“The Willpower Instinct” by Kelly McGonigal

Summary

A fantastic research and science-based book on willpower (i.e. not your usual factless self-help diatribe), with good practical tips and a sober analysis of our pathetic capability. Key takeaways:

  • Our capacity for willpower is very limited, so choose carefully and focus its use where it counts;
  • It is also trainable like a muscle, so you can progressively set it harder challenges;
  • Try to actively notice when it fails, analyse why and what triggers it, then be conscious that you have a choice of what to do the next time the trigger happens;
  • Avoid getting to the trigger if you can - put it out of sight, and try not to have to use your willpower in the first place .
Here are my key highlights and notes. Things that resonated and made me think about changes I should do:

Benefits

  • Self-control is a better predictor of academic success than intelligence (take that, SATs), a stronger determinant of effective leadership than charisma. ([tweetthis]Self-control better predicts academic success than intelligence & effective leadership than charisma.[/tweetthis])

Inhibitors

  • Many temporary states – like being drunk, sleep-deprived or even distracted – biologically inhibit willpower ([tweetthis]Many temporary states (e.g. being drunk, sleep-deprived or distracted) biologically inhibit willpower.[/tweetthis])
  • When your mind is preoccupied, your impulses – not your long-term goals – will guide your choices. ([tweetthis]When your mind is preoccupied, your impulses – not your long-term goals – will guide your choices.[/tweetthis])
  • Stress encourages you to focus on immediate, short-term goals and outcomes. Better stress management is one of the most important things you can do to improve your willpower. ([tweetthis]Stress focuses you on the immediate and short-term. Managing it is a very effective way to improve willpower.[/tweetthis])
  • Self-control requires keeping the big picture in mind. Learning to manage times when you go short term (e.g. stress) is key to improving willpower. ([tweetthis]Self-control needs you to keep big picture in mind. Manage going short term (e.g. stress) to improve willpower.[/tweetthis])
  • Notice when stress strikes. Do you lose your self-control? Experience cravings? Lose your temper? Procrastinate? Manage stress and improve self-control ([tweetthis]Notice when stress strikes. Have cravings? Lose your temper? Procrastinate? Manage stress to improve willpower.[/tweetthis])
  • Anything gamified with unpredictability of scoring (e.g. Likes on Facebook) keeps your dopamine neurons firing => addiction. ([tweetthis]Things with unpredictable scoring (e.g. Facebook Likes) keep your dopamine neurons firing=>addiction.[/tweetthis])
  • The promise that the next level or big win could happen at any time is what makes a game compelling. It’s also what makes a game hard to quit. Realise it to control it. ([tweetthis]The promise of a win at any time is what makes games addictive. Realise it to control it.[/tweetthis])
  • Compulsive clicking or refreshing is intentionally triggered by YouTube / Facebook. They make money the more addicted you are. ([tweetthis]Compulsive refreshing is intentionally triggered by YouTube / Facebook. Their profit is your addiction.[/tweetthis])
  • Anything that makes you feel like you’re getting a bargain is going to open the dopamine floodgates, from “Buy 1 Get 1 Free!” deals to signs that shout “60 Per Cent Off!” ([tweetthis]Anything that makes you feel like you’re getting a bargain is going to open the dopamine floodgates.[/tweetthis])

Hacks & Immediate Tactics

  • The five-minute green willpower boost. Get active outdoors (even a walk round the block) to reduce stress, improve your mood, and boost motivation. ([tweetthis]5-minute willpower boost. Get active outdoors (quick walk). Reduces stress, improves mood, boosts motivation.[/tweetthis])
  • Breathe your way to self-control. Slow down your breathing to four to six breaths per minute to shift into the physiological state of self-control. ([tweetthis]Breathe your way to self-control with slow breathing of 4 to 6 breaths per minute.[/tweetthis])
  • Sleep deprivation weakens self-control. Undo its effects with a nap or one good night’s sleep. ([tweetthis]Sleep deprivation weakens self-control. Undo its effects with a nap or one good night’s sleep.[/tweetthis])
  • Relax to restore your willpower reserve. Lie down, breathe deeply, and let the physiological relaxation response help you recover from the demands of self-control and daily stress. ([tweetthis]Relax to restore your willpower reserve. It helps you recover from the demands of self-control and daily stress.[/tweetthis])
  • Self control hack. Imagine someone offering you £100 to say no to a box of home-made biscuits. Not so irresistible now, is it? ([tweetthis]Self control mind hack. Imagine someone offers you £100 to refuse a box of (your vice).[/tweetthis])
  • Try stickk.com - aims to help people precommit their future selves to change. ([tweetthis]Try stickk.com - aims to help people precommit their future selves to change.[/tweetthis])
  • Adults who play memory games for twenty-five minutes a day develop greater connectivity between brain regions important for attention and memory. ([tweetthis]25 minutes a day of memory games helps memory (duh) and attention.[/tweetthis])

Motivation

  • To exert self-control, you need to find your motivation when it matters. Use it wisely - you don't have endless reserves. ([tweetthis]To exert self-control, find your motivation when it matters. Be frugal: it's not an infinite supply![/tweetthis])
  • Your willpower is limited. Put it where your goals are. ([tweetthis]Your willpower is limited. Put it where your goals are.[/tweetthis])
  • if you can imagine a time when saying no will be second nature, you’ll be more willing to put up with the temporary misery. ([tweetthis]Imagining when saying no will come naturally will help with the temporary misery of saying no now.[/tweetthis])
  • It’s not just a matter of caring; change requires doing. ([tweetthis]It’s not just a matter of caring; change requires doing.[/tweetthis])
  • Progress is most effective at creating future self-control if you view your actions as evidence that you are committed to your goal. Pure celebration of what you've done can weaken it. ([tweetthis]Consciously view willpower wins as evidence of committment to your goal. Just celebrating weakens your resolve.[/tweetthis])
  • You need to look at what you have done and conclude that you must really care about your goal, so much so that you want to do even more to reach it ([tweetthis]Look at willpower wins and conclude that you care enough about your goal to do even more to reach it![/tweetthis])
  • Celebrate willpower wins effectively - “I did that because I wanted to,” not “I did that, great, now I can do what I really want!” ([tweetthis]Celebrate willpower wins with “I did it because I wanted to” not “I did it so now I can do what I really want!”[/tweetthis])
  • Motivation that works focuses on commitment instead of progress. ([tweetthis]Motivation that works focuses on commitment instead of progress.[/tweetthis])

Awareness

  • Self-knowledge, especially of how we find ourselves in willpower trouble, is the foundation of self-control. ([tweetthis]Self-knowledge, especially of how we find ourselves in willpower trouble, is the foundation of self-control.[/tweetthis])
  • Track your choices. At the end of the day, analyze when decisions were made that either supported or undermined your goals. What can you learn? ([tweetthis]Analyze decisions you made through the day that supported or undermined your goals. What can you learn?[/tweetthis])
  • Watch how you give in to your impulses. Can you catch yourself earlier in the process? What thoughts, feelings, and situations prompt the impulse? Can you control these? ([tweetthis]Catch yourself early when giving in to impulse. Learn what thoughts, feelings or situations prompt it.[/tweetthis])
  • The Quantified Self movement (www.quantifiedself.com) has turned self-tracking into an art and science. ([tweetthis]the Quantified Self movement (www.quantifiedself.com) has turned self-tracking into an art and science.[/tweetthis])
  • Science points to one secret for greater self-control: the power of paying attention. Training the mind to recognise when you’re making a choice, rather than running on autopilot. ([tweetthis]Science shows paying attention is THE self-control secret. Recognise you don't have to be on autopilot.[/tweetthis])
  • When you know your own triggers, putting them out of sight can keep them from tempting your mind. ([tweetthis]When you know your own triggers, putting them out of sight can keep them from tempting your mind.[/tweetthis])

Choice of Focus

  • Study after study shows that self-criticism is consistently associated with less motivation and worse self-control. ([tweetthis]Study after study shows self-criticism is associated with less motivation and worse self-control.[/tweetthis])
  • Study after study shows that being supportive and kind to yourself, especially in the face of stress and failure – is associated with more motivation and better self-control. ([tweetthis]Studies show being kind to yourself when you fail is associated with motivation & better self-control.[/tweetthis])
  • Surprisingly, forgiveness, not guilt, increases accountability. And accountability empowers your self-control. ([tweetthis]Forgiveness, not guilt, increases accountability. And accountability empowers your self-control.[/tweetthis])
  • Taking a self-compassionate point of view on a personal failure makes you more likely to own it than taking a self-critical one. ([tweetthis]Self-compassion applied to a personal failure makes you more likely to own it than self-criticism.[/tweetthis])
  • We estimate how likely or true something is by the ease with which we can bring it to mind. ([tweetthis]We estimate how likely or true something is by the ease with which we can bring it to mind.[/tweetthis])
  • Notice when you crave (e.g.) chocolate, accept whatever goes through your mind, and remember you don't have to act on those thoughts and feelings. ([tweetthis]Notice when you crave, accept what goes through your mind, and remember you don't have to act it out.[/tweetthis])
  • Not trying to control your thoughts, realise you CAN control your behaviour. ([tweetthis]Not trying to control your thoughts, realise you CAN control your behaviour.[/tweetthis])

Different Ways of Thinking

  • Remember when you turned down a temptation, and moral licensing will increase your chances of failing next time. ([tweetthis]Just recalling when you resisted a temptation will increase your chances of failing next time.[/tweetthis])
  • Remember WHY you last turned down a temptation, and you're more likely to resist the next time you face it. ([tweetthis]Remember WHY you last resisted a temptation, and you're more likely to resist it the next time.[/tweetthis])
  • "The effort of actually making a change cannot compare, from a happiness point of view, to the rush of imagining that you will change." ([tweetthis]"The effort of actually MAKING a change can't compare to the rush of IMAGINING that you will."[/tweetthis])
  • We need to tread a fine line between the motivation / belief that we need to make a change, and the unrealistic optimism that can sabotage our goals. ([tweetthis]It's a fine line between belief that we can change and unrealistic optimism which sabotages our goals.[/tweetthis])
  • Try this Willpower experiment: Imagine you best future self and go meet her/him. ([tweetthis]Try this Willpower experiment: Imagine you best future self and go meet her/him.[/tweetthis])
  • Willpower Experiment: Turn Your “I Won’t” Into “I Will” ([tweetthis]Willpower Experiment: Turn Your “I Won’t” Into “I Will”[/tweetthis])
  • Believe change is possible; hopelessness leads to resignation. But beware of using the promise of change to fix your feelings rather than your behaviours. ([tweetthis]Believe change is possible, but don't use the promise of change to fix feelings rather than behaviours.[/tweetthis])

Meditation

    • Breath focus is a simple but powerful meditation technique for training your brain and increasing willpower. ([tweetthis]Breath focus is a simple but powerful meditation technique for training your brain and increasing willpower.[/tweetthis])
    • Breathing meditation reduces stress and teaches the mind how to handle inner distractions (cravings, worries, desires) and outer temptations (sounds, sights and smells). ([tweetthis]Breathing meditation reduces stress & teaches the mind to handle inner distractions & outer temptations[/tweetthis])
    • A daily twenty-minute practice of slowed breathing increased heart rate variability and reduced cravings and depression among adults recovering from substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder. ([tweetthis]Regular slow breathing reduced cravings & depression for adults recovering from substance abuse & PTSD.[/tweetthis])
    • New research shows that regular meditation practice helps people stop smoking, lose weight, kick a drug habit and stay sober. ([tweetthis]Research shows regular meditation practice helps people stop smoking, lose weight & stay sober.[/tweetthis])
    • See how to do breathing meditation. The practice of coming back to the breath, again and again, biologically quiets stress and craving centres of your brain. ([tweetthis]Do breathing meditation. Repeated coming back to the breath quiets scraving centre of your brain.[/tweetthis])

Exercise

      • Exercise turns out to be the closest thing to a wonder drug that self-control scientists have discovered. ([tweetthis]Exercise turns out to be closest thing to a wonder drug that self-control scientists have discovered.[/tweetthis])
      • If you're putting off exercise, think if it as something that restores, not drains, your energy and willpower. ([tweetthis]If you're putting off exercise, think if it as something that restores, not drains, your energy and willpower.[/tweetthis])
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