Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

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Authors: Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney. Penguin Press (2011).

Every once in a while a book comes along that really helps to make sense of why things happen as they do. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength is one of them.

Drawing from decades of social psychology research, psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and journalist John Tierney provide interesting and easily digestible explanations of what we know about human willpower; not just how we struggle with it, but how we can harness it to get us what we want. They explain, for example, that the will is like any other strength: it has a limited supply of energy, that energy is depleted as we use it, and we have a single stockpile of it to use on every one of the various challenges we face. When you appreciate that we spend close to four hours each day trying to control our thoughts and emotions, resisting urges and maintaining efforts towards chosen goals, it’s easy to understand why it can be so hard to find the energy or drive to tackle other challenges, like starting to exercise or finishing chores we don’t really want to do.

The authors present a number of proven strategies to increase the chances of success when changing routines. These include making sure you keep your engine fueled with adequate sleep and quality food, changing only one thing at a time, and learning to ‘play offence instead of defence’ by using limited willpower resources to create sustainable positive routines rather than spending valuable resources scrambling to cope in emergencies.

Making positive changes in life is hard enough. Give yourself a leg up by working with your strengths, not against them. Call us if you continue to struggle. Psychologists are experts at behaviour change.


Shift Cognitive Therapy Oakville is a psychology practice with a focus on change.