Understanding the science behind willpower and self-control leads to a better life and more happiness.
You will learn techniques that are easy to implement and follow in your daily life.
For example, doing the most demanding tasks when you have peak willpower.
Willpower books have been on my reading table and e-reader for several years now. I feel that I always lack willpower, so I have devoured a lot of material to understand better 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.
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I have added a video to each willpower book to highlight the concepts covered. Here we go, the best books on willpower and self-discipline:
1. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister, John Tierney
Really great willpower book from a scientist based on experiments. Nobel laureates and many other scientific papers mention his work on willpower. This book about self-control is a must in this area.
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 operates like a muscle: you can strengthen it with practice and fatigue by overuse. The fuel for willpower is glucose, and you can bolster it 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).
I learned that willpower is a limited resource that can be depleted through use but can also be strengthened through practice and self-care.
The book emphasized the importance of setting specific, achievable goals and making a plan to achieve them in order to improve the use of willpower. This includes breaking larger goals into smaller tasks and using positive reinforcement to reward progress.
I discovered that it is important to be aware of and avoid temptations that may undermine self-control efforts. This can involve actively seeking out supportive environments and minimizing exposure to triggers or distractions that may interfere with goal-directed behavior.
Look at the 30-day challenges that help you build new habits and use them as a willpower exercise.
2. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
This is one of the best books about habits I have ever read.
No matter your goals, Atomic Habits offers a framework for improving every day. James Clear reveals practical strategies that will teach you how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results.
If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is your system. Bad habits repeat themselves again and again, not because you don’t want to change but because you have the wrong system for change. You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
The book gives you a proven system that can take you to new heights. Learn how to:
- make time for new habits (even when life gets crazy);
- overcome a lack of motivation and willpower;
- design your environment to make success easier;
- get back on track when you fall off course;
- …and much more.
The author draws on ideas from biology, psychology, and neuroscience to create a guide for making good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible. Atomic Habits will reshape the way you think about progress and success. You get the tools and strategies you need to transform your habits.
Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress. ~
3. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal Ph.D.
This is one of the best books on self-control. The willpower book explains the science of self-control and how you harness it 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.
From the Willpower Instinct you’ll learn:
- Willpower is a mind-body response, not a virtue. It is a biological function you can improve 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 be bad for your health.
- Temptation and stress hijack the brain’s systems of self-control, and that you can train the brain for greater willpower.
The Willpower Instinct is one of the best self-control books as it combines prescriptive advice and complementary exercises to help readers with goals ranging from a healthier life to more patient parenting, from higher productivity at work to finally finishing the basement.
Jonathan Bricker’s work has uncovered a scientifically sound approach to behavior change that is twice as effective as most currently practiced methods.
4. Stumbling 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.
Stumbling on Happiness Quotes
Our brain accepts what the eyes see and our eye looks for whatever our brain wants. ~ Daniel Gilbert
If you are like most people, then like most people, you don’t know you’re like most people. ~ Daniel Gilbert
What are the essential things in life for you? If you are in a hurry, skip all the background stuff and get straight to the How-to section.
5. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
I believe this is one of the most important books published in recent years. One of the best psychology books ever 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 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.
The human brain has two systems of thinking: System 1, which is fast and automatic, and System 2, which is slower and more deliberative. These systems work together but can also lead to biases and errors in judgment.
People are influenced by a range of cognitive biases, such as the Anchoring bias and the sunk cost fallacy, which can affect decision-making and problem-solving.
It is important to be aware of these biases and to actively try to overcome them in order to make more accurate and effective decisions. This can involve seeking out diverse perspectives, considering multiple options, and taking the time to fully analyze problems and consider all available information.
Thinking, Fast and Slow will transform the way you think about thinking.
Sometimes, you act automatically (System 1), find out how to improve your life by finding a balance between control and flexibility.
6. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertize by Anders Ericsson, Robert Pool
I have always thought effort beats talent. Or, more precisely, most talented people who achieve great results get to those results by putting in countless hours of practice. If you want to get better at anything, this book is a guide and source of motivation.
Have you ever wanted to learn a language or pick up an instrument, only to become too daunted by the task at hand?
Anders Ericsson’s Peak distills three decades of myth-shattering research into a powerful learning strategy that is fundamentally different from the way people traditionally think about acquiring new abilities.
Peak shows that almost all of us have the seeds of excellence within us — it’s just a question of nurturing them by reducing expertise to a discrete series of attainable practices. Peak offers invaluable, often counterintuitive, advice on setting goals, getting feedback, identifying patterns, and motivating yourself.
Experts in a particular field are not necessarily born with innate talent or ability but rather achieve their level of expertise through deliberate practice and hard work.
The most effective practice involves setting specific, challenging goals and receiving feedback on performance, as well as breaking down skills into smaller components that can be practiced and improved upon individually.
Achieving expertise in a particular area requires a long-term commitment and a willingness to persevere through setbacks and challenges. This involves developing a growth mindset and viewing challenges as opportunities for learning and improvement.
Whether you want to stand out at work, improve your athletic or musical performance, or help your child achieve academic goals, Ericsson’s revolutionary methods will show you how to improve at almost any skill that matters to you.
This book is a breakthrough, a lyrical, powerful, science-based narrative that actually shows us how to get better (much better) at the things we care about. ~ Seth Godin
Main steps of deliberate practice:
- Have a clear goal
- Focus on one thing
- Immediate feedback
- Practice out of your comfort zone
Quotes from Peak
If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve.
You have to keep upping the ante: run farther, run faster, run uphill. If you don’t keep pushing and pushing and pushing some more, the body will settle into homeostasis, albeit at a different level than before, and you will stop improving
So here we have purposeful practice in a nutshell: Get outside your comfort zone but do it in a focused way, with clear goals, a plan for reaching those goals, and a way to monitor your progress. Oh, and figure out a way to maintain your motivation.
7. The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller, Jay Papasan
Find out about the benefits of prioritizing a single task. Look at examples of how to engage in those tasks with a singular focus.
The first section, “The Lies: They Mislead and Derail Us,” analyzes how multitasking has erroneously received praise as a desirable trait. The authors also challenge the concept of “work-life balance,” calling it “[i]dealistic, but not realistic.”
This leads to the “Focusing Question” of “What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” The second section of the book deals with productivity principles like habit-building and benchmarking. For example, you should engage in 4 hours of work on your “ONE thing” every day.
The third section of the book focuses on “Extraordinary Results” and how to make the principles in the book actionable. One important concept is “time blocking.” You should focus on only your ONE thing during a given amount of time. It also suggests that you should schedule time to reflect, plan, and relax. Everything else during scheduled time blocks is a distraction. Each section is followed by a “Big Ideas,” review that gives a summary of the sections’ concepts and principles.
Key ideas in the book:
Focusing on one important task at a time, rather than trying to multitask or handle multiple priorities simultaneously, leads to more efficient and effective work.
Setting specific, measurable goals and breaking them down into smaller tasks helps to clarify priorities and increase productivity.
It is important to eliminate distractions and eliminate unnecessary tasks in order to stay focused and achieve better results. This involves setting boundaries and limiting interruptions, as well as streamlining processes and minimizing unnecessary activities.
The One Thing Quotes
Multitasking is a lie ~ Gary Keller
A different result requires doing something different. ~ Gary Keller
Why You Can’t Get Anything Done – The One Thing by Gary Keller | Animated Book Summary.
8. Learn Better by Ulrich Boser
Subtitle: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or, How to Become an Expert in Just About Anything.
How we learn matters! Spend the same amount of time and get better results. Learning is about memorizing information, right? You study facts, dates, and details, burn them into memory, and then apply that knowledge at opportune times. But this approach to learning isn’t enough for the world that we live in today. Learn Better shows that how we learn can matter as much as what we learn.
In this book, you find the new science of learning, showing how simple techniques like comprehension check-ins and making material personally relatable help people gain expertize in dramatically better ways. There are 6 key steps to help listeners “learn how to learn,”
You can group them into three areas:
- Motivation, deeply personal reasons for “why” we are studying.
- Relation, relate ideas to other ideas to think deeper, more creatively, and challenge preconceptions.
- Recall, we won’t remember material the first pass through.
Learn Better will help students approach learning and makes the case that being smart is not an innate ability. Learning is a skill everyone can master.
Ulrich Boser: “Learn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life […] | Talks at Google
9. Anything 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 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.
Why do people succeed? Is it because they’re smart, or are they just lucky? Analyst Richard St. John condenses years of interviews into an unmissable 3-minute presentation on the real secrets of success.
10. Mindset: 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. The growth mindset creates motivation and productivity in the worlds of business, education, and sports. When you read Mindset, you’ll see how.
11. Drive: 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. Drive is among the best motivational books out there. 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.
12. The 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.
13. The Flinch by Julien Smith
Great motivational book. A single idea, short willpower book. Gets you moving. 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 short-circuits 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.
14. Predictably 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 thereby 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”.
15. This Year I Will… How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution, or Make a Dream Come True by M.J. Ryan
Learn the secret to making changes that stick. Every so often people get inspired (again!) to lose weight, get organized, start saving, or stop worrying –but a few months later they give up, frustrated. It doesn’t have to be that way. In This Year I Will, bestselling author M.J. Ryan offers breakthrough wisdom and coaching to help readers make this time the time that change becomes permanent.
Why do people find it so hard to change? The secret is that everyone has their own formula for making changes that stick, but most people don’t know what theirs is. They think there is one way to lose five pounds, and another way to stay on top of their e-mail, but they don’t realize that for all changes, there is one system that works best for each individual. This Year I Will helps you lock on to your unique formula for planning, implementing, and seeing a life change through, so you can use it again and again to tackle anything else you’d like to do.
For anyone who has broken a New Year’s resolution, fallen off a diet, or given up on fulfilling a dream, the ingenious strategies, inspiring stories, and sheer motivational energy of This Year I Will help you make a promise to yourself that you can actually keep.
16. What 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.
Behavioral Economics Introduction with 10 videos from heavy weights of the field (Kahneman, Pink, Ariely) and others. Sit back and watch the videos.
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Another great book about how people tick is Pre-suasion by Robert Cialdini. It’s more about how to influence people, but we all are people and you can use some of the techniques in the book on yourself.