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The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal

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

Take my rating with a grain of salt: I’ve read this book, but haven’t really taken the time to put its advice into practice yet.

This book is a useful combination of popular science/psychology and self-help, looking at why our brains work the way they do and how to get better at putting big-picture goals ahead of short-term urges. There’s a fair amount of science and studies in it, explained in an accessible way, along with practical tips and strategies for everyday life.

There’s a lot of useful information here, in terms of both general information about human psychology and things that might help you make positive changes in your own life. And it’s actually enough information to justify a book, not just a magazine article stretched out to book length with lots of anecdotes (there are a few anecdotes sprinkled throughout, but they don’t dominate the pages).

The author suggests reading one chapter per week – the book’s genesis is in a ten-week college course – which I mostly did, but which didn’t ultimately help me much. Some of the topics resonated (like the one about why our brains trick us into turning to counterproductive behaviors like snacking or Internet surfing to relieve stress, even though these are actually among the least effective stress relievers), while others seemed less relevant to my life. Also, the “homework” from the first chapter is to meditate for five minutes every day, which I did not do (yes, yes, everyone recommends meditation to solve all ills, but actually doing it really sucks) and which perhaps set the tone for not doing the rest of the “assignments.”

At any rate, I think this is a good book to read if you want to make changes in your life. With the caveat that you should probably read it when you have the bandwidth to put some time and energy into making those changes, because while simply reading a book can make you more aware of some things, it probably isn’t going to break a bad habit or instill a good one all on its own. I do plan to come back to it at another time.

Also, yes, the author is Professor McGonigal. Har, har.