Willpower - Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney

Willpower - Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney

 Video Book Summary

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Book Summary Notes 


“The result, after dozens of experiments in Baumeister’s lab and hundreds elsewhere, is a new understanding of willpower and of the self." 

"We want to tell you what’s been learned about human behavior, and how you can use it to change yourself for the better."

"Acquiring self-control isn’t as magically simple as the techniques in modern self-help books, but neither does it have to be as grim as the Victorians made it out to be."

"Ultimately, self-control lets you relax because it removes stress and enables you to conserve willpower for the important challenges. We’re confident that this book’s lessons can make your life not just more productive and fulfilling but also easier and happier. And we can guarantee that you will not have to endure any sermons against bare ankles.”

Willpower: The Key to Everything?

When we want to make a change in our life we know we must rely on willpower.. 

Whether we're trying to break a bad habit or cultivate a good one!  Willpower is there. 

Resisting temptation, forgoing distraction or putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations all requires willpower!

But what is willpower?

'Control exerted to do something or restrain from impulses' or 'The ability to control your own thoughts and the way in which you behave'

Sounds simple right?  Well it is and it isn't..  

Most self help books completely forget about this part of the change process..  Thinking that willpower is just something you conjure up!

But if you don't have the skills and understanding necessary to use willpower..  Can you ever really make a change?

This would mean that..  If you don't know about willpower; all other self help concepts are useless!

How can we cultivate more willpower?

That's what we're going to learn inside this Mind Map!  

We'll also learn how to use our limited Willpower in a way that maximizes our results and saves more of it for truly dire situations! 


“Now that we’ve surveyed the problems caused by lack of glucose, we can turn to solutions and to cheerier topics, like good meals and long naps."

"Here are some lessons and strategies for putting glucose to work for you: Feed the beast. By beast, we don’t mean Beelzebub. We mean the potential demon inside you or anyone spending time with you." 

"Glucose depletion can turn the most charming companion into a monster. The old advice about eating a good breakfast applies all day long, particularly on days when you’re physically or mentally stressed."

"If you have a test, an important meeting, or a vital project, don’t take it on without glucose. Don’t get into an argument with your boss four hours after lunch. Don’t thrash out serious problems with your partner just before dinner.”

Do you need a snickers?

Those commercials 'you're not you when you're hungry' are certainly funny.. But they are also true!

  • The body's number one priority is to survive..  
  • When it thinks you don't have enough food to survive you aren't going to have as much energy for other 'less threatening' functions!

Does this mean we should eat snickers all the time?  Actually..  The opposite!

  • “To maintain steady self-control, you’re better off eating foods with a low glycemic index: most vegetables, nuts (like peanuts and cashews), many raw fruits (like apples, blueberries, and pears), cheese, fish, meat, olive oil, and other “good” fats. (These low-glycemic foods may also help keep you slim.)”
  • Pretty cool right?  Eating delicious foods that are 'healthy' also keeps your willpower and energy high! 

However!  I'm not suggesting you get on 'the willpower diet plan' as I think that's backwards..

  • I think just being conscious of your willpower and food choices is a good first step..  
  • Perhaps you could (as I have) start by bringing awareness to your levels of hunger and willpower.
  • Understanding how your body reacts to certain foods might help you make better decisions in the long run..  
  • Then if you do decide to make a change!  Some of the techniques we'll talk about next can help.


“Exercising self-control in one area seemed to improve all areas of life." 

"They smoked fewer cigarettes and drank less alcohol. They kept their homes cleaner. They washed dishes instead of leaving them stacked in the sink, and did their laundry more often."

"They procrastinated less. They did their work and chores instead of watching television or hanging out with friends first. They ate less junk food, replacing their bad eating habits with healthier ones.”

Want all dimensions in your life easier?  Exercise self control in anything.. 

This is such a motivating observation!

  • When we decide to wake up early, eat a little less junk food or exercise regularly..  
  • It means we have MORE willpower not LESS!

Counter intuitive right? 

  • It seems like if we exerted the willpower in one dimension of our lives we might not have enough to spread to the others!
  • Well it turns out that's not the case..  Probably for many different reasons!
  • But it turns out willpower functions a little like a muscle!  Flex it in one area and you're stronger in the next. 

Look at high performers..

  • Star athletes are often high performers in business after they retire!
  • People who are successful at work are often marathon runners or rec-athletes!
  • These people aren't just 'good at one thing' they are good at the base skill for getting better at ANNTHING (Hint: Willpower).


“The essence of this strategy is to lock yourself into a virtuous path." 

"You recognize that you’ll face terrible temptations to stray from the path, and that your willpower will weaken. So you make it impossible—or somehow unthinkably disgraceful or sinful—to leave the path.

"Precommitment is what Odysseus and his men used to get past the deadly songs of the Sirens." 

"He had himself lashed to the mast with orders not to be untied no matter how much he pleaded to be freed to go to the Sirens."

"His men used a different form of precommitment by plugging their ears so they couldn’t hear the Sirens’ songs. They prevented themselves from being tempted at all, which is generally the safer of the two approaches. "

"If you want to be sure you don’t gamble at a casino, you’re better off staying out of it rather than strolling past the tables and counting on your friends to stop you from placing a bet. Better yet is to put your name on the list of people (maintained by casinos in some states) who are not allowed to collect any money if they place winning bets.”

The best way not to give into temptation?  Make it impossible!

This is a subtle trick that probably everyone has tried before!

  • Taking the junk food out of the kitchen.. 
  • Distraction blockers on computers.. 
  • Airplane mode on your phone..
  • All great tricks!

The problem here of course is..  Most of the time we can't lash ourselves to the mast of a ship!

  • But even making something difficult can work wonders..  
  • Adding just one or two extra steps can give you the space you need to be able to exert your Willpower!

This is how we play Offense with Willpower vs Defense..

  • Here are some steps you could try:
  • Don't make your life a minefield of temptation!
  • Spend the time when you have a full tank of willpower to make your daily path as easy to stay on as possible..  
  • When you stray try to write it down and remember!  This way you can find a way to play offense before the defense is necessary..


“Religious meditations often involve explicit and effortful regulation of attention." 

"The beginner’s exercise in Zen meditation is to count one’s breaths up to ten and then do it again, over and over. The mind wanders quite naturally, so bringing it back to focus narrowly on one’s breathing builds mental discipline."

"So does saying the rosary, chanting Hebrew psalms, repeating Hindu mantras."

“It looks as if people come to associate religion with tamping down these temptations,” says McCullough, who suggests that prayers and meditation rituals are “a kind of anaerobic workout for self-control.”

The best way to work your willpower muscle?

Meditation, prayer or religious activities!

  • Here we notice that it doesn't seem to matter which activity you do..  Just that you do it!
  • Zen Meditation, Mindfulness, Prayer, Hindu Mantras or Chanting Psalms..  All of them are great willpower practice!

I love this..  'Mediation is an anaerobic workout for self control!'

  • Flexing the muscles is obviously really important!  The more your use them the stronger you are..  
  • But I think just as important is flexing them in an environment where you don't pay for your mistakes!
  • There is no way to do meditation 'wrong' and in that way it gives us a chance to constantly get off track and come back to the moment!

This is really what willpower is all about.. 

No one is ever going to be perfect! 

But the people who are able to recover quickly from lapses in willpower will be more successful in the long run..  

How about you?

What 'meditation' practice are you currently doing?

Let me suggest one!  I just call it quiet time. 

Step 1: Brew a warm drink in the morning. 

Step 2: Sit down with no distractions and focus on the sensations of drinking that warm drink. 

Step 3: Whoops your meditating. 


“He needs the help of “bright lines,” a term that Ainslie borrows from lawyers. These are clear, simple, unambiguous rules. You can’t help but notice when you cross a bright line." 

"If you promise yourself to drink or smoke “moderately,” that’s not a bright line. It’s a fuzzy boundary with no obvious point at which you go from moderation to excess."

"Because the transition is so gradual and your mind is so adept at overlooking your own peccadilloes, you may fail to notice when you’ve gone too far. So you can’t be sure you’re always going to follow the rule to drink moderately."

"In contrast, zero tolerance is a bright line: total abstinence with no exceptions anytime. It’s not practical for all self-control problems—a dieter cannot stop eating all food—but it works well in many situations."

"Once you’re committed to following a bright-line rule, your present self can feel confident that your future self will observe it, too. And if you believe that the rule is sacred—a commandment from God, the unquestionable law of a higher power—then it becomes an especially bright line. You have more reason to expect your future self to respect it, and therefore your belief becomes a form of self-control: a self-fulfilling mandate. I think I won’t, therefore I don’t.”

The mind is really good at ignoring small slips in willpower..  

Here are some examples:

  • Eating healthy but having LARGE portions.. 
  • Working for 8 hours but really only putting in 1 good hour..
  • 'Working out' but really not giving it your all..

These all start off with the best of intentions!

  • Probably the first time you exercised your willpower on them you ate perfect, worked all 8 hours and gave it your all in the gym.. 
  • But because it's not easy to tell what is perfect and what is good enough..  It's easy to slowly slide back into old habits without even noticing!

Introducing Bright Lines.. 

  • '99% is a challenge; 100% is a breeze.' -Jack Canfield
  • When you commit to something draw a bright line for yourself around it!  This allows you to see when you're letting yourself slip. 

Note: I think Bright Lines don't work perfectly for a lot of areas in our lives..  

Instead I tend to think that having a reliable way to set expectations is important!

Here are some examples from the ones we used before:

Food journaling BEFORE you plan to eat!

Writing down exactly what you need to get done that day!

Having a workout PLAN!


“People with good self-control mainly use it not for rescue in emergencies but rather to develop effective habits and routines in school and at work."  

"The results of these habits and routines were demonstrated in yet another recent set of studies, in the United States, showing that people with high self-control consistently report less stress in their lives."

"They use their self-control not to get through crises but to avoid them. They give themselves enough time to finish a project; they take the car to the shop before it breaks down; they stay away from all-you-can-eat buffets. They play offense instead of defense.”

High self control = less stressed?

This is another counter-intuitive point about willpower.. 

  • How can exerting willpower make your life less stressful?
  • Well..  People who are exerting self control in the right way make their lives easier by avoiding stressful and tempting situations!

The concept of Offense vs Defense is a great visualization!

  • Instead of worrying about when a temptation might hit..  Hit it first!  Make it less likely to happen.
  • Instead of going about your day as you normally would..  (When trying to change).  Make your day as easy as you possibly can!

Let's take a moment to play offense:

  • What are some things in your life that you could do right now to make you more likely to stay on the virtuous path?
  • Can you take 5 minutes right now to make a small change that will have exponential results?
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