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Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Willpower Instinct: A BlogHer Book Club Review

 This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

When I first signed up to receive The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, I'll admit I was a bit skeptical about the whole concept. I pretty much felt like here was some cockamamie self-help book right for the beginning of the year when people are all hopeful about making resolutions and thinking that somehow, magically, things will change for them if they just manage to change every major bad habit they have, overnight.

Well, color me pleasantly surprised, because this book is far from that.

Dr. McGonigal is a health psychologist who teaches a class at Stanford on the Science of Willpower, which has been adapted through both her research and the self-report of her students into this book, which addresses every angle of the concept of willpower from a truly scientific (although not at all scary or boring) angle. In each chapter she explains the building blocks of how our bodies and our brains process willpower, as well as stress, addiction, desire, control, and rewards (and plenty more) while setting forth weekly challenges (based on her quarter-long class, so a chapter a week for ten weeks) to help you better understand your personal struggles with willpower and how to conquer them.

My inner sociologist was enthralled. ENTHRALLED.

But I also read this book from a different perspective -- as someone who's gone through a great deal of therapy and had the most success from cognitive behavioral therapy to help me manage my bipolar.

I'm not sure who all around here knows this from way back, but I'm not on any medication for my bipolar. I haven't been in years. I actually responded WORSE to meds than I did anything else. And, for the record, I still have a team of mental health professionals that I work with who help me maintain my balance so that I don't regress into an unmanageable state.

Basically everything discussed in this book is what I do everyday to be able to live outside my own head.

In some ways, it was so relieving to read that behavior modification through cognitive behavioral techniques are a thing that "normal" people are encouraged to do, because that makes me feel totally less weird and confined by the way I have to think to keep myself in check. But in other ways, it's scary to read yourself on a page describing your maladaptive behaviors and how to address them (and it's everything you're already doing).

I didn't follow the format of the book, taking a week for each chapter because (a) I quickly figured out that this is the story of how I have to make my brain work in order to live my pedestrian life and (b) sometimes when you have a host of issues all knotted up in your medium-sized frame, it's really hard to decide which one you should address when you know they're all inter-connected and the equivalent of those long stems out of the center of a spider plant with little leafy baby seedlings on them -- they reach out in all directions to all corners of your life, but it all stems from the same place, is all a version of the same thing.

But, this book did show me that there is still work I can do to be better at lots of things that I struggle with because a great deal of my energy reserve is being used up by my self-monitoring. That even when monumental progress has been made (I mean, not to toot my own horn, but how many other unmedicated bipolars do you know just living normal-ish lives without insanity lurking around every corner?) there is still always room for improvement, for growth, and for new understanding of myself and what drives me everyday, both good and bad. And, of course, there were moments where I felt like Daring Greatly actually really coincided and backed up some of the methodology presented here ... so I really do need to go back and give that book another shot. Especially since I find myself quoting it to other people.

So far, this is probably my favorite book that I've read as a part of this book club, and I'd be more than happy to loan out my copy to anyone who's curious. Or, you know, you could just pop on over to BlogHer join the conversation over there. :)

(And by the by, if you're curious about the origins of BlogHer, my friend Chris had the honor of talking with one of the co-founders of BlogHer, Elisa Camahort Page, on his podcast Just Talking this week. You can check that out here if that tickles your fancy. Rumor has it he once interviewed a new mom about flocked skull wallpaper, too, if you feel like digging through the archives.)