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

the willpower instinct

The irony of how long I procrastinated picking up The Willpower Instinct was not lost on me.

But once I started it, I was immediately sucked in. This was a fantastic book (one of those ones I haven’t been able to stop reading aloud to Bart), and it was especially fun to read right as I was making and beginning work on my goals for 2013.

the willpower instinct by kelly mcgonigal

Kelly McGonigal is a professor at Stanford and teaches an immensely popular class (for anyone who wishes to take it, not just Stanford students) called “The Science of Willpower.”

All of the strategies she talks about in The Willpower Instinct are ones that were tested over many semesters by hundreds and hundreds of participants in her classes, who were working to overcome obstacles from nail-biting to writing novels, and just about every addiction you can imagine.

I really enjoy non-fiction that isn’t just theoretical and this book is full of ways to try out the theories she suggests, whatever you’re struggling with, whether it’s clicking away the evening on the Internet (what, me?) or eating fifty cookies every day. I’m excited to go back and apply some of her strategies to my own willpower issues in the year ahead.

Better yet, McGonigal is a really FUNNY writer – for instance, when she’s talking about the Dunning-Kruger effect, she explains that it’s the effect of how people deeply overestimate their abilities and the WORSE they are at something, the better they think they are at it (say, driving or multi-tasking). “This explains, among other things,” she writes, “a large percentage of American Idol auditions.”

And even if you’re a completely perfect person, The Willpower Instinct is worth reading because it’s just INTERESTING. I loved seeing how our brains react to different circumstances (did you know that when healthy items like salads are added to a menu, the sales of unhealthy items increases dramatically?) and learning more about what things we believe about willpower are actually wrong.

It’s so nice to start out the year with a really great book.

I read this book for the BlogHer Book Club and you can read other reviews and discussions at BlogHer.
I am paid for my participation in the BlogHer Book Club, but I choose which books to read and my reviews are strictly my own opinions. If I think a book is terrible, I’ll say so. If I rave about a book, it’s because it’s one I’d give to Kayla or my mom.

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  1. Hi Janssen. This book sounds EXACTLY like what I need 🙂 I'm a 4th year PhD student (political science, GWU) and I've been struggling with my dissertation proposal for a year now…well, to be honest, I've been procrastinating for a year now. I've been following your blog for a couple of months now, and while I really enjoy your posts with recipes, style and my heart melts every time I read about Ella (and now, Ani), your book recommendations have been extremely helpful to me. I read Quiet and just finished The Happiness Project last night, both based on your recommendations. I'm usually not the kind of person who would read these books (I tend to be more of a classic literature/fiction reader), so I'm REALLY thankful for your suggestions. These books spoke to me and moved me in a way that hasn't happened lately. I now look forward to reading The Willpower Instinct. I think it might be just what the doctor ordered to get my dissertation under way 🙂
    Thank you so much for your wonderful recommendations and for your lovely blog. I hope you and your family have a wonderful 2013, filled with joy, happiness and plenty of amazing reads!

  2. This sounds fascinating! I finally got my CA drivers license so I can go get a library card and check this out — we've been going through major book withdrawals over here!

  3. Jansen I love your blog more and more. I just checked out two of your fave books from 2012, and can't wait to put this one on hold. As a stay at home mom who loves reading, and aspires to someday have a wonderful blog like you, I so appreciate hearing your recommendations for me and my little guy concerning books. I let everyone who asks for book recommendations know that this blog is the place to go for multiple reasons 🙂

  4. Awesome. Just put the hold request in at the library. I have ZERO willpower/self control (except when it comes to being vegetarian!). This type of book was written for someone like me! Thanks for the recommendation…

  5. Just added this to my "to read" list! I also spend too many evenings clicking away on the internet and want to break the habit.

  6. 1) I love the first sentence.
    2) I've put it on my to-read list because you said it was interesting. Otherwise, as a completely perfect person I have absolutely no need for self improvement. =)

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