Monday, August 9, 2021

The Willpower Instinct Book Report

     Reading The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal was very inspiring and touched on many good points about self motivation, discipline, and willpower. Kelly started by teaching a class called "The Science of Willpower," through Stanford University where she taught people how to reach goals they have been struggling to achieve. From this class, she wrote this book to be able to help people from all over be able to gain self control and live the life they dreamed of. This book really makes you look deep into your self and your conscious to figure out things like what your goal actually is, setting it to an achievable standard, and figuring out what it is that holds you back. One of the first strong ideas Kelly touches on is to look at why you fail. This can be hard for most people as they come up with excuses as to why they don't follow a diet, splurge their money at the casino, or why they don't make time for their family. The first step is to realize what you are doing wrong, owning it, and not blaming anything else. From here, she goes into depth about her secret to willpower: I will, I won't, and I want. These three phrases help to gain a better grasp on what your goal actually is and how to stick with it. "I will," helps you to perform the task that you will do to reach your goal. "I won't," helps you resist impulses and cravings that will draw you away from your goal. "I want," keeps your mind focused on the end goal and what you want to achieve. She even shows and explains where these instincts are located in our brain and why they act the way they do and how to use them to our advantage to stay on the right track. All of Kelly's willpower strategies pretty much root back to these three basic fundamentals. 

    The author also touches on other activities you can add to your daily routine to help boost willpower. Some of these activities include mediation, getting enough sleep, limiting rewards, and surrounding yourself with others who have strong willpower. The basis of this book is not about how to change your life for a month, a couple months, or a year, to achieve your goal and be done. This book teaches a lifestyle change in order to be a better version of yourself and how to make permanent changes that make yourself happy. Kelly's way of teaching utilizes both mental and physical aspects of your life. She teaches you how to use your brain to your advantage and your environment to support your goals. 

    One of my favorite topics Kelly McGonigal talks about is how our brains react to the thought of rewards. In the chapter titled, "The Brain's Big Lie: Why We Mistake Wanting for Happiness," she talks about how the idea of being rewarded is often more sought after than the reward itself. She mentions studies that were done and testimonials from some of her students proving how our brains release more dopamine when thinking about how we are going to be rewarded compared to actually receiving the reward. For example, most people when dieting will give themselves a cheat day to indulge in all of the foods they have been depriving themselves of all week. The thought of this cheat day is what keeps them motivated to follow their diet for six days straight. Often when they come to this seventh day, they have ideas in their head already about what they're going to eat, where they're going to go, and what they're going to do during the time that they're usually at the gym. All of these thoughts release great amounts of dopamine in our brains and make us feel happy. Realistically, at the end of the day after all the calories are consumed and the gym is just an after thought, they feel guilty and not satisfied. All they can think about is how hard they are going to have to work at the gym the next day to burn off all the calories they consumed during the day. This mistake is then made week after week with the same outcome. This is because the thought of the cheat day (the reward) is greater than the actual reality of it. Like in the book Endurance, the men went on the voyage in hopes of an adventure. The thought of this voyage beforehand seemed a lot more appealing than the journey itself. The men suffered through cold days and nights, the loss of ships, and the feeling of probably never coming home. If they had known this would be the reality, most men probably would not have agreed to the voyage. But, in their minds, the thought of this great journey released so much dopamine and excitement that they could not resist. 

    This chapter also relates directly to the slide set on Incentives that we covered. Incentives are defined as, "anticipated external stimuli that motivate behavior to occur." For example, a dieter's cheat day or a shopaholic's trip to the mall. Every incentive, or reward, has an incentive value; the attractiveness of the incentive based on an objective property, and a utility; the subjective value of an incentive based on how it will make you feel. Both of these factor help you to decide whether the reward is worth the effort or if it will just be a waste of time resulting in guilt. However, Kelly McGonigal states that the anticipation of the incentive is what most people chase instead of the incentive itself. Most people do not take the utility of the incentive into consideration because they automatically assume it will provide satisfaction and make them feel good. This is not always the case. Often, the thought of eating the piece of cake and thinking it will make you feel good because it tastes good triumphs over the aftermath of when the piece of cake is finished and you realize you just wasted 500 of your calories for the day. This is how many people fall out of their good habits and into bad ones, because they chase the feeling of anticipation and increase levels of dopamine released in the brain. 

    If people that are trying to change their habits read this book, I think it will open their eyes to a lot of things that they are doing wrong and why they see no change in their daily lives. A dieter who has been on a diet for 3 months straight and has lost no weight may realize that the one cheat day they are allowing themselves is setting them back further than they thought. The gambling addict may see that the casino environment alone is enough to satisfy their craving, rather than spending away their whole life savings. An alcoholic may come to the conclusion that they can turn their addiction into a healthier lifestyle, and all they will need is stronger willpower. What a lot of people fail to do is look at why they are the problem. When people stop blaming outside factors and focus on boosting their own mind and willpower instinct, I believe a lot of issues and bad habits can be solved. This book is a great way to become more self aware and become closer with yourself, looking deeply in on your own feelings, thoughts, and being realistic with your goals. As a whole, this can lead to a much less selfish society and people wanting to help others more. When you learn to be happy with yourself, you leave room to be more grateful towards other and can lead to an overall better lifestyle and better society. 

https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/science-willpower-interview-kelly-mcgonigal

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