The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It - by Kelly McGonigal

Willpower is actually three powers--I will, I won't, and I want--that help us to be a better version of ourselves.

Willpower is a biological instinct, like stress, that evolved to help us protect ourselves from ourselves.

  • Breathe your way to self-control. Slow down your breathing to four to six breaths per minute to shift into the physiological state of self-control.

  • Relax to restore your willpower reserve. Lie down, breathe deeply, and let the physiological relaxation response help you recover from the demands of self-control and daily stress.

Self-control is like a muscle. It gets tired from use, but regular exercise makes it stronger.

  • A willpower workout. Exercise your self-control muscle by picking one thing to do (I will power) or not do (I won't power) this week, or keeping track of something you aren't used to paying close attention to.

  • Find your "want" power. When you find your biggest want power--the motivation that gives you strength when you feel weak--bring it to mind whenever you find yourself most tempted to give in or give up.

When we turn willpower challenges into measures of moral worth, being good gives us permission to be bad. For better self-control, forget virtue, and focus on goals and values.

  • To revoke your license,remember the why. The next time you find yourself using past good behavior to justify indulging, pause and think about why you were "good," not whether you deserve a reward.

  • A tomorrow just like today. For your willpower challenge, aim to reduce the variability of your behavior day to day.

Our brains mistake the promise of reward for a guarantee of happiness, so we chase satisfaction from things that do not deliver.

  • Dopaminize your "I will" power challenge. If there's something you've been putting off, motivate yourself by linking it with something that gets your dopamine neurons firing.

Feeling bad leads to giving in, and dropping guilt makes you stronger.

  • Stress-relief strategies that work. Exercise, reading, listening to music, spending time with friends or family, getting a massage, going outside for a walk, meditation, spending time with a creative hobby.

  • Forgiveness when you fail. Take a more compassionate perspective on your setbacks to avoid the guilt that leads to giving in again.

  • Optimistic pessimism for successful resolutions. Predict how and when you might be tempted to break your vow, and imagine a specific plan of action for not giving in.

Our inability to clearly see the future clearly leads us into temptation and procrastination.

  • Wait ten minutes. Institute a mandatory ten-minute wait for any temptation. Before the time is up, bring to mind the competing long-term reward of resisting temptation.

  • Lower your discount rate. When you are tempted to act against your long-term interests, frame the choice as giving up the best possible long-term reward for resisting temptation.

  • Precommit your future self. Create a new default, make it more difficult to reverse your preferences, or motivate your future self with reward or threat.

  • Meet your future self. Create a future memory, write a letter to your future self, or just imagine yourself in the future.

Self-control is influenced by social proof, making both willpower and temptation contagious.

  • Your social network. Do other people in your social circle share your willpower challenge?

  • Strengthen your immune system. To avoid catching other people's willpower failures, spend a few minutes at the beginning of your day thinking about your goals.

  • Catch self-control. When you need a little extra willpower, bring a role model to mind. Ask yourself: What would this willpower wonder do?

  • The power of pride. Go public with your willpower challenges, and imagine how proud you will feel when you succeed at them.

  • Make it a group project. Can you enlist others in a willpower challenge?

Trying to suppress thoughts, emotions, and cravings backfires and makes you more likely to think, feel, or do the thing you most want to avoid.

  • Feel what you feel, but don't believe everything you think. When an upsetting thought comes to mind, notice it and how it feels in your body. Then turn your attention to your breathing, and imagine the thought dissolving or passing by.

  • Accept those cravings--just don't act on them. When a craving hits, notice it and don't try to immediately distract yourself or argue with it. Remind yourself of the white-bear rebound effect, and remember your goal to resist.

  • Surf the urge. When an urge takes hold, stay with the physical sensations and ride them like a wave, neither pushing them away nor acting on them.