The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal basically outlines different steps you can take to gain more self-control, what it can do for you and how to gain more of it. Each chapter of the book talks about different ways that self-control and willpower can contribute to your life, good or bad. Another aspect of the book is that it includes practices and experiments that you can use to improve these skills in your everyday life. The thing the author speaks about in the beginning of the book is the basis of willpower and how it is split into three parts, “I will”, “I won’t” and “I want”. This set the tone for the entire book, expressing the details of the process to obtain your own willpower.
The chapter I wanted to start off with was chapter 2, The Willpower Instinct: Your Body Was Born to Resist Cheesecake. This chapter touches upon two techniques which are the flight or flight response and the pause and plan. This chapter touches upon the difference between the thoughts of “what was I thinking?” versus “what was by body doing?”. This is interesting to me as a reader and learner because of the simplicity I thought was behind decision making. I always thought it was about the mind and what you were thinking at that moment but it does have a lot to do with the body. Fight or flight response is something that you act on impulsively when there is a potential threat of danger. Pause and plan is when you see that piece of cheesecake, dopamine is released which is what makes you want the cheesecake. Your body is one of the biggest influencers to force you to eat that cheesecake because when you think about eating it, your blood sugar levels drop. Comparing this to fight or flight, you are not doing so great in the willpower or decision making department. If you take a step back before eating it and weigh out the options of wanting and not wanting the cheesecake, you are using willpower to assess the situation and control your decision making.
The next chapter I really enjoyed was chapter 5, “The Brain’s Big Lie: Why We Mistake Wanting for Happiness”. This chapter expresses the idea that humans seek the promise of a reward when wanting something. So when they are looking for things, they will seek out something that will deliver that promise, whether it be a reward or happiness. But the trick here is, the reward is not definitely guaranteed. This idea to me is crazy to think about and the one example that really makes sense is someone who likes to gamble in a casino. When you gamble, it is a potential reward. There is no positive guarantee that you will be winning any money but the fact that there is a chance you can is what keeps people coming back. The idea of the brain mistaking this for happiness is very interesting to me. Although I do not find happiness from a casino, it made me wonder what other aspects of life we mistake for happiness. Sometimes, there is no real happiness in a situation, just the hope for some.
The last chapter that made a lasting impact on me was chapter 6, “What the Hell: How Feeling Bad Leads to Giving In.” This chapter talks about the idea of feeling bad so they cave into things that they really do not need. I found this interesting because of the position I am facing currently. The outlook on life right now for me is so upsetting, my last few months of college being taken away, no graduation, missing my friends, etc. I find myself losing sight of what I care about, diving into unhealthy foods and not taking care of myself. Yes, these are times that people are feeling bad and giving in so when I was reviewing the chapters I found a similarity to life right now. Some exercises in the book talk about why you cave in and try to use the willpower you have to say no and not follow through with giving in. I will continue to reflect on these techniques continuing through life and especially right now. Giving in to things that are not helping the situation is a waste of time and energy.
In conclusion, I am very happy to have read this book and figured out what willpower actually means to us as individuals. I remember first hearing the descriptions about our possible books in class and really wanting to make progress in the willpower aspect of my life. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is struggling in this area of life, or anyone who is just trying to make better decisions for themselves. There is so much information and many scenarios that people can relate to about gaining the willpower and making smart decisions in situations throughout life. I really enjoyed the examples and experiments the book gave the reader and related it to personal situations in real life. This is an awesome read for anyone and I am so happy I learned more about willpower.