The Willpower Instinct Book Summary - The Willpower Instinct Book explained in key points
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The Willpower Instinct summary

Kelly McGonigal

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

4.4 (328 ratings)
23 mins

Brief summary

"The Willpower Instinct" by Kelly McGonigal is a science-based book that explores why we struggle with self-control and how to boost our willpower through mindfulness, nutrition, exercise, and sleep. The book offers practical tools to harness our willpower and overcome temptations.

Table of Contents

    The Willpower Instinct
    Summary of 11 key ideas

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    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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    Key ideas in The Willpower Instinct

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    What is The Willpower Instinct about?

    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.

    The Willpower Instinct Review

    The Willpower Instinct (2011) by Kelly McGonigal offers a fascinating exploration of the science behind willpower and practical strategies to improve self-control. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Through backed-up research, the book unravels the mysteries of willpower, helping readers understand how it works and how to strengthen it.
    • Using relatable examples and compelling stories, McGonigal brings the concepts to life, making the book engaging and relatable for all readers.
    • With simple yet effective exercises, the book provides actionable techniques to enhance willpower and achieve personal goals, making it far from a boring self-help manual.

    Who should read The Willpower Instinct?

    • Anyone who wants to achieve their goals more effectively
    • Anyone who struggles with temptation, addiction, procrastination or lack of motivation
    • Anyone who wants to make real and lasting changes in their life

    About the Author

    Kelly McGonigal, PhD, is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University. She has received several awards including Stanford University’s highest teaching honor, the Walter J. Gores award. She is also the author of The Upside of Stress, which deals with the ways in which stress can be beneficial for us and how we can better manage it.

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    The Willpower Instinct FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Willpower Instinct?

    The main message of The Willpower Instinct is that willpower is a skill that can be strengthened and harnessed for personal growth.

    How long does it take to read The Willpower Instinct?

    The reading time for The Willpower Instinct varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Willpower Instinct a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Willpower Instinct is a valuable read, offering practical insights and tools for developing self-control and achieving goals.

    Who is the author of The Willpower Instinct?

    The author of The Willpower Instinct is Kelly McGonigal.

    What to read after The Willpower Instinct?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Willpower Instinct, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Badass Habits by Jen Sincero
    • The Power of Discipline by Daniel Walter
    • Living in Flow by Sky Nelson-Isaacs
    • Willpower by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney
    • Attention Span by Gloria Mark
    • The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel
    • Retrain Your Brain by Seth J. Gillihan
    • Good Habits, Bad Habits by Wendy Wood
    • The Procrastination Cure by Jeffery Combs
    • Discipline Equals Freedom by Jocko Willink