You might manage a perfect weight, exact self-discipline in all areas of your life, and achieve everything you set out to do. Or you might be like everyone else, and struggle with your weight, fail to make it to the gym on a regular basis, or procrastinate in ways that work against you. You might bemoan your lack of willpower when the dessert menu is offered after a big meal.
Jim Randel is an attorney and entrepreneur who takes this topic seriously, despite presenting his ideas in a very slim book that is written in cartoon form, with stick figures and giant fonts. He tells the story of Billy, who wants to lose 10 pounds, and his wife Beth, who wants to write a business plan for a new business. Along the way, Randel summarizes psychological research, including Walter Mischel’s famous marshmallow study, and paraphrases seminal works in psychology, such as William James’s The Principles of Psychology, presenting their ideas in a couple of bullet points. The book is very quick to read, and summarizes the material in 15 points. These are presented on a detachable bookmark in the front of the book, and in a summary form in the last 15 pages of the book.
Randel’s plan begins with an evaluation of your commitment to change, and then asks you to prepare for a difficult journey, anticipating the times in which you’ll need willpower. You’ll need to set specific goals, in small steps. You’ll have to be vigilant about your thoughts and control the dominant ones. Talk to yourself in positive terms, and be selective in where you ‘spend’ your willpower. Imagine the successful end, and realize you do have enough willpower. It will strengthen as you ‘spend’ it. It will become a habit, and it’s not about deprivation. Strong willpower will allow you to accomplish your goals.
When I started reading the book, I expected it to offer pop psychology lite. The format certainly upheld my expectations, but the content surprised me a little. Although psychological research was mentioned with a slight glance, the points developed by the author are certainly in line with what we know, and what years of research have shown us about the cognitive potholes that frequently interfere with achieving a goal.
This book will be useful to anyone who has a short-term and very discrete goal to achieve. (Losing 10 pounds, for instance!) However, achieving that goal may involve more complex factors that are beyond the scope of the book’s easy 15 points. Chronic overeating can stem from a variety of psychological factors that are not remedied by simply “dividing your challenge into small manageable pieces” (point 5) and “maintaining vigilance over your thoughts” (point 6).
Even though there are certainly aspects of willpower (and the lack of willpower) that are not met by this skinny little book, there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. With its breezy style, and its positive, motivational approach, this book can be the motivational tool you or a friend might need. You can read the book in one short sitting, or you can keep the book on your shelf to pull out whenever you find your discipline flagging a little bit. Don’t expect it to help you with deep-seated problems, necessarily, but for what it is, it’s a nice little book.
The Skinny on Willpower: How To Develop Self Discipline
By Jim Randel
Rand Media Co., February 2009
Softcover, 144 pages
Psych Central's Recommendation: Worth Your Time! +++Your Recommendation (if you've read this book):
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Handelman, L. (2010). The Skinny on Willpower: How To Develop Self-Discipline. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 8, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-skinny-on-willpower-how-to-develop-self-discipline/0004119
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
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