Sarah Morgan

Healthcare Geek.
Professional Communicator.


Book Review: The Willpower Instinct

When you think about “willpower,” if you’re anything like me, it’s always in the context of “if I had enough, I could…” or “if I only had some, I wouldn’t have….” Willpower isn’t a word that makes me feel warm and fuzzy – just frustrated and guilty.

So I was suspicious when I was asked if I wanted in on the BlogHer Book Club for The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. I mean, I know, Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. Try harder. I don’t need you to spend 238 pages telling me to feel guiltier than I already do. And then the first review began, “What a liberating book!” So now it’s rah-rah touchy-feely too? Ugh.

But I’d already said I would by then, and anyway it isn’t good to be cynical, right? So I did, even though I expected it to be both dewy-eyed and depressing at once.

Yeah. Wrong. So wrong. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I am loving this book. I’m highlighting like I’m in class studying for a final. It’s the most practical thing ever, and what I’m learning is not what I expected to read – that depressing refrain of “you’ve been doing it all wrong because you aren’t strong enough.” It’s fascinating – “you’ve been doing it all wrong because you’ve been taught to do the opposite of what research says will work.”

It’s the book version of the 10-week continuing-education course she taught at Stanford, so there are 10 chapters, with a new idea in each one. I’m halfway through, currently reading about the “license to sin” – why, even when you actually have successfully used your willpower, it’s so easy to let yourself slack off. I’d always assumed it was because – well, honestly, I’d assumed it was because I sucked and was just generally kind of weak-willed and pathetic. It turns out there are reasons. And when you know about them, you can understand how to move around them and through them. It’s like the difference between trying to rearrange delicate china with a snow shovel, or being able to use your bare hands.

Is this book a miracle cure for everything? I doubt it. But a couple of weeks in, I understand a lot of cool new stuff about the psychology and neurology behind what happens when I try to tell myself what to do, I’m picking up new habits – and I’m learning that making myself feel like crap is not only mean, but does exactly the opposite of what I want. Which, for half a book, is a fairly impressive list of accomplishments.

If you want to read the book, you can find it here on Amazon.

If you want to join the BlogHer Book Club discussion about the book, you can go here.

Disclosures: I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review but my opinions are my own. (This means I got a free book and a few dollars, but am allowed to say whatever terrible things I want about it, if I want to.) Also, if you use the links above to buy the book, they go through my Amazon Affiliate account. (This means I make about two millionths of a penny on each sale. Give or take.)


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