The irony is not lost on me that I am getting this review posted, for a book about willpower, just under the wire on the day it is due to go up. Clearly this was a book that I could benefit from reading and I was not disappointed.
Ever since I began The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., I have been excited to tell others about this book, my seventh BlogHer Book Club (BHBC) read.
The entire time I was reading The Willpower Instinct I was constantly sharing what I was learning with my family and friends, as well as trying to put into practice the tips that Dr. McGonigal shares throughout this fascinating book.
I really liked the format of this book. As Dr. McGonigal says in the intro, you can read it all at once or go chapter by chapter, since there is a lot to digest and practice in our lives. Each chapter has a main idea, sections called “Under the Microscope,” with questions for us to think about and research-tested tips to help us with our willpower, and “Willpower Experiments,” to try in our lives in effort find out what works for us.
Anytime I would finish reading a chapter in this book I found it fascinating to see how Dr. McGonigal’s assertions and suggestions worked in real life and was pleased to see how right she is about so many theories about willpower, some of which are unconventional and I found surprising, in this book.
One of the many things I learned in this book is that we can consciously do things that will improve our ability to say “no” to temptation and “yes” to the things we want in our lives.
Some of Dr. McGonigal’s suggestions include:
- 5 – 15 minutes a day of meditation and relaxation (focusing on our breathing)
- Trying throughout the day (especially when feeling tempted/impulsive) to slow down our breath
- Mindful living
- EXERCISE is HUGE
- Healthy eating (not much junk food)
- Getting over six hours of a sleep a night
- Managing our stress in effective ways (she lists both effective and ineffective ways)
- Forgetting the virtues of being “good” and “bad” and rather focusing on our goals and values
That last one really speaks to me, as I often say things like, “I was good today, I exercised!” or “I was bad today, I ate a three doughnuts.”
I realize that some of this may seem like common sense, but we all know it isn’t always so common and it helps to be reminded to do these things and more importantly to understand why they are important to helping us live healthier and more fulfilling lives.
Dr. McGonigal also talks about how our brain knows both the “fight or flight” response and the “pause and plan” response when it comes to dealing with temptations and procrastination. She shares how we can work on self-awareness to notice what tends to precede our giving into temptation or procrastinating. If we can catch ourselves before we eat that cookie or few of them, we can slow down our breathing and be aware what our options are and what is most important to us, short term gain or long term goals.
That is a key point in this book, the idea that every time we face a choice between something we are craving and delayed gratification, it helps to remember what our priorities are and try to live accordingly. If we are trying to shed weight, those cookies and doughnuts may seem very tempting, but so is remembering why we want to get into better physical shape. Sometimes picturing ourselves in a smaller dress or blue jean size might be all we need to pass on dessert or at least eat a smaller portion.
Dr. McGonigal points out how when we are distracted we are more likely to be impulsive and that retailers are aware of this. Recently my nine-year old son and I were shopping and there was live music at the department store we were at. The performer was a reggae singer who is talented and fun to listen to, but the music was also loud and making it harder for me to focus. I could see how that kind of distraction might cause me or other people to buy stuff more impulsively.
Another big takeaway for me was the idea of how we handle setbacks when trying to make positive changes in our lives. Dr. McGonigal talks about how in those situations a lot of people will just say, “What the h-ll!” and give up on their “willpower challenges,” as she refers to them. I have done this many times over the years and appreciated learning in The Willpower Instinct that self-forgiveness, and not guilt, gets most people back on track towards reaching our goals. One of the ways to help ourselves stay the course when we have setbacks is to remind ourselves “everyone indulges sometimes, don’t be so hard on yourself,” and then try to recommit to working on our willpower challenges.
I highly recommend this book, especially if you are determined to make positive changes in your lives this New Year and have struggled with willpower and self-control in the past.
Please join our discussion over on the BlogHer Book Club page where you can share your thoughts and find out what others are saying about The Willpower Instinct.
If you have already read The Willpower Instinct or decide to check it out in the future, I would love to know what you think of it.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book to read and compensation for this review and to participate in the related BlogHer Book Club discussion. However, I was in no way encouraged to write a positive or negative review about The Willpower Instinct.