‘Tis the season for New Year’s Resolutions — time to take stock of your life and make plans for the future.
As you take steps toward your goals, the right book can be an invaluable source of insight and encouragement. We asked Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD, author of the new book The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It (Avery 2012) and one of the books in our New Year, New You feature, for her best tips and favorite books for successful change in the new year.
Most of us don’t need to be told that we should exercise more, spend less, or make a to-do list. What we need is a new way of relating to challenges. We need help finding the strength to do what is difficult, and the motivation to reach our goals.
So rather than targeting the “what” of New Year’s resolutions (losing weight, getting fit, saving money, conquering procrastination), my top picks focus on the “how” of successful change. The following books — and the big idea in each — will help you cultivate the personal qualities that boost willpower and support any kind of change.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
Stanford psychologist Dweck is best known for her research showing that praise can undermine learning in kids. But she’s also shown that how you think about willpower plays a big role in how much you have. People who believe that hard work strengthens them, rather than weakens them, show greater willpower for both mental challenges and health choices. Mindset is all about cultivating this kind of attitude: believing that who you are, and what you can do, is determined by what you try. Setbacks and challenges are part of the process, and not evidence that you don’t have what it takes. Adopting this mindset will help with any New Year’s resolution.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
One reason most New Year’s Resolutions get abandoned: we forget to tap in to our deepest motivations. Instead, we try to bribe or threaten ourselves into better behavior. No wonder we give up! In Drive, Pink reminds us of our core motivations: autonomy (the desire to direct our own lives), mastery (the urge to get better at something that matters), and purpose (the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves). Research shows that people who link a behavior change to these motivations are much more likely to stick it out. This year, take the time to figure out what you really care about, and make a plan that satisfies your yearning for autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook by Bob Stahl, Ph.D. and Elisha Goldstein
Stress is the number one saboteur of self-control. When we are stressed out, we become the worst version of ourselves: more impulsive, more distracted, more easily tempted, more thoroughly exhausted. Many people believe stress will motivate them to change or work harder, but the science is clear: you’ll find it easier to make a change when you are less stressed. Mindfulness is one of the best approaches to stress reduction, and research also shows that mindfulness helps everything from weight loss to quitting smoking. This new workbook includes a CD of guided practices to make sure you have tools for finding the best version of yourself: calmer, focused, and motivated.
There Is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate by Cheri Huber
One of the biggest misconceptions about self-control is that being hard on yourself helps. Science says the exact opposite. Procrastinators who beat themselves up about their delay are more likely to put things off even longer. Dieters who feel the guiltiest about a binge are most likely to return to food for comfort. In contrast, self-compassion helps people find the motivation to make a change, and the perseverance to recover from setbacks. Huber’s book is a light, quick read about a problem many of us face: being our own worst critic. Learning how to turn self-criticism into self-compassion is one of the best things you can do to increase your willpower.
Kelly McGonigal, PhD, is a psychologist at Stanford University and the author of The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It (Avery 2012). Read more about Kelly at kellymcgonigal.com.
P.S. – Have you entered this week’s contest? You could win five books that are perfect for honing in on that resolution!