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Thursday, January 10, 2013


Disclosure: I have been compensated for my participation in this BlogHer Book Club discussion, but the opinions expressed are 100% my own.

Kelly McGonigal is a professor of psychology at Stanford University, and now you can take her 10-week course on willpower for a whole heck of a lot cheaper than attending her class.

Her new book, The Willpower Instinct, is appropriately one of the first books of the year for the BlogHer Book Club. It coincides nicely with all those resolutions we throw around come January 1st.

The book is not your typical self-help book. It doesn't tell you that with positive affirmation and enough determination you can do anything. It actually tells you to consider your weaknesses and embrace them rather than berate yourself over them. Doing so may help you overcome those weaknesses for the long haul.

It's refreshing to be reminded that we are not perfect. We are human. But we have potential to do great things. The problem, which McGonigal points out, is that "...while we have the capacity to do the harder thing, we also have the desire to do exactly the opposite" (16).

I took away a lot of helpful insights after reading through The Willpower Instinct over the last few weeks. One is that when it comes to conquering our weaknesses and exerting our willpower, it is often quality over quantity that counts. McGonigal suggests that we can actually tap out our willpower reserves, which may explain why some one eventually binges on a diet. There's only so much we can take! For example, instead of forcing yourself to give up chocolate FOREVER STARTING RIGHT NOW, why  not just ask yourself to go without it until lunch? And then maybe until lunch the next day? And then eventually you find yourself going two days without it. And so on.

In chapter three, McGonigal asks readers to contemplate whether or not our exhaustion (regarding the struggle we face when we try to give up an addiction or incorporate something like exercise into our daily lives) is real. Question yourself when you think you simply have to give in and indulge that bad habit or climb off the elliptical. Are you really exhausted? Or is it just hard? That's something I need to evaluate in my daily life. I tend to dramatically give up something instead of persevering for my own good.

At the end of the book, McGonigal addresses the concept of "future self." She suggests we all need to make "future self" more real to our present selves. We should try to love future self so much that we decide to do our best for that self. Whether that means finding the willpower to budget or exercise or quit drinking or stop yelling at our kids, it doesn't matter. Just allow your present self to believe that you do have the ability to change so that your future self can be happy.

If you're looking for something to help you better understand the science of willpower, this will do it. The Willpower Instinct incorporates facets of McGonigal's courses as well as her history in health psychology (she's also a yoga instructor, which makes me love her more, and you can read an article about her book and it's application to exercise in February's issue of YogaJournal!).

To participate in discussions on other readers' own willpower challenges, visit the BlogHer Book Club site today! I'm using tips from The Willpower Instinct to help me stay on track with my own exercise plan (so I can teach again), and to help me parent more thoughtfully with Aspen instead of falling into comfortable habits.

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