Friday, January 1, 2016

Setting & Reaching Goals Willpower Book Review by Sutton


Rediscovering the Greatest   
Human Strength

By Roy Baumeister
& John Tierney

Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton

I go to a gym, which is crowded in January. Regulars know the early commitments to fitness will weaken sometime in February.

Roy Baumeister has spent a good part of his career studying self-control. Willpower entertains and informs us with an organized set of findings explaining factors that influence self-control.

Two critical factors weaken our judgments: Food and sleep. We need glucose and sleep to be at our best when it comes to making decisions and adhering to our plans. And a pretty woman can loosen a man’s grip on his finances. The authors give us nine chapters worth of self-control information before indulging that common nemesis, dieting.

Control of eating —dieting—is tricky because our resolve weakens when we cut back on foods containing glucose.


Dieting is the most popular New Year’s resolution.

The authors give us three counterintuitive recommendations (p. 352):

1. Never go on a diet.
 2. Never vow to give up chocolate or any other food.
 3. Whether you’re judging yourself or judging others, never equate being overweight with having weak willpower.

Baumeister and Tierney summarize Oprah’s weight control story and observe how difficult it is to manage weight even when experts are employed.

Dieting is difficult because we are designed to survive. Famine is a serious threat to survival. Calorie restriction leads to compensation once a diet has ended. Eventually, diets fail after a few cycles.

What can be done?


1. Set small, reasonable goals. Avoid the unnatural images of the select few on magazine covers.
2. Monitoring food intake is important but hard to do.
3. When craving sweets, allow yourself permission to have a small sweet later.
4. Reduce temptation by controlling your environment—keep the high calorie foods out of sight and out of reach. Just putting candy in a drawer reduced eating by one-third in one study.
5. Avoid evening snacks by brushing teeth early in the evening.
6. Make a commitment with a penalty- but this won’t work if your goal is unrealistic.
7. Realistic weight-loss goals are 5% to 10%.
8. Use the same system of rewards and penalties to maintain weight once it has been lost.
9. Use the implementation intention strategy— make a plan of what to do in common temptation settings. Automatic behavior works better than trying to resist temptation on the spot. For example, decide what you will choose before going to a buffet.
10. Choose events where socializing does not include unhealthy foods—obviously, this can be a problem as no one wants to lose good friends. However, we are social beings who are influenced by our friends.

(Ideas from chapter 10)

There’s More

There’s more to the book than dealing with weight loss. The good news is that aside from dieting, improvements in one aspect of self-control helps with control in another area of life.

For my academic review of Willpower, download my published review at Researchgate or Academia.

Cite this blog post

Sutton, G. W. (2016, January 1). Setting & Reaching Goals. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

The book

Baumeister, R.F., & Tierney, J. (2011). Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. New York: Penguin Press


Twitter  @GeoffWSutton  

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