by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney
It’s the start of semester, and students everywhere have reading lists as long as the entirety of the Game of Thrones series. But this book should be on every students agenda; it should be mandatory reading for everyone.
What is willpower? It seems to be a nebulous term that shares the same cognitive space as self-control, but it goes far deeper than that. Willpower explores where this reserve of strength comes from, how to maintain it, and what the benefits are from practising it. The question remains though: Even after all the evidence is laid out, does the individual want to sacrifice free will for willpower?
Complete dominion over one’s self is notoriously difficult to achieve. It’s also boring. Watch your drinks, cut back on the cigarettes, stop eating cake, exercise daily, and don’t sleep around (especially if you have a partner). Thankfully the authors, Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, have trawled through hundreds of studies and interviewed a swathe of celebrities in order to present the facts and foibles of willpower as plainly as possible.
If you’re a fan of statistics and human psychology, this book will hit the sweet spot. Everything is covered from the classic don’t-think-about-a-white-bear trick (you couldn’t help yourself, could you?), to some truly surprising lab results. There will be at least one lesson to take away, such as the useful dieting trick of, “Vice delayed may turn into vice denied.” Whether you’re an abstainer or a swot, advice is sure to find you.
The human stories add a real-world element to the numbers. David Blaine describes how he manages his feats of endurance. The truth about Sir Stanley and his African adventures are used to imbue the reader to action. Oprah is utilised as an example of how not to diet. You’ll either feel better about your own drinking habits after reading Eric Clapton’s story, or be inspired by his subsequent turn-around. Even the famous have faults.
Similarly the book is not without its problems. It tends to flip-flop between ideas. In one section it explains that focusing on the here-and-now helps with keeping goals, but the next chapter dismisses this and states that long term milestones are more effective. The authors are all-inclusive and their convictions come across as feeble. It’s also a long read, with as much detail stuffed in as possible, slowing the momentum.
Boiled down the book is common sense. If you want to get good grades while keeping a balanced life this book will point you in the right direction. “The best way to reduce stress in your life is to stop screwing it up” — poignant and blunt. It’s a pity more of the book couldn’t be like that.