Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by John Tierney and Roy F. Baumeister, is an eye-opening read. The co-authors combine their articulate writing style and insightful scientific knowledge to produce a book that is simultaneously deep and rigorous, while managing to remain accessible to a wide audience. The end
result is a book that will undoubtedly change many lives for the better.
The book addresses willpower as a finite resource. Like the gas in your vehicle, it will only last for a certain amount of time before it needs to be replenished. As a result, willpower must be managed and accounted for, just like any other finite resource. Although many people probably understand this intuitively, it’s a concept that’s worth repeating. All too often, we are (understandably) focused on our day-to-day needs, deadlines, anxieties, and so on. We forget to take a macro view of our lives and what we choose to expend our limited self-control on.
One part of the book that particularly impacted my thinking was when they discussed the various diversions and distractions that people inadvertently waste their limited willpower on. The book highlighted some examples of things that we don’t traditionally associate with willpower, but still deplete that incredibly valuable commodity. For example, a sports fan might not consider supporting their favorite team as something that requires any willpower. But, in fact, such preoccupations deplete glucose, the molecule that fuels our willpower.
If you’re familiar with any of Baumeister’s previous books, you know that he tends to be exceptionally rigorous with his research. That trend certainly continues with this book. For example, he analyzes the famous Stanford marshmallow test of the 1970s and its relevance to our current understanding of willpower. However, despite the ample effort devoted to meticulously researching the subject matter, most readers will find this book easier to digest than his previous works.
Even though this is wholeheartedly recommend to anyone interested in bettering themselves, it is not without its drawbacks. Sometimes the book seems as if it is presuming that everyone wants to maximize the efficiency of their daily output, without any regard for happiness or well-being. For most people, it is believed to have self-control and indulgence as two sides of a delicate balancing act. The book seems to focus on maximizing the former without any regard for the latter. There are also some conclusions drawn that don’t necessarily follow from the evidence presented.
• Very informative book with tons of potential for practical application
• Accessible for casual readers
• Meticulously researched
• Doesn’t address the need to balance willpower and indulgence
• A few of the conclusions may be questionable
In conclusion, any shortcomings are easy to overlook with all the value this book offers. In an era where everyone is looking for some quick and easy life hack, the real “hack” may be understanding our own body chemistry.