Monday, August 11, 2014

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

     The Power of Habit is the sort of book that could easily be used as a primary source for a comprehensive research project. Duhigg clearly outlines his own findings and observations in the prologue. Throughout the entire book, Duhigg maintains the connections between habit and the individual and how it transfers to the greater scheme of a professional sports team or a general target customer market. The Power of Habit appeals to the reader not only on an academic level, but a personal one: how many people can say that they have never struggled with a bad habit? From biting one's fingernails (as in the case of Mandy) to alcoholism, this book imparts a tremendous amount of knowledge and exhibits countless hours of research and work without excluding the average reader. The reasons that readers have chosen to read this book may vary as greatly as their own habits, but the universality of the subject matter make The Power of Habit versatile and helpful in more ways than one.
       The selection of the main themes in this book - individual habits (Lisa Allen), Tony Dungy and his coaching techniques in professional football, Target's massive data collection techniques (and the motivating factors of collecting that information), the habits of societies (friendships forged by Rosa Parks and various residents of Montgomery, Alabama) - was artfully selected by the author to aid in illustrating just how habits affect the individual and also a mass of people. Throughout the first section of the book, Duhigg uses scientific research to reiterate the fact that habits are ingrained into the human psyche.

Favorite Part:
      As I read each specific example, I heard myself saying, "Ooohhh, that is so good. I am definitely going to mention that as my favorite." I went from being genuinely intrigued by Eugene's story: from the virus that wreaked havoc on his brain to the quote from his wife saying he always wanted to contribute to science in some meaningful way, but he just wasn't able to remember it. I read on, through to the focus on Tony Dungy and his time with the Buccaneers and then with the Colts. I recalled seeing that same calm, mild-mannered mad make his speeches after wining the Super Bowl with the Colts. Again, I thought, This is it! This one struck the chord! Then, lo and behold, I came across the chapter about Target. As a long time retail worker/manager, I found myself reading through ideas and concepts that were all too familiar to me. I, too, had spent a significant part of my personal and professional life gathering data, soliciting feedback about my customers' experience, and crafting meaningful, yet efficient training exercises to equip my staff with the tools they needed to provide customer service so exemplary that the door to my store would look like a revolving door in a flagship store in Herald Square in New York City. Truthfully, the stories of Target and retail merchandising techniques resonated with me on many levels. My favorite part of the book, however, was the author's Afterword. As I read the book, I related many things back to my own life. I constantly thought about how this information was useful and very practical. I did not leave a lot of room to think about the different conclusions and observations that Charles Duhigg had drawn. The idea of this man, who had already spent an immeasurable amount of time crafting an intelligent and well-written book based on deep questions he had about habits and human nature, hind-sighting his experience moved me in a way that none of the other passages did. Simply put, the fact that this book affected the author as much as it influenced its readers is what made this book worth the read. Actually, it was a two-way tie for my favorite part. The mention of OutKast's Hey Ya! distracted me so fully that I was unable to continue with my immediate plans until I fully reminisced the memories made with that song as the background music. I watched the music video. In its entirety. Twice.

       In this study of the power of habit, many of the themes presented in this course were addressed. The course material most obviously presented in this study of habit was the theme of impulsivity. People had created habits, some over an extended period of time, and others nearly immediately. Bad habits seem to arise more quickly and frequently than good habits; and the good habits tend to evolve in reaction to the less desirable/healthy/attractive habits' existence. This book should be assigned to students in some general studies, mandatory lecture. If that plan does not come to fruition, there is always a trip to the self-help section of the local bookstore, or With the advances in technology and the algorithms used to power nearly every website and retailer "out there" it is likely that the reader will receive multiple emails or correspondence urging them to join AA, quit smoking, or become a die-hard Indianapolis Colts fan.

The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty- Dan Ariely

New York Times bestseller, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely, mentions how each and every one of us lies about something, especially to ourselves on a daily basis. Some of us may think we're honest people and we "would never lie", but in reality, every person lies whether we're aware of it at the time or not. Ariely points out in this book that when we lie, we think of reasons to make it seem acceptable in our minds and what we look at as "social morality". He explains why we lie and cheat ourselves and others, and how it can have an impact on things later on in life. Ariely gives examples of how out behavior effects us not only in our personal lives, but in the business world as well. He shares his own experiences along with experiments himself and others have done to help understand this dishonest behavior each of us have. Ariely explains how dishonesty works and when we are more likely to be dishonest in certain situations. Being able understand where our dishonest behavior comes from helps us better ourselves.

My favorite part of the book was chapter 1 because it sucked me into the book. It made me want to read more about what causes our dishonest behavior. Ariely has a guest speaker come into his classroom and discuss how cheating can make you rich. The guest speaker explains to the students that you can cheat your way and get rich without anyone ever finding out that you did it. This introduction gives a good hook because it had me pulled in like I was apart of the experiment and not just someone reading about different stories. By engaging the reader into your own work helps them better understand where your coming from and I thought it was neat how he did that. This book makes you think about being in their shoes and what you would do if you were given the chance.

Have you ever cheated on a test and thought it was okay to do it because you saw someone else cheating? Or feel bad that your cheating so you just stop? I know I'm guilty of them both. Sometimes we cheat and sometimes we don't, and it all comes down to how we end up looking at ourselves. Ariely states "Results suggests that cheating is not driven by concerns about standing out. Rather, it shows that our sense of our own morality is connected to the amount of cheating we feel comfortable with. Essentially, we cheat up to the level that allows us to retain our self-image as reasonably honest individuals" (Ariely, 22-23).

After reading the lecture slides on willpower and self-control, this is what crossed my mind. Cheating is a choice, but sometimes we don't do it because it may impact of later on in life. I related this to - willpower and self-control because cheating can give you the sense of accomplishment and reward, but deep down are you really that proud of yourself? Deciding when its okay or not okay to be dishonest is sometimes being able to have the power to control this feeling. To have the willpower and self-control to not be dishonest and work at things on your own.

I found a youtube video on Dan Ariely and it really gives good background information on why we do the things we do. Dan Ariely has an incredible background story on why/how/when he thought of this concept "the honest truth about dishonesty" but in this video he really makes you think about the big picture and how everyone is dishonest. We know things are wrong and not a good idea, but yet we still do them anyway. A good example of this is when he brings up the talk about cell phones while driving. This video has humor in it, but it helped me better understand the points made throughout the book. Hope you enjoy it!

Ariely, Dan. The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. New York: 2012. Print.


I love food. I'm hungry right now as I type this. I'm actually about to stop and get a snack. Which brings me to what I have to say about it: I wasn't really hungry until I started reading posts about food. A lot of it is REALLY a mental thing. I'll eat dinner before work, completely stuff myself, but when I'm bored at work (I work in the mall), or when I pass Auntie Anne's on my way in; I have to stop. When I'm depressed, I eat a lot. Am I really more hungry? No, but the act of consuming food is actually comforting. Even when I'm not hungry, if I'm in a bad state of mind, I'll eat and eat and eat. Many people think eating disorders are only about starving yourself, but binging on food is an eating disorder too, and definitely a psychological disorder as well.


I really feel the need to comment on the power of caffeine. By the end of a semester, I'll notice myself drinking multiple cups of coffee per day like it's absolutely nothing. When I am home for breaks, I hardly touch coffee except for maybe an occasional cup here or there with breakfast, but at home I never find myself looking for it to stay alert and awake. At the beginning of this past Spring semester, on the first day of classes, I drank a large coffee in the morning and found myself WIRED, and jumpy, and almost high. After being home from break and not touching much caffeine, to guzzling a few cups of coffee before class, my tolerance for caffeine was low. Going from no caffeine to a high dose of caffeine made me see why it actually is a drug and is definitely an addictive stimulant in some way or another.


I agree with many theories presented in the reproduction section. There are of course exceptions, but some of our evolutionary aspects are related to other animals. Attractiveness is definitely a key factor because of the many other animals that "show off" to attract mates (such as pea cocks). It also seems valid that we chose mates similar to ours in ability to be prosperous. For example, many people find their mates in college where similar values about the future can possibly be shared. Lastly, in terms of the Structural Powerless Hypothesis, that could very well change with the times. There are many advances being made toward equality within gender and oppertunities can be the same.


I have consistently learned about drugs and their affects through attaining my Psychology degree. What is so important and shocking to me is how much drugs alter the brains of their users. Addiction needs to be seriously treated in the proper manner. I am lucky to not have any known addicts in my family because of the genetic aspect. I am also very fortunate to not be personally close with anyone who does drugs. That being said, it is extremely real.  The area I am located and surrounding parts of Southern New Jersey are really facing an epidemic of drug addiction. Heroin arrests and cases are increasingly all over the news. It is essentially a world wide problem that hopefully science and psychology can continue to help solve.


When thinking in regards to Motivation, food is one of the most common and important. There is the instinctual and evolutionary need to sustain ones self with food in order to survive. Learning about the different aspects of food behaviors in todays society was very interesting. If fortune enough to be above poverty level, there are many different aspects to food selection. Many people are even eating more than necessary for sustainability, and suffering from being overweight. A major contributing source is Fast Food places which serve extremely fatty foods. This made sense when reading about fat preference with humans. I personally think it is a shame that healthy foods aren't as readily available as unhealthy options. Cooking from raw ingredients is one of the most healthy ways to eat. I found the mere exposure effect to be inspiring because it proves that eating healthy can be accustomed to and turned into habit.

Book Report: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength: Willpower

Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength: Willpower by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney discusses how humans often struggle with one of the greatest strengths. Baumeister and Tierney have willpower evaluated by a series of experiments to determine whether it is only a metaphor or not. Baumeister and Tierney discover that willpower is similar to a muscle in which it can become fatigued when overused. Baumeister and Tierney use a variety of research in order to support their suggestions. Based off of the findings from the research, they make recommendations to individuals who are hoping to regain self-control, therefore, having greater willpower.
My favorite part of the book is how willpower was described to be similar to a muscle. This “muscle” can become tired when overused. The best example of willpower being overused was when the authors talked about college students during finals week. During finals week, college students intend to study more, hang out with friends less, sleep less, and party less.  What actually happens is the exact opposite of their intentions. Researchers found that students study less during finals week. Since I am constantly faced with finals week, I now realize this is true. Researchers explained this lack of willpower due to the fact that the “muscle” had been used the rest of the semester leading up to finals. By the time finals roll around, the willpower “muscle” is worn out from overuse. This reminded me of the men in the book Endurance. While reading the book, I kept questioning how anyone could live in those awful conditions and how they had the willpower to continue on. They had the willpower to continue on because that’s all they had to focus on. They didn’t put any of their time into relationships, society, or stress. They could focus on surviving and moving along in their journey. These men had extremely strong willpower causing their “muscle” to not become tired.
This book is related to the course in a number of ways. It is most related to the lecture on self-control. In the lecture, it talks about how a lack of self-control isn’t due from a lack of willpower, but due to conflicting outcomes. Many of the choices we make are made by choosing between a few different options at stake.  When these two options have conflicting outcomes, it can be difficult to pick the smarter decision. For example, if an individual is given the option of going out with friends on the same day a paper is due, what will be the decision made? If the student goes out with friends, they will have fun; however, if they write the paper, they can go out the next day. When there are conflicting outcomes, it can often be hard to make a choice. Many often go with the more fun option which would be hanging out with friends. This is due to the fact that going out with friends is a quicker reward. Writing a paper will take more time and won’t be as entertaining. Others looking in on the situation may assume that person doesn’t have willpower, but it’s simply the conflicting outcomes which makes it seem that way. This is what Baumeister and Tierney base the entire book off of. There are simple tactics that individuals can use in order to regain self-control and make better choices. After reading the lectures from class, I questioned how much self-control I had. I am glad I read this book and learned how to increase my self-control and willpower.
Pictured below is a list I created last week in my planner. I created the list for my two days off from work in hopes of completing it in only two days. I am a huge list maker. I make lists almost every day for what I need to complete.  I always thought that my daily list making made me more productive because it held me to a standard to complete. After reading this book, I learned that I am probably being less productive with those lists. A study conducted found that daily lists didn’t leave room for change. When things come up in the day, things from the list keep getting pushed off. It was found that making a monthly list is more beneficial because changes can be made when needed. This fascinated me in that my lists may have made me less productive. Due to this finding, I now will be making either weekly or monthly lists to complete. This will give me more control over what I need to complete.
I would highly recommend this book for everyone to read. I knew that I procrastinated sometimes or could be more productive, but I wasn’t aware that I had a lack of willpower due to simple things I was doing. I think if everyone read this book, they would better understand why they make certain decisions that they do. Society has such high expectations for individuals to be successful. With so much pressure, many people actually procrastinate more than they are productive. If people read this book and learned about the simple ways to refocus and gain self-control, we may have a more productive society. I think high school and college students, in particular, should look into reading this book.


As individuals we all have something that we look for in our significant others. Whether it's looks, brains, or personality, we are always attracted to someone for a reason. I found the presentation slides on Reproduction to be the most interesting one because it makes you question why you think the way that you do. On the slide Universality of Beauty and Health, I read about social perception and the advantages of attractive and unattractive faces and it made me angry. What stood out was when they state that findings showed that "The more attractive the presented faces were, the more successful, content, friendly, intelligent, sociable, accessible, exciting, creative, and busy the persons were estimated" surprised me because there's more that meets the eye than just looks. What you look like on the outside has absolutely nothing to do with how beautiful someone is.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Book Report: "The Willpower Instinct" by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D

The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, is essentially a how-to guide to gaining more self-control and willpower over the quotidian temptations in today’s world. McGonigal begins her lessons in the field of self-control by challenging the reader to choose his or her own willpower challenge that will be tested and worked on throughout each chapter of the book. In the very beginning, McGonigal distinguishes willpower challenges into three different categories: “I will” power challenges, “I won’t” power challenges, and “I want” power challenges. The first is something that will improve an individual’s lifestyle, but he or she keeps putting this particular goal off for a later time. The second type of challenge is essentially that of breaking a bad habit in order to improve overall quality of life. Finally, the third is a long-term goal that holds significance to the individual trying to achieve it. As explained in the preface, the book is meant to be read over the course of ten weeks in order for the reader to really harness the ability to increase his or her self-control and will power. Throughout each chapter, McGonigal stimulates the reader by asking he or she to think about their own willpower challenge and the various ways that one manipulates their own willpower. For instance, in chapter six, “This week, pay special attention to how you handle any willpower failure. Do you criticize yourself and tell yourself that you’ll never change?” (Page 145).

McGonigal also explains to her readers that willpower is an innate characteristic that has assisted humans in successfully evolving. However, we indulge in things that our ancestors relied on for survival, such as eating an excess of fat or sugar. In theme with the biological aspects of willpower and self-control, McGonigal further explains that both entities are much like the muscles of our bodies. The more that one practices, or “exercises” self control, the stronger his or her sense of self-control and willpower becomes. As some classmates have already commented through the blog, the hardest things for people to deal with are their own issues. It is easiest to completely ignore an issue or simply give up on a goal because life gets in the way. McGonigal forces her readers to come face to face with their own shortcomings. The Willpower Instinct has been so successful in helping so many people because it allows for an immense amount of self-reflection and insight into why individuals have trouble reaching their goals.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading through chapter four of The Willpower Instinct. The title of the chapter itself, “License to Sin: Why Being Good Gives Us Permission to Be Bad” caught my eye immediately. This particular chapter was one that I could relate with immensely, which made it my absolute favorite to read; it seemed as if I was reading about my own behaviors. McGonigal begins the chapter by explaining that through the means of moral licensing, we reward our good behavior that works towards one of our goals with something bad. For instance, after exercising for a period of time, we reward our lost calories by overeating at the next meal or indulging an unhealthy craving. Furthermore, McGonigal explains that moral licensing offers an explanation as to why those individuals that are thought of as “good people” are often guilty of doing “bad things.” If an individual feels that he or she has done so many good acts in his or her lifetime, those good deeds must be able to cover for whatever corrupt or scandalous situation they are involved in. Moral licensing is an incredibly fascinating concept that I had not put much thought into before reading The Willpower Instinct; however, virtually everyone is guilty of such acts.

In the fourth chapter, McGonigal further explains that studies show that many individuals pat themselves on the back for slightly giving into temptation. As she explains, this reasoning is similar to someone feeling good about themselves because they only ate a bowl of ice cream when they could have given in and eaten the entire carton. McGonigal explains, “Following this ridiculous line of logic, we can turn any act of indulgence into something to be proud of. (Feeling guilty about your credit card debt? Hey, at least you haven’t robbed a bank to pay if off!)” (Page 85). Most of this chapter resonates with Premack’s Principle, where an individual is more motivated to engage in an activity that they dread in order to later engage in an activity that they long for. This principle is exemplified through the narrative on page 88. In short, a bride-to-be began exercising in preparation for her upcoming nuptials; after doing well in the gym she went home and overate. It soon became a predictive behavior that she would go to the gym and track the number of calories lost in order to indulge in sweet treats afterward. I too am guilty of such behaviors; whenever I am on the treadmill, I am able to track the amount of calories that I have lost during a given run. I then take this number of lost calories as a license to treat myself to any type of unhealthy food, and more often than not, it’s ice cream.

All the while reading The Willpower Instinct, one aspect of the lecture regarding Impulsivity and Self Control kept coming to mind. Essentially, much of what McGonigal believes about modern humans and their battle with finding more willpower resonates with “the primrose path” theory that was introduced by Howard Rachlin. McGonigal shares similar beliefs regarding self-control as Rachlin; rather than hold off a little longer for a reward, so many individuals today give into the idea of instant gratification. We then essentially beat ourselves up for our bad behavior, but continue to treat ourselves to our innermost desires and bad habits. McGonigal further explains that this vicious cycle, which is fundamentally equal to Rachlin’s primrose path, is why we continually hope to correct our behavior tomorrow and succumb to our bad behaviors today.

The Willpower Instinct is incredibly applicable to a plethora of challenges that individuals face on a daily basis. Not only can the book be used as a guide to relieve stress, but also it can ultimately assist one to reach his or her goal painlessly and successfully. McGonigal only touched on a few goals that the book could successfully be used toward, including losing weight, quitting smoking, or even saving money to get out of debt. It is my firm belief that The Willpower Instinct could be used to assist individuals in overcoming many other challenges such as becoming a better listener, changing the way one handles his or her stress, and overcoming a battle with procrastination or various addictions besides that of smoking. McGonigal has proven that her ideas are successful through introducing them and basically testing them on various students in her lectures. Personally, I have no doubt that The Willpower Instinct can be extended to solve real-world problems. I already feel as if I have much more control over some of my own behaviors after reading the book over the course of a few short weeks. I intend to re-read McGonigal’s book over the recommended period of ten weeks in order to gain the full experience and hopefully further increase the amount of self-control and willpower that I posses.

McGonigal, Kelly. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. New York: Avery, 2012. Print.


The concept of "universal beauty" has always been interesting to me. In general, it seems that most countries have the same general ideas of what makes someone beautiful (symmetry, body type). However,  the smaller details vary greatly throughout the world. In America, tan skin is usually considered to be more attractive than pale skin. People spend lots of money to lay in tanning beds even though they know there is a high risk of skin cancer. However, most other countries consider lighter skin to be more beautiful. Skin-whitening creams are sold throughout Asia and Africa, while self-tanner is popular here.

The country that I would consider to have the most radical view of beauty is South Korea. There seems to be a vary narrow concept of beauty there. If you watch a lot of Korean drama or K-pop videos, you will notice that after a while the people tend to look very similar. It's not that they are born that way, but because plastic surgery is incredibly prevalent throughout the country. Feminine, youthful features are considered ideal for both men and women. When you look at American plastic surgery before-and-afters, the person usually looks the same but just slightly 'improved'. South Korean plastic surgery is often used to change your whole face so you look like an entirely different person afterwards. I think it will be interesting to see the effect that this has on the next generation. Many kids will be born looking nothing like their parents, since there is no way to change your genetics! I can understand why people get plastic surgery, but I think that the South Koreans take it to a whole other level. Take a look at these pictures, it's hard to imagine that these are the same people!


In the past, I have learned about addiction to different psychoactive drugs and how they can affect an individual's life. Prior to this class, I knew that caffeine was the most widely used psychoactive drug; however, after reading the slides on drug addiction I started thinking about them at work. I work at a seafood restaurant in Sea Isle. It gets very crazy there on summer nights. Waitresses work from 3 until close. It can be exhausting working there. Waitresses literally run through the restaurant trying to catch up with what they need to do.

Prior to the restaurant opening, waitresses and I are always drinking multiple cups of soda or coffee in order to prepare for the night ahead of us. We crave the caffeine because it helps us focus and stay on top of things during the night. After seeing this at work, I realized this is probably why Americans use caffeine so much. There is so much pressure to work and succeed with little to no rest.  In order to keep up with the demands from society, Americans consume mass amounts of caffeine to stay awake and focus.

I think this is scary because many of us are unaware of how much caffeine we are consuming. This can ultimately lead to huge health problems in the long run. Many of the items containing caffeine are also loaded with sugar and artificial flavoring. We need to be more aware of the substances we are putting into our bodies because it can lead to long term affects.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Impulsivity & Self Control

As pathetic as it sounds, some of the children in the marshmallow video have much more self control than I would if placed in the same situation. However, I do have an incredibly strong sweet tooth to blame. The video was an incredibly eye-opening example of how so many people in today’s world strive for instant gratification rather than working toward a bigger payout in the end. The experiment regarding self-control and willpower made me further examine the choices that I make on a day-to-day basis and what stimulates me to make such choices. I find that I have less self control when I am experiencing stress compared to when I am relaxed. Especially when I am on a deadline, I find ways to procrastinate and give into temptations rather than complete an assignment. However, after reading The Willpower Instinct (which I will be discussing in a my book report post) I feel like I can easily increase the amount of self-control that I have. I’m hoping to implement some of the techniques and helpful advice given throughout the book in this upcoming semester. Hopefully I will not feel as overwhelmed during the semester and I will have enough willpower to resist impulsive and foolish choices. 


I was not incredibly surprised to read about the good gene hypothesis or mate value in the lecture regarding reproduction. As a biology major, I had to take a class in biodiversity and evolution; one of the first things that we learned in class is that an individual’s level of success (in the evolutionary sense of the word) is measured by the number of viable, healthy offspring that he or she creates. Although humans separate themselves as being vastly superior to other animals, we all still feel the basic evolutionary need to procreate. However, I do not believe that when we look for our better halves we judge them on how many children they can give us. Instead many people subconsciously judge potential mates on incredibly superficial aspects. I would appreciate a mate more if he were loving and kind rather than if he drove a fancy car or showered me with expensive gifts. It was incredibly interesting to read about some of the characteristics that can increase an individual’s mate value. It seems obvious that a more physically attractive person could have an easier time attracting mates compared to a person who lacks physical attractiveness but excels in the other items in the mate value inventory. Also,  I can imagine that the score that one gives him or herself may differ from the score of mate value as judged by other individuals. Overall, it’s fascinating to compare the ways that humans and animals judge another individual in terms of their mate value.