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Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

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One of the world's most esteemed and influential psychologists, Roy F. Baumeister, teams with New York Times science writer John Tierney to reveal the secrets of self-control and how to master it. In Willpower, the pioneering researcher Roy F. Baumeister collaborates with renowned New York Times science writer John Tierney to revolutionize our understanding of the most coveted human virtue: self-control.

In what became one of the most cited papers in social science literature, Baumeister discovered that willpower actually operates like a muscle: it can be strengthened with practice and fatigued by overuse. Willpower is fueled by glucose, and it can be bolstered simply by replenishing the brain's store of fuel. That's why eating and sleeping- and especially failing to do either of those-have such dramatic effects on self-control (and why dieters have such a hard time resisting temptation).

Baumeister's latest research shows that we typically spend four hours every day resisting temptation. No wonder people around the world rank a lack of self-control as their biggest weakness. Willpower looks to the lives of entrepreneurs, parents, entertainers, and artists-including David Blaine, Eric Clapton, and others-who have flourished by improving their self-control.

The lessons from their stories and psychologists' experiments can help anyone. You learn not only how to build willpower but also how to conserve it for crucial moments by setting the right goals and using the best new techniques for monitoring your progress. Once you master these techniques and establish the right habits, willpower gets easier: you'll need less conscious mental energy to avoid temptation. That's neither magic nor empty self-help sloganeering, but rather a solid path to a better life.

Combining the best of modern social science with practical wisdom, Baumeister and Tierney here share the definitive compendium of modern lessons in willpower. As our society has moved away from the virtues of thrift and self-denial, it often feels helpless because we face more temptations than ever. But we also have more knowledge and better tools for taking control of our lives. However we define happiness-a close- knit family, a satisfying career, financial security-we won't reach it without mastering self-control.

291 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2011

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About the author

Roy F. Baumeister

77 books400 followers
Dr. Roy F. Baumeister is Social Psychology Area Director and Francis Eppes Eminent Scholar at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. He is a social psychologist who is known for his work on the self, social rejection, belongingness, sexuality, self-control, self-esteem, self-defeating behaviors, motivation, and aggression. And enduring theme of his work is "why people do stupid things." He has authored over 300 publications and has written or co-written over 20 books.

DOB from Wikipedia

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,205 reviews
47 reviews5 followers
October 17, 2011
Fascinating book but the introduction is incredibly boring. Things that I learned:

Willpower is depleted as it is used even in decision making leaving one with lower willpower. To avoid this:
1. Feed the beast ie things won't go well, when low on energy
2. Sugar does not help since it causes surges and crashes
3. Eat food that burns slow ie nuts, protein, vegetables, good fats
4. When you are sick save your glucose for immune system
5. Replenish with sleep

Best sign to recognize when low on willpower is that emotions will be heightened. Your reactions will feel extreme.

Procrastination is exhausting. Do it or have a plan to do it. Focus on one thing at a time. Make a to do list and monitor it. Make bright lines you won't cross ie I will never drink again.

Best way to increase willpower is to develop healthy habits that don't use willpower.

Strategies for weight loss willpower:
1. If x, then y. If buffet at party, then eat veggies and lean meat.
2. Delay strategy ie I'll eat that tomorrow or later works best. Actually get a sense of pleasure in the plan to delay.
Profile Image for Lee Klein .
800 reviews851 followers
November 17, 2020
Over the summer I read an article about "decision fatigue" in The New York Times, easily one of the most "illuminating" science/behavior-related articles I'd ever read: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/magazi...

It turned out that my inability to refuse that piece of chocolate, the last slice of pizza, one more beer etc, didn't mean I had "no willpower" as I'd always thought. After reading the article, it was clear that my willpower (and related glucose supply) was consumed by waking up pretty early to write, working as well as I possibly can at work (instead of giving into temptation to slack off most of the day), reading books (often while walking) that require a bit of attention, working on overwritten goodreads reviews, exercising relatively semi-regularly, maintaining sort of a semblance of order at home, emotionally overinvolving myself with the Sixers, Eagles, and Phils, and still conserving a bit of energy to play nice with wifey and the cat. And so, although I can resist a sometimes real strong urge to sleep an extra hour or stop after two miles running etc, I can't possibly resist the bowl of chocolates on my boss's desk, an invitation to enjoy a goblet of fancy ale, and/or the inclination to overwrite long goodreads reviews or order a book that seems real good . . .

So, I ordered the related "long-form" hard cover and recently found myself continually exerting willpower to keep myself from reading aloud to the wifey illuminating passages in a book that offers accessible summaries of scientific studies, a bit of self-helpishness, and profiles/interviews of famous related cases (Amanda Palmer, Eric Clapton, David Blaine, Mary Karr, Drew Carey, Henry Morton Stanley) in such a way that, like a good religion, a universalizing explanation filter comes down over the eyes and lets you see pretty much everything afresh. Ordinarily, I wouldn't trust this sort of thing, but I didn't feel like the book sacrificed complexity for the sake of superficial simplification. But then again I was pretty tired as I read a lot of this so maybe my glucose levels were low and my critical willpower therefore depleted?

Occasionally, especially toward the end in the bit about childrearing, the book seemed to assume that readers want themselves and their kids to behave like highly effective androids of flesh and bone, but I never found this sense overly off-putting, maybe in part because I'm all about transforming myself into something more like The Terminator in "T2" than The Dude in "The Big Lebowski." Also, it's not solely about unleashing your inner math god -- artistic examples are more frequent than any others. Trollope wrote 2500 words before breakfast: it's easy when you break it down into 250 words every fifteen minutes . . .

For a pop science/non-fiction book, it's very readable and, again, seems to illuminate everyone's behavior -- especially my own but also that of co-workers, friends, and maybe even the country as a whole. Basically, everyone's glucose levels have been screwy since the dot-com bubble busted (witness the election and reelection of Bush, the mortgage crisis, the collapse of the economy, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party) and such screwiness depletes one's daily willpower supply . . . even Obama needs the occasional cig.

Again, really illuminating, convincing, and thus highly recommended to the few of you out there who've ever broken a resolution, gone off a diet, wanted to be more efficient, organized, productive, healthy, and disciplined through strengthening of the will (if not in a "Triumph of the Will" way).

2020 update: I now understand that so-called "willpower" in large part is related to a combination of carbohydrate and sugar intake, as well as sleep. The real reason I couldn't refuse a chocolate, pizza slice, or another beer was that the sugar in them (or the glucose the carbs are converted to after consumption) is addictive. By reducing nearly to nothing intake of carbs and sugar, your glucose levels are much lower and steadier, you tend to sleep better, be less reactive, be more focused (reduced brain fog, especially after meals), you're rarely hungry, and thereby better able to make decisions.
40 reviews17 followers
October 10, 2011
This book has a few serious flaws. Almost all of the Willpower anecdotes involve B- and C-list actors and musicians. Are Drew Carey, the fat guy from HBO's Arli$$, and that British pop-star whom I've never heard of the best people to exemplify concepts of willpower management? The invocation of fMRI to provide a more solid biological grounding to some of the concepts in will power is trendy and useless. To all readers of pop-psychology books, take note that if an fMRI implicates a brain structure in a process that structure will ALWAYS either be the anterior cingulate or the insula. Does the knowledge that these hip brain areas light up in these processes clarify anything? On a similar note, the term "Ego Depletion" to refer a state in which self-control is low reeks of Freudianism and is annoyingly vague-- even "insular-fatigue" would be preferable.
Nonetheless, I think this book will change my life. I am going to start making TO DO lists and eat more snacks when I get that Ego-Depleted feeling. Maybe if I adhered to some of its lessons I would be working on writing my PhD thesis right now instead of writing this stupid review.
Profile Image for Krishna Chaitanya.
68 reviews121 followers
August 28, 2020
It's a test to your willpower to get past through the first few chapters then the inspiration kicks in with experiments and factual analysis.

This book is too technical and a little complex to categorize this as self-help. Few chapters start with a question and makes the reader waiting for a concrete answer but in the end, it's open to interpretation, you need to derive your own answer based on the experiments conducted and the person's (mainly celebrities) characteristics mentioned in the chapter.

The reason for picking up this book is to improve my willpower but got a solid explanation on what willpower is and how celebrities reached their heights because of willpower, food and sleep being the vital components in replenishing your willpower, parenting tips and busting the dieting myth. I'm happy I've read this one.
Profile Image for Amir Tesla.
161 reviews669 followers
December 15, 2018
The intelligent want self-control; children want candy. - Rumi
If there is only one principle for success, it would be doing the things that are right and doing them at the right time. That's not easy. But we can make it easy.

What we need is a cultivated willpower and the knowledge of how it works!

Read the Full Definite Guide On How You Can Increase Your Willpower and Discipline

In pursuit of excellence, motivation is an unreliable luxury that blossoms and withers on its own terms; but a cultivated willpower and discipline is the companion you can rely on in the roughest times.

I've been studying and experimenting with the wonderful subject of willpower for 5 years now and this is how I can narrow down my findings:

1. By the way of analogy, willpower relies on the fuel in a fuel tank with specific capacity and that fuel can be consumed through various activities.
2. You can learn how to refuel the willpower tank, and you can learn what better and longer-lasting fuel to use.
3. To have a stronger willpower, you can also increase the capacity of that tank through different practices - aka. willpower workouts.
4. To have more willpower and self-control, you can further learn psychological tactics that will help you consume the limited fuel much more efficiently.
5. Finally, you can learn to go beyond willpower by adopting strategies that bypass the usage willpower altogether.

I'll explore all the above in depth. (If you merely want the practical techniques, feel free to jump to section V in
Definite Guide On How You Can Increase Your Willpower and Discipline)

I. Killers of Willpower
If you are to have willpower and self-control, you need to have the mental energy for them. Alas, many activities - and not just acts of self-control - draw from the very same source of energy.
Let's get to know these vampires first.

1. Resisting Temptations

Resisting temptations is one of the most metabolically expensive acts of the human brain that burns loads of the willpower fuel.

2. Daily Struggles
Don Baucom, a veteran marital therapist, would come up with an odd recommendation for couples in dispute: Go home from work early!
He had figured that people were using up all their willpower on the job, and later in home, they would fight over trivial issues, the issues that could be readily prevented if they had slightly more reserves of willpower.
You might presume you have one reservoir of self-control for work, another for dieting, another for exercise, and another for being nice to your family.
But, you consume the same supply of willpower to deal with wildly different things: frustrating traffic, tempting food, annoying coworkers, demanding bosses, all of which lead to an empty fuel tank leaving you vulnerable to temptations and mood swings.

3. Decision Fatigue
When governor of New York, Eliot Spizer hired a hooker that led to his downfall, when governor of South Carolina snuck off to Buenos Aires to visit his girlfriend, and when Bill Clinton indulged in making up with his intern, they were all subject to the occupational hazard that comes with being, as President Bush once described himself, "the decider."
Decision making, especially when the outcome carries a heavy importance, puts a hefty tax on the reserves of willpower.
The state where you are drained of all the willpower due to making decisions (like when coming back from shopping) is called decision fatigue.

That is why people like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg always wear the same outfit and all the iconic figures have a specific morning routine: To minimize unimportant decision making.


II. The Fuel of Willpower
The willpower fuel that I kept talking about is glucose, the simple sugar manufactured in the body from all kinds of foods, not just the sweet ones.
The glucose that is provided by digestion, flows through the bloodstream and in addition to acts of willpower and self-control, it is used by muscles, heart, liver, and immune system.
The immune system consumes gobs of glucose when the body is sick, that is why you feel tired and want to sleep during a disease. Your body is mobilizing all the energy to fight that disease.
Now that we know all the hunters of willpower, the question is what should we do about it?

For practical techniques on increasing willpower refer to the Definite Guide On How You Can Increase Your Willpower and Discipline

Strengthening Willpower - Enlarging the Tank
The more the body suffers, the more the spirit flowers. - Davic Blaine
The practices in this part, focus on enlarging the fuel tank of willpower.

1. Willpower Workouts
Being thrilled at the possibility of invigorating willpower, Baumeister and Dianne Tice experimented with numerous method to figure out what can lead to a stronger willpower.
In a lucky experiment, they found out that the bothersome advice - "Sit up straight!" - caused the most significant improvement in the willpower of participant in that it required them to override their habit of slouching.
This is the key to enlarging your willpower tank:
Regularly, engage with activities that is burdensome or requires overriding a simple habit.
Here are some ideas:

A. Start using your non-dominant hand for routine tasks. I'm right handed and from three years ago I started brushing my teeth, holding my spoon, opening doors, etc., with my left hand. (This is also an advice from the book: The willpower instinct)

B. Another training strategy is to change your speech habits, which also require mental effort to modify. For instance, try braking the habit of peppering your discourse with like and you know.

2. From Strength to More Strength
In laboratory experiments, the main improvements are found in resisting the effects of depletion. Namely, the last acts of self-control when you have exhausted all your willpower reserves.
Have you been to a gym pulling up weights? If so, you probably know that the last reps when your muscles are burning are the ones that are causing the biggest changes.

When I get home from work, totally exhausted, I don't feel like folding each and single one my clothes. BUT, I know that if I do, it would be like that extra pull up at the gym.
As a rule of thumb, if I don't feel like doing it, I know that's what I should do; and in the long run what happens is that you become comfortable being uncomfortable and that's the ultimate freedom.
I had desires, I killed them, now I'm the master.

That's not all, you can take one step further and use mental tactics that help you burn less willpower fuel in the first place.

For more practical techniques on increasing willpower refer to the Definite Guide On How You Can Increase Your Willpower and Discipline
VII. Increasing Willpower — Optimizing Fuel Consumption
Mental tactics can help you consume the precious willpower fuel more efficiently or to bypass fuel consumption altogether. These tactics enormously help the sustainability of your resolutions by preventing you from going ego-depleted.

1. Precommitment
I have taken a solemn, enduring oath, an oath to be kept while the least hope of life remains in me, not to be tempted to break the resolution I have formed, no living man, or men, shall stop me, only death can prevent me, But death — not even this; I shall not die, I will not die, I cannot die! — Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer
Precommitment is an effective strategy that would prevent you from having to rely on willpower in the first place.
The Essence of the strategy is to lock yourself into a virtuous path.

You anticipate that you will face lucrative temptations to stray you from your path; so, you make it impossible — or somehow make it disgraceful, sinful, or unthinkable — to leave the path.

Precommitment is what Odysseus did to get passed the luring and deadly songs of the Sirens. He had himself lashed to the mast with orders not to untie him regardless of how hard pleaded to go to the sirens.

His men precommited differently, by plugging their ears that would make them oblivious to the enchanting songs of the Sirens.

DO you want to prevent yourself from indulging in the social network while you have to focus on your projects? Precommit by blocking your access to them.

Do you want to make sure you go to the gym? Precommit by promising a friend that you will be at the gym.

Keep precommiting and you will be endowed with something valuable that relieves from having to precommit or rely on willpower anymore: A HABIT.

2. Put Your Brain on Autopilot —The Power of Priming Effect
When stuck in the rainforest of Africa, his stomach ruined by various infections, his hopes gloomy, Stanley — Africa’s greatest explorer — would wake up every morning and shave his face with cold water.

Why would someone starving to death insist on shaving? It was a typical manifestation of the man’s orderliness, Stanley’s biographer replies.

In addition, Stanely always tried to keep a neat appearance — with clothes, too — and kept all his belongings organized. The creation of order has been an antidote to the destructive capacities of nature all around him.

Orderly habits can actually enhance self-control in the long run by tiggering automatic mental processes that don’t require much energy.
This link between external order and inner self-discipline has been confirmed recently:

In one experiment, a group of participants answered questions sitting in a nice neat laboratory room, while others sat in the kind of place that inspires parents to shout, “Clean up your room!” The people in the messy room scored lower in self-control on many measures, such as being unwilling to wait a week for a larger sum of money as opposed to taking a smaller sum right away. When offered snacks and drinks, people in the neat lab room chose apples and milk instead of the candy and sugary colas preferred by their peers in the pigsty.
By shaving every day, Stanley could benefit the same subconscious effects of orderliness. He would invoke the spirit of discipline in himself simply through his morning routines.
Profile Image for Scott.
291 reviews303 followers
June 16, 2020
Willpower. Self-discipline. The power to make yourself do stuff when you don't want to.

What better a topic to read about when you’re stuck at home for weeks during a pandemic, with the fog of ennui settling upon everything?

This book took me weeks to get through, and believe me, the delicious irony of struggling to commit to finishing a book on willpower was not lost on this reader.

My slow progress had nothing to do with the quality of this book, or the style it is written in.

Like many, I’ve struggled with motivation and willpower during my enforced Corona staycation, alternating between bouts of “don’t waste this opportunity to achieve - its time to get shit done!’ and ‘It’s a fricking pandemic – cut yourself some slack and sleep in, stresshead!’.

Stuck between the two admonitions, I've achieved nowhere near what I wanted to. I’ve even stopped looking at my ‘books finished’ tally as I am months(!) behind where I thought I would be.

Reading Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney's Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, has actually been really helpful for me, and I've been both gentler on myself and more strategic in how I marshall my limited reservoir of self-discipline towards my goals.

And it is a limited quantity, that self-discipline, as Baumeister and Tierney explain in fascinating detail.

Apparently, making hard choices influences much more than the individual decisions we make at the time - stopping yourself from eating that third chocolate, forcing yourself out of bed for an icy winter run and foregoing dinner out to build your savings are all disciplined actions, but such self denial can have unforseen consequences.

Baumeister and Tierney spend a lot of time talking about how willpower can be depleted - that steeling yourself to resist one temptation or get through one unpleasant experience can make resisting the next one much harder.

In the context of COVID-19, this made a lot of sense to me. While worriedly goading myself to spend less, stop worrying, and eat less Violet Crumble (do you have Violet Crumble in your country? It is both the best and worst of all chocolatey things), and then trying to lose the Covid-10 pounds I had added (via said Crumble) I simply didn't have much left in the will-tank for reading thinky non-fic.

That Said, Willpower isn't suuuuper thinky. It's the standard popular science style non-fic book that delves into a subject deeply enough to give you some great info on it, but not deeply enough so that you're on a first name basis with actual scientists and researchers.

The format is the familiar premise-example-occasional-fascinating-anecdote style of pop-sci books. This sytyle fits the topic well, and Baumeister uses it entertainingly to explore societal attitudes towards the concept of success being linked to ‘willpower’ over time (Victorian Era: :We love it!”. Permissive 1960s: “It isn’t a thing!”. Today: “Maybe the Victorians were on to something!” and the many very interesting developments and experiments that have occurred in the psychological study of human motivation and self-discipline.

We watch experiments where children with greater self control are tracked down and found to be more successful later in life, where self control is tested after putting people through difficult choices (which generally makes them succumb to temptation more easily)

Towards the later sections of the book, our two authors spend more time on dealing with the ramifications of this willpower depletion trap.

Willpower provides some great examples of ways to both increase one's personal determination and avoid the willpower depletion trap. Techniques such as deferral (I won't eat an entire cheesecake right now - I'll eat the whole damn bastard tomorrow) and setting decided limits in advance of temptation (When I eat cheesecake - and I will eat it I will only have one slice) can help you to stick to your goals/plans while minimizing the amount of willpower depletion you experience.

Willpower is well worth a read for both the revelatory research discussed and the useful techniques you can personally implement. Best of all, I came away with the factoid that making tough decisions uses up the glucose reserves your brain needs to function. Why is this so great? Because I now have a solid scientific reason to eat donuts, chocolate and all the other sweet junk I love - sugary, waistline-expanding crap is Brain Food!

Four totally justified mid-afternoon donuts out of five.

P.S: For those of you in nations untouched by the glory of Violet Crumble, here it is:


Heaven in the mouth… hell on the scales.
Profile Image for Meredith.
24 reviews3 followers
September 12, 2014
I thought I would really enjoy this book as I've read books by a scientist that gave this book a positive review. Unfortunately this book mostly frustrated me for its reliance on weak, anecdotal examples of "willpower" and "ego depletion". Instead of describing complex phenomena and scientific concepts in a way the layman could comprehend (which has been done numerous times by many talented authors), Tierney & Baumeister describe willpower using a seemingly random compilation of personal accounts and perceptions of willpower from non-scientists (WTF?).

The authors continued to waste beautiful page space talking about how to eat well and how good nutrition helps one think clearly (and thus revitalize willpower and replenish the ego). Considering this is advice probably all people reading the book will already know...I just got angry with the authors for failing to add anything substantive to the burgeoning plethora of scientific writing literature. (Plus I just don't think that people who have degrees in psychology and presumably english literature/journalism should be doling out nutritional advice to the masses and dodge the topic they're supposed to be writing about.)

The authors continue their descriptions of willpower by having numerous pages devoted to topics including the pros of parenting like an Asian "Tiger Mom", and how women just have their willpower go down the tube with PMS. And when it's not referencing such nebulous topics, it is self-referential to a fault, lacking balance and the viewpoints of others in the psychology and neuroscience communities.

The whole book reads like it was conceived at a cocktail party in NYC. Unfortunately I don't believe the average American is well-versed enough in science to grasp what scenarios are appropriate to make wide-sweeping conclusions from. If you want to read engaging scientific writing on psychology and neuroscience that is original, read Oliver Sacks.

This is the most disappointing modern psychology/pop-psyschology book I've read.

Profile Image for Emily.
687 reviews623 followers
October 6, 2011
This book reveals counterintuitive research results about willpower, and I'd probably give it five stars (for being "perspective changing") if I hadn't already been brought up with this perspective. This book explores self-control and willpower, as opposed to impulsiveness and the cult of self-esteem. It discusses how willpower is necessary for avoiding all sorts of damaging and distracting temptations that prevent people from being happy, and shows that that willpower can be strengthened. Most of all, it talks about how willpower is finite and can be depleted by having to resist lots of temptations, and can be bolstered with good sleep and healthy food. Dieting, in this account, is a cruel joke in which you deprive yourself of the very food you need... to resist the temptation to eat. One phenomenon that stood out for me was what the authors call "what the hell"--when you break some resolution you've made, you figure you've screwed up for the day, so you blow off the rule entirely. They discuss this in regard to dieting but as someone who recently needed to buy a coat... and a blouse and a dress and a pair of pants, it felt pretty familiar.

I've read several other psychology books that try to bring together research and advice on being happier, which I suppose is a bit pointless as I am basically happy to begin with. This is the most successful, both in terms of its recency and the way it manages to draw some conclusions from the research without turning into a self-help book.
Profile Image for Book Shark.
744 reviews136 followers
November 13, 2013
Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney

"Willpower" is a mildly helpful book on how to harness willpower to make positive changes to ourselves and our society. According to social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and in collaboration with journalist John Tierney, the current research into willpower and self-control is psychology's best hope for contributing to human welfare. The authors provide many case studies of various degrees of interest that illustrate the many facets of willpower. This interesting yet at times unfocused 305-page book includes the following ten chapters: 1. Is Willpower More than a Metaphor?, 2. Where does the Power in Willpower come From?, 3. A Brief History of the To-Do List, from God to Drew Carey, 4. Decision Fatigue, 5. Where have all the Dollars Gone?, 6. Can Willpower be Strengthened?, 7. Outsmarting Yourself in the Heart of Darkness, 8. Did a Higher Power Help Eric Clapton and Mary Karr Stop Drinking?, 9. Raising String Children: Self-Esteem versus Self-Control, and 10. The Perfect Storm of Dieting.

1. Accessible prose, a book for the masses.
2. An interesting topic, how to improve willpower.
3. The book is full of psychological case studies involving willpower and self-control.
4. A recurring theme best captured by the following quote, "he observed willpower in the laboratory: how it gives people the strength to persevere, how they lose self-control as their willpower is depleted, how this mental energy is fueled by the glucose in the body's bloodstream. He and his collaborators discovered that willpower, like a muscle, becomes fatigued from overuse but can also be strengthened over the long term through exercise."
5. Understanding the importance of self-control. "Poor self-control correlates with just about every kind of individual trauma."
6. Ego depletion. "The results showed that ego depletion causes a slowdown in the anterior cingulate cortex, the brain area that's crucial to self-control. As the brain slows down and its error-detection ability deteriorates, people have trouble controlling their reactions. They must struggle to accomplish tasks that would get done much more easily if the ego weren't depleted."
7. The impact of stress. "What stress really does, though, is deplete willpower, which diminishes your ability to control those emotions."
8. The source behind willpower and interesting findings. "The link between glucose and self-control appeared in studies of people with hypoglycemia, the tendency to have low blood sugar. Researchers noted that hypoglycemics were more likely than the average person to have trouble concentrating and controlling their negative emotions when provoked." In short, no glucose, no willpower.
9. An interesting section on PMS. "During this luteal phase, women are more liable to go on drinking binges or abuse cocaine and other drugs. PMS is not a matter of one specific behavior problem cropping up. Instead, self-control seems to fail across the board, letting all sorts of problems increase."
10. Steps to improving self-control. "The first step in self-control is to set a clear goal. The technical term researchers use for self-control is self-regulation, and the `regulation' part highlights the importance of a goal."
11. How Drew Carey got organized.
12. The Zeigarnik effect. "Uncompleted tasks and unmet goals tend to pop into one's mind."
13. Find out what decisions deplete the most willpower.
14. Interesting discussion on self-awareness and the links to self-control. "The two psychologists came up with a word for these ideas: standards. Self-awareness involves a process of comparing yourself to standards."
15. Willpower workouts. "But other exercises do help, as demonstrated by the groups in the experiment that worked on their posture and recorded everything they ate. When they returned to the lab after two weeks, their scores on the self-control tests went up, and the improvement was significantly higher by comparison with a control group."
16. Debunks some myths about alcohol. "Contrary to popular stereotype, alcohol doesn't increase your impulse to do stupid or destructive things; instead, it simply removes restraints. It lessens self-control in two ways: by lowering blood glucose and by reducing self-awareness."
17. An interesting section on the efficacy of AA programs. "Social support is a peculiar force and can operate in two different ways. Plenty of research suggests that being alone in the world is stressful. Loners and lonely people tend to have more of just about every kind of mental and physical illness than people who live in rich social networks."
18. Tips on raising children and a look at cultural differences. "Delayed gratification has been a familiar theme in the homes of immigrants like Jae and Dae Kim, who were born in South Korea and raised two daughters in North Carolina. The sisters, Soo and Jane, became a surgeon and a lawyer, respectively, as well as the coauthors of Top of the Class, a book about Asian parents' techniques for fostering achievement."
19. Dieting and willpower. "That's what we call the Oprah Paradox: Even people with excellent self-control can have a hard time consistently controlling their weight. They can use their willpower to thrive in many ways--at school and work, in personal relationships, in their inner emotional lives--but they're not that much more successful than other people at staying slim."
20. An excellent final chapter that summarizes the many findings of the book.

1. The authors give too much credit to religion for improving wellbeing. I can make a very strong case to cite the opposite as being the case. The most secular countries by and large offer the highest quality of life. I suggest you read "Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment" by Phil Zuckerman.
2. Psychology always seems to border on pseudoscience. Some research comes across as weak and lacking scientific vigor. Neuroscience is an infant field and promising field but we must be careful to avoid reaching "strong" conclusions from tenuous research.
3. The book is so research heavy that it forgets to engage the reader.
4. The book contains a notes section but it fails to use the link capability of the Kindle. Argh.
5. The parts are better than the whole. Some case studies are better than others but it doesn't translate necessarily to improving the whole product.
6. Not much on contradictory research. Too convenient and one-sided.
7. What is the scientific consensus on the case studies presented?
8. Not as much of a page turner as I'd hoped for.

In summary, this book could have been much better. Willpower is a fascinating topic but I felt the authors didn't engage enough with the readers to make this a better reading experience. I also felt that the book lacked scientific rigor. What is the scientific consensus? What do the contrarians say? Some of the case studies are in fact very interesting and there appears to be some good research and helpful advice. Willpower is worth reading with the reservations noted.

Further recommendations: "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity" by David Allen, "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business" by Charles Duhigg, "The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It" by Kelly McGonigal Ph.D., "The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results" by Gary Keller, "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman, "Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work" and "Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard" by Chip and Dan Heath, "Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don't" by Jeffrey Pfeffer, "Outliers" and "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell, "Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success" by Rick Newman, and "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" by Daniel H. Pink.
Profile Image for Sato.
36 reviews11 followers
February 12, 2021
By the time people tried to set aside external orders and searched for internal motives to shape their own behaviors, willpower and self-control or self-regulation gently showed themselves in different theories and in different frames. A primary experiment which was not even intended for analyzing self-control, appeared to be the main feat in this realm:a marshmallow experiment to analyze self-resisting power of a set of children. Children of different self-resisting levels ended up having different life styles in future:those with better self-control were almost those with better life styles. Just a minor result of this discovery was that self-control even took precedence over high intelligence by far. So it potentially seems that this book takes us through an interesting voyage.

Sometimes we are devils to ourselves
When we will tempt the  frailty of our powers,
Presuming on their changeful potency.

William Shakespeare subtly pictures willpower as a muscle. It demands rest, It can be depleted and it can be trained.

Brain fuel: A set of various tests on glucose level and the power of concentration demonstrates a direct relation all along. Each performance demands a certain level of glucose. Taking this perspective, there are some important tasks we should consider about our daily tasks. Quitting a certain behavior like smoking demands a certain level of glucose, and performing another change like going on a diet at the same time mostly would end up a failure down the line. The first task would deprive the required glucose for the next one. So if your new year resolution turns out to be a main failure each year, you should consider this fact. Setting new patterns demands energy, so try to set the prerequisite energy for each pattern.

The first step to improve your self-control is setting clear goals. Humans suffer when their conflicting goals leave them sitting around doing nothing. And they can’t resolve those conflicts until they decide which kinds of goals will do them the most good.
This fact underscores the importance of setting clear goals. Under conflicting goals you find most of your time ruminating while no trace of action is visible.

What goals? Goals are good because there are valuable prizes, feats or achievements down the line. But there are almost two types of goals: Short-term goals and long-term goals.
"A short-term perspective can make you more likely to become addicted, and then the addiction can further shrink your horizons as you focus on quick rewards."
So it sounds that short-term perspectives can be serious challenges along our efforts to step toward our long-term horizons."The farsighted ant is better prepared for the winter than the live-for-the-moment grasshopper."If you can manage to eliminate or moderate your addiction to short-term rewards, your future horizon is liable to expand. This clash between short-term and long-term perspectives can bring us to a dangerous state of conflicting goals.

"Zeigarnik effect: Uncompleted tasks and unmet goals tend to pop into one’s mind. Once the task is completed and the goal reached, however, this stream of reminders comes to a stop."
Setting a precise approach on Zeigarnik effect,the book clarifies how this process determines the fluctuations of our monkey minds. Ubiquity of unclosed loops always brings multiple thoughts into our minds. How to close those uncolosed loops? What experiments on this process mainly propose is planning. Planning pictures a clear scheme and sets your mind primarily on the next task to perform. I believe it's not only about daily tasks, it's also about our feelings. I'd got plenty of conflicting feelings in mind looping for over the years so I decided to square myself with those feelings and close those unclosed loops. I finally had a great part of my CPU free next to zero euphoria. Zero euphoria is a stance which your only concern is the next task to perform. Keeping zero euphoria takes training, but it well assures you that you're on the right track.

Then the book elaborates on the importance of self-awareness in our performance as the next step to improve our self-control. Any trace of self-awareness intake along performing our daily tasks brings better outcomes.

CAN WILLPOWER BE STRENGTHENED? David Blaine probably is a potential representative to answer this question. "The more the body suffers, the more the spirit flowers." This is David's
philosophy who took different sorts of training which were exposing him to a constant strain or pain as he states, to strengthen his Willpower and to achieve the unbelievable feats.

No strain, no gain. A set of exercises which would force you to expend energy overriding your habitual response, would significantly increase your stamina and would gently improve your willpower. Setting short term strains in your life are not that challenging, but keeping a strain in long term takes much endurance.

Hot-cold empathy gap:Exposure to different sort of strains requires different willpower intakes. We tend to make several promises in cool situations not requiring a good portion of willpower but when we get exposed to an opposite hot situation, unlikelies become likely, it's the time for the presence of this gap. What had seemed highly unlikely began to seem more within the realm of possibility.
"Precommitment helps you avoid the hot-cold empathy gap: the common failure to appreciate, in moments of cool deliberation, how different you’ll feel in the heat of later moments.'

The Brain on Autopilot:It takes willpower to start a change, but once it becomes a habit over training in long-run, you don't need to set aside any willpower to perform that task. It means you're all set on a new pattern in your life. It's the same Rhythm which Napoleon Hill presents in a different frame.

At some point we all come to appreciate the value of self-control in our life. So if you want to find some valuable insights about self-control and willpower, you'd better set aside a part of your time reading this book.
Profile Image for Megan.
737 reviews15 followers
May 26, 2012
I just re-read this book for our book group on May 22, 2012. It's still great. I was happy for the review--especially about Drew Carey's organizational tips. Also the reminders about not making important decisions when you're depleted. Here's my original review:

After a year of successful dieting and weight loss, I suddenly hit a wall where no amount of willpower could see me through. I went through a solid week of inability to control my eating. I had previously prided myself on my great reserves of willpower, and now I couldn't seem to muster it up to save my skin.
How could I have so much willpower and then suddenly, none?

Enter this incredibly fascinating book, at a time when I wanted to know the science of what willpower was and how I could use it. I learned that we do not have an unlimited supply of willpower; it becomes depleted and we need to be cognizant of this even as we enter situations where we will have to exercise willpower or make a lot of important decisions. I learned to never do those things if you are tired, have low blood sugar, or have already spent a day making a lot of decisions.

Other things I learned:

One quarter of our waking hours are spent resisting desires. It is no wonder that we experience decision fatigue.

Willpower is like a muscle which can be developed.

There is an interesting link to religion and willpower.

There is a relationship to utilizing willpower in one area of your life and this ability to have other areas of your life improve.

New Year's Resolutions are often doomed at the start. Why? Try working on one goal at a time, not more than one for optimal success.

"The What the Heck" phenomenon which happens when someone takes that first bite of chocolate when they're dieting. Rather than buoying up their reserves and determining not to eat more, they just throw their hands in the air and say, "I've already blown it; I might as well REALLY blow it now.

This book is written in the popular Malcolm Gladwell style--each chapter starts with an anecdote of some amazing willpower-filled-person. Then followed up with current behavioral research.
While it's not a how-to book, there is plenty of "how to have better willpower" included in this book.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. It is fascinating and it teaches you so much about yourself and human behavior. James and I have appreciated having a vocabulary with which to describe events relating to willpower.
Profile Image for Einar.
34 reviews16 followers
August 11, 2013
This book is marred by the silly and flippant writing style - no doubt an attempt to be "humorous" and to make the material as broadly accessible as possible. In my mind, at least, that attempt is a spectacular failure - I found it to be occasionally embarrassing and painful to read. There's also plenty of what appears to be unsubstantiated conjectures with respect to the causes of some of the reported research findings. The authors seem content whenever they find *some* narrative that could explain the observed behavior - then that must be it, mustn't it? One can only hope that this does not reflect the attitude found in the scientific work to which this book refers. Then at some point, the book gradually grows dissatisfied with merely recounting research findings (badly) and tries to become a self-help book too, suddenly offering advice on how children should be raised (supported by anecdotes about tiger moms from Asia) or how you should go about losing weight. Good grief.
Profile Image for Saeed.
173 reviews53 followers
May 31, 2017
من چند کتاب راجع به روان شناسی و فلسفه ی عزت نفس خوانده ام. نویسنده درون کتاب توضیح میدهد که وقتی که ر��ا�� شناسی به سمت مناعت طبع و عزت نفس سوق داده شده است شاید غرور خودپسندی انسان را بدون محدودیت قرار دهد به طوری که اگر او در شرایطی قرار بگیرد که باید بین انتخاب کردن یا نکردن عملی تحریک آمیز قرار بگیرد قادر به کنترل خود نباشد. برای همین موضوعی به اسم خویشتن داری را مطرح میکند و اشاره می کند که اهمیت این موضوع بالاتر از مناعت طبع است. خویشتن داری نیاز به اراده دارد و فکر کنم نویسنده به صورت علمی این موضوع را اثبات کرده است و در این بین نیز این کتاب تجاری را نوشته است

در کل کتاب آن گونه که من انتظار داشتم نبود شاید من خیلی از این کتاب توقع داشتم، و نکته ی جالبی که برای من موقع خواندن کتاب رخ داد این بود که خود کتاب از یک جایی به بعد نیاز زیادی به ویلپاور دارد برای تمام کردنش :)
Profile Image for Gail Schultz.
2 reviews
March 7, 2013
For a girl who can easily chew through a book a week without breaking a sweat, this book was a marathon.

It took me 3 months to meander my way through all of this somewhat interesting book.

I enjoyed reading about the research studies and a few human prodigies (like the amazing David Blaine) but this book proves once again that just because you are a NYTimes bestseller does not mean it is worth the money.

After forcing myself through this book with the promise of a really fun book to follow to reward myself, I managed to finish it this evening.

Strangely enough the paltry 265 page book was as intimidating a Sumo wrestler. What I got out of it was about the same.

1. Set a realistic goal
2. self monitor
3. give yourself little rewards often and big rewards once in a while
4. avoid temptation and if temptation is unavoidable, have a back up plan to distract yourself.
5. Delayed gratification is more rewarding

Wasting $18 & 3 months I can not get back for this "sage" advice based on billions of tax payer dollars in research into the human condition? So not worth it.

Interesting if you like research and pschology as I do, but do not expect this book to enlighten you to anything you likely didn't know or to change your life in any way.

Now, on to fun book...

Profile Image for Cav.
660 reviews90 followers
November 18, 2022
"However you define success—a happy family, good friends, a satisfying career, robust health, financial security, the freedom to pursue your passions—it tends to be accompanied by a couple of qualities. When psychologists isolate the personal qualities that predict “positive outcomes” in life, they consistently find two traits: intelligence and self-control..."

Willpower was a decent look into the topic. It is my third book from the author, after his 1996 book Evil, and his 2019 book The Power of Bad, and I generally enjoy his writing.

Author Roy F. Baumeister is a social psychologist who is known for his work on the self, social rejection, belongingness, sexuality and sex differences, self-control, self-esteem, self-defeating behaviors, motivation, aggression, consciousness, and free will.

Roy F. Baumeister:

The book opens with a great intro, where the concept of willpower is outlined and discussed. Baumeister mentions Victorian temperance and the marshmallow test. The author drops the quote above as well.

The writing here is well done, for the most part, and the prose is fairly engaging. I am very particular about how readable a book is, and my reviews are always heavily weighted toward that criterion. Fortunately, this one has a decent flow; which is in line with the other books by Baumeister that I've read.

He continues the quote above; highlighting the knock-on ramifications of self-control (or a lack thereof):
"...They’ve come to realize that most major problems, personal and social, center on failure of self-control: compulsive spending and borrowing, impulsive violence, underachievement in school, procrastination at work, alcohol and drug abuse, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, chronic anxiety, explosive anger. Poor self-control correlates with just about every kind of individual trauma: losing friends, being fired, getting divorced, winding up in prison..."

Interestingly, the author also mentions the lack of future planning is common in most animals. Squirrels stashing nuts for the winter is a fixed action pattern, and not the result of higher cognition; he says. He also writes that even higher animals like the great apes appear to only be able to "see" about 20 minutes into the future. In contemplating the future, and one's place in it - humans are exceptional. For example; Baumeister says that chimps did not stash extra food for later when fed once a day at noon, despite being the food being in abundance.

Baumeister lays out a rough summary of his research in this field with this quote:
"The experiments consistently demonstrated two lessons:
1. You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.
2. You use the same stock of willpower for all manner of tasks. You might think you have one reservoir of self-control for work, another for dieting, another for exercise, and another for being nice to your family. But the radish experiment showed that two completely unrelated activities—resisting chocolate and working on geometry puzzles—drew on the same source of energy, and this phenomenon has been demonstrated over and over. There are hidden connections among the wildly different things you do all day. You use the same supply of willpower to deal with frustrating traffic, tempting food, annoying colleagues, demanding bosses, pouting children. Resisting dessert at lunch leaves you with less willpower to praise your boss’s awful haircut. The old line about the frustrated worker going home and kicking the dog jibes with the ego-depletion experiments, although modern workers generally aren’t so mean to their pets. They’re more likely to say something nasty to the humans in the household."

Some more of what is covered here by Baumeister includes:
• The role of glucose in self-control.
• How to make effective plans; the "monkey mind."
• Decision making and decision fatigue; cognitive misers.
• Self-awareness; the mirror test.
• Can willpower be strengthened? David Blaine.
• Willpower and temptation; moral boundaries during stress tests.
• "Precommitment," or what psychology calls self-binding.
• The role of religion; Eric Clapton's alcoholic and suicidal tendencies. "The Mystery of AA."
• The power of culture to influence the individual. Exceptional Asians.
• Raising strong children; self-esteem vs self-control. Narcissism.
• Dieting.


While I did enjoy Willpower, I did not like it as quite much as the other two titles by the author that I've read...
There was still some interesting writing here, however.
3 stars.
Profile Image for Lara.
217 reviews166 followers
September 30, 2011
After three weeks of my children being in school, it's clear that my willpower has been depleted.

I know this because I have forgotten about some important things, despite the many reminders and writing them in my new, awesome planner. Because I yelled at all three of my children last night while we were working on homework. Because I have no motivation. Oh, and because I haven't been to the gym since the second day of school.

In the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, I learned that what we call willpower is not something I have in unlimited supply. In fact, every single thing for which I must use self-control depletes a little bit of that willpower until it's just plain gone. I read about study after study (and I must say, these authors have a way of making scientific studies entertaining--I loved reading them!) which discovered this fact. Which basically means that it's much easier to focus your willpower on one thing at a time. So go on a diet, get out of debt, or write a novel--just don't try to do all three at once because you're more likely to fail at all of them.

I've definitely noticed this in my life. New Year's Resolutions have made me so very angry when I can't seem to muster up the willpower to accomplish more than one of them. It always seemed that one rose to the top and the rest fell off, which I suppose is better than failing at all of them, but it still made me mad.

I was doing so well at the whole weight loss thing this past spring/summer until the opera started. Then, suddenly I was faced with memorizing difficult music and the focus of my willpower switched from making myself go to the gym every day and eating right and tracking my food to spending long hours sitting at the piano, going to rehearsals and eating all the licorice people kept leaving in the green room. I made a mediocre effort at my previous weight loss, then went on vacation and am now completely off of the wagon.

Since school started, my willpower has been entirely focused on making myself get out of bed at 6:00 every morning (which, for me, requires pretty much my daily supply and does not really bode well in the willpower department for the rest of the day), getting Bria to practice her violin for an hour before 7:00, making lunches, getting everyone looking presentable, and getting us all to the bus on time. I have found myself plopping in front of the computer as soon as I get back from the bus stop instead of going to the gym like I WANT to. I just can't find the wherewithal.

Or the willpower.

So, enough about me. Let's talk about this amazing book. Like I mentioned before, it's full of fascinating case studies regarding willpower and how it works in our brains. And then it gives practical advice for finding the willpower to do whatever it is you need to do.

There is also a great chapter on teaching our children self-control (aka "willpower"), which is excellent. Study after study has shown that willpower/self-control is the single best predictor of how successful a child will be in her adult life. It is something we need to be teaching our children, and we need to especially remember that self-esteem comes from self-control, not the other way around.

I was so appalled when, in the introduction, the authors mentioned that there are some scholars who would like to do away with "the outdated notions of free will and responsibility." Say WHAT? No wonder our society has so many problems! And nearly every one of those problems--debt, obesity, crime, divorce, etc.--can be traced back to the lack of self-control.

Excellent book. Please read it if you feel you have "weak willpower." You'll love it. And, even better, you'll learn how to strengthen that willpower muscle.

As for me? I think I'm going to try to get to the gym before I have to go to work this morning.

(How weefy does that sound? Just remember. My willpower is DEPLETED and I'm trying.)

Original review found here
Profile Image for Mohammad Kamelan.
65 reviews31 followers
July 27, 2017
کاملا مشخص هست که نویسنده دانش خوبی در زمینه تقویت اراده دارد.
کاری که انجامش خیلی هم آسان نیست.

شیوه‌های کاربری هم در این ارائه داده که انجامشون خالی از لطف نیست.

فصل آخر کتاب هم به خوبی مطالب رو جمع‌بندی کرده، در نتیجه اگه حوصله خوندن تمام کتاب رو ندارید، فصل آخرش دورنمای کلی از مطالب کتاب در اختیارتون قرار می‌ده.
Profile Image for Chris.
235 reviews
March 18, 2017
I did not have the willpower to finish this book.
Profile Image for Nathan.
Author 5 books115 followers
October 2, 2011
I picked up this book hoping it would give me some science-based tips for honing my highly-variable willpower. I have learned a lot from this book, but mainly to be careful about what I hope for from a book. "Some science-based tips" is ridiculous. Science is, as a friend recently observed, what is not yet proven false. In particular, the science of the brain and cognition is still in its early days: we have some disconnected "that's interesting" results, some overarching hypotheses, but nothing you'd call a theory in that it has mechanism, explanatory power, and predictive power.

Instead, the best we can do is something like this book, where we have a parade of studies and findings which, in isolation, hint at steps you might take, but which altogether are not particularly useful. The key finding, I guess you'd say, is that there appears to be a finite reservoir of resistance in the body and that once you use it up you experience weakened willpower. This reservoir appears related to blood sugar and sleep, but because there's no conclusive theory yet, we don't get the "do THIS and you will have perfect willpower." Instead, we get blood sugar, and rest, and bright line standards for behaviour, and monthly goals, and a mishmash of suggestions, each from its own research finding, but never stitched together into a course of action that looks anything like a programme or plan.

The book's lack of certainty on whether it's self-help or science-fact extends to the authorial voice. It's a combination of scientist and journalist, but I got the distinct feeling that the journalist did all the writing. This isn't just because of the breezy sketches of people and their importance (there is usually a motivating approachable example for each chapter, around which the science is draped) but also because of the curious third-person voice employed. I suspect they are fans of "Nudge", whose authors talked about themselves in a sly winking third-voice fashion, almost self-deprecating but never actually leading you to think that the authors were anything but extremely intelligent leading lights of intellectual reason and investigation. It was all very postmodern and novel in "Nudge", but is awkward and intrusive here.

For all that, I did get something useful. The thing I hadn't quite appreciated is the difference between habit and conscious action. Conscious action is exhausting, this is the "ego-depletion" that seems to be what we call willpower and which is tied to food and fatigue. But if you make something a habit, through bright-lines ("no alcohol" is easier to habituate than "moderate alcohol") and perhaps physical changes to your environment, then it's no longer so draining to live by. That I can get behind.

Despite this, the definitive science-based willpower self-help book is yet to be written. In the meantime, if you're after science or self-help look to the sources that Tom Stafford gave in his fantastic review .
Profile Image for عمر العريفي.
11 reviews4 followers
March 5, 2015
من أفضل الكتب التي قرأتها، مكتوب بعناية وعلى أساس علمي مبني على أبحاث علمية. أنصح بقراءته
Profile Image for A.
367 reviews43 followers
December 22, 2021

If you want to become disciplined, you must not only keep your mission perennially in your mind, having it guide you like the North Star, but must also know the concrete steps to get to your goal. Understanding human psychology and hacking your animal nature will allow you to achieve more and become more virtuous. Here an understanding of the Will becomes crucial. It is clear from experience that the Will is not Prometheus, able to move whatever comes in its way; it certainly has breaking points. Yet, the Will can also be trained and steeled through the fires of habit over time. Baumeister shows us studies that can allow us to take the greatest advantage of our willpower and to reach our goals more successfully. It is unfortunate that he uses a chatty, Parisian coffee house tone throughout the book, wasting paper en masse. Do I really care about Oprah Winfrey losing and gaining weight, or can you just tell me about the peer-reviewed studies? Alas, the masses like their storytelling, and the press that published this book is a press dedicated to them.

Nonetheless, there were some good maxims and principles that I learned regarding willpower. They include the following:

Willpower in General:

The first step towards making progress towards a goal is making it clear. Your goal must have a clear succeed/fail line so that you know what you are striving for. Vague goals are the lifeblood of perennial non-achievers.

Self-consciousness is what allows us to restrain ourselves. The negation of self-consciousness is drunkenness, when — due to lack of inner conflict regarding our impulses — we become short-sighted, eat too much, get annoyed at every little nuisance, and overall become insufferable. Drunkenness also leads to massive self-regret come the next morning because our self-consciousness and self-standards are then revived. Experiments have shown that people who have a mirror in front of them (so that they can see themselves do whatever they are doing) become more self-restrained, eat healthier and less, swear less, work harder and longer, and become more studious. Cultivate environments where you have increased self-consciousness so that you can improve the self.

Willpower is a resource that is drained throughout the day, but can be improved via habit. All moments where you have to restrain yourself — looking interested in relation to your acquaintance's leftist platitudes, delaying your food intake, restraining your annoyance when you wait on hold on the phone — deplete your resource of willpower, which then makes you likely to fail in other aspects of your life requiring such personal restraint. Therefore, when you want to make a change in your life, make that change in only one area. If you make too many goals, you will not have enough willpower to push through continually with all of them. Once you have achieved your first life change requiring willpower, then you can switch focus to another one, while letting your previous change run on habit. The end point is when behaviors that once took a feat of will to do — eating healthy, calisthenics, turning assignments in early — now take a feat of will not to do; in other words, it should feel wrong to break the habit you have established. Baumeister found that those with more discipline did not use their will more; in fact, they used it less! But their strength was in using their will at the start of a life change to solidify a habit, which then continued rolling like a snowball on a declining slope.

However, despite willpower depleting when used, its resources can be increased. In any area which forces you to check yourself — having good posture, not cursing in conversation, making it a rule to get your homework done early — you increase your willpower reserves for the next time. In essence, willpower is a muscle that can be strengthened via use, although after every workout it will be tired and depleted.

Accountability is crucial when changing your life for the better. The more you measure the trait you are attempting to change — weight, alcoholic drinks, minutes exercised — the better you will do. The people who track themselves the most often and the most precisely are the most successful at bettering themselves. Furthermore, you can increase accountability by telling others of your goal and making a wager on whether you succeed or do not. Increase the amount wagered and the despicability of the place donated to and you will increase your chances of success.

Men must be judged by quality, not by quantity. The best of history, the true Ubermensch, rising above their impulses to have self-control, are those who inspire us who want to better ourselves. The worth of this Ideal human is uncountable in comparison to the masses who continue to be inertial creatures — when at rest, staying at rest; when in motion, staying in motion: the only thing moving them being external events. It is these heroes whom we should aspire to be like; their very feats give us hope and inspiration to better ourselves. They must be looked at and their path must be followed; as the master mentors the prodigy, teaching him the ways of greatness, so should we look at these spiritual chariot-riders, in complete control of their passions, and follow in their path.

Food and Willpower:

The psychological and spiritual aspects of the Will rely on the brain, which relies on glucose. If you are hungry, you will be very apt to make bad decisions for your future self. Therefore, it is of the essence that you do not starve yourself, because then your diet will destroy the very faculty that allows you to diet. It is best if you eat protein and fats (slowly) so that your brain's glucose levels will be high for long periods of time, instead of spiking and crashing quickly (carbohydrates, especially sugar).

Dieters have a terrible tendency of making themselves fat. They wish to lose weight and then starve themselves, which in turn causes their willpower to deplete. Because the dieter's food intake relies on an external line of calories instead of internal satiation, as soon as their calories get above their daily line, they will implode. They will eat so much on these binges (which will inevitably happen due to willpower depletion caused by lack of food) that they will gain weight.

Therefore, "diets" should not be gone on; one should aim to change one's intake of food so as to make such intake sustainable over the long-term. Instead of 100% denying yourself foods for eternity (which puts them at the center of your mind), you should instead promise yourself to have them later. Your mind will be resolved at the decision, you will not yield to the temptation immediately, and oftentimes you will not want to have the temptation in the future.
Author 4 books118 followers
August 30, 2015
I'm combining the reviews for both the Baumeister/Tierney and McGonigal books into one because they are so similar (and both even reference each other).

These were both important books for me. I detest "self-help" books for their fluff, but (like the rest of us) need external help to evolve. So, these were the perfect mix of reliable, empirical data and practical application for the strengthening of my own willpower.

(I've pasted this from my website, which focuses on writers, but the principles apply to all.)


It’s because we have to live with ourselves, day-in/day-out, month following month, year stacking on year, that we cannot see our potential. We all feel that we “know ourselves”—our habits, our patterns, moods. But we’re wrong about a great number of things. Being so buried in our subjectivity, we cannot see that so many of the things we don’t like about ourselves/our lives are changeable.

A core, governing element of changing is Willpower.

The quickie-version: Willpower is not a static limitation; it is a muscle that we can build. We can become, with time, people with strong wills, people who are highly disciplined. And this means that we can become vastly superior artists (either in word, canvas, etc.) than we have been in the past.

We are a species of habit—we have our routines, our thought patterns, eating patterns, on and on. We are reticent to go against the grain. If you come home each day, grab a beer and plop down in front of the TV, that habit has engrained itself in your brain to the point that doing something different is hard. And we can see this at work in any scenario where we have to deviate from our normal patterns. (This is one reason that holiday traveling is so exhausting.)

The willpower muscle builds just like all other muscles—by exercising it. By forcing ourselves, little-by-little, to choose to do things that are new/hard, our willpower gets stronger.

Here are a few highlights for developing willpower (based on Baumeister and McGonigal)

-Take inventory of your habits and practices. (Observe how you spend your time “coasting by” in mindless bad habits.)
-Start small. Don’t think that you can suddenly live the idealized, disciplined life, overnight.
-Make lists. Write out both long-term and short-term goals for making the changes you want.
-Willpower, like all muscles, gets tired when overused. Your willpower is weakest at the end of the day or at the end of situations which are taxing.
-Therefore, don’t overstress your willpower. (Don’t depend on it at 11 pm to get you through a hard choice requiring discipline.)
-Need some willpower right this minute? Eat some sugar. No joke. Glucose is shown to boost your willpower. (Yes, it’s ironic since most people think of willpower often in relation to avoiding sugar.)
-Stress (negative stress as opposed to positive stress) and guilt are horrible for willpower. Don’t put unrealistic burdens on yourself, and never beat yourself up for your shortcomings. (And think about the vicious cycle this causes: You’re stressed because you need to get that chapter written. The stress slows you down. Then you feel guilty for failing at doing your writing, so you beat yourself up. It builds like an avalanche of failure.)

This is a massive boon for the writer, for once we internalize the reality of our volition, we can shape new lives for ourselves that make us better and more productive. Nothing in our lives is truly compartmentalized (“Everything is everything…”). By becoming disciplined writers we can shape the elements in our lives that allow us to devote our energy to our craft. Writing is taxing. The emotional and mental energy that goes into it is heavy. But we can develop strength to match it. For example, we can structure our lives to minimize distractions. By taking care of business elsewhere, we can free up long chunks of time where we’re free to do nothing but writing. (And see this for more on being a disciplined artist.)

We often feel like we’re merely passengers on the canoes of our lives, gliding with the current of this and that stream (our habits). But if we concentrate, if we focus our attention on our volitional power, we can see that we are not trapped. We can choose to grow and exert our wills. We need not just "float along." We can row with ever strengthening arms and backs.
Profile Image for Hamêd.
41 reviews80 followers
March 23, 2021
In Willpower the social psychologist, Roy Baumeister, demonstrates through his research time and again that willpower does exist, is a limited resource and, above all, can be strengthened. He shows that this limited mental resource should be used judiciously otherwise we experience "ego depletion." Ego depletion occurs when we use our willpower or mental strength for one task and consequently perform weakly on another one. In one experiment, participants were asked to watch a comedy film while they had to control themselves not to laugh. Then they had to hold their hands in ice-water. Theses participants kept their hands in ice-water significantly less than the control group. Both tasks required self-control and the exercise of willpower. The exertion of willpower in the first task was followed by doing poorly in the second one.

The good news is that we can cultivate willpower and enhance our self-control. Moving toward your well-specified goals and creating good habits increase self-control. Self-monitoring is essential in enhancing self-control. When you observe and notice what you do, you are better able to regulate yourself. You need standards and values to guide yourself. You should constantly remind yourself about your values, standards and goals. Using your non-dominant hand for daily activities can also increase mental strength. Squeezing a hand grip can do the same thing.

Willpower is not a Victorian myth, but rather a great human strength that should be understood, recognized, cultivated and capitalized on in the pursuit of valued goals.

Profile Image for Josh Friedlander.
720 reviews103 followers
April 2, 2015
Like most pop-psych books, a little too inspirational and feel-good for my taste. But this book has some extraordinary factual claims: willpower, long ignored by social scientists (who preferred to attribute achievements to environmental factors), is something like a muscle, which can be carefully managed or tired out, as well as trained. The authors survey people with great willpower (recovering addicts, endurance artists, Victorian explorers) and discuss ways to understand and improve your chances in your inner struggles. Particularly fascinating is the role of religion, a kind of "outsourcing" of willpower which was the most effective way of achieving it, and its contemporary absence has made it harder for people to force themselves to achieve their goals. (Consider the mysterious belief-mandatory success of AA - which still puzzles psychologists - familiar to readers of Infinite Jest.) The authors also caution against dieting, which makes us fight our most basic desire, hunger, a fight we are evolutionarily guaranteed to lose. Instead they recommend trade-offs, delaying gratification by promising ourselves we will eat more if we wait a few hours.

I'm not a harangued professional struggling to cope with emails, but I do have my own willpower struggles - Death in Venice or check my Twitter feed? - so I'll be happy if I am even a little successful in implementing this book's suggestions. At any rate, understanding how we make decisions is the only way of improving their efficacy.
635 reviews
Want to read
August 17, 2011
The essay based on this book (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/mag...) is SO interesting (says the woman who read the essay when she couldn't get up the willpower to keep writing her intro AP lecture). At least that essay, if not this book, is definitely worth a read.
Profile Image for gerry.
79 reviews9 followers
January 11, 2022
Fascinating exploration of the numerous facets of willpower and the research behind self-control and our unconscious minds, and their many applications. Took 1 star off for lack of contradictory research, and several parts were rather repetitive (didn't bother me too much tho).

Expressed in very readable and accessible language meant for the masses without coming off self-helpy.
Profile Image for Richard.
1,140 reviews1,028 followers
Want to read
October 17, 2015
Quite a few months ago I learned the term “decision fatigue,” and then I noticed it in action a few days later. I play boardgames quite often, and prefer strategic games. I was in the middle of a tough game, playing in a coffee shop, and during a break I ordered a slice of cake for a snack. Which is strange, because I’m usually very, very good at not going for those sweet treats. It immediately occurred to me that this was an instance of this new-fangled cognate.

Even though I’ve read quite a few PopCog books, I haven’t hit one yet that details it, but as I understand, the idea is simply that the brain has a limited amount of activity to allocate between different tasks. If the highest priority is thinking hard about one’s next move in Hansa Tuetonica , then the subconscious motivation to avoid temptation will receive less activity, and one is more likely to indulge.

This is one of the many complexities that affects our “willpower,” a distinctly old-fashioned term that is getting some well-deserved scrutiny.

This new book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, seems well conceived. It’s written by a top social psychologist, Roy F. Baumeister, along with New York Times science writer John Tierney. I’m a bit frustrated that I still haven’t gotten around to studying the previous Baumeister book on my to-be-read shelf, Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty .

The New York Times review of Willpower, “The Sugary Secret of Self-Control” is authored by none other than Steven Pinker. He approves.

John Tierney wrote a fairly lengthy essay in the New York Times Magazine on this topic, “Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?
Profile Image for Ty-Orion.
358 reviews116 followers
March 6, 2018
Поредна книга от модерните нон-фикшъни, която може да се сведе до размера на статия.

Волята и най-вече нейният недостиг е една безкрайно интересна тема, чието развитие в книгата според мен не беше на ниво. Авторите са се опитали да съберат психологическите изследвания, които изследват феномена воля, и да дадат някой и друг съвет на модерния човек, който не може да се накара да спортува/спре цигарите/измие съдовете.

Директно си признавам, че свалям 2 звезди на всеки нон-фикшън, който ме занимава с примери от живота на треторазрядни Дзвезди и техните изводи и размишления. Този похват много зачести напоследък и ми бърка в здравето. Ако още веднъж прочета как Тайгър Уудс-голф-играчът - бил ужасно волеви човек, но кръшнал на русата си жена с руса любовница, вече не знам какво ще направя. А представяте ли си какво му е на Тайгър Уудс - чете си нон-фикшъни и все го споменават като анти-пример?

В тази книга всяка глава започва с история за известен човек, някои от които вече са и позабравени, а други не са ми познати по принцип, защото са дребни американски политици или Z-list актьори. Каква е целта? Например доста място беше отделено на Аманда Палмър - жената на Нийл Гейман, която - вярно - е сертифицирана кукувица и имала 6 годишна кариера като жива статуя в младостта си. И? Съжалявам, безсмислено...

Самите съвети, подкрепени от изследвания, бяха горе-долу полезни. Яж, защото като си гладен, волята ти я няма никаква и буквално "не си ти, когато си гладен" * продуктово позициониране*. Но не яж захар, защото захарта има висок пик и рязък спад, след който си още по-голям провиснал безволеви чорап. Спи, безсънието ти черпи от волята и самоконтролът е затруднен. Прави месечни планове, а не дневни, седмични или годишни. Не спирай цигарите, когато вече си на диета, защото човек няма капацитет да променя по повече навици наведнъж. Най-трудното и гадно нещо се прави първо и колкото се може по-рано през деня, докато още си свеж.

Единственото ново и интересно за мен нещо в книгата беше споменаването на нивата на кръвната захар във връзка с престъпността и рискът освободеният затворник да се върне в затвора. Ето това е една теория, която би било добре да бъде изследвана.
Profile Image for Barb.
118 reviews
January 17, 2012
Having read Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty by Baumeister and Beck (1999) many years ago, I expected this book to be heavy on research. It is -- although Willpower is much more readable, using simple language and celebrity anecdotes to capture and hold the reader's attention. For those who want more science and less self-help-happy talk, there are plenty of references to check out. For those who want more step-by-step guidance, perhaps other self-help books in the workbook style should be sought.

However, if you are a reader from perhaps sixth to eighth grade on up, this book provides access to the research being conducted in the field of self-control/willpower. While the authors offer thoughts on how the research might be used to strengthen one's own self-control and change one's life, the overwhelming tone of the book is that self-control, as a concept, is relevant to modern life. Much of the content illustrates where and how self-control, or lack thereof, underlies a variety of situations faced by people today.

A crucial point the authors make is that self-control, unlike IQ, can be changed and manipulated. Once readers understand this, they can decide for themselves how best to use the information both in their own lives and in the way they judge and interact with others.

Definitely a self-help book along the lines of Learned Optimism (Seligman, 2006), Why Marriages Succeed Or Fail (Gottman, 1995), Flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1991), and Mindfulness (Langer, 1990) which share the research so that non-scientists can broaden their understanding of psychological phenomena in their daily lives.
Profile Image for Stuardo Berti.
23 reviews4 followers
January 27, 2012
First thing first.
If you are reading this book ebook style, beware that the last 20% are bibliographies. The book is shorter than what it seems.

The book is an interesting read. I guess it can divided in three parts.
First glucose and its effect on willpower
Second self-control guides, tips, and examples
Third Conclusions and applications

Regarding the read. The first 25% where a fast read, the second 25% was a bit of a struggle, the third 25% was fast and the last was a breeze.

If you are looking to get things out of the book, you probably have to read it all the way through. Towards the end the book helps you deal with self control and willpower proactively, which I suppose is the climax and usefulness of this thesis.

I did not enjoy the read as much as I enjoyed how much it made me think. It really got the squirrels in my head introspecting, evaluating, comparing, measuring and basically trying fit the reading in useful and practical ways, which to my surprise where many.

I did not give it 5 stars because I think the read could have been more interesting, but the benefits obtained from this book more than make up for it.

I hope these comments where useful to potential readers and have reads, let me know.
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