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

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  26,257 ratings  ·  1,782 reviews
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, neuros
Kindle Edition, 272 pages
Published (first published December 29th 2011)
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Gry Ranfelt This is a very technical book about the science behind how the human willpower works. The idea is that the more you know the better you can help yours…moreThis is a very technical book about the science behind how the human willpower works. The idea is that the more you know the better you can help yourself. It has been very helpful. It gives a lot of hands-on advice, like giving yourself a 10-minute gap before you can have the object of desire, taking five minutes to focus only on inhaling and exhaling, putting a candybowl out to strengthen your willpower etc. etc. I highly recommend. This may be the best self-help book I've read, period.(less)
Reinhardt This book does talk about the idea that self-control depletes your energy. But it qualifies that with the idea that it is a self imposed limit. If you…moreThis book does talk about the idea that self-control depletes your energy. But it qualifies that with the idea that it is a self imposed limit. If you believe you have no restraint when you're tired, you won't. It likens it to the idea of physical endurance. Physical fatigue is primarily the brain saying stop, not muscles getting to the end of their limits.

In no way is this the central theme of the book. Many other ideas and techniques are examined.(less)
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Greg Swierad
Jun 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How willpower exactly works is still mystical, however, we know what increases our willpower and what can deplete it. There is a lot of talking about the willpower, however, there was no a book that would cover all the practical things that can improve it. In fact, this is a book about productivity, from the perspective of willpower. So, if you struggle with getting things done, this one might be a good fit for you.

Top 3 strategies from this book that I applied to my life:
* Identify and describe
Wendy Yu
Feb 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: all-5-star-books
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
May 30, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
This is basically a book for people in the thrall of a compulsion, habit or addiction they wish to change..... Me? I'm on a diet. And in fact much of the book was geared towards people dieting. It's range however covered a wide range of compulsions, and it could be utilized by anyone who wants to give up or change a behaviour.

My enjoyment of the book was greatly enhanced by my sister reading it with me. We followed the author's suggestion to read only one chapter a week, the better to mull over
A fabulous book about willpower that surprised me with its insight and clean prose. Popular psychology books often get a bad rep for either oversimplifying science or complicating it to the point if incomprehension. Kelly McGonigal, however, provides concise, research-supported strategies supported on how to achieve goals - ranging from eating healthier to smoking less to staying faithful to your spouse. She gives a quality mixture of anecdotes, analysis, and applications to ensure that readers ...more
Alex Kenjeev
Mar 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Rift Vegan
Aug 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
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
BuenoBomb aka Andre Bueno
Excellent book. Filled with tons of knowledge.

*Still need to edit these notes but here's the raw version:

This book is based on a Stanford class
People cite lack of Willpower (WP) as one of the number one things holding them back
The best way to improve self control (SC) is to see/understand why you lose control
Being overly optimistic is bad because you cannot objectively judge your own flaws and predict times of difficulty
True/Honest self knowledge is the foundation of good self
Expectations: an informative and reliable, yet readable non-fiction book about willpower by a Stanford professor.

Reality: lame jokes, some questionable science, and a bunch of pretty dumb-sounding statements I would be comfortable hearing from my grandma in the kitchen, but not from a Stanford professor in a non-fiction book. What Kelly McGonigal did here to me felt so unscientific as to be borderline anti-scientific.


Me, reading The Willpower Instinct:

Oh, boy, The Willpower Instinct was
Mario Tomic
Aug 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very insightful and interesting content. Decided to listen to the audio book which normally I don't find very easy to focus on but with this one I didn't have any problems. Although I was already familiar with some of the concepts mentioned here still learned a lot especially on understanding how one can strengthen will power. Definitely check out this book if you're interested to find out why our mind craves so many things that are unhealthy in the long run.
Mohammed H
Feb 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
**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
Romans Karpelcevs
Great book! Lots of way that will (and already started to) help me do things I want, but avoid. I read it back to back after The Power of Habit, and it reinforced and backed up most of the important lessons.
* Willpower is a limited, muscle-like resource (I postponed all tough things except one)
* Train with small tasks (I'm flossing teeth and keeping a daily diary)
* Meditate and exercise to boost willpower (requires some willpower capital first)
* Willpower works better with little v
Mar 15, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
MEH.................................. ehhhhhh


I know I have willpower . I completed this book ..


Endless annoying footnotes ... I feel it might be good middle age child .. But it did not contain any useful tips or information .

McGonigal repeats her accomplishments so many times ! Which had no relevance to this book !

I laughed to myself several times .. ...

Laura Sandonato
Jan 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I got a lot out of this book. At the beginning, I was a little concerned by the early mention of mindfulness. I am on board with the idea of mindfulness, but I wasn't interested in reading another book about it. Luckily, I stuck with it and learned so much. 'The Willpower Instinct' gave me the permission I needed to give myself a break. I liked what the author had to say about mindfulness but also appreciated the other "tricks" you can try to give yourself more willpower. I was also surprised by ...more
Jul 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ok...please ignore the most embarrassing cover of this edition. Not at all as cheesy as it sounds. McGonigal is funny, but packs some serious insights. If you're a long time WP challenged (but hate to admit you need help), get a copy. Don't tell anybody, but do experiment as the book says! Who knows - you may really help yourself!
Jan 05, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, brain
Meh. I enjoyed the science most but the majority of this information seemed intuitive to me. Still, I can see how this could be helpful to those whom need a boost in the willpower department. I was looking for a little more as I begin an exercise program as a New Year's resolution. Fortunately (and a little surprisingly), my willpower and desire to succeed has thus far been strong.
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Take my rating with a grain of salt: I’ve read this book, but haven’t really taken the time to put its advice into practice yet.

This book is a useful combination of popular science/psychology and self-help, looking at why our brains work the way they do and how to get better at putting big-picture goals ahead of short-term urges. There’s a fair amount of science and studies in it, explained in an accessible way, along with practical tips and strategies for everyday life.

There’s a lot of useful i
Morgan Blackledge
May 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Emma Sea
Mar 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Feb 21, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Ieva Gr
Aug 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: self-improvement
Was it easy to read: Averagely so. It is a serious book, but written well and doesn’t burden the reader.

What I liked about it: It seemed scientific enough to feel credible. I liked how each chapter was structured – some scientific facts, stories to illustrate them, questions to help notice similar things in your own life. The last words and summary at the end of each chapter was a great idea – I listened to the audiobook, so couldn’t make highlights. But then got back to the last part of each ch
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
Michael Foley
Jul 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Eugene by: Denis Vasilev
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Michael Hughes

I cautiously recommend this book on the basis of its evidence-based advice for everyday failures of willpower, but it's hurt by an ingratiating, chummy prose style that I found condescending. I appreciate McGonigal's attempt to write a fun and approachable book, especially given the serious willpower challenges that some of her readers might have. But her breeziness evinces a lack of faith in the material, which is inherently interesting. Every page seems to feature a parenthetical nudge in t
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was among the better books in the general genre. He offers some "willpower hacks" if you will. The book explains how your willpower works and when it is likely to not work and offers help in avoiding some willpower traps.
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Goodreads Librari...: Please add cover for The Willpower Instinct audiobook 6 20 Nov 13, 2017 11:23PM  
The massive insights within this book 2 50 Jan 28, 2016 02:58PM  
So where are you now? 8 86 Aug 26, 2014 12:39PM  

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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 Upside of Stress (Penguin Random House/Avery 201

News & Interviews

Rumaan Alam began writing Leave the World Behind with a series of tweets on a secret Twitter account he started two years ago.   The book that...
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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.” 74 likes
“Meditation is not about getting rid of all your thoughts; it’s learning not to get so lost in them that you forget what your goal is. Don’t worry if your focus isn’t perfect when meditating. Just practice coming back to the breath, again and again.” 36 likes
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