Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Willpower Instinct (a lifechanging book)

I have a junk drawer. It's full of pens and pencils and notepads and stamps and glue and coupons and lots more. You probably have one too.

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Problem is, my junk drawer isn't my only "clutter spot." There's my end table in my room, piled with books. There's that one corner of my kitchen counter...and that other corner...and that third one. There's the mail that piles up on the countertop bar. Need I go on?

I'm sick of my clutter.

So when I started reading The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., I decided that reducing clutter is my willpower challenge. Not eliminating clutter, but reducing it, and keeping it at a manageable level.

And this book makes me believe I can actually do it. Not because it's full of empty optimism. But because it's crammed with practical techniques that help the reader find his or her willpower, and increase it.

There are simple tips in the book. (One example: Stress leads to willpower failures. So McGonigal clearly lays out what works to relieve stress, and what doesn't. Walking outside for five minutes works. Playing a game on my phone doesn't.) There are counter-intuitive tips. (For instance, I learned that if I'm craving something--like more Facebook time in lieu of decluttering time--I can "surf the urge." If I pay attention to the urge--instead of trying to ignore it--it will lose much of its power and eventually subside.)

And all these tips are backed up with scientific study after scientific study. (Really, really interesting stuff, not dry, journal-eque recaps.) Who knew so many scientists had studied willpower and self-control?!

It's hard for me to write this review because I'm so enthusiastic about the book that I am overwhelmed and know I can't cover it all! Also, the book is meant to be read slowly. (The author suggests one chapter per week; it's a 10-chapter book.) But I read the whole book in about a week and a half, so I felt like I wasn't able to put everything into practice immediately.

So I'm going to start a blog series here. (I suppose this is another willpower challenge!) I'll be re-reading this book, one chapter every week. I'll put that chapter into practice, and then I'll blog about it. I'll include plenty of the practical tips I'm learning.

Would anyone like to join me? The book is about $16 (hardcover) or $13 (Kindle) on Amazon. Click here to check it out. It has great reviews. I plan to do my first blog post (covering Chapter 1) one week from today, but if anyone wants to join me on this adventure, I can put it off a bit so you have time to get the book. Just comment here or email me at

And if you're thinking, "Well, I might want to, BUT..." then let me share a few things with you that I learned from the book:
  • If you think you'll have more time (or more of a book budget) "later" you may be deceiving yourself. We all tend to think we'll have more time, money, and, yes, willpower, in the future. But you'll always have responsibilities, including unexpected ones. You'll probably always be on a budget. If you are waiting for some "better time" to do something, you may never get it done! But you can invest in your future self now!
  • One of the big willpower challenges many of us have is how we spend our money. With the tips in this book, I bet you can find a way to recoup the $13-$16 the book cost (and probably a lot more than that.)
  • Many of us have religious beliefs that affect the way we live our lives, and we can be cynical about self-help books. We might think, "I can pray my way through my willpower challenges!" Rest assured, this book is not anti-religion. In fact, the author speaks positively about prayer and about faith as a motivation. I am finding that many of the suggestions are easily integrated with my faith. For instance, the book talks about how counterproductive guilt and self-criticism are. That goes right along with my beliefs about God's grace and forgiveness.
  • You may be afraid that you will get the book and it will sit on your shelf, unread. (I've got books like that!) But studies show that if you are tackling a willpower challenge with others in your community (including your online community!) then you are far more likely to succeed. We'll figure out a way to stay in touch as we read this together, so that we can hold each other accountable!
I hope someone will join me! If not, I'm still going to do the blog series myself. This is just such good stuff!

To check out The Willpower Instinct on Amazon, click here.

I'm reading this book as part of BlogHer Book Club. I'll be participating in discussions on their site. To check out those discussions (and to participate, even if you aren't reading the book), click here.

One more thing: I'm already finding more willpower. When we got home from vacation on Monday afternoon, I unpacked everything...that day. That's a big deal for this clutter-prone girl!

I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book and am receiving compensation for this review. All opinions are my own.


enthusiastically, dawn said...

Oh Beth...I am decluttering and continuing to do so but am with you with the challenge of keeping it under control. My concern is that I am already signe up and participating in an online Bible Study that goes 5 more weeks. I would consider joining you BUT do not want to over commit. In addition to some other important obligations. Will think about it and it sounds great. As I paused to pop online I am sitting amidst a box I just de cluttered in my office. ahhhhh! Well. Maybe and sounds really great!

Call Me Cate said...

Beth - I'm a maybe. Looks like they've raised the price on the Kindle edition. It was $19 when I just checked.

New year and I'm trying to do ALL THE THINGS so I can imagine willpower is going to play a part. I know you said it works well with your faith. What about for someone who is not overly religious? Curious.