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

The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal
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Apr 17, 2012

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bookshelves: brain-cogsci-behavioural-economics
Read in April, 2012

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 narcolept, in which case feel free to keep reading this review when you come to)

"The Willpower Instinct" comes from a course McGonigal taught at Stanford, over the course of which students were able to change their habits. Unlike the "The Power of Habit", which broke down habits into three basic phases and showed you how to reprogram yourself, this is more a grab-bag of techniques to explore over a few weeks and (on the course of the journey) learn what works for you. I have to admit that even though I know that "going on a journey" is the right way to change one's self, I still get frustrated with the idea that there's no quick fix. I lust for the quick fix. I am the King of the Demesne of The Quick Fix. I'm a programmer, my code is just a workaround for an empty file. Ok, we've established that I like quick fixes, let's move on.

My biggest beef with the Willpower Instinct is that I never got the sense that there was a single consistent message about How We Work and What Works and How to Change and all that stuff. Instead there's a bunch of things that work for people and might work for you. Sometimes they felt contradictory, where small goals are good at one point but not another (I think that was the example: my copy is back in the library and I'm foolishly writing this review in retrospect so take with pillars of salt), and they never felt like they meshed well together. I'd love to see a "Visible Learning" type reduction of studies and efficacy to talk about what works and what doesn't.

I've long wanted to improve my procrastination and general fuckuselessness. Somehow I seem to have managed that over the last six months: I've lost weight, I'm doing things that need to be done, and I'm generally more useful than I was before. I'm still reading these bloody self-help books, though! Perhaps that's the habit I should change ...
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