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Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (2011)

by Roy F. Baumeister, John Tierney

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9102918,010 (3.71)8
The authors review the latest research to report key findings on willpower and offer practical advice for increasing it.

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There's a pattern I appreciate, how the scientists guess, they have a theory, they test it by running a study, and hey, we were wrong, how bout that, the study shows something different. ( )
  nicdevera | Oct 1, 2020 |

The introduction was a quick tour through the history of "willpower", and was engagingly written. It definitely got me interested in reading the rest of the book.

"Desire turned out to be the norm, not the exception. About half the time, people were feeling some desire at the moment their beepers went off, and another quarter said a desire had just been felt in the past few minutes. Many of these desires were ones they were trying to resist. The researchers concluded that people spend about a quarter of their waking hours resisting desires - at least four hours per day." ... The most commonly resisted desire in the beeper study was the urge to eat, followed by the urge to sleep, and then by the urge for leisure, ... Sexual urges were next on the list of most-resisted desires, a little ahead of urges for other kinds of interactions, like checking e-mail and social-networking sites, surfing the web, listening to music, or watching television." (Page 3)

"People sought to increase their store of [willpower] by following the exhortations of the Englishman Samuel Smiles in Self-Help, one of the most popular books of the nineteenth century on both sides of the Atlantic." (Page 5)

Chapter 1 summary: Willpower exists, it is finite, and there is only one store of it. If it is used for one thing, then there is less available for use in other areas. Or as the author stated it:
"You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it."
"You use the same stock of willpower for all manner of tasks." (Page 35)

"... one bit of guidance based on the ego-depletion studies... Focus on one project at a time." (Page 38)
"Above all, don't make a list of New Year's resolutions. ... No one has enough willpower for that list." (Page 38)

Chapter 2 summary: Glucose is the power source that is essential to willpower. Exercising willpower uses it up & then you don't have willpower (unless the supply is replenished.) It is also given as the explanation for PMS. Later on, the book talks about techniques that strengthen willpower (other than adding glucose to the blood).

Some popular strategies turn out to be ineffective. Dieting turns out to be a particularly problematic area because unlike many things that a person might try to resist, one can't just swear off of eating for the rest of their life. The book goes into some things that do and don't work here also.

"Similarly, recent studies of diabetic children have found multiple benefits of parental supervision. ... Although type 1 diabetes comes on early in life and maybe mainly a result of genes, the adolescents with high trait self-control and high parental supervision have lower blood sugar levels (thus, less severe diabetic problems) than others. In fact, having a mother or father who keeps track of a child's activities, friends, and spending habits can even compensate to some degree for lower levels of self control, in terms of reducing the severity of diabetes." (Page 210)

I have changed my behavior (just a little bit) because of reading this book. ( )
  bread2u | Jul 1, 2020 |
I gave this book three stars because after I read it, I did something that I had been putting off for months. If not for that, though, I would give the book two stars. Willpower was a quick read, but the explanations of the experiments seemed too broad. I know the science is there, I just think fewer experiments and more detail (or more detail and a slightly longer book) would make for a cleaner argument. ( )
  xo_books | Sep 29, 2019 |
Know thyself. ( )
  cwcoxjr | Sep 5, 2019 |
In the New York Times Bestseller named Willpower, we Rediscover Mankind’s Greatest Strength. Roy F Baumeister and John Tierney collaborate in this book to bring polish and expertise to the subject of Willpower.

We start out in the beginning with the history of willpower and how it was perceived. Initially, that is to say back in the Victorian era, people had flaws and foibles just like today. They made mistakes but had trouble understanding how to deal with them. That is where Freud and other early psychologists came in. Once they were told how to deal with the issue at hand, they went and used their willpower or inner strength to conquer the problem.

Eventually, people began getting more introspective. They more readily saw their own flaws but lacked the drive to fix them. For a time, willpower was maligned and ignored. Even in the profession of psychology willpower was thought to be a myth for a time. It was easier to blame society and attempt a correction on a large scale than it was to go and attempt to improve yourself. Anyone who has tried cold turkey to quit smoking can attest to this. So then people came full circle in the 1960s and 1970s. You might be familiar with some of the theories, such as the Marshmallow Test and the influence of self-control. Children able to resist the temptation for the time that the researcher was gone were far more likely to succeed in life. They had better grades, earned more money, were more respected, and had more friends. Scientists were curious as to why.

It was discovered that we all have a limited reservoir of willpower. This reservoir is drained when doing things like ignoring something or resisting something. It is also drained in other ways. Say you intend to study or write a few hundred words per day or some other project of self-improvement. If you attempt multiple things at once you will almost certainly fail all of them. This fact was found out by Benjamin Franklin in his Autobiography. If you recall, Franklin attempted a training course to live morally. He never succeeded in this task but felt better from trying it. Since he was trying so many morally strong behaviors at once he couldn’t focus on all of them. Plus, some of them interrupted the others.

The authors get around to discussing how to improve your willpower, and how to avoid draining it. It is all quite fascinating. Take the idea of food fueling morality for instance. People don’t make good decisions when they are starving or even slightly hungry. Therefore it is a good idea to provide your brain with fuel. Along with this journey through the book, we find personal accounts and other helpful information on how to get things done and avoid procrastination. We look at Drew Carey’s schedule and at Amanda Palmer’s Statue Act. We observe people preparing for Lent by gorging themselves on food and drink.

This book is really interesting and would be a nice addition to anyone’s repertoire of books. Along with being informative, it is also quite helpful. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
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Tierney, Johnmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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The authors review the latest research to report key findings on willpower and offer practical advice for increasing it.

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