Portfolio of Hope

The other day I was thinking about spontaneity and impulsivity- two different words, one loaded with negative connotations, one with positive but, are they not one and the same?

To be called ‘spontaneous’, one would assume that they are being complimented. A fun, ‘happy go lucky’, ‘adventurous’ type of person. Whereas, to be called ‘impulsive’, less complimentary, I feel, more used to describe a character flaw, synonymous with being without responsibility, forethought or judgement…

My Mum tells me that I’m too impulsive- I don’t always think things through before I do them, and, I’d describe myself in this way, too. I’m incredibly impatient and when I have an idea of something that I want to do in my head, it becomes my obsession until I do it, all-consuming. Would I describe myself as being ‘spontaneous’, though? No, I don’t think I would…

In terms of the actual dictionary definitions of the two words (Cambridge Dictionary), ‘spontaneous’ means; ‘happening or done in a natural, often sudden way, without any planning or without being forced’, and, ‘impulsive’ means; ‘showing behaviour in which you do things suddenly without any planning and without considering the effects they may have.’ Sound the same, right? The act of doing something with the absence of any planning. The difference, however, can be the seen in the context that the words are used. Referring back to the Cambridge Dictionary definitions again, an example given of ‘spontaneous’ being used in a sentence; ‘His jokes seemed spontaneous, but were in fact carefully prepared beforehand’, and, ‘She’s such a spontaneous, lively woman.’ Very approving, positive uses of the word. In contrast, the examples given of ‘impulsive’ being used in a sentence, again, as provided by Cambridge Dictionary… ‘Don’t be so impulsive – think before you act’, and, ‘an impulsive man/decision/gesture.’ The context of which is quite clearly not positive.

But, why? Why, for two words which, ultimately, mean the same thing- to do something without planning- do we attach such different connotations to them?

My belief? Because ‘impulsivity’- acting impulsively- and poor mental health have seemingly become interchangeable, with ‘impulsivity’ being considered a ‘symptom’ of many mental health issues/neuro divergency. It is therefore seen as a negative– a flaw– to explain why something has turned out badly (because, in being impulsive, there is no consideration of the consequences of doing said ‘thing’, which is often high risk). For example, cutting my hair on impulse, only to regret it later (‘regret’ being the key word here- I think lots of things that are said to be done on ‘impulsive’ are, later, perceived as being a regret)… This is in stark contrast to ‘spontaneity’- acting spontaneously- which is more likely to be used as a positive descriptor of someone’s behaviour, to describe something positive. For example, booking a holiday ‘spontaneously,’ and having the best time ever.’ No regret involved. Painting someone in a positive light.

And so, you see? Although the meanings behind the words are the same, the context in which they are used vastly differs. An important reminder, not just where these two words are concerned, but for life in general-

It’s all about context…

One response to “Spontaneity VS Impulsivity: Same Difference?”

  1. Fantastic article! The information you provide is useful. Thank you for sharing!

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