As chance would have it, I was recently asked to read another educational psychologist’s repot on another student. The report (expensive) stated that, among his many other problems, the student in question has “poor impulse control.” As I read it it sounds profound, wise, learned. They have run tests. They are obviously very sophisticated experts in the arena and they have identified his problem. It is impulse control. Impulse control? Impulse control!

Tell that to the 25 million Americans with an alcohol problem, to those who are eating themselves to death through morbid obesity, the smokers, the drug addicts, the gambling addicts, the philanderers, the politicians who can’t keep their hand out the till or their body parts out of their interns despite the potential to ruin a lucrative career, the people who drink more coffee than they feel they should, those who don’t exercise as often as they feel they should and even just those who don’t always go to bed when they know they should. To every golfer who has let doubt enter his /her mind just before swinging a club or “noticing” the water and allowing their mind to dwell on it rather than the fairway, to every jealous husband and every overly-indulgent mother, to every drunk driver. To every stressed student whose mind is wasting valuable attention on worry rather than processing the problem at hand. I don’t need to continue do I?

The problem with the report is that it misdirects valuable attention. The answer appears to require working on his impulse control when in reality it is the strength of the impulse he is experiencing that is the issue – just like for everybody else. Which impulse can you control more easily – the impulse to eat celery or the impulse to eat chocolate? Coincidence?

As the wise George Carlin said – children shouldn’t just be taught to read, they should be taught to read and question everything they read. And so should we. It’s hard for me to do justice to just how wrong, how misleading and how damaging these reports generally are. So hot tip – if you ever get one of these, know that experts can be wrong. That if they were always right then “experts” would never disagree and they disagree with each other all the time. So do give a little time over to attempting to see the reasons behind the reasons – always ask “is it true?” and “why” or send it to me and I’ll do it for you.