Book Review: Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney
I tend to be an impulsive person so I was automatically captivated by the title of this book: Willpower. Written by the pioneering research psychologist, Roy F. Baumeister, in collaboration with New York Times science writer, John Tierney, Willpower has proven its weight in gold.
One of the most powerful messages of Willpower – is that lack of self-control is an all-pervasive problem. A challenge that is only escalating in these modern times when there are more temptations than ever. In fact, one-fourth of our waking hours are spent resisting urges.
So if you find yourself low on willpower there’s no need to hide in embarrassment. Almost everyone else is just like you.
That doesn’t mean developing willpower is a hopeless endeavor. The authors provide reams of scientific evidence to the contrary. And they outline the essential knowledge and tips you need to succeed.
There’s a very good reason to focus on willpower: happiness.
As it turns out, there are two personal qualities that predict positive outcomes in life: intelligence and willpower. While intelligence is inborn, willpower is malleable. So if happiness is on your radar, the authors advise,
“Ultimately, self control lets you relax because it removes stress and enables you to conserve willpower for the important challenges. We’re confident that this book’s lessons can make your life not just more productive and fulfilling but also easier and happier.”
Since most major societal problems steam from lack of willpower, increasing self-control is also an elegant way to bring more happiness and sanity to the world.
Just in case you equate science with dry writing, be assured the studies presented in Willpower are interspersed with lively and illuminating examples from the likes of performer Amanda Palmer, who once worked as a living statue, comedian Drew Carey, whose desk was a mess, and endurance artist David Palmer who binges between his awe inspiring challenges, among other willpower stars.
The authors also dig into history to present the fascinating self-control experiments of Benjamin Franklin and the explorer Henry Morton Stanley of “Dr. Livingston, I presume” fame.
Willpower: Key Points
Although I tend to be an impulsive person in some areas, my willpower excels in others like performance control. So it was interesting to discover that there are actually 4 types of willpower:
- Control of thoughts
- Control of emotions
- Impulse control (the ability to resist temptation; you can’t control the impulse only your reaction)
- Performance control (accomplishing a task)
Here are some of the other key points I found in Willpower:
- Willpower is finite. There is not an endless supply; it must be replenished.
- You use the same reservoir of willpower for different things.
- Willpower is like a muscle. It can become fatigued by overuse, but it can also be strengthened on the long term through exercise.
- Strengthening willpower in one area has a spillover effect on other areas of your life.
- When you exercise willpower it becomes stronger so it is less easily depleted.
- The first step in self-control is to set a goal.
- Orderly habits like neatness can improve overall self-control.
- Glucose is the fuel behind will power.
- Mental work uses glucose, the crucial compound of willpower.
- Decision making depletes your willpower.
- When your willpower is depleted, you are less able to make decisions, experiencing what is called “decision fatigue”.
- Decision fatigue leaves us more vulnerable to marketers.
- People with strong self-control spend less time resisting desires than others.
- Developing good habits and routines enhances self-control.
- People with good self control use their willpower not to get through emergencies but to avoid them.
- Inner willpower leads to outer kindness.
10 Essential Tips for Cultivating Willpower
The authors neatly sum up 10 essential tips – the secrets of self-control – that will help you cultivate willpower in the last chapter. The elaborate on them in far more detail so this list is not a replacement for reading the chapter or the book.
- Know your limits
- Watch for symptoms of depletion of your willpower
- Pick your battles
- Make a to-do list
- Beware of underestimating the time needed for a task
- Don’t forget the basics like a good diet and sleep
- Use positive procrastination
- Focus on one thing and one thing only, nothing else
- Keep track, monitoring your progress
- Reward yourself often
An Overview of Willpower
Take a look at the chapter titles of Willpower to get more of a feel for its contents. Here they are:
- Chapter 1: Is Willpower more than a metaphor?
- Chapter 2: Where Does Will Power Come From?
- Chapter 3: A Brief History of the To-Do List
- Chapter 4: Decision Fatigue
- Chapter 5: Where Have All the Dollars Gone? The Quantified Self Knows
- Chapter 6: Can Willpower Be Strengthened? (Preferably Without Feeling David Blaine’s Pain)
- Chapter 7: Outsmarting Yourself in the Heart of Darkness
- Chapter 8: Did a Higher Power Help Eric Clapton and Mary Karr Stop Drinking?
- Chapter 9: Raising Strong Children: Self-Esteem Versus Self-Control
- Chapter 10. The Perfect Storm of Dieting
- Conclusion: The Future of Willpower – More Gain, Less Strain (As Long As You Don’t Procrastinate)
This book contains the magic secret to willpower. But it’s not a magic wand. Cultivating willpower is eminently possible, but it does take focus and determination.
So doesn’t it make sense to use all the latest advice from the heart of science to grow your willpower and find more happiness too?
Are you a willpower wimp like me? Or have you already discovered the secrets of willpower yourself. Confess and share in the comments. Remember, you are not alone!
Thank you to TLC book tours for the opportunity to review this book.