Beeminder Forum

"The Willpower Instinct" Book Club, Intro and Ch. 1


I have the Vivosmart 3… same engine as the Vivosport, I think.

I also wish it had real time alerts!


I also had reservations at this point in my first reading due to ego depletion, and I was pleasantly surprised that when she gets to talk about it explicitly later, she has some reservations about it. Spoilers, I guess :stuck_out_tongue:


I am also late to the party but going to jump in to catch up


I like that idea a lot… done.

Feel free to keep discussing the introduction and chapter 1 here!

Folks, let’s take any new discussion about chapter 2, to “The Willpower Instinct” Book Club, Ch. 2.


There’s also evidence that meditation practice shrinks the amygdala, which sounds cool. Reference (of which I have only read the abstract. Also, this is a singular reference, so… ):


I don’t think there’s enough research to definitely answer this question. There are a few main types of meditation.

  1. Do nothing.
  2. Stare at a wall.
  3. Focus on a thing and keep returning your attention to the thing.
  4. Note everything you experience (or just thoughts, etc.)

From what I’ve read, type 4 is the riskiest. Not sure which the book recommends - probably 3?


Can you tell me what the steps are?



Breath focus is a simple but powerful meditation technique for training your brain and increasing willpower. It reduces stress and teaches the mind how to handle both inner distractions (cravings, worries, desires) and outer temptations (sounds, sights, and smells). New research shows that regular meditation practice helps people quit smoking, lose weight, kick a drug habit, and stay sober. Whatever your “I will” and “I won’t” challenges are, this five-minute meditation is a powerful brain-training exercise for boosting your willpower.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Sit still and stay put.

Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground, or sit cross-legged on a cushion. Sit up straight and rest your hands in your lap. It’s important not to fidget when you meditate—that’s the physical foundation of self-control. If you notice the instinct to scratch an itch, adjust your arms, or cross and uncross your legs, see if you can feel the urge but not follow it. This simple act of staying still is part of what makes meditation willpower training effective. You’re learning not to automatically follow every single impulse that your brain and body produce.

  1. Turn your attention to the breath.

Close your eyes or, if you are worried about falling asleep, focus your gaze at a single spot (like a blank wall, not the Home Shopping Network). Begin to notice your breathing. Silently say in your mind “inhale” as you breathe in and “exhale” as you breathe out. When you notice your mind wandering (and it will), just bring it back to the breath. This practice of coming back to the breath, again and again, kicks the prefrontal cortex into high gear and quiets the stress and craving centers of your brain .

  1. Notice how it feels to breathe, and notice how the mind wanders.

After a few minutes, drop the labels “inhale/exhale.” Try focusing on just the feeling of breathing. You might notice the sensations of the breath flowing in and out of your nose and mouth. You might sense the belly or chest expanding as you breathe in, and deflating as you breathe out. Your mind might wander a bit more without the labeling. Just as before, when you notice yourself thinking about something else, bring your attention back to the breath. If you need help refocusing, bring yourself back to the breath by saying “inhale” and “exhale” for a few rounds. This part of the practice trains self-awareness along with self-control.

Start with five minutes a day. When this becomes a habit, try ten to fifteen minutes a day. If that starts to feel like a burden, bring it back down to five. A short practice that you do every day is better than a long practice you keep putting off to tomorrow. It may help you to pick a specific time that you will meditate every day, like right before your morning shower. If this is impossible, staying flexible will help you fit it in when you can.


That’s a pretty clear description of a concentration practice – #3 on @zedmango’s list. Daniel Ingram’s Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha suggests that the Dark Night phenomena occurs as a consequence of insight practice (#4 on @zedmango’s list). According to Ingram, a meditator has to attain a certain level of proficiency with concentration practice before they can make substantive progress with insight practice.

With that in mind, I really do think that the specific type of meditation McGonigal recommends is unlikely to lead to a detrimental effect, especially not at the low volume she suggests. I’ve been doing something very similar to her recommendation for a few years without experiencing anything like the Dark Night. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I expect that at this point we’ve all been sufficiently warned.

If you are interested in learning more, Willoughby Britton has done clinical work with people who have experienced Dark Night-type phenomena. There was a good Buddhist Geeks interview with her a few years ago, but I sadly can’t find a link – they rebooted the podcast last year and the archives are nowhere to be seen.


So, I have the goal and the automation to beemind it. No excuses left to start reading :smiley:


Things to ponder from Ch.1:
“The part of you that wants to give in isn’t bad- it simply has a different point of view about what matters most.” p.17 This really has me trying to think differently about self-talk that goes on when that part “wins.” I would never berate or belittle someone with a different point of view. Maybe more appropriate to try and cultivate curiosity and discern ways to cooperate toward shared goals.
p. 27 her description of meditation as perfect practice for what we need to do in daily life-catch ourselves moving away from goal and then redirect-Beeminder graphs make this tangible!
Like Bee, I have had positive results from simple meditation practice in the past so plan to reintroduce that now.
Keep coming back to idea that increasing self-awareness is the key to increasing self-control! On to Ch. 2


(I have now caught up with this thread, finishing chapter 1)

This got my attention as well, and I don’t recall noting it the first time I read the book. Thinking that we have a “bad” side that wants Netflix and chips all the time leads to self-blame which can be quite damaging and counterproductive.

Now I need to put down my willpower project in words (it will be something related to social media use during the day)


I’ve listened to

and what I took away from it was:

  • 90-95% of meditation research is fundamentally flawed and conclusions untrustworthy
  • However some of it (meditation research) isn’t and specifically it’s been shown that certain types of meditation have a measurable impact (on various metrics, like attention tests) and can change your brain.
  • Different types of meditation have different affects (e.g. mindfullness may strengthen attention, loving-kindness may strengthen social and emotional connections)
  • The meditation setting matters (e.g. going on retreat seems to have more bang for your buck, than daily meditation at home).

What was less clear is precisely how the brain is changed and whether that is good or not :). Obviously the authors appear to believe the changes are generally good (there is a chapter on risks, which they claim are generally low).

Thanks for the skepticism, Dan, and the analogy to dual n-gram. I am planning to devote a large chunk of my future time to meditation and it’s very relevant/helpful to justify that decision. I don’t have a good rebuttal for you now but I should try to put one together at a future date (I may have to reread that book above) :).


Thanks for the response! Just FYI I’m not currently reading Willpower Instinct :), but I am following along with the interesting discussion. (aside: I am however reading ‘The Power of Habit’). If I were reading the book, I’d be interested in a real-time discussion (so maybe hold off on this topic for a later date).


So it turns out that since I didn’t make a Beeminder goal for meditation, I didn’t actually do it. (Cue shock and surprise.) So I made one now: . I started it with no safety buffer and immediately dialed it to 0, so I’ve only committed to trying it for a week.


Ok finished Chapter 1 and here are some notes/thoughts so far:

  • Appreciate the focus on experimentation

  • Book feels like it’s written for such a wide audience that I have an urge to discount it as pseudoscience, I’m hoping the book club will help with this by discussing the concepts deeper.

  • Enjoyed giving myself names to think about some of these behaviors in a sort of detached way. Less likely to define myself that way. I had a friend that came up with this concept on his own and I’ve always found it to be a fun and interesting tool for looking at yourself in a less judgmental way. My last name is Ellsworth, so I’ve worked that into my nicknames for my “selves”:

    • Procrastinatesworth, he is the biggest troublemaker. I’m working on strategies for whenever he shows up and asks me to play video games with him. He can be very persuasive but he’s sort of a dick. If he knew how important my other work is, he’d leave me alone.
    • Carbsworth, he and I share a love for food, but this guy loves binge eating too much.
    • Flakesworth, he never finishes what he says he’s going to finish. He runs his mouth about how he’s going to do this or that because he likes the reaction it gets from people when he shares his good ideas. We’ll work on his follow through with projects, plans, and keeping your mouth shut until you’re really ready to commit to something.
    • Ellsworth, the way I’d like to feel about myself, the embodiment of my positive traits I have now & the way I’d like to be in the future. If I set a goal for myself, it’s one that I’ve thought about and it’s important to my life. Important enough that when those dudes I just told you about show up, I can remind them why what we’re working is where we should prioritize ourselves.
  • Treat meditation like a part of being at the office, (I work from home) often I ignore meditation if I get my day started late

  • Reminder to focus on systems & tools to take decision making power out of the equation for the impulsive mind, and specifically a morning and bedtime system for starting & ending the day

Re: Contra Meditation

@dreev Breath based meditation is highly transferable skill. You’re cultivating an ability just like any other form of training. Any time I’m experiencing overwhelm or having trouble focusing etc, I just focus on my breath, while maintaining awareness about what I’m doing. This has worked well for me. The Mind Illuminated has been really helpful in pointing out that it’s important to maintain awareness as part of your practice. Also the Practicing Mind has been a great resource.

In terms of opportunity cost it obviously matters what you compare it to, but I’m struggling to think of anything that has the same benefits of meditation and that is as efficient as meditation?

I’d be interested in writing more about this later, but I have to get started on chapter 2!


Maybe try using an app like Headspace if you’re giving it a try for a week? They have a free period, so you could get some guided meditations for the length of time you want to try it, rather than just jumping in, if that’s something you’re interested in. (That’s what I did when I decided to ramp things up again, meditation-wise. I liked it.)


InsightTimer is free and integrates with Beeminder via HealthKit


Oh, yeah, I should have mentioned that Headspace integrates with Beeminder through Apple Health too. (I think nearly all meditation apps for iOS will, probably.)


InsightTimer also has a non-built-in integration for non-Apple Health people. - API python script (meditation tracking)

I set something up on Glitch, but it’s not super user friendly. A bunch of pokes about that would promote it on my list. :slight_smile: