Review: “Willpower” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney

It’s that time of year when our thoughts naturally turn to resolutions. What new habits should I undertake this year? Exercise more? Eat less? Read more? Complement others more often?

You may even have all of these and more on your list of New Year resolutions. If so, you may be in trouble:

“If you set more than one self-improvement goal, you may succeed for a while by drawing on reserves to power through, but that just leaves your more depleted and more prone to serious mistakes later.”

That’s one of the important principles from the NY Times bestseller Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strengthby Roy Baumeister and John Tierney (Penguin Press, 2011). Baumeister has spent decades researching the mechanics of willpower and self-regulation. His research and others reveals two important lessons about willpower that has a direct effect on your newly crafted resolutions:

  1. You have a finite amount of willpower. Willpower is like a muscle. It fatigues with use and must be rested. That’s why it’s easier to be patient with others in the morning than at the end of the day after you’ve already made a million other decisions. Exerting self-control, whether avoiding a bad habit or engaging in a new one, consumes glucose, stimulating a craving for sweets just at the time our ability to resist them is at its lowest.
  2. You have one reservoir of willpower. Your decision this morning to get up early and head to the gym depletes the willpower you have to begin a project you’ve been putting off. The non-habitual efforts or demanding decisions we make in one area affects our ability to make a change in another. That’s why it’s important to focus on one new personal development habit at a time.
The book is packed with other insights too, like:
  • Researchers found that, on average, people spend four hours a day resisting desires. Yikes!
  • Daily goal setting is not nearly effective as monthly planning. Now you can take that one off your list.
  • Those nagging thoughts you have about your to-do’s are called the Zeigarnik effect. The only way to rid yourself of it, apart from completing the task is to create a next step plan for the task.
  • Listen to mom. Fuel up in the morning with a healthy meal especially if you’re facing a stressful day.

Baumeister weaves the latest research with practical application to make Willpower a must read for those serious about personal development. It was among my favorite reads this last year.

If you’ve resolved to read more this year, this book would be a great place to start.

Do you make New Year resolutions? 

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