Beeminder Forum

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


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:


What a good insight about Flakesworth! I don’t mean this personally–but the insight that saying you’re going to do something in order to see the reaction in other people.


So i tried to articulate my “I will” and “I wont”, with the “i will” part not being as easy to come up with. And put them into Habitica as a positive/negative pair which allows some tracking of how i’m actually behaving on the two ends.


Hi folks!

I realized I never posted my responses to this!

First, I’m having a hard time picking a single willpower challenge. I need to spend some time thinking about that before getting too far into the book.

Second, I updated a third party InsightTimer integration after being inspired from this chapter, and… tada!

I really am taking to heart the idea that maybe you’re not a Bad Person when you make a mistake around willpower–you are just acting on different priorities at that time.


Relatedly, there’s some evidence that there’s a relationship between procrastinating and the size of the amygdala! (link to study if you click through…)


I just wanted to chime in regarding meditation. I’m not a mediation teacher, but I do have quite a bit of experience of meditation including multiple silent retreats.

@dreev The big difference between general willpower training or general concentration training and meditation is that meditation will force you to confront your crazy mind. People conceive of their mind as a rational entity that’s fully in their control, meditation quickly dispels this illusion. Other form of concentration training doesn’t teach one to take one’s thoughts and emotions with a grain of salt. This is what makes mediation truly special and changes personalities for the better.

@zedmango @dehowell With regards to the danger of mediation simple breath focus meditation is regarded as safe by teachers very aware of the phenomenon of the dark night. Even very high doses of breath focus meditation is extraordinary unlikely to give any side effects resembling the dark night of the soul. Practices that involves noting and (maybe to a lesser degree) open awareness pose a very real risk of giving people insights into reality that could lead to a dark night.

As @mattellsworth I also recommend The Mind Illuminated. It’s not the technique I use anymore, but it’s probably the most efficient technique that can also be regarded as more or less safe.


I was curious so I hunted up this twitter thread where McGonigal agrees that Ego Depletion is a theory that hasn’t gained traction.

We could opt to skip the Ego Depletion parts of the book if that’s the consensus. However, having read this whole book several years ago, I’m not sure that it matters too much. This book is largely a list of experiments you can try to create, modify or remove your own habits, based on McGonigal’s experience both as a researcher and teaching a practical class where people have tried similar experiments. She’s not just extrapolating from a debunked theory. She’s offering practical suggestions based on what she’s seen work, and explicitly telling us to experiment and discard what doesn’t work for you personally.


Agreed. It’s not the bible, it’s a science book :slight_smile:


Can I explicitly say I love this whole thing?


Is this cheating? :smiley:


Hi folks,

I’ve read chapters 1-4, but I’m catching up on the discussion here.

My main takeaway from Chapter 1 is how this is so old and known for at least a few hundred years (and I’m pretty much sure it’s much longer, although I don’t have any quotes to confirm this) in the tradition I’m the part of, which is Catholicism.

Meditation is (AFAIU) a stripped-down version of prayer, and that has been known and practiced since always. (Of course, the Catholic approach has about 2000 years, but it is a “continuation” of a kind of a much older Jewish tradition.)

BTW, I’m definitely not an expert - only someone who read a few books, but as far as practice goes, is only a beginner - but from what I understand, the “dark night of the soul” (how come nobody mentioned St. John of the Cross?) is not a “side-effect”, but a crucial and necessary stage (though presumably not many people experience it before they die).

Tracking your willpower choices resembles the Ignatian practice of examen, although many forms of it are present in many Catholic traditions. (Important warning: from what I read, contemporary Jesuits are unfortunately quite far away from Ignatian tradition, and often even from the Catholic doctrine.) Do not be scared with the fact that “examination of conscience” is done within the context of morality. Another concept which appeared here, that making bad choices does not mean you are a “bad person”, is stressed a lot in our tradition (when it is traditionally expressed as “hate the sin and love the sinner”, but also other ways).

I could see more of that stuff in further chapters, and in fact it is a recurring theme. Many “new” things which are treated like the last discovery of science have been known for us Catholics for a very, very long time. (My favorite example is gamification, which has present in our tradtition for more than 300 years.) This is no wonder: since Catholicism comes directly from God, who created man, by definition there cannot be a more accurate description of how humans work outside Catholicism. (This does not exclude good science, of course, since reason is another thing stressed very much in our doctrine.)


It is a vast subject associated with many religions, both eastern and western


Western Buddhists use the term “Dark Night of the Soul” in a reference to St. John of the Cross and the tradition of Catholic mysticism. Though we didn’t mention it here, the sources we’ve been citing (Daniel Ingram, Willoughby Britton) all touch on parallels with Catholic mysticism. It’s also a considered a necessary stage in those phenomenologies of enlightenment that I’m familiar with.

And not just Catholics! Tracking willpower choices also reminds me of Stoic evening meditation. Press coverage tends to ignore the intellectual heritage behind the research, but a number of therapies have been inspired by traditional philosophical and religious practices (notably, cognitive behavioral therapy).

The way I see it, we have centuries of writings across many cultural traditions (religious and otherwise) that have developed theoretical models for human behavior and practical techniques for thriving[1]. What has survived has probably done so because it works at least some of the time. New research on old practices can help us understand why it works and popularize the best.

[1] Although various traditions have different ideas about what thriving means.


To pile on what these fine folks have said, it was very interesting to me to hear about meditative practices of many major religions in The Science of Enlightenment. I was raised Catholic and it covered a lot of things I had no idea about. You might find it interesting.