Review of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

This is a review of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, a very interesting read that is full of useful strategies to understand and improve our willpower.
  After a brief intro to the topic and the way that willpower has been viewed differently throughout history the book brings up some very interesting experiments that teach us a number of things, such as that willpower is expendable. If I exercise willpower now, it is likely that I will be more likely to give in when presented with a challenging situation before I have had an opportunity to recuperate. This depletion can often be reversed with consumption of glucose. While this was effective to test concepts in the lab, they recommend getting energy from food that is not likely to cause us to crash soon after.

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength then brings up a topic dear to my heart.In terms of consumption of mental energy, trying to mentally keep track of everything that is going on, and that we need to do, is a real guzzler. Through several experiments, it was shown that if we know something is incomplete, there is going to be a part of your brain that will keep forcing it to your attention. An annoying song is more likely to stick in our head if we turn off the radio in the middle of its playing. That is why it feels so good to just write down a list, because your brain can relax, and know that those items will not be lost.

This led to a brief introduction of David Allen, and the tenets of Getting Things Done
(GTD). It is nice to know that there is some brain research that backs up the effectiveness of his approach to organization.

The authors make the reading interesting by including stories that put the psychology into context. This makes for a more interesting book, as we can understand the concepts based on the experiences of real people such as Drew Carey and Oprah Winfrey. The detailed history of Stanley (of Livingston of Africa fame) was fascinating. I do find my self being cautious in drawing conclusions because of the human attraction to stories and our predilection to creating narratives, even fictional ones sometimes.

There are further chapters on the connection between belief and willpower and some discussion of how to instill willpower and perseverance in children.

In a chapter titled “The Perfect Storm of Dieting” the authors shed light on why diets are likely to fail. They lay down three rules for controlling your weight.
1. Never go on a diet
2. Never vow to give up chocolate or any other food.
3. Whether you’re judging yourself or judging others, never equate being overweight with having weak willpower.
They go on to give some specific things to do, like instead of saying that you will never each dessert you are better off saying that you will eat it later. The book explains how delaying treats is better than swearing off them forever.

The concluding chapter reviews a few hints to improve your willpower, including trying to be a little bit neater in other ways, and monitoring your track record.

Have you read this book? What did you think?   Do you have a secret to improving your willpower?                                                   

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