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The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It Hardcover – December 29, 2011

4.6 out of 5 stars 542 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"What a liberating book! McGonigal explains the scientific reality of willpower, exploding the myths most of us believe. Stronger willpower--based on inspiring facts, not oppressive nonsense--is finally within everyone's reach."--Geoff Colvin, author of Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else

"The Willpower Instinct is a new kind of self-help book. Using science to explain the why and strategies for the how, McGonigal has created a must-read for anyone who wants to change how they live in both small and big ways." - Book Page

"Each chapter could stand on its own as something helpful, but taken as a whole, this book could be downright life-altering. If you are trying to lose weight, become more successful at work, rid yourself of toxic habits...heck, if you're HUMAN, you need to read this book." -- Library Thing Review

This book has tremendous value for anyone interested in learning how to achieve their goals more effectively. McGonigal clearly breaks down a large body of relevant scientific research and its applications, and shows that awareness of the limits of willpower is crucial to our ability to exercise true self control. -Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D., co-author of You Are Not Your Brain and author of bestselling Brain Lock

About the Author

KELLY McGONIGAL, PHD, is an award-winning psychology instructor at Stanford University, as well as a health educator for the School of Medicine's Health Improvement Program. She is also the author of Psychology Today's "Science of Willpower" blog and lives in Palo Alto, California.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Avery; 1 edition (December 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1583334386
  • ISBN-13: 978-1583334386
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (542 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #27,258 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kelly McGonigal, PhD, is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, and a leading expert on the mind-body relationship. She teaches for the School of Medicine's Health Improvement Program and is a senior teacher/consultant for the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. Her work demonstrates the applications of psychological science to personal health and happiness, as well as organizational success and social change.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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 pompousness":

1. effective willpower - just noticing what's happening is key
2. the willpower instinct - anything that puts a stress on your mind or body can sabotage self-control but too much willpower is stressful
3. self-control is like a muscle - it gets tired from use but regular exercise makes it stronger
4. why being good encourages bad behavior - we use past good behavior to justify indulgences
5. why we mistake wanting for happiness - even false promises of reward make us feel alert and captivated, so we chase satisfaction from things that don't deliver
6. how feeling bad leads to giving in - self-compassion is a far better strategy than beating ourselves up
7. we discount both future rewards and future costs - we consistently act against our own long-term interests and we illogically believe our future selves will (magically) have more willpower
8. why willpower is contagious - humans are hardwired to connect and we mimic and mirror both willpower failures and willpower successes of our social network
9. inner acceptance improves outer control - attempts to fight instincts and desires ironically make them worse
10.
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I'm one of those people who hate the self-help movement but can't stop hoping that the next book is actually going to make a difference, that it's the one that going to make me stop procrastinating and deal with my bad habits. So, I keep on reading books and blogs, only to be disappointed.

Not so with this book.

While the book offers the regular mix of science, personal experiences and tips, it's more down-to-earth than other books I have read. Maybe that's because it's based on a course that actually dealt with people going through the motions described in this book.

Usually, I read a book, highlight what I think makes sense and move on without incorporating what I just noted. In this case, I'm remembering on a daily basis what the author wrote and implementing her suggestions. It might actually be the last self-help book I ever read.
2 Comments 265 of 275 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
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-send, and it's just that good. You'll have to read for yourself to see what all this gushing is about, but for now, here's a small sampling in the form of the titles' chapters with the author Kelly's big idea summary of each:

***Chapter 1: I Will, I Won't, I Want--What Willpower Is, and Why It Matters
Willpower is actually three powers--I will, I won't, and I want--that help us to be a better version of ourselves.

***Chapter 2: The Willpower Instinct--Your Body Was Born to Resist Cheesecake
Willpower is a biological instinct, like stress, that evolved to help protect ourselves from ourselves.

***Chapter 3: Too Tired to Resist--Why Self-Control Is Like a Muscle
Self-control is like a muscle. It gets tired from use, but regular exercise makes it stronger.

***Chapter 4: License to Sin--Why Being Good Gives Us Permission to Be Bad
When we turn willpower challenges into measures of moral worth, being good gives us permission to be bad. For better self-control, forget virtue, and focus on goals and values.

***Chapter 5:The Brain's Big Lie--Why We Mistake Wanting for Happiness
Our brains mistake the promise of reward for a guarantee of happiness, so we chase satisfaction from things that do not deliver.
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Comment 136 of 148 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
As a mom to a 15-month-old trying to reestablish healthy rhythms to my life I found this book incredibly helpful. I've been working with it for several months now (I was fortunate to get an advanced copy). I've been reading one chapter a week (ish) and then engaging with the homework in my daily life. The book has been a huge support in making positive changes in my diet, exercise, and even dissertation writing- I know that it sounds like a big claim but it's true. The information in the book rattles around in my head as I'm making choices all day long and it has had a significant cumulative effect in my life.

I've already recommended the book to a number of my friends and family members and am happy to do the same here.

The writing is clear and funny, the research is interesting and accessible, and the exercises are really useful. Highly recommend!
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