Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Maximum Willpower

by Kelly McGonigal

Who wouldn't want an iron will? In many ways flagging self-control is all that stands between most people and their greatest ambitions. Maximum Willpower takes a long look at self-control and what can be done to improve it.

By tackling such a subject, Kelly McGonigal is in danger of promising too much with this book. The cover screams "How to master the new science of self-control" and "Get more self-control now!" It's very tempting, as if this one book can cure you of the scourge of laziness, procrastination, or compulsive behaviour. Yet mastering the science behind this topic is probably considerably easier than mastering oneself.

The book covers what willpower is, when it is hardest to maintain, how to improve it, the neurology of desire, the perils of feeling bad and also of having some success, why reducing variability in our behaviour helps, and much more. There are a lot of practical tips for learning to focus better and to choose stress-reducing activities that work. With each technique for boosting willpower there's a discussion of the science behind it, including details of the experiments and/or case studies involved. This is a well-researched, useful book which thoroughly examines all the relevant science. It's also occasionally quite shocking, and never dull.

The section on addictive behaviour and the brain's reward system is particularly eye-opening. Modern life is full of addictive possibilities, especially when it comes to technology. The book details how shops use this against us. But it isn't just retail: animal experiments have revealed the basis of addiction as well as its incredibly destructive potential, which is in some ways a peculiar evolutionary quirk, because addiction doesn't work the way you might expect it to. Of course, it's one thing to understand how it all works, and quite another to be able to resist whatever you're hooked on.

Maximum Willpower contains in-depth discussion of various aspects of self-control, but it only takes one useful technique to make the book a great value read that's well worth its cover price. Personally I came across several tips that ticked that box. The book is deceptively simple thanks to an accessible writing style, but it also covers a lot of ground. So this is the kind of book that's worth returning to re-read, at least in part because willpower is a skill that takes practice rather than something you can do once and then forget about.

Overall I'd recommend this book. It might not change your life much, depending on what you know and how disciplined you are already. But it might give you an edge, and for something as fundamentally useful as willpower the smallest advantage can make a significant difference.

8th May 2016

Book Details

Year: 2012

Categories: Books


If you like this, try:

The Organised Mind cover    

The Organised Mind by Daniel Levitin
The modern world can bombard us with information, making it exhausting to try to keep organised. Daniel Levitin examines the neuroscience behind keeping order and remembering what we need to.

Night School cover    

Night School by Richard Wiseman
This book explores the science of sleep and offers tips on becoming a super sleeper.

Rip It Up cover    

Rip It Up by Richard Wiseman
An exploration of the psychology of action and its effects on our mood, mindset, and habits.

5 star rating

Review ©

Source: own copy

Add your thoughts

All comments are pre-moderated. Please do not post spoilers or abusive language.

Name :

Your comments :

Please prove you are human.

Write the following number in the box