ProdPod: Episode 71–Two-Minute Book Summary: Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

Veteran social psychology researcher and professor at Florida State University, Roy F. Baumeister, with journalist John Tierney, joined forces to write Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength ]. This is supposed to be a definitive guide on self-control, which many consider the heart of personal productivity. If you can control your self, then performance improvement potential is a sky’s the limit proposition, right? Well, here are the most salient points that I lifted from Dr. Baumeister and Mr. Tierney’s book, so you can make your own decision on the matter.

Willpower (or, self-control) undergoes something Professor Baumeister calls ego depletion, or the loss of self-control. Willpower is divided into four broad categories: control of thoughts, control of emotions, impulse control, and performance control. All willpower depletes from one reservoir for all tasks and is a finite source. And don’t be overly confident in your willpower, as studies show it actually contributes to ego depletion. Front-load tasks that require high amounts of willpower. Things that replete and conserve willpower: sleep, foods with low glycemic indices, and making realistic goals.

What matters with self-control is the exertion, not the outcome. If you struggle with temptation and then give in, you’re still depleted because you struggled. Also note that giving in does not replenish the willpower you have already expended. The key is to concentrate on changing a habitual behavior. Building self-control in one area seemed to improve all areas of life.

Successful people use their willpower as a first line of defense to better arrange (that is, plan for) life’s challenging situations so they default into predetermined paths toward success.

Correction: In the episode, I mention incorrectly the subtitle as “Unlocking the Greatest Human Strength.” It’s on my Someday/Maybe list to go back and correct this episode!