The Willpower Instinct
TO SUCCEED AT SELF – CONTROL , YOU NEED TO KNOW HOW YOU FAIL
Most books on changing behavior—whether it’s a new diet plan or a guide to financial freedom—will help you set goals and even tell you what to do to reach them. But if identifying what we wanted to change were sufficient, every New Year’s resolution would be a success and my classroom would be empty. Few books will help you see why you aren’t already doing these things, despite knowing full well that you need to do them.
I believe that the best way to improve your self-control is to see how and why you lose control. Knowing how you are likely to give in doesn’t, as many people fear, set yourself up for failure. It allows you to support yourself and avoid the traps that lead to willpower failures. Research shows that people who think they have the most willpower are actually the most likely to lose control when tempted.
For example, smokers who are the most optimistic about their ability to resist temptation are the most likely to relapse four months later, and overoptimistic dieters are the least likely to lose weight. Why? They fail to predict when, where, and why they will give in. They expose themselves to more temptation, such as hanging out with smokers or leaving cookies around the house. They’re also most likely to be surprised by setbacks and give up on their goals when they run into difficulty.
Self-knowledge—especially of how we find ourselves in willpower trouble—is the foundation of self-control. This is why both “The Science of Willpower” course and this book focus on the most common willpower mistakes we all make. Each chapter dispels a common misconception about self-control and gives you a new way to think about your willpower challenges. For every willpower mistake, we’ll conduct a kind of autopsy: When we give in to temptation or put off what we know we should do, what leads to our downfall? What is the fatal error, and why do we make it?
Most important, we will look for the opportunity to save our future selves from this fate. How can we turn the knowledge of how we fail into strategies for success?
At the very least, by the time you finish the book, you will have a better understanding of your own imperfect but perfectly human behavior. One thing the science of willpower makes clear is that everyone struggles in some way with temptation, addiction, distraction, and procrastination. These are not individual weaknesses that reveal our personal inadequacies—they are universal experiences and part of the human condition. If this book did nothing else but help you see the common humanity of your willpower struggles, I would be happy.
But I hope that it will do far more, and that the strategies in this book will empower you to make real and lasting changes in your life.
ONE -I Will, I Won’t, I Want: What Willpower Is, and Why It Matters
TWO – The Willpower Instinct: Your Body Was Born to Resist Cheesecake
THREE – Too Tired to Resist: Why Self-Control Is Like a Muscle
FOUR – License to Sin: Why Being Good Gives Us Permission to Be Bad
FIVE – The Brain’s Big Lie: Why We Mistake Wanting for Happiness
SIX – What the Hell: How Feeling Bad Leads to Giving In
SEVEN – Putting the Future on Sale: The Economics of Instant Gratification
EIGHT – Infected! Why Willpower Is Contagious
NINE – Don’t Read This Chapter: The Limits of “I Won’t” Power
TEN – Final Thoughts