The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It
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The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  3,829 ratings  ·  404 reviews
The first book to explain the new science of self-control and how it can be harnessed to improve our health, happiness, and productivity.

After years of watching her students struggling with their choices, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., realized that much of what people believe about willpower is actually sabotaging their success. Committed to sharing what the...more
Hardcover, 275 pages
Published December 29th 2011 by Avery
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Wendy Yu
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I thought this was going to be another "do-what-I-did" type self-help books. Boy, was I wrong. I am so glad I read this book.

The Willpower Instinct is based off of a 10-week academic-style class taught by the author. It uses the latest information from neuroscience to explain what exactly your brain goes through during a thinking or decision-making process and how to use that process to your advantage to increase your sense of self-control. That may sound boring or technical, but McGonigal has a...more
Mike Tiernan
McGonigal brings together the newest insights about self-control from psychology, economics, neuroscience and medicine to build willpower. She is a health psychologist at Stanford School of Medicine where she teaches a course called "The Science of Willpower" that quickly became the most popular classes ever offered by Stanford. Course evaluations call the course "life-changing".

The book's 10 chapters reflect her 10-week course, written in an interesting and easy style, without any "academic pom...more
This book is immensely valuable, and very much needed by most people. It isn't even that the book itself is so fantastic, though it is definitely a good book, clearly written, good ideas, well executed. The topic matter is so absolutely pertinent that a thorough and adequate treatment of the subject automatically becomes enormously helpful.

It's somewhere in between a readable review of the science, and a well structured self help book. In terms of the order of the chapters, there are a few fairl...more
Rift Vegan
I thought I had promised myself: No more self-help books about procrastination. Unfortunately, when it comes to books, I have no willpower! haha! Fortunately, this book is totally different from all those other worthless books I've read. There are lots of interesting scientific experiments, mostly on humans (except the one rat study was terrible and I really wish it wasn't stuck in my brain :( ). The book starts out with very basic advice, eat better, get better sleep, get some exercise and star...more
Я крайне скептически отношусь к словосочетанию "сила воли". Неказистый этот термин появился в психологии ещё в самом начале 20 века, после чего среди учёных мужей ведутся бесконечные дискуссии - а существует ли она (пресловутая "сила воли") вообще?

В нашей стране, кстати, существуют весьма достойные наработки по этой теме ещё со времен М.Я.Басова (1920-е). На сегодняшний день в отечественной психологии господствует точка зрения о том, что "сила воли" - это миф)))) Точнее, это концепт обыденного...more
Alex Kenjeev
I'm now reading this for the second time. It has a lot more science, and a lot less self-help nonsense, than you might expect. And yes, it is OK to admit to reading it -- nobody's perfect when it comes to willpower!

Here's a sampling of what I learned from Dr. McGonigal's book.

1. Willpower is centered in a specific region of the brain (within the prefrontal cortex). It uses more energy than almost any other brain region, and therefore it gets tired after prolonged use each day. It's also like a...more
This book was very helpful for me. It helped me to get off of every kind of sweetener, which for a former junk food junkie was no snap, and also reinforced a current goal to start and maintain a meditation program. She uses numerous studies and real-world cases to illustrate her points and methods. There is a lot to be gained here. If you're interested in either starting or stopping any kind of behavior, this book is well worth your time.

Note: The Audible audio performance didn't blow me away,...more
I think it's indisputable that the ultimate measure of the worth of a self-help book is... whether it helped. This book did not help me. If I'd hoped to acquire a great deal of rudimentary knowledge of psychology, neurophysiology, cognitive science, and the mechanics of meditation that I didn't already have -- then this book would have been an epic fail, because I already knew all of that, and knowing it had never in any imaginable way helped me before. If I'd been woefully and spectacularly ign...more
Ok, I admit it. I am not going to be able to do this book justice: I read it in one of those ghastly self-destructive reading binges that find me struggling to keep my eyelids open at midnight, knowing that I'm going to be fucked for the morning, but driven on to turn the pages (even as I take Big Blinks) and extract every last nugget from the book. You probably won't experience this book in quite the same way, so I won't pretend that my experience is predictive of yours. (Unless you are a narco...more
John Martindale
I typed 6 pages of reflections concerning the material presented in this fascinating book. I thought about trying to abridge what I wrote and shorten it into a lengthy review, but... sigh... I gave up. So yeah, I'll just write a brief blurb.
I have lots of experience trying resist, escape and flee temptation and yeah, I also have given in countless times. A lack of self-control has been my Achilles heel and if a genie came out of a bottle, an infinite unfailing source of will-power would likely...more
Joseph McBee
I really enjoyed this FASCINATING book.

Who among us has never struggled with a lack of self-control? Whether it is in the area of diet and exercise, or getting rid of harmful habits, we have all wrestled with our ability to stop doing something we know is bad for us, or start doing something that is good. All of us are thrashing about in the waters of frustration in our personal and professional lives because we just don't have the willpower to get "it" done.

That's where McGonigal's book comes i...more
**Putting down the book presented a willpower challenge**

Speaking of willpower, once I started reading this book, it took every ounce of my willpower to put it down! (And, so yeah, I may have been spotted reading this book in my car while while sitting at red lights. My apologies to the drivers behind me for any [slight] delays my willpower challenges may have caused.)

As the above evidence suggests, I can't rave enough about this book. It's a gem, it's a god-sent, and it's just that good. You'l...more
Everything you thought you knew about willpower, how you make decisions, and the best ways to keep your resolutions is wrong. At least that is what it feels like after reading this book. McGonigal goes over research on willpower and reveals the various traps we put ourselves in and why we find it so hard to keep certain goals and break certain habits.

Each chapter outlines an area of research and gives several ideas on how to gain a better understanding about your own particular weaknesses and ho...more
Jennifer Shreve
To struggle with willpower is to be human, as Kelly McGonigal makes abundantly clear in this excellent book. This is a thinking person's "self-help" book; firmly rooted in science it seeks to help the reader change their ways not based on platitudes or rules, but by shedding light on the reasons we do the things we do and how to use our natural way of being to a different, better result. As a yogi and sometimes practicing Buddhist, I was struck by how much of the advice aligned with mindfulness...more
Mohammed H
Thank you for taking the time to read my review

I believe we all have willpower, some of us rely on it and make it stronger some of us don't know how! Its crazy to think of it as a muscle! But thats what it really is! This book looks at willpower from a scientific point of view and how it evolved with our brains. It shows you ways of strengthening your willpower. It also shows you how your brain plays tricks on you to make you do things you don't necessarily want to do. If you cannot complete a d...more
Michael Foley
TERRIFIC ADVICE. I am a serial resolution maker and breaker so this book really spoke to me in a lasting way. Throughout this book I had a recurring thought that the author has been listening to my thoughts for the past 20 years because the scenarios were so eerily spot-on.

I have been employing the mechanisms taught by the author and I've never felt more in-control and calm about my decision making. I learned things like how I lie to myself and why those lies are so darn convincing. Most importa...more
Morgan Blackledge
Lately, it has become very fashionable (particularly for neuro-sceensters) to bash the the outdated notion of free will. And for good reason. That shit is a fairy tale. It just plain doesn't exist. At least the hokey ol' folk psychology notion of "uncaused" behavior a.k.a. contra-causal free will. a.k.a. classical dualistic free will i.e. the belief that there is a component (call it a soul or what ever) to human behavior that is something more than the unavoidable consequences of the genetic an...more
Good little book with recent research on willpower. Not a lot of surprises, but nice to peruse when thinking about changing some habits.

p. 50 Relaxing—-even for just a few minutes--increases heart rate variability by activating the parasympathetic nervous system and quieting the sympathetic nervous system. It also shifts the body into a state of repair and healing, enhancing your immune function and lowering stress hormones. Studies show that taking time for relaxation every day can protect your...more
I think the Blogher Book Club has officially changed my mind about self-help books. The most recent book up for review, The Willpower Instinct, by Dr. Kelly McGonigal, was not only an interesting read, but one I found quite helpful.

You may remember that one of my New Years resolutions is to “Lose 30lbs before I turn 30,” so when the chance came to review a book about willpower, I knew it could be useful. Although I’m always skeptical about non-fiction (what can I say, I love me some fiction!), M...more
Zhifei Ge
I've read several books with the topic of positive psychology. They are intended to guide readers to reflect on our behavior or psychology and make changes. This book, about the willpower, is among them. Interestingly, I find most such books run similar pattern in arguments.

First, authors ask readers to check their motivation. This usually serves to relate behavior with psychology. The authors usually can list a bunch of inspiring motives for readers to choose. The good authors are always good...more
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...more
Why are stress, shame, and guilt, the enemies of self-control? In the Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal provides some answers to this question and many others. Her book provides a great review of neurological and psychological research about how we exercise our "I will" and "I won't" power to achieve goals. I've seen much of the research cited elsewhere, but McGonigal presents the findings in a broader context that includes examples, questions, and exercises to move from learning into action....more
Leland Beaumont
Whenever we are lead into temptation, willpower is tested in a struggle between immediate indulgence and our long term goals. Too often our long term goals lose out as we eat too much, drink too much, smoke, waste time, and shop ‘till we drop. Now our resolve can be bolstered by the well researched and very practical techniques provided in this new book. Stanford Professor Kelly McGonigal has adapted her very popular course “The Science of Willpower” into this witty, readable, and helpful book....more
I had trouble finishing this book quickly, because I kept trying to stop and do the experiments. I got through it by reminding myself that I wasn't limited to just one bookmark, and could mark the experiment I was on and read ahead without missing anything. I will enjoy the re-read immensely, I think.

Dr. McGonigal teaches a course at Stanford University called "The Science of Willpower", and if the class is half as engaging as this book, collecting the subject matter and lessons for a wider audi...more
As someone who listens to a lot of Skeptic podcasts and follows a lot of the research about cognitive biases and the ways in which our minds don't work the way we think they do... I already knew about a lot of the studies in this book. If you think this sounds like you, just keep that in mind before buying. There isn't likely to be much new here for you.

However, There were a few interesting suggestions and ways of looking at things, so I feel like I didn't waste my time reading this book, and ca...more
Michael Connolly
The author makes a distinction between two kinds of willpower: making yourself do something you should do, and stopping yourself from doing something you should not do. The author makes a connection between willpower and mindfullness meditation. In mindfullness meditation, the goal is not to empty your mind of thoughts, but rather to observe your own thoughts. It is like there are two of you, a calm and rational self that is observing the emotional, obsessive, self-destructive self. Applying thi...more
This was quite a good book. It's main point is to explore how people behave with respect to willpower, both when it's working and when it isn't. They cover things you want to NOT do, things you want to get focused and DO and also aligning your actions with your long-term goals and values.

It is practical and highly readable. It is like some other non-fiction I enjoy (such as Nutureshock, Gladwell books) in that it refers to a lot of interesting studies and draws applications, and also in that on...more
McGonigal's book is suitable for all audiences, there are some great takeaways in coping will stressful situations! This book is about improving/increasing willpower through self awareness. The Willpower Instinct stands out because it isn't chasing a religious agenda, nor is it about a self proclaimed author who beat a heroin addiction or anything like that. The chapters tie together very well, there's a decent amount of psychology and physiology supporting the claims in a jargon free manner.

Emma Sea
Excellent book, that many before me have already reviewed wonderfully. I recommend this review for a succinct summary of the book.

Keep in mind I found the first 25% of the book was waffly generic lead-up that I really didn't need. I was about to give up when suddenly all the useful good stuff began.

Please note it did not take me 5 weeks to read because it was a boring book, rather that the author suggests you read a section and put it into practice for a week before you read the next section. I...more
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Kelly McGonigal, PhD, is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, an award-winning science journalist, and a leading expert on the mind-body relationship. Her teaching and writing focus on the applications of psychological science to personal health and happiness, as well as public policy and social change.

She is the author of The Willpower Instinct: How Self Control Works, Why...more
More about Kelly McGonigal...
Yoga for Pain Relief: Simple Practices to Calm Your Mind and Heal Your Chronic Pain Maximum Willpower: How to master the new science of self-control The Neuroscience of Change: A Compassion-Based Program for Personal Transformation Autocontrol Bergauf mit Rückenwind

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“The biggest enemies of willpower: temptation, self-criticism, and stress. (...) these three skills —self-awareness, self-care, and remembering what matter most— are the foundation for self-control.” 22 likes
“The is a secret for greater self-control, the science points to one thing: the power of paying attention.” 8 likes
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