TNW Book Review: "Willpower, Rediscovering our Greatest Strength"

However you define success – it can’t be achieved without first mastering self-control, says leading social psychologist and scientist Roy F. Baumeister – author of the bestselling book WILLPOWER. Here's what our book reviewer Faith Brewitt had to say about it.

Of the three books I’ve reviewed recently, “Willpower” is easily the most scholarly and well-researched. Both Baumeister and Tierney are accomplished authors and that comes through; but as I was about halfway through “Willpower”, I started to think about who is’s reader and what would she get out of this book? 

I’m a business owner living in China and like most of you, I’m uber-busy, so a helpful book is something that can distill down the main points into a format with context that I can get through pretty quickly yet still feel like I’ve learned something that will help me grow professionally and/or personally. “Willpower” is not that book.  Sure, the studies demonstrating a clear connection between self-control and glucose were eye-opening and useful. But getting to those nuggets was tough, “Willpower” feels denser than it looks and, for me, the overall style is too academic compared to typical business self-help book like Branson’s.

On the positive side, “Willpower” is filled with plenty of scientific research and personal anecdotes from all over the world that shows how self-control is biologically rooted and how that “exercising” our willpower can make it stronger.

I most enjoyed how the personal stories from Drew Carey and David Allen (author of “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity”); Oprah and Bob Greene; and Eric Clapton and Mary Karr were presented.

I got the most out of these insights, rather than some of the drier data points. I also found the background on and how people documenting behavior in spending proves a pattern of self-control to be fascinating.  I know that with Weight Watchers the key to success is about writing down everything you eat but for some reason, the obvious parallel with money management escapes me and many others.  

As an avid list maker, I found a certain validation in my behavior as I read about the Zeigarnik effect, which basically explains why we make to-do lists and bad songs keep running through our head.

It turns out, making a plan or list about an important task is the best way to handle stress situations…I always knew this, but now I can cite research to prove it.

One other particularly compelling section of “Willpower” discusses raising more self-controlled children. As an American woman who has lived in China for eighteen years, I found new perceptions and reaffirmed my own experiences when the authors recount various studies that look at the differences between American and Chinese children. For the record, my Mom was a white Tiger Mom and, as a result, I feel I am quite self-controlled.

Scholarly tone aside, what “Willpower” lacks is simple, clear instructional language on how to quickly exercise your willpower “muscle”.  Perhaps I’ve become accustomed to getting my information in bite-sized form over the years but I think readers appreciate summary recaps at the end of each chapter that clearly say what this means to you and straight-forward guidelines on how to accomplish whatever it is the author is pushing. In “Willpower”, the authors have all the facts, research and personal stories to convince us that exercising self-control is not just a phrase but an evolutionary imperative, but they miss out on truly helping the reader by not pointing the way to achieving this more clearly.

I recommend “Willpower” for anyone who wants to delve deeper into the subject or likes to have her understanding backed up by lots of data. For the average business self-help reader, it’s still a good read; but be prepared to wade in and don’t give up – it’s an exercise in self-control.

Willpower: Why Self-Control is the Secret to Success by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney is published by Penguin, £9.99 .

Faith is a senior branding executive in Beijing with 17 years international experience managing global public relations programs for leading brands in the United States, China and Asia Pacific. She also sits on the advisory board of Girls in Tech China. Faith has deep experience in developing creative, results-driven campaigns for emerging and mature markets through consumer and channel marketing, traditional and social media, experiential branding and executive thought leadership. Faith has held positions as general manager of Fleishman Hillard, regional technology practice director of Hill & Knowlton and global communications director for Dell Consumer, Small & Medium Business. In 2010, Faith created the Dell Women Entrepreneur Network.  For more information, see her website.

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