What’s the most coveted human virtue — empathy? honesty? courage?
Or how about … self-control?
That’s the assertion of the new book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength*, by Roy Baumeister, a research psychologist at Florida State, and John Tierney**, a New York Times science writer. The book builds off Baumeister’s research on the physical aspect of willpower, which he and his research collaborators found behaves like a muscle: it can be strengthened through exercise but it becomes fatigued from overuse. Willpower is generated in large part by sleep and diet, and feeds off of the glucose in our bloodstream.
Baumeister and Tierney argue that our ability (or inability) to exercise self-control is most often the key between success and failure. And it’s hard not to see their point: I type these words on the very day that a special election is being held in New York to replace the disgraced (and aptonymic) Congressman Anthony Weiner.
As Baumeister and Tierney point out, “Poor self-control correlates with just about every kind of individual trauma: losing friends, being fired, getting divorced, winding up in prison.”
The authors have agreed to answer your questions about their book and related topics, so fire away in the comments section. As always, we will post their responses shortly. And here, to prime the pump, is the book’s table of contents.
1. Is Willpower More Than a Metaphor?
2. Where Does the Power in Willpower Come From?
3. A Brief History of the To-Do List, From God to Drew Carey
4. Decision Fatigue
5. Where Have All the Dollars Gone? The Quantified Self Knows
6. Can Willpower Be Strengthened? (Preferably Without Feeling David Blaine’s Pain)
7. Outsmarting Yourself in the Heart of Darkness
8. Did a Higher Power Help Eric Clapton and Mary Karr Stop Drinking?
9. Raising Strong Children: Self-Esteem Versus Self-Control
10. The Perfect Storm of Dieting
Conclusion: The Future of Willpower-More Gain, Less Strain (As Long as You Don’t Procrastinate)
*I liked this book well enough to blurb it: “Willpower (the thing) lies at the curious intersection of science and behavior. Willpower (the book) lies at the intersection of Roy Baumeister, an extraordinarily creative scientist, and John Tierney, a phenomenally perceptive journalist. Ignore it at your peril.”
**I used to edit Tierney in the Times Magazine. To me, there are three important, separate skills that a good non-fiction writer must possess: reporting, thinking, and writing. Even among successful writers, very few possess all three in abundance. Tierney is among those few.