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Ask Stanford Med: Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal taking questions on willpower

Past data suggests that four out of five people who adopt New Year's resolution's will eventually break them, and that a third will throw in the towel before the end of January. The good news is that, contrary to popular belief, willpower is not a trait that you’re either born with or without.

As Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD, explained in her book The Science of Willpower, self-control is a complex mind-body response that can be compromised by stress, sleep deprivation and nutrition, and it can be strengthened through certain practices. In her book, McGonigal discusses why willpower is not an unlimited resource, how the brain can be trained for greater self-discipline, and how we use past good behavior to justify indulgences. She also provides other insights on self-control from psychology, economics, neuroscience and medicine.

To help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions and break bad habits, we've asked McGonigal to respond to your questions about the latest research on willpower and about ways to increase your self-discipline. Questions can be submitted to McGonigal by either sending a tweet that includes the hashtag #AskSUMed or posting your question in the comments section below. We’ll collect questions until Friday (Jan.11) at 5 PM Pacific Time.

When submitting questions, please abide by the following ground rules:

  • Stay on topic
  • Be respectful to the person answering your questions
  • Be respectful to one another in submitting questions
  • Do not monopolize the conversation or post the same question repeatedly
  • Kindly ignore disrespectful or off topic comments
  • Know that Twitter handles and/or names may be used in the responses

McGonigal will respond to a selection of the questions submitted, but not all of them, in a future entry on Scope.

Finally – and you may have already guessed this – an answer to any question submitted as part of this feature is meant to offer medical information, not medical advice. These answers are not a basis for any action or inaction, and they’re also not meant to replace the evaluation and determination of your doctor, who will address your specific medical needs and can make a diagnosis and give you the appropriate care.

Previously: Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal discusses how stress shapes us, Boosting willpower and breaking bad habits, Stanford health psychologist offers tips for increasing your willpower and The science of willpower
Photo by Michael McCullough

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