One of the most important topics in coaching that has only recently been studied in depth is willpower. Also known as “discipline” or “ego,” social scientists have finally begun in-depth explorations of how willpower works, is affected, is used, and is improved with training and time. The majority of that work has been influenced by the “Strength Model of Willpower,” developed by Roy Baumeister, PhD, the Francis Eppes Professor of Social Psychology and his team at Florida State University. A lot of their publications (and there have been hundreds since 1998) are in scientific journals and not for the lay-reader. Luckily, Dr. Baumeister got together with New York Times science writer John Tierney to write a book that covers the topic of willpower for the lay-audience. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. A lay book written by the social scientist who influenced the majority of the work on a topic is a very rare thing. Most popular science journalism is written by professional journalists, not scientists, and suffers from an unfamiliarity with the zeitgeist of the research and an over-reliance on catchy narratives and cherry-picked studies, ala Malcolm Gladwell. Willpower has some catchy narratives and great stories to take away, but avoids most of the problems of pop-sci by focussing on the narrative of the science itself and how the researchers developed the Strength Model.

Social scientists like Dr. Baumeister have been doing application specific research on discipline for over a decade and Willpower goes over willpower for dieting, willpower for behavior change, willpower for procrastination, and willpower for productivity. The best part of Willpower for a coach are the practical takeaways and tips. Short of providing actual interventions (which there are very few of), Dr. Baumeister and Mr. Tierney do bring up many ways that people can improve their own sense of discipline through the use of habits. Habits, it seems, are the crux of willpower improvement because as habits become more mindless, they cost less and less willpower to actually perform.

I recommend this book not only as a great way to get caught up on the literature, but as a foundation for developing your own models and interventions as a coach. Willpower is a limiting factor in almost everything we and our clients do, and Willpower serves as a fine reference on managing those limitations

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