I had recently picked up the ‘The Upside of Stress’ by Stanford researcher Kelly McGonigal and really enjoyed it, so I decided to try another one of her books called ‘The Willpower Instinct’. I’m not exaggerating at all when I say that this is one of my favourite business books of all time. In my opinion any book that helps you to understand and improve your own psychology is a business book, especially those in the area of motivation and willpower. The more mastery you have over your own psychology, the better you will perform in business.
Use a voucher code to save on books at Book Depository
I also have a voucher code here that you can use to save on purchasing the book through online retailer Book Depository. I find their prices to typically be lower than Amazon, especially if you use one of their discount codes. Shipping is very quick and free, in fact they offer free delivery to anywhere in the world!
They also have an excellent selection of books on business, finance, and personal psychology. Anyone who wants to run a successful business or be involved in one at a high level must make a study of all of these areas. Reading books is so important, especially if you find yourself in a place where not many people around you share the same kinds of goals as yourself. They say you are the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with, but that doesn’t have to be through personal interactions. You can ‘be around’ people by reading their words as well.
The Willpower Instinct: Quick Summary
If you want a quick overview of what this book is about before picking it up or not, and I highly recommend that you do, here is the basic premise. In the book Dr. McGonigal uses willpower and self-control synonymously. Basically, how do people who resist temptation do it? Temptation could be a lot of things: eating a cupcake every day when you are supposed to be watching your weight, goofing off on Facebook instead of working on an important project, or buying something you don’t really need when you are supposed to be saving.
Interestingly, it’s people who feel that they have a lot of willpower or self-control who give in to temptations the most frequently. Dr. McGonigal goes into it in a lot more detail in the book (she is a researcher after all) but basically it’s because they don’t anticipate situations where they will be facing temptation and thus don’t come up with plans for how to deal with them.
By contrast, those who feel they are ‘weak-willed’ or likely to procrastinate or engage in other unhealthy behaviours will plan ahead and come up with strategies before they are facing a difficult choice. They spend time thinking about when they are typically tempted, where they are typically tempted, and why it is that they tend to give in. Because they have considered this ahead of time, they can decide to not go certain places, limit their exposure to certain people, and come up with mitigating strategies ahead of time. If you leave it up to yourself to make the right decision in the moment, research shows that most people rarely will.
The other thing she makes a point of in the book is that there is never a point where it is easy to consistently make the right decisions. Willpower is not something you spend a month on and then are good at for the rest of your life. It’s a habit that you need to practice regularly and work on consistently. If you feel like you’re not getting any better at it, realize that nobody really does. They just consistently practice strategies that lead them to better choices.
The real value of this book: the exercises
It’s all well and good to read the research and passively take in the information about how you could practice better willpower in your own life. But if you don’t do anything with that information, then it’s not worth very much. What I really like about this book is that there are exercises provided throughout to give you actionable steps to work on areas in your life where willpower might be lacking. She also has some thought-provoking prompts that can get you to narrow down what your goals really are, and why you might be engaging in self-sabotaging behaviours that are preventing you from reaching them.
There is also a lot more information that the short summary I provided above, it’s a really well thought out and researched book and I highly enjoyed it. it had a great blend of anecdotal as well as research based evidence, so it never felt too dense. Definitely pick this one up!