Book Review: The Willpower Instinct

What perfect timing! Everyone always spends January resolving to change every perceived fault, so why not read a book that will teach you how self control works, why it matters, and what you can do to get even more of it?

Thanks to the BlogHer Book Club, I started off my new year (and the end of the last one) reading 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. Dr. McGonigal teaches a groundbreaking course at Stanford University called “The Science of Willpower”. This course has “helped hundreds of people achieve their goals by understanding the science behind why we give in to temptation, and how we can find the strength to resist.”

The first thing I learned was that willpower is about harnessing the three powers of I will, I won’t, and I want to help achieve your goals. Harnessing these power challenges can be used towards any goal, whether it be losing weight, quitting smoking, or pulling back on the excess spending. I started off the book by notating what the willpower challenge was that I wanted to focus on.

 I will eat healthier.

I won’t eat crap.

I want to lose weight.

After Thanksgiving I had already made a bit of a resolution to stop drinking soda. Except for one splurge on New Years Eve, I’ve been caffeinated soda free since. I wanted to take that a step further and encourage myself to eat better on a regular basis. My weight has been slowly climbing and I am now at the heaviest I’ve been without being pregnant. It’s not just the number on the scale, but the way I feel about my body. My self confidence is pretty low right now. So, I wanted to learn how to strengthen my willpower when it came to making choices towards my goal.

What I really liked about McGonigal’s book, was her style. The writing is very casual, with a little humor thrown in to keep it fun, and even when she’s talking about what the parts of the brain do and how they affect your self control, it’s in a way that doesn’t make it sound like a textbook. It gave me the feeling that McGonigal would be a very fun person to hang out with.

One of the primary things I took away from The Willpower Instinct, was how important it is to train my brain to focus. I have difficulty with focusing on one thing at a time, and McGonigal attempted to teach me how to properly meditate. When I used to try, I always got frustrated that my mind kept getting away from me. I couldn’t clear my mind. What McGonigal explains, is that meditating doesn’t have to be about focusing perfectly on your breath and getting rid of everything else. What it’s really about, is catching yourself moving away from the goal (concentrating on ‘inhale’, ‘exhale’) and bringing your thoughts back there. So even when I started wondering about how much time had past, what I was going to write in my review, things I needed to finish for work, what’s for lunch, that was not a sign of failure. Instead, I succeeded in reminding myself to go back to the breath each time I caught my mind wandering. I’m still finding 5-10 minutes every day where I can just close my eyes and get back to my focus training.

Reading this book also helped me make not only smarter choices (towards my eating healthy goal and others), but also helped make me more aware when I am faced with a choice that could derail me from my goals. Shortly after finishing one chapter, I reached for an orange rather than a chocolate cookie. When took my lunch breaks at work, I was more conscious of my choices. More often than not, I chose to read a book with my lunch rather than mindlessly surfing the internet. I also learned to forgive myself each misstep (like when I had ice cream for dessert), and not use it as an excuse to abandon my entire goal.

I’m the type to pick out self help books, read a couple of chapters, and then eventually give up. There was something about McGonigal’s writing that really kept me interested in the subject. If you’re looking to read about self control and how you improve your own, you should really check out The Willpower Instinct. The difference in the way I look at my actions and my thoughts regarding my long-term goals will stay with me long after this book gets put on the shelf.

For More Information:

BlogHer Book Club Now Reading: The Willpower Instinct

Kelly McGonigal can be found on Facebook and Twitter

Check out Amazon for your copy of The Willpower Instinct.


I received a copy of this book from the publisher for this review. As a member of the BlogHer Book Club, I will be compensated for my review. All opinions expressed are my own.

This post includes affiliate links.

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