The Willpower Instinct: a book review

Thursday, January 10, 2013
I've always thought that I have a fair amount of willpower. And according to Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct, that probably means I don't have much.

Although I'm a non-addict and my struggles with weight have been few (and totally limited to a couple porky semesters early on in college), I really should exercise more, I have a terrible time getting up when I want to in the morning, I have a love affair with marshmallows, and we all know about my best frenemy - procrastination.

But then, who doesn't have a good handful of personal willpower challenges?

McGonigal knows that willpower challenges plague all of us. That's why a couple years back, she started teaching course on willpower as part of Stanford's Continuing Studies program. The course was a smash hit and this book picks up its cues from the course . . . i.e, McGonigal teaches her course over 10 weeks; the book is divided into 10 chapters.

And how lucky we all are to be able to take the course, even if we're thousands of miles away from McGonigal's lecture hall. This book gathers together the many scientific studies about willpower and presents their findings in an interesting and conversational manner that makes clear what these studies tell us about the decisions we make every day. McGonigal's conversational tone can almost trick you into thinking she's talking only to you and she possesses a wicked sense of humor.

While the book is labeled as a self-help book, you won't find any big claims or even definite answers in this book. Instead, McGonigal points to proven ways that people can increase their willpower (hint: think exercise, yoga, and taking time to truly relax). She goes to great lengths to explain the inner workings of our brain and how instincts picked up back in our hunter gather days continually undermine our own logic today. (Come on evolution, keep up!)

I really enjoyed this book. It's funny, honest, and fascinating. In the pages of The Willpower Instinct I found permission to let go of some the guilt I hold when I don't live up to my own expectations (turns out that guilt just makes it harder for me to succeed the next go-round) and also learned how to pay better attention to the thoughts that run through my mind before I opt for an instant reward rather instead of continuing to strive towards a long term goal. If you've ever wondered why your mind can often be your own worst enemy, this book's a fast read that's well worth the time. 

You can find more information and discussions about The Willpower Instinct over at the BlogHer book club.

Disclosure: I participated in this review for the BlogHer Book Club. I was compensated for my time and received a complimentary copy of the book. However, all opinions expressed in the review are my own.


  1. Great review! I read it for BHBC too and just loved it.

  2. Sounds like a good choice to become part of my bedside table pile ;-)

  3. I am very strong willed, which can be a great thing or can, um, irk people at times :)


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