The Willpower Instinct is written by an award winning, health psychology professor at Stanford
University, Kelly McGonigal. She wrote this book because she wants to help others manage stress
and create more positive changes in their lives. This book consists of various experiments, examples
and practices that can help improve our willpower which is also known as self-control. Each chapter
has different topics and ways we can improve our self-control. These chapters introduce a different
way of seeing things which is very eye-opening. She believed that our willpower was in the way of
our successes and wants us to understand and realize the biological functions, mental traps, and
outside factors such as society that affects our willpower. A big element she talks about in the book is
that willpower is split into three parts, “I will”, “I won’t”, and “I want”.
The first chapter that enjoyed reading was chapter 3, “Too Tired to Resist: Why Self-Control Is
Like a Muscle.” The author starts off by relating this chapter to finals week, and in Stanford it is
called “Dead Week”. This is their finals week where students cram what’s needed on exams, pull all
nighters, and basically lose their self-control over anything that is not studying. She explains how
students would smoke more cigarettes, eat unhealthy, and have more emotional outbursts. This all
connected to the idea that those who use willpower will eventually run out of it, “Researchers found
that self-control is highest in the morning and steadily deteriorates over the course of the day” (56).
Researchers also compared self-control as a muscle. Self-control has limited energy and needs to be
trained, “It gets tired from use, but regular exercise makes it stronger” (80). Experiments in this
chapter consist of the “The Willpower Diet”, making sure you fuel your body with energy giving
foods, “A Willpower Workout”, by picking one thing to do or not to do, and lastly “Find your ‘Want’
Power”, by thinking about what gives you the strength when you feel weak, and think about it when
your self-control is draining.
The second chapter I want to talk about is chapter 6, “What the Hell: How Feeling Bad Leads to
Giving In.” I related to this chapter because it talks about why stress makes us want things, and I am
someone who stress eats, “In moments far away from stress, we may know that food doesn’t make us
feel better, but this clarity flies out the window when we’re stressed out and the brain’s reward system
is screaming at us, ‘There’s a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ni the freezer!’” (136). This reminded me of the
feel good moment we talked about in one class. We do things in the spur of the moment to make us
feel good and we end up with the smaller sooner instead of larger later. Additionally this chapter talks
about how feeling bad leads to giving in, while dropping the feeling of guilt can make you stronger.
Some exercises in this chapter are “Stress-relief strategies that work”, where you actually do
something that relieves your stress, “Forgiveness when you fail”, where you are more compassionate
on your failures/setbacks, and lastly “Optimistic pessimism for successful resolutions” where you
come up with a plan to stop yourself when your self-control fails you.
The last chapter I enjoyed was chapter 8, “Infected! Why Willpower Is Contagious.” This
chapter talks about the social self and how the human mind is not one unified self. We have multiple
selves such as present self, future self, the self who remembers your goals, and etc. who compete for
control. It especially talks about the “should” power which happens when we contemplate a choice
which then provides a boost of self-control. All together, this chapter is about how social proof
influences self-control “...making both willpower and temptation contagious” (208). Some willpower
experiments in this chapter are “Strengthen your immune system” where you spend time in the
beginning of your day to think about your goals which avoids the contamination of other people’s
failures, “Catch self-control” where you think of a role model and ask yourself what would he/she do,
“The power of pride” where you bring and show your willpower challenges to the public and think
about the moment when you succeed, and lastly “Make it a group project”, where you bring your
friends into it and create a willpower challenge!
Overall, I highly recommend this book to everyone, especially those who need help improving
their self-control. I would definitely think of this book not as a book actually and more of an
experiment. As I was reading, it didn’t seem like I was being forced to read. The material given in the
“Willpower Instinct” is interesting and contagious which makes you want to learn more. My favorite
part of the book was the experiments. Even though I did not do most of them, it is good to know that
I have them in the back of my mind when I need them. 10/10 would recommend this “experiment”!
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