WillPower by Roy Baumeister & John Tierney Book Review

By | January 9, 2012

willpower book reviewI have always been a huge proponent for reading books, for me they’re the bridge to the gap that was created when I decided not to attend a University any longer. It is my opinion that one can learn all of the nuts and bolts being taught at college by reading comparable works and saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process. Last year however I didn’t read as much as I wanted to and finished the year with less than 10 completed titles under my belt. This year i’ve decided to embark on a 52 books in 52 weeks journey, and yesterday marked the end of both week 1 and book 1. With that end came the start of what is to become my weekly book review. Its my opinion that writing down a brief summary/review of the previous weeks work will help to further reinforce the knowledge gained from the reading.

Week ones’ book was titled, “WillPower” and was written by world renowned psychologists, Roy Baumeister and John Tierney. I wanted to kick off my year with this mainly because I had heard such glowing reviews from several people that I respect greatly in my industry. Furthermore, I couldn’t help by realize that reading a book on how to increase your willpower would only be of further benefit to me as I attempt to accomplish some rather lofty goals that i’ve set for myself this year (more to come on those later). For now however lets jump right into the book.

For starters let me just say that the entire book at a very “Freakanomics” feel to it in that he proposed different situations and helped you to understand them in a way that you’ve never thought of before. For instance ill bet you didn’t know that the best time to go for a parole board hearing in Israel is first thing in the morning, or first thing after lunch did you? The reason, is based on a central concept of the book and that is the fact that your brain uses glucose whenever its trying to make a decision. Upon eating you’re body has its highest levels of glucose present and consequently you’re more apt to making a good decision. In the case of the Israeli prisoners, those that saw the judge first thing in the morning (after he ate breakfast) or first thing after lunch were exponentially more likely to receive parole than those who saw him after his glucose had been depleted (later in the day).

The book talks about some main concepts, with glucose depletion being one of them. Another one however that I found rather interesting was the concept of decision fatigue, and the example that is uses is that of Elliot Spitzer. When people are in positions of power (like Spitzer was) their job is to essentially make decisions all day long. Each time you do that of course your glucose level drops a bit and by the end of the day you’re “brain is fried” and thus you’re more apt to making poor decisions just as Elliot did. As a New York state governor (or normal person for that matter) a non fatigued brain would’ve never purchased hookers using a government expense account, but he didn’t think that like when making his poor decisions. The decisions that he had made during the day depleted his willpower at night and allowed him to join the likes of Bill Clinton and countless other politicians that let their secondary desires ruin their careers.

Another primary concept of the book is the idea of ego depletion which was first introduced by Freud many moons ago. Roy Baumesiter however adopted the term and in essence it is the definition for when peoples ability to regulate their thoughts, feelings and actions becomes deteriorated, or its capacity is greatly diminished. Basically if you use energy by exerting your willpower then eventually you’re going to fail. This is a very dense concept one that while discussed at length in the book probably has entire books written about it already. Before this book however I had never heard of ego depletion but the science behind it all made a ton of sense to me. For instance if you are trying to lose weight and someone offers you a cookie early in the day and you decline you’ve just used willpower. Then suppose you have to make the decision at lunch whether to drink a soda or a water, when you choose water you’ve further depleted your willpower. By the end of the day you’re much more likely to make a poor decision if your ego has become depleted.

The last major concept that I wanted to touch on was that of the hot-cold empathy gap which is basically a nice way of saying that everyone is a hero in their own mind. Most people when they’re home and in their cozy confines will tell you that if they were ever in a situation wherein someone was being raped that they’d jump in, assault the rapist and call the authorities immediately. Or they might say that if they were ever walking along on the street and saw someone drop a $100 bill that they’d give it back without thinking twice about it. The book makes the point however that when you’re actually in those situations you’re much more likely to do the opposite of what you see. You might run away from the rapist in fear of being assaulted. You might keep the $100 and justify it by saying that the lady had a $500 Gucci purse so she couldn’t possibly need the money to live and that you’re not hurting anyone. Those are extreme examples and the book uses some more interesting ones, but I won’t ruin them for those who’d like to read it in the future, which by the way, I recommend in a big way.

I have every intention of reading this book again at some point in the future, because while it was only 300 pages it contained a plethora of information that I want to read over again. Its my personal recommendation that if you haven’t already, you purchase this book TODAY. While its titled WillPower, this is not a self help book perse and I think that everyone would benefit in some way shape or form from reading it.

For those interested, next weeks books is Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh.

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