Based on Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal's wildly popular course "The Science of Willpower," The Willpower Instinct is the first book to explain the new science of self-control and how it can be harnessed to improve our health, happiness, and productivity.
Informed by the latest research and combining cutting-edge insights from psychology, economics, neuroscience, and medicine, The Willpower Instinct explains exactly what willpower is, how it works, and why it matters. For example, readers will learn:
Willpower is a mind-body response, not a virtue. It is a biological function that can be improved through mindfulness, exercise, nutrition, and sleep.Willpower is not an unlimited resource. Too much self-control can actually be bad for your health.Temptation and stress hijack the brain's systems of self-control, but the brain can be trained for greater willpowerGuilt and shame over your setbacks lead to giving in again, but self-forgiveness and self-compassion boost self-control.Giving up control is sometimes the only way to gain self-control.Willpower failures are contagious–you can catch the desire to overspend or overeat from your friends–but you can also catch self-control from the right role models.In the groundbreaking tradition of Getting Things Done, The Willpower Instinct combines life-changing prescriptive advice and complementary exercises to help readers with goals ranging from losing weight to more patient parenting, less procrastination, better health, and greater productivity at work.
- Reading level: Ages 18 and up
- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Avery (December 29, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1583334386
- ISBN-13: 978-1583334386
- Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
practical, research-based solutions for improving self-control
The book’s 10 chapters reflect her 10-week course, written in an interesting and easy style, without any “academic pompousness”:
1. effective willpower – just noticing what’s happening is key
2. the willpower instinct – anything that puts a stress on your mind or body can sabotage self-control but too much willpower is stressful
3. self-control is like a muscle – it gets tired from use but regular exercise makes it stronger
4. why being good encourages bad behavior – we use past good behavior to justify indulgences
5. why we mistake wanting for happiness – even false promises of reward make us feel alert and captivated, so we chase satisfaction from things that don’t deliver
6. how feeling bad leads to giving in – self-compassion is a far better strategy than beating ourselves up
7. we discount both future rewards and future costs – we consistently act against our own long-term interests and we illogically believe our future selves will (magically) have more willpower
8. why willpower is contagious – humans are hardwired to connect and we mimic and mirror both willpower failures and willpower successes of our social network
9. inner acceptance improves outer control – attempts to fight instincts and desires ironically make them worse
10. final thoughts – the aha moment
Each chapter makes use of fascinating paradoxes to dispel common misconceptions about self-control. While I preferred the deeper “Willpower” by Tierney and Baumeister (who has studied contradictory human behavior for decades), this book is way ahead of any others I’ve read on the subject, for its wide range of down-to-earth and practical strategies for greater success.
(Note: the paperback and kindle versions are called “Maximum Willpower”)
At last – a really helpful self-help book for me
Not so with this book.
While the book offers the regular mix of science, personal experiences and tips, it’s more down-to-earth than other books I have read. Maybe that’s because it’s based on a course that actually dealt with people going through the motions described in this book.
Usually, I read a book, highlight what I think makes sense and move on without incorporating what I just noted. In this case, I’m remembering on a daily basis what the author wrote and implementing her suggestions. It might actually be the last self-help book I ever read.
highly recommend this book
I’ve already recommended the book to a number of my friends and family members and am happy to do the same here.
The writing is clear and funny, the research is interesting and accessible, and the exercises are really useful. Highly recommend!
A Game Changer-I’d give 10 stars if I could!
Putting down the book presented a willpower challenge
As the above evidence suggests, I can’t rave enough about this book. It’s a gem, it’s a god-send, and it’s just that good. You’ll have to read for yourself to see what all this gushing is about, but for now, here’s a small sampling in the form of the titles’ chapters with the author Kelly’s big idea summary of each:
***Chapter 1: I Will, I Won’t, I Want–What Willpower Is, and Why It Matters
Willpower is actually three powers–I will, I won’t, and I want–that help us to be a better version of ourselves.
***Chapter 2: The Willpower Instinct–Your Body Was Born to Resist Cheesecake
Willpower is a biological instinct, like stress, that evolved to help protect ourselves from ourselves.
***Chapter 3: Too Tired to Resist–Why Self-Control Is Like a Muscle
Self-control is like a muscle. It gets tired from use, but regular exercise makes it stronger.
***Chapter 4: License to Sin–Why Being Good Gives Us Permission to Be Bad
When we turn willpower challenges into measures of moral worth, being good gives us permission to be bad. For better self-control, forget virtue, and focus on goals and values.
***Chapter 5:The Brain’s Big Lie–Why We Mistake Wanting for Happiness
Our brains mistake the promise of reward for a guarantee of happiness, so we chase satisfaction from things that do not deliver.
***Chapter 6: What the Hell–How Feeling Bad Leads Us to Giving In
Feeling bad leads to giving in, and dropping guilt makes you stronger.
***Chapter 7: Putting the Future on Sale–The Economics of Instant Gratification
Our inability to see the future clearly leads us into temptation and procrastination.
***Chapter 8: Infected!—Why Willpower is Contagious
Self-control is influenced by social proof, making both willpower and temptation contagious.
***Chapter 9: Don’t Read This Chapter–The Limits of “I Won’t” Power
Trying to suppress thoughts, emotions, and cravings backfires and makes you feel more likely to think, feel, or do the thing you most want to avoid.
***Chapter 10: Final Thoughts
If there is a secret for greater self-control, the science points to one thing: the power of paying attention…Self-awareness is the one “self” you can always count on to help you do what is difficult, and what matters most.
Needless to say, I was enthralled and captivated throughout this book. Kelly’s down-to-earth delivery of the essential insights of psychology, biology, neuroscience, and economics is beyond out-of-this-world. But, she doesn’t just share the findings; she provides ways for you to see and do for yourself. Sprinkled throughout her discussions are “Under the Microscope” and “Willpower Experiment” features of this book which provide many personalized opportunities for gaining self-awareness and experimenting with new strategies to help you address your own willpower challenges–be it over-eating, over-drinking, over-spending, over-thinking, over-indulging, over-Facebooking, under-doing, or perhaps even over-reading at red lights.
In the introduction, Kelly shares her hopes that: “If this book did nothing else but help you see that common humanity of your willpower struggles, I would be happy. But I hope that it will do far more, and that the strategies in this book will empower you to make real and lasting changes in your life….By the time you finish this book, you’ll have greater insight into your challenges and a new set of self-control strategies to support you.”
And, indeed she delivers on that hope. Reading this book provides the insight you need to understand–and more importantly, have compassion for–your personal challenges, along with the techniques, tools, and perspective makeovers you need to gain more of that seemingly elusive self-control. Now, how can you resist that?
(Just look out for green lights while reading.)
The Science of Willpower
Each chapter outlines an area of research and gives several ideas on how to gain a better understanding about your own particular weaknesses and how to overcome them. This is not a typical “self help” book that promises you success if you follow a certain plan. Instead, McGonigal offers suggestions on how to face our inevitable failures and how to make it more likely that we will meet with success.
The book is entertaining and easy to read. If there is a weakness, it is that McGonigal sometimes tries too hard to be humorous. There are notes in the back of the book that cite the research she employes, but sometimes it isn’t easy to tell what research goes with which anecdote. These are minor caveats, though, to a very interesting book.
understanding motivations better
Very good but not quite great; Must read between the lines.
The author is a PhD in Psychology and teaches at Stanford (she received her PhD from Stanford as well). As an academic, she doesn’t venture far from the empirical psychology but provides plenty of insinuations on how we can improve our willpower. As I was reading this book, I must have seen at least a dozen PhD dissertation worthy topics being explored but not quite made concrete mainly due to lack of empirical evidence.
The book, however, does provide two concrete and empirical based suggestions on how we can often substantially improve our willpower: regular exercise and meditation. I felt these two suggestions alone were worth the price of the book.
After reading this book and trying its precepts for couple of days, I already feel my daily willpower getting stronger (I exercise regularly but I also added meditation to my regimen). If you read between-the-lines, you will also gather many subtle Psychological methods into gaining higher degree of control over your behavior and emotions.
I recommend this book.
A scientific friend to guide you
The book is organized to follow the author’s 10 week Stanford course and provides us with an opportunity to take class each week from the comfort of our home. Every chapter contains opportunities to 1) REFLECT on what we already know and understand about our willpower and 2) PRACTICE an “experiment” and how it applies in our own lives.
The book is well-researched and the writing is clear and funny. The scientific explanations are accessible and they help me maintain a nonjudgmental position even as I contemplate my own moments of weakness and reflect on my past experiences with temptation and failure. While I haven’t had the book very long, I feel as though I have a funny and knowledgeable friend by my side who is gently and humorously awakening me to several “aha” moments. More importantly I am learning how to find and use motivation to develop my willpower.
This book is for people who want to understand human behavior (including your own) and ways to practice changing this behavior. It is also for people who want to learn basic information or catch up on the most recent brain science as it relates to the psychology of behavior.
I’ve been anticipating the book’s release and I look forward to putting its lessons into practice! I’ve recommended it to others, including friends and researchers, and I’m happy to recommend it here too.