Thursday, January 10, 2013

Harnessing power of 'Instinct': A book review

If there was one thing people were hoping to find this time of year, it would be willpower. Whether they made a New Year's resolution to lose weight, save money or quit saying the "f" word, it is willpower that will help them reach their goals.

It's just a matter of finding it. Or, according to author and psychologist, Kelly McGonigal, it's a matter of developing it. 


"The Willpower Instinct: How Self Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It" is based on a Stanford University course taught by McGonigal.

From the publisher:
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, readers 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. 
I've always thought of willpower as something you have or don't have. Like having blue eyes or the ability to run a 5-minute mile. However, McGonigal argues that not only does everyone have the capacity to use willpower as it was something that evolved in humans for survival but something that can be developed like a muscle.

I have never (successfully) read a book in the self help category, often turned off by the matter-of-fact way in which they tell you to do things. Yes, I will stop eating after 7 p.m. because you told me to and because you said it's bad. Rather than telling you to stop doing something because it's bad McGonigal explains why you want to do something bad - talking about what part of the brain allows us to use and develop willpower - and also the parts, the impulsive parts, that try to thwart us. It is my opinion that this knowledge and understanding that helps us change behavior.

In our willpower endeavors, McGonigal divides them into three categories: I want, I will, I won't. For the purposes of the book, I chose to say that I will budget my discretionary budget because I want to spend less and save money. I won't spend money on small, unnecessary things such as coffee from the shop near work. Even if the flavored brew of the day is Butterscotch Toffee. Throughout the book, McGonigal offers challenges to help develop willpower and achieve goals. Some of them are easy -merely thinking about your decision and meditation - to awesome, like getting more sleep.

And that's the beauty of the book: You get to choose your own goal and you find out how to achieve it and why those methods work. It can be a bit cumbersome to get through the scientific research if you are unaccustomed to reading non-fiction but chapter summaries and real-life examples help further make sense of our willpower. Or lack there of.

P.S. I haven't purchased a coffee all week though I did redeem a coupon for a free small coffee at McDonald's.

You can find out more about Kelly McGonigal's "The Willpower Instinct" and join the discussion on the Blogher Book Club Page. If you are interested in following Kellie on social media you can find her on Twitter and Facebook.

This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

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