Okay. 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.
You guys, I loved this book.
I was a neuroscience major for my first three years of college. One of the requirements to fulfill the major was to participate in a weekly discussion group about hot neuroscience topics with the other neuroscience majors and professors. It was one of my favorite academic experiences. We’d argue about things like free will or whether or not people had souls, and we’d geek out over amazing research that I couldn’t believe the rest of the world didn’t seem to know or care about. One of the most memorable books we read and discussed was Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.
This book reminded me of all of that. The neuron-popping ideas. The cool research. And much like Emotional Intelligence redefined what it means to be smart, this book changed my thoughts on what willpower really is. It wasn’t so much an “I never knew that” feeling as an “I never looked at it that way” sort of experience.
The Willpower Instinct is designed to be used as if you were taking Dr. McGonigal’s “Science of Willpower” course offered to the public through Stanford University’s Continuing Studies program. There are ten chapters that mirror the ten week class experience (and include real-life experiences from former students). Each chapter introduces a new idea about willpower along with evidence to support the idea, and then follows it up with two kinds of assignments. The first assignment called “Under the Microscope” is a prompt that asks you to simply pay attention and observe the way the idea currently operates in your life, while the second “Willpower Experiment” offers a practical strategy for improving your willpower.
I didn’t have ten weeks to review the book, so I have yet to put it to the test with a true Willpower Challenge, but I’m looking forward to trying it. I can see how some of the strategies I read about were ones that had brought me success in the past, and I discovered ways I’ve sabotaged myself without realizing it. The greatest thing about this book, aside from the cool studies I’ve been forcing my family to hear about at dinner all week, is that it all seems doable. It’s reasonable. And it’s liberating for someone like me who beats herself up and feels like she’s “bad” when she stumbles. It’s not necessarily bad. Maybe it’s biology! It’s much easier to overcome the scientific reality of a natural impulse than the idea that you’re somehow deficient for wanting that doughnut or putting off doing the laundry.
We’ll be talking about willpower over at BlogHer all month. Be sure to check it out and join in.
This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.