Book review: Willpower by Roy Baumeister

What Willpower is about

Willpower is about, well, willpower. Precisely about what we can define as willpower, how it works, where it comes from, how we can train it and what wears our willpower down. The main points:

  • Unlike animals, humans can use willpower unconsciously. We do not have to focus on not eating from someone else’s plate, for example.
  • Your willpower is finite. There is also only one stock of willpower for all tasks.
  • Willpower can be divided in four categories: 1) Control of thoughts, i.e. your focus. 2) Control of emotions, this is self-explanatory. 3) Impulse control, i.e. whether you say no to pizza when you’re on a diet. 4) Performance control, meaning focusing on the task at hand.
  • A lack of willpower can be traced back to a glucose deficit in your body, because glucose is used to exert self-control.
  • Our minds don’t like unfinished tasks. You need to give the mind a plan when a task in unfinished, otherwise it stays restless.
  • Exercises that improve self-control: physical exercise, changing a habitual behavior, studying. Exercising self-control in one area carries over to others.

Why I chose to read Willpower

This was another book in a series of books about decision-making and mental strength that had caught my attention and that I wanted to read. No particular reason behind it, I found the summary interesting and the book overlapped with my interests.

What I liked about Willpower

The first part of the book was a very easy and entertaining read and actually delivers the bulk of interesting insight from the book. I found the idea that willpower can be exceeded like a stamina bar particularly interesting. Also the different areas of self-control was something that I wasn’t consciously aware of. When we think of willpower, we think of “the power of saying no”. But that’s not necessarily the case. Think of a woman that might have an easy time saying no to potential suitors she fancies but on the flipside struggles with emotional control.

What I didn’t like about it

The book was very words and the latter half was pretty forgettable. It’s been a few weeks that I read it and even going through the pages I could barely remember what I had read. The 300 pages could easily be condensed to 100 without loads of anecdotes and examples that are rather forgettable.

The insights itself were also not exactly revolutionary but more of the “didn’t think of it this way” sort. It’s not a book that will change your worldview.

What I learned from Willpower

I learned that if you feel like your struggling with willpower, having a chocolate bar to replenish your glucose levels might actually be a good idea.

Who I would recommend Willpower to

If you want a quick overview and a few interesting thoughts about willpower, I’d recommend to you reading the first 100 or 150 pages. The rest I read on willpower alone.

Recommended to those that don’t have a good understanding what constitutes willpower.

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