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

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

by Kelly McGonigal

What is willpower, how does it work, and how can one achieve it? All these questions are answered in The Willpower Instinct, a book about harnessing, training, and applying your willpower to boost productivity and, in turn, your health and happiness.

The science and advice in this book have been broken down into several concrete actions you can practice daily to rejuvenate your mind and refocus it in the area you want to improve upon. Pick even one habit—you’ll notice the difference in your quality of life soon enough!

Summary Notes

I Will, I Won’t, I Want: What Willpower Is, and Why It Matters

To say no when you need to say no, and yes when you need to say yes, you need a third power: the ability to remember what you really want.

Giving a name to the impulsive/negative version of your mind will make it easier to identify your detrimental habits as soon as you engage in them. You can then call on the wiser version of your mind and correct those habits so you can achieve your goal and be productive.

Pay special attention to what triggers your impulses. This will help you predict when you are going to feel an impulse before you even feel it! You can then remind yourself to stay on track with your goals.

Lastly, remembering that a lot of your impulses have been triggered by companies may make it easier for you to recognize and fight them. Furthermore, taking a one-day break from them can help you refocus your mind and see this ploys for what they are: mere money-making schemes.

Actions to take

The Willpower Instinct: Your Body Was Born to Resist Cheesecake

When you are chronically stressed, your body continues to divert energy from long-term needs such as digestion, reproduction, healing injuries, and fighting off illnesses to respond to the constant stream of apparent emergencies.

Stress will cloud your mind and keep you from being productive. However, if you help rejuvenate your mind and body, you can get into the right mindset to do what you need to do.

Very often, stress can cause us to turn to unhealthy and negative habits. It is important to recognize that these habits do not actually help us—in fact, they can make things worse! Cultivate positive stress-relief habits, so you can both combat stress and keep your mind and body healthy.

Actions to take

Too Tired To Resist: Why Self-Control Is Like a Muscle

If you try to control and change too many things at once, you may exhaust yourself completely.

We use self-control for many things all day long. For example, getting out of bed the first time the alarm rings instead of hitting the snooze button, skipping dessert at lunch, choosing which brand of detergent to buy from the store—we have to use our self-control for all of these things! It’s no wonder that we feel exhausted at the end of the day.

Identifying when you are most focused and scheduling important tasks for those times will ensure you can do what you need to do. You will find your productivity levels shooting through the roof!

Keep in mind that focus is not entirely limited to just one time of the day. Sometimes, you will need to actively push yourself to be productive. You might feel tired, but once you let go of that idea, you may realize that it was just a distraction and you are capable of working at your goal a little while longer. (Of course, if you are actually tired, do not overexert yourself.)

Actions to take

License to Sin: Why Being Good Gives Us Permission To Be Bad

Progress can be motivating, and even inspire future self-control, but only if you view your actions as evidence that you are committed to your goal.

Rewards and punishments can help us stay on track with our goals, but they can also distract us from them. If rewarding or punishing yourself for certain behaviors causes you to forget what your actual goal is, or it causes you to indulge in bad behaviors as a “reward,” it’s time to stop doing that and remind yourself to stay on track.

Focus less on rewards and more on the goal you are trying to achieve.

Actions to take

What the Hell: How Feeling Bad Leads to Giving In

We may think that guilt motivates us to correct our mistakes, but it’s just one more way that feeling bad leads to giving in.

Forgiving yourself for your failures is a step-by-step process. The first step will help you acknowledge what you are feeling, instead of running away from it. The second step will help you gain a healthy perspective on failure and remove the voices of unhealthy self-criticism (which don’t help you at all!) from your mind.

The third and final step will help you comfort yourself, so you can be up and ready to face another day.

Actions to take

Putting the Future on Sale: The Economics of Instant Gratification

All too often, we use our fancy brains not to make the most strategic decisions, but to give ourselves permission to act more irrationally.

All of us have experienced temptation for something counterproductive to our aims. For example, if you are on a strict diet, you might feel tempted to eat a burger. The good news is, this temptation can be fought! All you need to do is put some distance between you and said temptation.

Actions to take

Infected! Why Willpower Is Contagious

Willpower failures might be contagious, but you can also catch self-control.

It is very easy to fall back into old, negative habits when we are around others indulging in the same ones. Reminding yourself of your goals, and surrounding yourself with others who share your commitment to your goals, will keep you on track.

Actions to take

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