Review: The Willpower Instinct

I agreed to review The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. for the Blogher Book Club, because I felt that willpower was a concept with which authors struggle all the time. The subtitle is: "How self-control works, why it matters, and what you can do to get more of it."

Well, sign me up! Since the manuscript I finished this past fall took three years, how could that be irrelevant? The book is dedicated not to a spouse or family, but: "to everyone who has ever struggled with temptation, addiction, procrastination, or motivation--which is to say, all of us." Amen, sister. She could have added "to any author stuck on page 98, who will now check Facebook, Twitter, her fingernail polish, Words with Friends and her email account before she figures out how to fix this misbehaving paragraph."

(Quick aside: let us pause for a moment to consider the wisdom of releasing and promoting a book about willpower in January, when the gym is fullest and the salad bar has a line around the block. Somebody was thinking!)

I will often cross the street to avoid anything self-helpish, but I'm a sucker for a book with good scientific bones. And The Willpower Instinct delivers on its promise to use available research to help us understand our own downfalls. Not only does the book read in a way which is well grounded, the writing is excellent.

Now, the will to write more is a will power "do," not a "don't." So many of the examples in this book felt a long way from my own goals. There are repeated references to quitting smoking and avoiding cheesecake. The context was not always helpful to my personal cause.

Or so I thought.

Dr. McGonigal lays out a very compelling case that half of gaining willpower is in recognizing the root problem. You can't finish your book if you're checking your email every five minutes. And why, miss, are you doing that? The author quite elegantly demonstrates many of the little ways we sabotage our better selves, allowing distraction and compulsion to undermine the long term goal. My favorite chapter was "Putting the Future on Sale," which deconstructs the separations we make between what we ask of our current, lazy self and what we expect from our ambitious, future self.

I expect plenty from my future self. My current one had better toe the line.

You can follow the entire book club discussion about The Willpower Instinct on BlogHer. This is a paid review for BlogHer book club but the views expressed here are my own.