The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal | Book Summary

Book Name- The Willpower Instinct

Author- Kelly McGonigal

Every year I used to make different new year resolutions like I will read at least one book every month, will do 100 push-ups every morning or I will learn something new every day.

The commitment was to do this every single day. I did really well for a week or so, but then I started procrastinating about everything.

Whenever I used to read any new book, after reading two pages only I start feeling sleepy.

I used to feel tired after doing 10 minutes workout only and whenever I used to sit to practice new skills, most of the time I get busy in some other work.

Due to which I was not able to follow my resolution properly and within one month I used to break that resolution.

I can understand if same happens to you as well. Don’t worry, it commonly happens to most of the people.


KELLY McGonigal, who is the author of this book “The Willpower Instinct” says that one main reason behind this is the lack of Will Power.

the willpower instinct book summary

I used to get so much busy in my other low-value works that my Will Power start getting depleted because of which I was not able to focus on my important works and new year resolutions.

Turns out that motivation, perseverance, and clear focus- all of these are deep-rooted into one element: Willpower.

Just as a car needs fuel to function properly, you have a finite amount of willpower that gets depleted as you use it.

Plus, you use the same stock of willpower for all manner of tasks. This explains why I couldn’t read a book at bedtime. I’ve already depleted my willpower reserve doing other tasks earlier in the day.

We’re going be looking at various ways on how to preserve willpower throughout the day” “how to recharge your willpower supply effectively” and lastly “how to strengthen your Reserve so it enables you to perform at your best”

Major takeaways from the book “The Willpower Instinct” to strengthen the willpower as follows-

1- Meditation

the willpower instinct book summary
  • Meditation is one of the most effective tools for dealing with compulsive behavior.
  • if you’re struggling with an urge to check your email every two minutes. then your thoughts have probably taken control over your behavior resulting in a bad habit.
  • To break a bad habit and to become calmer with yourself, you need to strengthen your conscious mind.
  • Strengthening your conscious mind simply means, cultivating more “awareness”.
  • Hopefully, Meditation is known to be the best practice of awareness.
  • By meditating, you are literally building more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex region of the brain(conscious mind) resulting in a further heightened awareness.
  • With increased awareness, you can access the ability to swiftly regulate your thoughts and emotions.
  • If you are an angry person, for instance, meditation will teach you precisely how to notice negative feelings rising slowly. Therefore have the ability to calm them down instead of blasting them out on others impulsively.
  • Simply 20 minutes of meditation a day will flush all the cortisol and other stress hormones from the body, leaving you completely purified for a whole day. and not only that, many studies have proved that people who meditate regularly, massively enhanced their attention, memory, and their ability to ignore distractions.
  • If you’re willing to practice meditation, I would highly recommend starting out with 10 minutes a day because if you start with 20 minutes a day, it’s so easy for you to lose motivation afterward.

“When your mind is preoccupied, your impulses—not your long-term goals—will guide your choices.” 

2- Good Sleep

the willpower instinct book summary
  • The most important factor to recharge willpower is a night of good sleep.
  • If you don’t get decent and satisfying sleep during the night then you’re more likely to have no willpower, no motivation, and no self-control whatsoever throughout the day.
  • The first step to replenish willpower is very simple: improve the quality of your sleep.
  • I’ve found that sleeping in a complete darkroom, with no distractions can help the sleep hormones to sedate your body properly.
  • Meaning that muscles that have been stressed out during the day will have the opportunity to relax.
  • Also, make sure to sleep and wake up at a very specific time. Again, it’s all about building habits.
  • This helps the brain to condition the body so it knows when and when not to release sleep hormones. this can save more willpower for later decisions.
  • But let’s suppose you couldn’t get a goodnight’s sleep due to any reason. In that case, your last resort is a powernap in the evening.
  • Napping for 20 minutes can replenish your willpower supply compensating your lack of sleep.

3- Increased HeartRate Variability

the willpower instinct book summary
  • Those who have a high heart rate variability are more likely to resist, for example, a drink and stay sober.
  • Those who have a lower heart rate variability have a greater risk of relapse.
  • Kelly says if you have high heart rate variability you have more willpower available for whenever temptation strikes.
  • Let’s understand what exactly is heart rate variability.
  • If you had a heart rate of 60 beats per minute your heart would not be beating at exactly one-second intervals for the full 60 seconds. If you are healthy and relaxed it should actually be beating at varied intervals like 1.09, then 0.98 seconds and 1.05 and so forth.
  • These aren’t dangerous. They are just slight heartbeat variations.
  • The more varied your heartbeat intervals are the higher your heart rate variability is.
  • One way to immediately boost your willpower is to slow your breathing down to four to six breaths per minute.
  • Slowing the breath down activates the prefrontal cortex and increases heart rate variability.
  • I did so by inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for eight seconds.
  • At first, it might feel like you’re suffocating but you’ll quickly adapt and feel calm.
  • Whenever you feel like you’re losing your self-control just remember slow down your breathing.