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The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It | [Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D.]

The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It

Based on Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal's wildly popular course The Science of Willpower, The Willpower Instinct is the first book to explain the new science of self-control and how it can be harnessed to improve our health, happiness, and productivity. Informed by the latest research and combining cutting-edge insights from psychology, economics, neuroscience, and medicine, The Willpower Instinct explains exactly what willpower is, how it works, and why it matters.
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Publisher's Summary

Based on Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal's wildly popular course The Science of Willpower, The Willpower Instinct is the first book to explain the new science of self-control and how it can be harnessed to improve our health, happiness, and productivity. Informed by the latest research and combining cutting-edge insights from psychology, economics, neuroscience, and medicine, The Willpower Instinct explains exactly what willpower is, how it works, and why it matters. For example, listeners will learn:

  • Willpower is a mind-body response, not a virtue. It is a biological function that can be improved through mindfulness, exercise, nutrition, and sleep.
  • Willpower is not an unlimited resource. Too much self-control can actually be bad for your health.
  • Temptation and stress hijack the brain's systems of self-control, but the brain can be trained for greater willpower.
  • Guilt and shame over your setbacks lead to giving in again, but self-forgiveness and self-compassion boost self-control.
  • Giving up control is sometimes the only way to gain self-control.
  • Willpower failures are contagious - you can catch the desire to overspend or overeat from your friends­­ - but you can also catch self-control from the right role models.

In the groundbreaking tradition of Getting Things Done, The Willpower Instinct combines life-changing prescriptive advice and complementary exercises to help listeners with goals ranging from losing weight to more patient parenting, less procrastination, better health, and greater productivity at work.

©2011 Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. (P)2011 Gildan Media Corp

What the Critics Say

"This book has tremendous value for anyone interested in learning how to achieve their goals more effectively. McGonigal clearly breaks down a large body of relevant scientific research and its applications, and shows that awareness of the limits of willpower is crucial to our ability to exercise true self control." (Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D., co-author of You Are Not Your Brain and author of best-selling Brain Lock)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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  •  
    Niv Petach Tiqva, Israel 04-03-12
    Niv Petach Tiqva, Israel 04-03-12 Member Since 2011

    34 year old, married +2 wonderful kids. Like fantasy and self development: moral, humility, listening, relationship, kids education etc

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "life changing one of the best I read"
    What made the experience of listening to The Willpower Instinct the most enjoyable?

    It is very rare to find books about this subject and even when I did, I didn't know what to expect.I was in the middle of a will struggle on many areas: some personal and some common to many people like loosing weight.I had some success before reading the book but I felt I exhausted and afraid that I'll break and return to my bad habits.After reading the book I got a boost in all areas I see good results (lost 10 KG) and I stopped feeling bad about the few times I do give in to temptation.I learned many simple techniques for controlling the mind and I also liked the simple and powerful analysis of the way we think and the many paths of the mind leading us to prefer short term satisfaction over our long term goals. (all backed up with many researches and explored in a scientific yet simple approach).This knowledge and techniques made me better understand how I used to think, I am now more immune and by simple change of the way I think I can overcome many temptations.I warmly recommend to everyone.


    62 of 62 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kimberly Good 04-17-12 Member Since 2009
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    "A lot to think about, but it is already helping"
    What about Walter Dixon’s performance did you like?

    I actually speeded the narration up to 125% (I'm using the audible app to listen to this). At normal speed it is just too slow.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    There is too much information to listen too in one sitting. However, at the same time it was way too interesting to follow the authors recommendation to only do one chapter a week and try out each will power experiment for a week before moving on.


    Any additional comments?

    This book has a great mix of both quick and easy fixes for how you think about your "willpower challenge" (losing weight, spending less, working out more, ect ), as well as some long term changes. The book is structured so that each chapter discusses current research and case studies/success stories before summarizing with a single method/strategy to increase your willpower. The idea is that one or two or ... of the discusses methods will work for you in your particular challenge, while others won't.

    56 of 57 people found this review helpful
  •  
    ANDREA United States 03-05-12
    ANDREA United States 03-05-12
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    "Very Logical"
    Would you listen to The Willpower Instinct again? Why?

    I am going to listen to this audible again. Its got a lot of info and explanations
    for why we seem to have no control, but it gives us a logical, midful way to have willpower.


    26 of 26 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sherry Kenmore, Australia 03-27-12
    Sherry Kenmore, Australia 03-27-12
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    "Will, Won't & Want"

    As suggested in the audio book, my intention was to take on the challenges offered before listening further. However the content was so interesting I found myself drawn in...hence lack of will power.

    However, I appreciated the information on studies performed, tasks suggested and results tabulated on willpower.

    I appreciated the personal content from his experience in the classroom teaching this as a course.

    I have a list of challenges that I will be applying some refreshed willpower motivators to.

    Well worth the time and credit invested.

    41 of 42 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joss Heatherton, Australia 04-01-12
    Joss Heatherton, Australia 04-01-12
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    "A very interesting listen"
    Where does The Willpower Instinct rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Quite well off.
    I love the detail that is included in the book and that it is very practical, but also great simply for information without the need to take particular action.


    Have you listened to any of Walter Dixon’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    I have not, but I quite like this one and therefore may look for others.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Probably not all in one sitting because it is a little long, but if you really wanted to, you certainly could.
    It is great for a listen through just for informational purposes, but also great to go back and listen to over and over so that you can implement/try out some of the specific techniques mentioned.


    16 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Matt Parkdale, Australia 05-21-12
    Matt Parkdale, Australia 05-21-12 Member Since 2004
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    "Outstandingly Helpful - Very Easy to Listen to"
    Where does The Willpower Instinct rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    I've read so many self help books, but this is different. It has a certain lucidity and humility to it. Every one of the recommended techniques is backed up by easy to understand, legitimate scientific findings.It's very easy to listen to. It's written for the lay person with an interest in science. It's well read and very accessible. I listened to the second chapter whilst having root canal treatment and hardly missed a word.I've now bought the hard copy too, just so I can dip into it and refresh my memory when needed.I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in any aspect of self improvement.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Most of all I like the new insights into myself that she has given me.It helps me understand the willpower traps I've fallen into throughout my life and given me simple, practical strategies for overcoming them. I've learned all kinds of new, useful and interesting stuff about the way my mind works. She covers a lot of stuff that I've never heard in any other self help book before.Another thing I really like about this book the tone - this writer does not come from the classic high pressure, ra ra "high fives and hype" sales background from which most coaches come . On researching her afterwards, I found out that Willpower is just one of the classes she teaches. First and foremost she's a devoted and highly qualified teacher in the field of health and wellbeing.This book does what most coaches and the writers of most self help books don't seem to understand - it starts from a position that most of us struggle to maintain enthusiasm for longer term goals. It explains what's actually going on when our willpower wanes—that positive thinking alone is not enough. It explains why certain types of positive thinking can actually be harmful.


    What does Walter Dixon bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Good voice modulation, pitch, pace and pausing. He kept me listening.I didn't pay much attention to the name of the author when I bought it. Somehow, when you hear the voice of a man reading, you think it's been written by a man. It gave the learning more about the author afterwards experience a certain wow factor.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Yes, absolutely. I zipped through it. Now I am listening to it again and have bought the hard copy.


    Any additional comments?

    I was surprised at how young the author is. I have no doubt that she will become a household name in years to come. She is really good at what she does and clearly a very dedicated and humble person. Check out her one hour author's presentation video given to Google staff after you've read the book. Google doesn't invite just any old author to talk to its staff. This is a mark of real distinction. It's a great summary. It's on youtube.

    42 of 44 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Neuron Sweden 05-27-13
    Neuron Sweden 05-27-13 Member Since 2012

    Family father, neuroscientist, and non-fiction audiobook addict.

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    "Research based guide to improve willpower"

    Everyone thinks that their willpower fails them, often on a regular basis. Those people who say they have a lot of willpower often have the least. Willpower is undeniably good to have and in studies it is correlated with all kinds of positive outcomes.

    Dr.McGonigal thankfully does not teach the reader never to “give in” to the things you like. Rather you should ask yourself what it is that you would like to stop/start doing and then focus on that goal. She refers to these goals as willpower challenges. Typical willpower challenges are to go to bed in time, to exercise more, to work instead of checking facebook updates, eat less snacks etc etc.

    Most people have many willpower challenges. One important lesson from this book is that you do not have unlimited willpower. Therefore you should not take on too many willpower challenges simultaneously, because that will result in failure.

    So what strategies does Dr.McGonigal propose for increasing willpower? This book includes a wealth of advice and I feel pretty confident in claiming that most people will find at least one strategy that helps them. Her first proposed strategy is meditation, which is just not my cup of tea (for me doing meditation would be a willpower challenge on its own). After taking about meditation and breathing exercises she moves on to more obvious candidates: exercise and sufficient sleep. I am sure that you have all heard it before but I will reiterate: exercise is good and getting enough sleep is important for all kinds of things, including willpower. Regarding sleep she also points out that people have started sleeping less in recent decades, and in the same time people have become more obese. In is not inconceivable that the rise in obesity in the recent decades in part is related to reduced willpower which in turn is due to the fact that we sleep less. After all, those evening snacks that we consume in the evening after a stressful day can contain quite a lot of calories.
    Dr.McGonigal introduces plenty more strategies for overcoming willpower challenges. The ones I feel were most useful include the following: (1) If you really want say a snack, wait 10 minutes, and then, if you still want it, go ahead and take it. (2) Thinking more about your future self. People are often prone to ignoring the needs of their future selves I don’t care so much how their actions may affect their future selves. (3) Focusing on what you should do rather than what you shouldn’t do. Don’t think of pink elephants! Hard right? Similarly constantly telling yourself not to eat that snack will draw your attention to it, making it harder to resist. It is better to focus on what you should and do.

    There are many willpower traps. Perhaps the most obvious one is exposing yourself to the thing you try to avoid. If you want to eat less snacks, don’t keep them in the home cause if you are like me you will eat them, sooner or later. Another trap which I personally used to fall into, is rewarding yourself after a strenuous exercise i.e., now that I have exercised so much I deserve to eat several large burgers and some candy after that =). I am not saying that such a reward in undeserved, only that the calorie intake from a large meal is much larger than the calorie output during exercise. Yet another trap is the “what the hell effect”. Having succumbed to temptation many people say to themselves - what the hell, now that I have started eating this snack I might as well eat the rest...

    I sum, this book provides an accessible introduction to willpower, what it is, how it works, and what you can do if you face a willpower challenge. Regardless of whether you decide to utilize any of Dr.McGonigal proposed strategies I believe that merely starting to think and learn about willpower will help you reach your personal goals. It is also nice to know that more or less everyone has willpower issues, and very few (sickly?) people never succumb to temptation.

    12 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mykl Devlin Australia 06-08-12
    Mykl Devlin Australia 06-08-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Very practical"

    A very practical book. It switches effortlessly between explaining (in general terms) the neurological basis of what we do and pragmatic methods to change.

    The author suggests that the book is consumed in parts over a long time to bed in the principals that he is giving. I listened to it very quickly, and will be going through it again at a slower rate putting his suggestions to work.

    11 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Daniel Woodland, CA, United States 08-13-12
    Daniel Woodland, CA, United States 08-13-12 Member Since 2011

    Educator, Guitarist.

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    "Applicable and entertaining"

    Professor McGonigal's stories about and advice for strengthening willpower are helpful and thought provoking. Especially interesting is the idea that willpower is inborn in people, and explanations for how our environment sometimes causes it to work against our best interests.

    10 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    James Mooroopna, Australia 07-15-12
    James Mooroopna, Australia 07-15-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Very enjoyable read!"

    I learnt a lot about myself and why we make the decisions that we do...even to our own detriment. Must read.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-10 of 163 results PREVIOUS1217NEXT
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  • Mr
    Hatfield, United Kingdom
    9/7/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Deadly Dull"
    Has The Willpower Instinct put you off other books in this genre?

    Yes, this is the last self help book I'm listening to written by an American scientist. They are painful to listen to.


    How did the narrator detract from the book?

    Geeky and nasally voice.


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Willpower Instinct?

    No idea. I ejected it from my CD player after 1-2 chapters when the author started going on inhaling and exhaling to build motivation.


    Any additional comments?

    Avoid this like the plague. Deadly dull nerdy twaddle read by a guy who sounds like Mr Burns in the Simpsons.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Michael
    Farnham, United Kingdom
    4/13/13
    Overall
    "It kind of works"

    One of my greatest frustrations with myself is the fact that I am so knuckle draggingly unproductive. I've read many self help books to combat this. I always get a short term boast that fades quickly. The same is true of the will power instinct but I have found, in the year since I first read it, that there have been some longs term benefits. Nothing miraculous but procrastination is reduced. Repeat listens required but I would recommend this to fellow carriers of the laziness gene.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Felix
    LONDON, United Kingdom
    12/23/12
    Overall
    "Attention required"

    Great content but not the easiest of listens, good consolidation of research and nothing wrong with the narration, but requires focus, some audio books hold my attention, and I do not find said attention wondering. Not so here. But none the less it is worth the effort. The next step is the application of the material assuming that is your intention....... and good luck with establishing the will power to implement the suggestions required to increase your will power..

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Amazon Customer
    Blackburn, United Kingdom
    5/31/12
    Overall
    "Amazing"

    Fantastically helpful book-easy to listen to and has homework activities that you can apply between chapters to see if her evidence based suggestions work.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Truth Seeker
    5/12/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "So much more than the title"
    If you could sum up The Willpower Instinct in three words, what would they be?

    Illuminating and Informative


    What did you like best about this story?

    This is a very thorough book and touches on many relevant subjects, all to do with our brains and how they work.


    What about Walter Dixon’s performance did you like?

    Walter Dixon's performance was just right - soft and understated, allowing the words to speak for themselves


    If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    Victims of our own mentality . . . .


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • J. Whittaker
    4/5/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Decent book but not the best"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    This is a decent book. It gives some good practical advice, almost in the form of large 'tips', such as meditation is good for willpower, so is being well slept, and engaging in regular exercise. However, this is also the books downfall.

    The book focuses on providing areas/things that will help with a persons willpower. But, the focus on willpower is misguided. Simply having more willpower will not solve your problems or help you achieve your goals.

    To achieve your goals you need to make progress, to make progress you need change. So you need to focus on the change process (what to change, and how to make the change stick).

    Simply having more willpower is a band aid solution.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Paul
    Edinburgh, United Kingdom
    4/13/13
    Overall
    "Enjoyable Read!"

    I really enjoyed the Willpower Instinct. It is definitely one of those books or audiobooks in this case that you want to listen to again and again. Her writing style is easy and enjoyable to follow and keeps you wanting more and the research she has performed is really incredible. A must read!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Master
    London, United Kingdom
    4/7/13
    Overall
    "Marvelously effective!"

    This is a great read. After reading just the title and synopsis on the cover it gave me the belief and will that I need not listen to the book at all.



    Marvelously effective!

    0 of 4 people found this review helpful
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