Book Review & Giveaway: Willpower

DenaSeptember 30, 2011 | willpowerI was an English writing major in college, but I took as many anthropology classes as I could manage for the fun of it. Evolution and human behavior really get me going. So when my friends at TLC asked me to review Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, I was thrilled!

This is one of those books that, if you apply what it says thoughtfully, will transform the way that you live your life and the way that you view the world around you.

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength is part science, part psychology, and part common sense. Put these things together and what you have is a recipe for positive change.


Evolution & Etiquette
Have you ever wondered why we (humans) do what we do? Many of our actions can be traced back thousands of years into our evolutionary history. This books begs the question—Why do we have self-control and willpower? As anthropologists and neuroscientists tried to figure it out, many theories surfaced. Did we evolve this way because we needed to find food? Did we evolve this way so that we could adapt to our physical environment? No, there wasn’t much evidence to support either of those theories. Researchers eventually concluded that:

Humans have the largest frontal lobes because we have the largest social networks, and that’s apparently why we have the most need for self-control. We tend to think of willpower as a force for personal betterment—adhering to a diet, getting work done on time, going out to jog, quitting smoking—but that’s probably not the primary reason it evolved so fully in our ancestors.

Primates are social beings who have to control themselves in order to get along with the rest of the group. They depend on one another for food. When the food is shared, often it’s the biggest and strongest male who gets first choice in what to eat, with the others waiting their turn according to status. For animals to survive in such a group without getting beaten up, they must restrain their urge to eat immediately.

Yes, yes, yes! This makes so much sense, doesn’t it? As I read through this book, light bulbs kept going off in my mind. This is why we do what we do. This is how we got here.

Willpower & Its Limits
In addition to the anthropology, there is a lot of fascinating psychology and science in this book. Research conclusively shows that we all have willpower, but that each person only has a limited store of it for each day. There is plenty of scientific research to support this finding in the book. But I’ll try to explain it in simpler terms.

Every day you start off with a “full tank” of willpower. Then, let’s say you head into work and hit some nasty traffic. On the road, you get cut off by three different demon drivers. Now your willpower tank is down to about ¾ of a tank.

You walk into the office to find a shitstorm. Your boss is waiting for you with an angry look. Turns out that the big project you’ve been working on for three months is completely wrong. You’ve translated it into Greek but it was meant to be translated into Arabic. Now, you’re down to about ½ a tank.

At the end of the day, you get home from work and all you want to do is sit down and relax before heading out to the gym. You walk through the front door and suddenly, you’re in water up to your ankles. A pipe has burst in the kitchen.

That’s the end of your willpower tank, my friend. Even if you can get the plumber there and get the mess cleaned up, there’s not much chance that you’re going to make it to the gym this evening. You’re plumb tapped out of willpower for today.

Of course this is an extreme example, but you get the picture. Various studies have shown a link between self-control and success across a variety of personal realms. Over years of research, Baumeister (one of the book’s authors) found that willpower works like a muscle that can be strengthened with practice, and fatigued with overuse. His lab work also ties willpower to glucose, the basic biological fuel for brain and body, and shows that self-control can be strengthened simply by replenishing the body’s store of fuel. That’s why eating and sleeping—or lack thereof—have such dramatic effects on self-control. It’s also why prison researchers have been able to accurately predict, based solely on how prisoners’ bodies process glucose, which prisoners will commit more violent crimes after their release.

In Closing & The Giveaway
It would be impossible for me to fully summarize Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength in a single post, so here is the table of contents to give you a better idea of what it covers: | table of contents

Jamie Holmes of the Daily Beast said it best:

Willpower is sure to inspire further groundbreaking research into the mechanics of willpower. One implication is already apparent. Since repeated behaviors eventually turn into habits, improving willpower long term requires a unique strategy-a habit of changing habits, of continually expanding our zones of comfort. One such practice, it seems, is the ‘routine’ of learning. That’s a habit that this brilliant book will certainly nourish.

I highly recommend this book if you’re in the market for such a thing. I’ll be giving away my copy to one lucky reader. If you’d like a chance to win, just leave a comment below. I’ll pick one commenter at random next week. Good luck, darling!

In love & light,

Disclosure: I was not paid to endorse this product. I was, however, sent a free copy of the book from TLC Book Tours in exchange for sharing my thoughts about it and that’s why I am passing on the love to one lucky reader.

Comments (7)

  • Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours

    September 30, 2011 at 11:36 am

    Wow, sounds like you found this book very useful! Thanks for your review for the tour. I’m featuring your post on TLC’s Facebook page today.

  • Sara

    September 30, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    This sounds like a worthwhile book. Thanks for sharing

  • Giraffemd

    October 1, 2011 at 10:01 am

    this would be an interesting read

  • Susu Paris Chic

    October 1, 2011 at 10:01 am

    “Willpower works like a muscle that can be strengthened with practice, and fatigued with overuse”. How interesting. I’d love a copy, if ever I get lucky in the giveaway.

    Yep, about the pics on my blog. I checked out your linked pics and yes, you really were in the same Luxembourg Gardens. How neat!

  • Andra Watkins

    October 1, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    This sounds like an awesome book, Dena. We all need more willpower!! xo

  • cristina rose

    October 6, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    you are brilliant. 

  • Lisa A

    October 11, 2011 at 10:27 am

    This sounds like a great book! I’m definitely in need of some willpower right now, and I love the idea of learning to strengthen willpower. Thanks for the giveaway!

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