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The Willpower Instinct

How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It
Written by: Kelly McGonigal Ph.D.
Narrated by: Walter Dixon
Length: 8 hrs and 21 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (95 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Based on Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal's wildly popular course The Science of Willpower, The Willpower Instinct is the first book to explain the new science of self-control and how it can be harnessed to improve our health, happiness, and productivity. Informed by the latest research and combining cutting-edge insights from psychology, economics, neuroscience, and medicine, The Willpower Instinct explains exactly what willpower is, how it works, and why it matters. For example, listeners will learn:

  • Willpower is a mind-body response, not a virtue. It is a biological function that can be improved through mindfulness, exercise, nutrition, and sleep.
  • Willpower is not an unlimited resource. Too much self-control can actually be bad for your health.
  • Temptation and stress hijack the brain's systems of self-control, but the brain can be trained for greater willpower.
  • Guilt and shame over your setbacks lead to giving in again, but self-forgiveness and self-compassion boost self-control.
  • Giving up control is sometimes the only way to gain self-control.
  • Willpower failures are contagious - you can catch the desire to overspend or overeat from your friends­­ - but you can also catch self-control from the right role models.

In the groundbreaking tradition of Getting Things Done, The Willpower Instinct combines life-changing prescriptive advice and complementary exercises to help listeners with goals ranging from losing weight to more patient parenting, less procrastination, better health, and greater productivity at work.

©2011 Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. (P)2011 Gildan Media Corp

What the critics say

"This book has tremendous value for anyone interested in learning how to achieve their goals more effectively. McGonigal clearly breaks down a large body of relevant scientific research and its applications, and shows that awareness of the limits of willpower is crucial to our ability to exercise true self control." (Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D., co-author of You Are Not Your Brain and author of best-selling Brain Lock)

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Pretty Solid Read

I would recommend this to anyone who is struggling with or seeking additional knowledge on self dicipline. Its geared to appeal to a wide range of audiences whether you're dieting, a procrastinator, trying to kick a smoking habit, or just trying to be more diligent and focused in your life.

Although some might view this as a self help book its not really. It certainly doesn't read like one, and for that I am greatful. It compiles complex but accessible neuroscientific explanations, compelling new research and experiments on the subject, practical excersises you can implement in your daily routines, chapter summaries to highlight the key take aways and just the right amount of anecdotal stories from students in her class. Although there were a few topics that became redundant, for the most part, The combination of all these makes for a very compelling and interesting read.

I wouldn't say this book holds the key to successfully developing willpower and increasing your productivity. This is in part because willpower isn't really what we think it is. In actuality, by reading the book you begin to understand how complex, and diverse the concept is. You will become more conscious of the internal and external factors that are occurring when you make will power decisions and get more insight on what strategies you can personally adopt to train your mind to be more successful.

All in all, great effortless read. Wasn't the biggest fan of the narrator, as he sounded a bit robotic, but I eventually got used to it and it wasn't too bad.


3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Very powerful

For anyone who wants to understand why you do the things you do, how to stop doing the things you don’t want to and start the things you do, this book is for you. Strong, research based principles provide the guidance needed to make those changes. Plus it’s well presented and makes a very interesting listen. Highly recommend this! #Audible1

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A Different Approach

Will make you realize what your cravings are and get them out of your mind.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A great book about willpower!

There is a lot of great information here to anyone open to it. Lots of challenges to try, and lots of learning to do!

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Excellent content and performance!

Excellent tips and information about how to improve will power effectiveness through scientific research.
The voice actor was vibrant and interesting, which helped hook me onto the story.

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Everyone should read this

#Audible1
Everyone I know struggles with will power at some point. This book was a great explanation on why and how some of the natural instincts can drive willpower in different directions.

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  • Kia
  • 2018-03-23

The chapter summaries are fantastic!

I bought this book on a whim and was really impressed by both the content and the presentation. The chapter summaries are what really set it apart - they were very beneficial to reiterate the key points so that the content really resonated.

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Motivational Workbook

Kelly sets this book up like a lecture, in fact, she follows all the steps she does in her lectures. She includes a lot of information about psychology and neuroscience to explain in depth what motivation is, how it works, and subsequently how to manipulate your thoughts so that they drain the least amount of motivation as possible, and sometimes even increase it! Great book and highly recommended, it has given me the motivation to start working out and dieting and stop procrastinating, I can finally consider myself very productive. Thank you Kelly!

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excellent resource

great information, great suggested exercises, entertaining and helpful.

okay, seven more words of praise yup, seven!

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Neuron
  • Sweden
  • 2013-05-27

Research based guide to improve willpower

Everyone thinks that their willpower fails them, often on a regular basis. Those people who say they have a lot of willpower often have the least. Willpower is undeniably good to have and in studies it is correlated with all kinds of positive outcomes.

Dr.McGonigal thankfully does not teach the reader never to “give in” to the things you like. Rather you should ask yourself what it is that you would like to stop/start doing and then focus on that goal. She refers to these goals as willpower challenges. Typical willpower challenges are to go to bed in time, to exercise more, to work instead of checking facebook updates, eat less snacks etc etc.

Most people have many willpower challenges. One important lesson from this book is that you do not have unlimited willpower. Therefore you should not take on too many willpower challenges simultaneously, because that will result in failure.

So what strategies does Dr.McGonigal propose for increasing willpower? This book includes a wealth of advice and I feel pretty confident in claiming that most people will find at least one strategy that helps them. Her first proposed strategy is meditation, which is just not my cup of tea (for me doing meditation would be a willpower challenge on its own). After taking about meditation and breathing exercises she moves on to more obvious candidates: exercise and sufficient sleep. I am sure that you have all heard it before but I will reiterate: exercise is good and getting enough sleep is important for all kinds of things, including willpower. Regarding sleep she also points out that people have started sleeping less in recent decades, and in the same time people have become more obese. In is not inconceivable that the rise in obesity in the recent decades in part is related to reduced willpower which in turn is due to the fact that we sleep less. After all, those evening snacks that we consume in the evening after a stressful day can contain quite a lot of calories.
Dr.McGonigal introduces plenty more strategies for overcoming willpower challenges. The ones I feel were most useful include the following: (1) If you really want say a snack, wait 10 minutes, and then, if you still want it, go ahead and take it. (2) Thinking more about your future self. People are often prone to ignoring the needs of their future selves I don’t care so much how their actions may affect their future selves. (3) Focusing on what you should do rather than what you shouldn’t do. Don’t think of pink elephants! Hard right? Similarly constantly telling yourself not to eat that snack will draw your attention to it, making it harder to resist. It is better to focus on what you should and do.

There are many willpower traps. Perhaps the most obvious one is exposing yourself to the thing you try to avoid. If you want to eat less snacks, don’t keep them in the home cause if you are like me you will eat them, sooner or later. Another trap which I personally used to fall into, is rewarding yourself after a strenuous exercise i.e., now that I have exercised so much I deserve to eat several large burgers and some candy after that =). I am not saying that such a reward in undeserved, only that the calorie intake from a large meal is much larger than the calorie output during exercise. Yet another trap is the “what the hell effect”. Having succumbed to temptation many people say to themselves - what the hell, now that I have started eating this snack I might as well eat the rest...

I sum, this book provides an accessible introduction to willpower, what it is, how it works, and what you can do if you face a willpower challenge. Regardless of whether you decide to utilize any of Dr.McGonigal proposed strategies I believe that merely starting to think and learn about willpower will help you reach your personal goals. It is also nice to know that more or less everyone has willpower issues, and very few (sickly?) people never succumb to temptation.

160 of 167 people found this review helpful

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  • Niv
  • Petach Tiqva, Israel
  • 2012-04-03

life changing one of the best I read

What made the experience of listening to The Willpower Instinct the most enjoyable?

It is very rare to find books about this subject and even when I did, I didn't know what to expect.I was in the middle of a will struggle on many areas: some personal and some common to many people like loosing weight.I had some success before reading the book but I felt I exhausted and afraid that I'll break and return to my bad habits.After reading the book I got a boost in all areas I see good results (lost 10 KG) and I stopped feeling bad about the few times I do give in to temptation.I learned many simple techniques for controlling the mind and I also liked the simple and powerful analysis of the way we think and the many paths of the mind leading us to prefer short term satisfaction over our long term goals. (all backed up with many researches and explored in a scientific yet simple approach).This knowledge and techniques made me better understand how I used to think, I am now more immune and by simple change of the way I think I can overcome many temptations.I warmly recommend to everyone.

156 of 165 people found this review helpful

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  • Sherry
  • Calgary, Canada
  • 2012-03-27

Will, Won't & Want

As suggested in the audio book, my intention was to take on the challenges offered before listening further. However the content was so interesting I found myself drawn in...hence lack of will power.

However, I appreciated the information on studies performed, tasks suggested and results tabulated on willpower.

I appreciated the personal content from his experience in the classroom teaching this as a course.

I have a list of challenges that I will be applying some refreshed willpower motivators to.

Well worth the time and credit invested.

84 of 90 people found this review helpful

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  • MTKim
  • 2012-04-17

A lot to think about, but it is already helping

What about Walter Dixon’s performance did you like?

I actually speeded the narration up to 125% (I'm using the audible app to listen to this). At normal speed it is just too slow.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

There is too much information to listen too in one sitting. However, at the same time it was way too interesting to follow the authors recommendation to only do one chapter a week and try out each will power experiment for a week before moving on.

Any additional comments?

This book has a great mix of both quick and easy fixes for how you think about your "willpower challenge" (losing weight, spending less, working out more, ect ), as well as some long term changes. The book is structured so that each chapter discusses current research and case studies/success stories before summarizing with a single method/strategy to increase your willpower. The idea is that one or two or ... of the discusses methods will work for you in your particular challenge, while others won't.

93 of 101 people found this review helpful

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  • Matt
  • Parkdale, Australia
  • 2012-05-21

Outstandingly Helpful - Very Easy to Listen to

Where does The Willpower Instinct rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I've read so many self help books, but this is different. It has a certain lucidity and humility to it. Every one of the recommended techniques is backed up by easy to understand, legitimate scientific findings.It's very easy to listen to. It's written for the lay person with an interest in science. It's well read and very accessible. I listened to the second chapter whilst having root canal treatment and hardly missed a word.I've now bought the hard copy too, just so I can dip into it and refresh my memory when needed.I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in any aspect of self improvement.

What did you like best about this story?

Most of all I like the new insights into myself that she has given me.It helps me understand the willpower traps I've fallen into throughout my life and given me simple, practical strategies for overcoming them. I've learned all kinds of new, useful and interesting stuff about the way my mind works. She covers a lot of stuff that I've never heard in any other self help book before.Another thing I really like about this book the tone - this writer does not come from the classic high pressure, ra ra "high fives and hype" sales background from which most coaches come . On researching her afterwards, I found out that Willpower is just one of the classes she teaches. First and foremost she's a devoted and highly qualified teacher in the field of health and wellbeing.This book does what most coaches and the writers of most self help books don't seem to understand - it starts from a position that most of us struggle to maintain enthusiasm for longer term goals. It explains what's actually going on when our willpower wanes—that positive thinking alone is not enough. It explains why certain types of positive thinking can actually be harmful.

What does Walter Dixon bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Good voice modulation, pitch, pace and pausing. He kept me listening.I didn't pay much attention to the name of the author when I bought it. Somehow, when you hear the voice of a man reading, you think it's been written by a man. It gave the learning more about the author afterwards experience a certain wow factor.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes, absolutely. I zipped through it. Now I am listening to it again and have bought the hard copy.

Any additional comments?

I was surprised at how young the author is. I have no doubt that she will become a household name in years to come. She is really good at what she does and clearly a very dedicated and humble person. Check out her one hour author's presentation video given to Google staff after you've read the book. Google doesn't invite just any old author to talk to its staff. This is a mark of real distinction. It's a great summary. It's on youtube.

80 of 87 people found this review helpful

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  • ANDREA
  • 2012-03-05

Very Logical

Would you listen to The Willpower Instinct again? Why?

I am going to listen to this audible again. Its got a lot of info and explanations
for why we seem to have no control, but it gives us a logical, midful way to have willpower.

38 of 41 people found this review helpful

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  • Danny M.
  • 2012-08-13

Applicable and entertaining

Professor McGonigal's stories about and advice for strengthening willpower are helpful and thought provoking. Especially interesting is the idea that willpower is inborn in people, and explanations for how our environment sometimes causes it to work against our best interests.

14 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • Clare
  • 2013-02-06

Great book, lame narration

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Walter Dixon?

Kelly McGonigal! It's a huge opportunity lost to have this fantastic book narrated by Dixon's monotonous drone. This book was written by a brilliant woman, and it would add a lot to have her reading it.

54 of 61 people found this review helpful

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  • badger1
  • 2018-10-08

Let me repeat myself 4-5times

The content is good, and I think overall great messages. The problem is that he then literally says the same thing/secures the same research 4-5 times. It gets really annoying. Repeat once for emphasis maybe, on key things, but more than that and you’re wasting my time. This book’s content could’ve been conveyed in 1/5 the time.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • James
  • 2012-07-15

Very enjoyable read!

I learnt a lot about myself and why we make the decisions that we do...even to our own detriment. Must read.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • Louis
  • 2018-07-17

Absolument excellent

Après avoir lu Willpower, je trouve que Willpower Instinct est bien meilleur. Description Scientifiques et exercices pratiques sont mélangés pour faire un tour extrêmement cohérent et pertinent. On voit immédiatement les implications dans la vie de tous les jours et les exercices sont suffisamment nombreux et diversifiés pour s'insérer facilement dans notre vie de tous les jours.
Oui, cela change la vie.

La voix anglaise est bien mais elle est un peu soporifique.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Jalil H.
  • 2016-01-27

A Must-have book

This book is a must-have!
A deep Understanding of willpower.
The audiobook is great but you should take notes and practice immediately what you learn from it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • David CLAMY
  • 2018-11-13

Very insightful

The mechanism and neuroscience behind the birth of habits, willpower and self-control. The audio book offers exercices and summaries at the end of each chapter. Very well structured. Very easy to listen to or to read (I also bought the paper copy). Useful for anyone who want to know why they fail at getting rid of bad habits or why sometimes people procrastinate.

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  • asma kahi
  • 2017-09-30

Bon livre

Beaucoup de conseils pour les procastinateurs comme moi. A écouter et à appliquer quotidiennement. A réécouter si besoin

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2016-10-19

I will power!

Une abondance de techniques pour changer ses habitudes et atteindre ses objectifs, toutes avec des explications fondées sur des expériences scientifiques, le tout avec une grande pédagogie. Je le conseille à tous ceux qui tentent de s'améliorer et de mettre fin à certaines mauvaises habitudes. Conclusion du livre : c'est en apprenant à se connaître qu'on se rend capable de résister et de faire ce qui nous entraînera vers nos objectifs. Bonne narration pour l'audiobook.