The Inside Agenda Blog

Kelly McGonigal: In Detail

by Eric Bombicino Monday July 23, 2012

Watch The Agenda's interview with Kelly McGonigal: The Willpower Instinct

Watch The Agenda's interview with Kelly McGonigal: Controlling our Willpower

Mothers like to meet up sometimes, compare notes, and play the “What’s Your Kid Doing?” game. Kelly McGonigal’s mom probably doesn’t get invited to these get-togethers. She, along with her husband, may have discovered the secret to parenting – some sort of perfect, alchemical mix that has created golden children.

Jane McGonigal – Kelly’s twin sister – is the Director of Game Research & Development at the Institute for the Future, author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make us Better, and was named as one of 20 important women of 2010 by O, The Oprah Magazine. She's also a friend of the program.

Kelly McGonigal, not to be outdone, is a health psychologist at Stanford University, was named one of “20 Inspiring Women” by Forbes.com in 2010, and is the author of The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why it Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It.

I don’t know what the McGonigal parents did – Mozart while in utero, a constant barrage of Raffi, hermetically sealed sleep containers, and/or a steady dosage of TVOKids  but they should probably follow the lead of their daughters, write a book, and share their secret.

If it’s half as interesting as Kelly McGonigal's book, The Willpower Instinct, it'll be well worth the suggested retail price. I honestly can’t stop talking about The Willpower Instinct to any one and every one that will listen  my bus driver is already caught up on the first four chapters. The book argues that willpower is not a disembodied mental state, but a bodily response, just like stress. In fact, stress is the opposite response to will power – it is its biological enemy. When our bodies feel stress – when our heart rates rise, our palms sweat, and our brains are flooded with dopamine  we favour short-term, immediate gratification over the long-term thinking that is a core feature of willpower. (Thank God politics and business are such stress-free environments.)

In short, the book posits, willpower exists not only in the brain, but also in the body, and, just like our muscles, we can learn to strengthen it. McGonigal's work focuses on this mind-body interaction. She has also written extensively on the health benefits and the science behind yoga, meditation, and many other aspects of what we would call, “eastern philosophy.” Essentially, while bridging the gap between mind and body, she is bridging the gap between western science and eastern philosophy.

Imagining the Future: Kelly McGonigal on the Science of Eastern Philosophy

In our Agenda in the Summer web-exclusive video series, "Imagining the Future," we asked our guests to imagine what their field would look like in 20 years.

Below, Kelly McGonigal discusses how western science will view eastern philosophy in two decades.

Watch the entire "Imaging the Future" series.

Photo credit: Mark Bennington

Brain    Medicine    Psychology    Science & Nature