There’s nothing worse than trying to achieve a very specific goal, only to have it continually elude you.
The frustration and mood altering consequences of on-going failure is compounding.
Life is a series of smaller decisions. Some seem so harmless and inconsequential at the time, that we make them in a heartbeat because the instant gratification outweighs the long-term benefit.
Whether it’s that drink you know you shouldn’t have before driving, a second helping of dessert or avoiding a workout that makes you feel so good, a poor decision can have serious short-term consequences.
There are plenty of self-help books on good decision making and but I recently read one that I believe is a standout.
Kelly McGonigal is a health psychologist, known for her work in the field of science help.
In a recent book, The Willpower Instinct (Penguin), Kelly shares her strategies and ideas around gaining greater personal willpower to help achieve our goals.
She includes a number of powerful tools that will come in very handy (when properly learned) and practiced.
She says willpower can be learned and we can train our brain to react in a certain way when we are faced with a temptation we want to avoid.
To give you some more info (and get you a little excited) I’m including the Introduction below.
You can buy Kelly’s book here
Or why not try the audio book version here?
THE WILLPOWER INSTINCT
Kelly McGonigal PhD
Welcome to Willpower 101
Whenever I mention that I teach a course on willpower, the nearly universal response is, “Oh, that’s what I need.” Now more than ever, people realize that willpower—the ability to control their attention, emotions, and desires—influences their physical health, financial security, relationships, and professional success. We all know this.
We know we’re supposed to be in control of every aspect of our lives, from what we eat to what we do, say, and buy. And yet, most people feel like willpower failures—in control one moment but overwhelmed and out of control the next. According to the American Psychological Association, Americans name lack of willpower as the number-one reason they struggle to meet their goals. Many feel guilty about letting themselves and others down. Others feel at the mercy of their thoughts, emotions, and cravings, their lives dictated by impulses rather than conscious choices.
Even the best-controlled feel a kind of exhaustion at keeping it all together and wonder if life is supposed to be such a struggle.
As a health psychologist and educator for the Stanford School of Medicine’s Health Improvement Program, my job is to help people manage stress and make healthy choices.
After years of watching people struggle to change their thoughts, emotions, bodies, and habits, I realized that much of what people believed about willpower was sabotaging their success and creating unnecessary stress.
Although scientific research had much to say that could help them, it was clear that these insights had not yet become part of public understanding. Instead, people continued to rely on worn-out strategies for self-control. I saw again and again that the strategies most people use weren’t just ineffective— they actually backfired, leading to self-sabotage and losing control.
This led me to create “The Science of Willpower,” a class offered to the public through Stanford University’s Continuing Studies program. The course brings together the newest insights about self-control from psychology, economics, neuroscience, and medicine to explain how we can break old habits and create healthy habits, conquer procrastination, find our focus, and manage stress. It illuminates why we give in to temptation and how we can find the strength to resist.
It demonstrates the importance of understanding the limits of self-control, and presents the best strategies for training willpower.
To my delight, “The Science of Willpower” quickly became one of the most popular courses ever offered by Stanford Continuing Studies. The first time the course was offered, we had to move the room four times to accommodate the constantly growing enrolment.
Corporate executives, teachers, athletes, health-care professionals, and others curious about willpower filled one of the largest lecture halls at Stanford. Students started bringing their spouses, children, and co-workers to class so they could share the experience.
I had hoped the course would be useful to this diverse group, who came to the class with goals ranging from quitting smoking and losing weight to getting out of debt and becoming a better parent.
But even I was surprised by the results. A class survey four weeks into the course found that 97 percent of students felt they better understood their own behaviour, and 84 percent reported that the class strategies had already given them more willpower.
By the end of the course, participants told stories of how they had overcome a thirty-year addiction to sweets, finally filed their back taxes, stopped yelling at their children, stuck to an exercise program, and generally felt better about themselves and more in charge of their choices. Course evaluations called the class life-changing.
The consensus of the students was clear: Understanding the science of willpower gave them strategies for developing self-control, and greater strength to pursue what mattered most to them.
The scientific insights were as useful for the recovering alcoholic as the e-mail addict, and the self-control strategies helped people resist temptations as varied as chocolate, video games, shopping, and even a married co-worker.
Students used the class to help meet personal goals such as running a marathon, starting a business, and managing the stresses of job loss, family conflict, and the dreaded Friday morning spelling test (that’s what happens when moms start bringing their kids to class).
Of course, as any honest teacher will tell you, I learned a lot from my students as well. They fell asleep when I droned on too long about the wonder of a scientific finding but forgot to mention what it had to do with their willpower challenges. They were quick to let me know which strategies worked in the real world, and which fell flat (something a laboratory study can never tell you).
They put creative spins on weekly assignments and showed me new ways for turning abstract theories into useful rules for everyday life.
This book combines the best scientific insights and practical exercises from the course, using the latest research and the acquired wisdom of the hundreds of students who have taken the class.
You can buy Kelly’s book here
Or check out the audio book version here