12 Great Books on Willpower, Motivation, and How We Think

Books on Willpower, Motivation, and How We ThinkWillpower has been on my reading table and e-reader for several years now. I feel that I am always lacking a willpower so I have devoured a lot of stuff to better understand how my willpower works, how to motivate myself, and how to stop falling back to old ways.

There’s a lot of self-help books about setting and reaching your goals. What sets apart most of the books here is the clear foundation in science. Even a few of these books will get you well on your way to strengthening your willpower.

I have added a video to each book to highlight the concepts covered. Here we go:

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel KahnemanThinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

I think this is one of the most important books published in recent years. A book by Nobel Prize winner in Economics Daniel Kahneman summarizes research that he conducted over decades, often in collaboration with Amos Tversky. It covers all three phases of his career: his early days working on cognitive bias, his work on prospect theory, and his later work on happiness.

The book’s central thesis is a dichotomy between two modes of thought: System 1 is fast, instinctive and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The book delineates cognitive biases associated with each type of thinking, starting with Kahneman’s own research on loss aversion. From framing choices to substitution, the book highlights several decades of academic research to suggest that we place too much confidence in human judgment.

Engaging the reader in a lively conversation about how we think, Kahneman reveals where we can and cannot trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking. He offers practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and our personal lives—and how we can use different techniques to guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble. Thinking, Fast and Slow will transform the way you think about thinking.

The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigalThe Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can DoTo Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal Ph.D.

Book explains the science of self-control and how it can be harnessed to improve our health, happiness, and productivity. What willpower is, how it works, and why it matters.

After years of watching her students struggling with their choices, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., realized that much of what people believe about willpower is actually sabotaging their success. McGonigal created a course called “The Science of Willpower” for Stanford University’s Continuing Studies Program. The course was an instant hit and spawned the hugely successful Psychology Today blog with the same name.

Readers will learn:

  • Willpower is a mind-body response, not a virtue. It is a biological function that can be improved through mindfulness, exercise, nutrition, and sleep.
  • People who have better control of their attention, emotions, and actions are healthier, happier, have more satisfying relationships, and make more money.
  • Willpower is not an unlimited resource. Too much self-control can actually be bad for your health.
  • Temptation and stress hijack the brain’s systems of self-control, and that the brain can be trained for greater willpower.

The Willpower Instinct combines prescriptive advice and complementary exercises to help readers with goals ranging from a healthier life to more patient parenting, from greater productivity at work to finally finishing the basement.

Willpower BaumeisterWillpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister, John Tierney

Really great book from a scientist, based on experiments. His work has been mentioned in many other scientific papers including Nobel laureates.

The pioneering researcher Roy F. Baumeister collaborates with renowned New York Times science writer John Tierney to revolutionize our understanding of the most coveted human virtue: self-control.

In what became one of the most cited papers in social science literature, Baumeister discovered that willpower actually operates like a muscle: it can be strengthened with practice and fatigued by overuse. Willpower is fueled by glucose, and it can be bolstered simply by replenishing the brain’s store of fuel. That’s why eating and sleeping- and especially failing to do either of those-have such dramatic effects on self-control (and why dieters have such a hard time resisting temptation).

Combining the best of modern social science with practical wisdom, Baumeister and Tierney here share modern lessons in willpower. As our society has moved away from the virtues of thrift and self-denial, it often feels helpless because we face more temptations than ever. But we also have more knowledge and better tools for taking control of our lives. However we define happiness-a close- knit family, a satisfying career, financial security-we won’t reach it without mastering self-control.

Flinch by Julien SmithThe Flinch by Julien Smith [THIS IS A FREE BOOK ON AMAZON]

Great motivational stuff. Single idea, short book. Gets you moving. Free! A book so important we refuse to charge for it. Julien Smith has delivered a surprise, a confrontation, a book that will push you, scare you and possibly stick with you for years to come. The idea is simple: your flinch mechanism can save your life. It shortcircuits the conscious mind and allows you to pull back and avoid danger faster than you can even imagine it’s there.

But what if danger is exactly what you need? What if facing the flinch is the one best way to get what you want? Here’s a chance to read the book everyone will be talking about, before they do. What are you afraid of? Here’s how to find out.

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel GilbertStumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

The first book that opened my eyes to the fact that we really do not know what we want and what makes us happy. Gilbert’s central thesis is that, through perception and cognitive biases, people imagine the future poorly, in particular what will make them happy. He argues that imagination fails in three ways:

  • Imagination tends to add and remove details, but people do not realize that key details may be fabricated or missing from the imagined scenario.
  • Imagined futures (and pasts) are more like the present than they actually will be (or were).
  • Imagination fails to realize that things will feel different once they actually happen — most notably, the psychological immune system will make bad things feel not so bad as they are imagined to feel.

The advice Gilbert offers is to use other people’s experiences to predict the future, instead of imagining it. It is surprising how similar people are in much of their experiences, he says. He does not expect too many people to heed this advice, as our culture, accompanied by various thinking tendencies, is against this method of decision making.

Anything You Want by Derek SiversAnything You Want by Derek Sivers

In Anything You Want, Sivers details his journey and the lessons learned along the way of creating CD Baby and building a business close to his heart. “[Sivers is] one of the last music-business folk heroes,” says Esquire magazine. His less-scripted approach to business is refreshing and will educate readers to feel empowered to follow their own dreams. Aspiring entrepreneurs and others trying to make their own way will be particularly comforted by Sivers straight talk and transparency -a reminder that anything you want is within your reach.

Predictably Irrational by Dan ArielyPredictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely challenges readers’ assumptions about making decisions based on rational thought. “My goal, by the end of this book, is to help you fundamentally rethink what makes you and the people around you tick. I hope to lead you there by presenting a wide range of scientific experiments, findings, and anecdotes that are in many cases quite amusing. Once you see how systematic certain mistakes are–how we repeat them again and again–I think you will begin to learn how to avoid some of them”.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol DweckMindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

Every so often a truly groundbreaking idea comes along. This is one. Mindset explains:

  • Why brains and talent don’t bring success
  • How they can stand in the way of it
  • Why praising brains and talent doesn’t foster self-esteem and accomplishment, but jeopardizes them
  • How teaching a simple idea about the brain raises grades and productivity
  • What all great CEOs, parents, teachers, athletes know

Mindset is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck in decades of research on achievement and success—a simple idea that makes all the difference.

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Growth mindset creates motivation and productivity in the worlds of business, education, and sports. When you read Mindset, you’ll see how.

What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite by David DiSalvoWhat Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite by David DiSalvo

Why do we routinely choose options that don’t meet our short-term needs and undermine our long-term goals? Why do we willingly expose ourselves to temptations that undercut our hard-fought progress to overcome addictions? Why are we prone to assigning meaning to statistically common coincidences? Why do we insist we’re right even when evidence contradicts us?

David DiSalvo reveals a remarkable paradox: what your brain wants is frequently not what your brain needs. Much of what makes our brains “happy” leads to errors, biases, and distortions, which make getting out of our own way extremely difficult. DiSalvo’s search includes forays into evolutionary and social psychology, cognitive science, neurology, and even marketing and economics—as well as interviews with many of the top thinkers in psychology and neuroscience today.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. PinkDrive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink

Forget everything you thought you knew about how to motivate people. It’s wrong. The secret to high performance and satisfaction is the need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world. Drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation, Pink exposes the mismatch between what science knows and what business does – and how that affects every aspect of our lives.

He reveals the three elements of true motivation:

  • Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives;
  • Mastery – the urge to get better and better at something that matters;
  • Purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Along the way, he takes us to companies that are enlisting new approaches to motivation and introduces us to the scientists and entrepreneurs who are pointing a bold way forward. DRIVE is bursting with big ideas – the rare book that will change how you think and transform how you live.

The Power of Habit by Charles DuhiggThe Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

In The Power of Habit, award-winning New York Times business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. With penetrating intelligence and an ability to distill vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives, Duhigg brings to life a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential for transformation.

Learn why some people and companies struggle to change, despite years of trying, while others seem to remake themselves overnight. We visit laboratories where neuroscientists explore how habits work and where, exactly, they reside in our brains. We discover how the right habits were crucial to the success of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and civil-rights hero Martin Luther King, Jr.

Read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg Book Review

Consuming Instinct by Gad SaadThe Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature by Gad Saad

The founder of the vibrant new field of evolutionary consumption writes about the relevance of our biological heritage to our daily lives as consumers. Author shows that innate evolutionary forces deeply influence the foods we eat, the gifts we offer, the cosmetics and clothing styles we choose to make ourselves more attractive to potential mates, and even the cultural products that stimulate our imaginations (such as art, music, and religion).

The book demonstrates that most acts of consumption can be mapped onto four key Darwinian drives:

  1. survival (we prefer foods high in calories);
  2. reproduction (we use products as sexual signals);
  3. kin selection (we naturally exchange gifts with family members);
  4. reciprocal altruism (we enjoy offering gifts to close friends).

The author further highlights the analogous behaviors that exist between human consumers and a wide range of animals.

The book is a highly informative, entertaining, and fascinating read for anyone interested in the biological basis of human behavior or simply in what makes consumers tick. Marketing professionals, advertisers, psychology mavens, and consumers themselves—this.

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