually increase your time.
The brain is amazing. It can wire and rewire itself in ways that science never thought it would or could. And although meditation has been around for thousands of years, science has only begun to discover its many uses in aiding brain function.