“THE WILLPOWER INSTINCT: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It”
©2012 by Kelly McGonigal, PhD
If you don’t want to hear one more word on this so-called ‘virtue,’ or feel you don’t need to, consider this: “Research shows that people who think they have the most willpower are actually the most likely to lose control when tempted.” (For more on this, google ‘dunning kruger effect.’)
This effect is why McGonigal, in the first few pages of her book, suggests that to succeed at self-control and willpower, we need to know how and when we’re likely to fail. But wait. Isn’t that akin to issuing an invitation to fail? Not exactly. If you can see it coming, you can avoid or avert temptation.
Most of us rely on worn-out and grossly ineffective strategies to counter our willpower shortcomings. Strategies that McGonigal says not only don’t work, but sabotage our best intentions. And…she’s got a cure!
Each chapter debunks a common belief about willpower and self-control. She describes our all-too-familiar willpower missteps and then takes them apart to shine a light on a different, more effective path. Some of my favorite findings were about mindfulness (“being bad at meditation is good for self-control), license to sin (“why being good gives us permission to be bad”), delay discounting (“the longer you have to wait for a reward, the less it’s worth to you”), and guilt (“it’s [self-]forgiveness, not guilt, that increases accountability”).
McGonigal’s book is a veritable catalog of sharp and shiny new tools for waging the relentless power battle with my rebellious will. I stocked up on several good ones, and along the way, I learned to be a little easier on myself, which has had a surprisingly beneficial impact on my behavior.
This book is filled with all the things that, for me, make a good book a great read: brain science—lots of it, more than two dozen “try this at home” strategies/ assignments, and plenty of humor. The content is organized to be read over ten weeks, as if we were enrolled in McGonigal’s “Science of Willpower” course through Stanford’s Continuing Studies program. A very inviting approach to a very thorny problem.
So…muster the willpower to read The Willpower Instinct.
As McGonigal says: “By the time you finish this book, you will have a better understanding of your own imperfect but perfectly human behavior.”
McGonigal’s 10-minute trick is my favorite impulse- and procrastination-buster. What’s yours?