The past month has made me much more aware of impulse control. It is something that causes issues, not to mention difficulties explaining things to others. To many, it looks like I spend money without thinking, to the detriment of myself and others. While I see the purchases as important to my wellbeing, they often aren’t, but that is another matter. So let’s take a look at some of the issues I encounter, the difficulties I face when it comes to restraints, and how I plan to improve the way I handle impulse purchases.
Impulse control is often an issue for people on the spectrum. It doesn’t always display as a low bank balance and a flurry of Amazon packages at the door. It can manifest in many forms, from food to gadgets and in extreme forms of addictions like drinking, gambling and drugs. That is not to say that all people on the spectrum will experience such extreme impulse issues, or for that matter any impulse control at all. It is simply another aspect of autism that is often experienced by people on the spectrum.
With that covered, I want to start with the types of impulse control I experience. As people who have been reading this blog for any length of time will know, I was first diagnosed with autism when I was drinking more than a fish. While my drinking is now under control, I still experience unhealthy habits that cause me both physical and financial difficulties. Currently, smoking is the issue that hits the hardest. If I don’t have a cigarette, or I run out, I will start smoking “dog ends” (hand rolled tobacco from my used cigarettes). While smoking is addictive, the impulse control manifests itself in the lengths I will go to in order to smoke, regardless of the physical or mental feelings it brings on. On the less extreme side of things, my bank balance bears witness to how bad I am at not controlling my spending. In the last year I have brought countless video games without even thinking about it (or because I know other people playing them), a manscaping kit (just don’t ask), more adult toys than are strictly usable by one person, subscriptions to the most random apps and an alarming amount of underwear… Do I need these things? Not really, I just see them and my brain tells me that I need them. Often disregarding important factors like the fact I have a bunch of them at home that I’ve never used, or that I don’t have the money for things.
So what kind of barriers am I facing? Oddly enough, peer pressure isn’t one of them. While I am often finding myself wanting what other people have, it isn’t because they are actively pushing me into making a purchase. It is entirely internal, and the people don’t actually factor much into the equation. The biggest issue I have is social media (I’m looking at you Facebook and Instagram). Meta products in particular are very good at selling products that really aren’t needed. If you spend any time at all near one of the “sponsored posts” the system then shows you adverts for similar products. Even when you click the ignore button, you’ll be asked why you chose to ignore it, which just gives them more data about your habits. To make matters worse, for the most part they bypass any kind of ad blocker that you may have installed as they are “promoted posts” and are designed to appear as standard posts which are allowed by the ad block. If you’re on social media it is impossible, to avoid the adverts and for someone with impulse control it is pretty much hell. There are similar issues with apps on the phone, most ad blocks there are designed for browsers, and even the ones that do interact with apps struggle to filter out the myriad of different ways that they are presented. I understand that companies need to highlight their products and social media companies need to make money, however the approach is extremely challenging for those that may have an addiction or impulse control.
Free trials. You know the ones I mean, the ones that let you try out a service but only if you set up a recurring subscription. What harm could a free trial of Duolingo do? When my bank declines the payment, because I have forgotten that I only had 7 days free, you just see how sarcastic their mascot Duo becomes. Outside the free trials, the scheduling of recurring subscriptions can be frustrating, partly because it can be tough to keep on top of what goes out when, and also due to forgetting that you actually have a subscription. Just like adverts on social media, it’s worth pointing out that while this is very frustrating, it is all standard practice and an effective way of bringing in new customers. It isn’t helpful for people who struggle to manage money or who have impulse control issues, but it isn’t actually against the rules. A way the system could be improved is by not requiring payment details to participate in the free trial (but then they wouldn’t make so much money from people who forget to cancel).
There are a few things that do help me to manage my impulse control. From a purchasing side, when I am unable to sign in to a website (usually for technical reasons), or when a payment declines (usually for authentication reasons), I often find myself choosing not to complete the transaction. At least until the next time I see the advert that led me to the site initially. Having a bank account that budgets for me is a huge help. Each month they set money aside into a different account that I can’t touch, making sure that bills paid by direct debit are always covered, regardless of the amount on my card. Of course, this doesn’t factor into account payments made via card (e.g. Discord), but it does make things a little easier. I find that being aware of my triggers can be useful too. Am I tired? Then I try to avoid situations where I am likely to spend. Is it payday and my bank balance is full? Give it a day or two to allow for other transactions to go out or to allow myself to buy important things like food. Another thing I have tried to do recently is to remove all payment details from autofill services (either provided with the browser or via my password manager), this means that I have to physically get the card in order to complete a transaction. Does this help? A little, but not as much as I’d like. Being more aware of things does give me a foundation to build on, keeping it under control is another matter.
Do you have suggestions on how you tame your impulse control? Feel free to leave ideas in the comments.