The Willpower Instinct (2011) was written by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., who is a health psychologist at Stanford School of Medicine where she teaches a course called “The Science of Willpower”.
This book combines insights from psychology, economics, neuroscience, and medicine to explain exactly what willpower is, how it works, and why it matters. The book has 10 chapters which reflect the author’s 10-week course, and is written in an interesting and easy style, without 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.
If one wants to change a Habit or understand why one has failed at doing this in the past, "The Willpower Instinct" is worth reading. Kelly McGonigal presents neuroscience and psychology in a way that a reader can understand, and provides concepts that one can use to improve the quality of daily life. She encourages experimentation and self-inquiry, while presenting practical, tried and true methods to help to kick bad habits and to create new ones.
This book could be a valuable resource for those who are struggling with a Diet, or dealing with an “Eating Disorder”, as it can help to provide insight and understanding. At the end of the day, creating or sustaining a habit or an addiction involves making choices.
Turning to a substance in a time of stress, or whenever, is a choice one makes, and through repeatedly performing this action, one’s brain creates "shortcuts" that enable one to do it more often/efficiently and make refusing very difficult and anxiety-inducing. The author explains this in a very clear, well-researched manner, including the ways our primitive brains trick us into saying "yes", and she then provides strategies for improving one's ability to say no.
Originally posted on November 4, 2012, updated for new viewers.
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