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The Willpower Instinct

How Self-Control Works, Why it Matters and What You Can Do to Get More of It

By Kelly McGonigal
  • Read in 18 minutes
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  • Contains 11 key ideas
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The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal

The Willpower Instinct introduces the latest insights into willpower from different scientific fields, such as psychology, neuroscience, economics and medicine. While considering the limits of self-control, it also gives practical advice on how we can overcome bad habits, avoid procrastination, stay focused and become more resilient to stress.

Key idea 1 of 11

Willpower consists of three forces: I will, I won’t and I want.

Life is full of temptations: you may be offered a chocolate chip cookie right after you've started a diet, or find a pack of cigarettes just as you've resolved to quit smoking. These situations are willpower challenges – a challenge in which your immediate desires fight with your long-term goals.

So what makes you able to exert self-control in these situations?

The strength of your willpower, which consists of three powers: “I won’t," “I will," and “I want."

First, your “I won’t” power is the ability to say no even when your whole body wants to say yes.

This power covers the common conception of willpower: the ability to resist temptation.

Temptation comes to each of us in different forms, be it chocolate, cigarettes or a sexy stranger. And each temptation can be seen as an “I won’t” willpower challenge that asks: Do you have the strength to say no?

You can determine your most important “I won’t” challenge by asking yourself: Which habit that is hurting your health, happiness or career would you most like to give up?

The second element of willpower is your I will” power – the ability to do what you dislike now for a better future.

Your "I will" power helps you accomplish those tasks that are both unpleasant and necessary to achieve your goals – for example, studying to pass exams and get a degree.

You can find your most important “I will” challenge by asking yourself: Which habit should you stop putting off in order to improve your life?

Finally, there’s your “I want” power – the capacity to remember what you truly want.

What you truly want is what is best for you in the long term – despite present temptations. To resist the present you need a clear long-term goal that guides your actions. It’s this goal that fuels your “I want” power by reminding you what’s at stake.

You can find your “I want” challenge by asking yourself: What is the number one long-term goal you would like to focus more energy on? Which immediate desires are keeping you away from it?

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