Kelly McGonigal

Lecturer, Stanford University
Author, The Upside of Stress and The Willpower Instinct

The psychologist and mindfulness expert with the latest science on willpower.

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For many of us, the day can seem like a long series of willpower battles. I’m trying to stay focused on this project, but I keep checking my e-mail. I’m trying to work out more, but I can never get myself to the gym. And I swear this will really be my last cigarette...okay, this will. Maybe just one more.

Meanwhile, in the workplace, we clutch at our willpower to support us through deadlines, meetings, customer demands and the thousand little stresses of our jobs. But the harder we try to hold things together, the harder it gets to work at the highest level, make good long-term decisions, and hold ourselves to our professional goals.

What if we told you that you could train your willpower? That most of us misunderstand willpower and actually hurt ourselves the more we strive for discipline? What if we told you someone with both science and sensitivity could map out for you a path through the maze of wants and wills — and guide you to a more empowered life?

Kelly’s insights have already changed the lives of hundreds of students in her Stanford University course "The Science of Willpower" and with her book, The Willpower Instinct. This exciting book collects the latest findings in psychology and neuroscience to explain the evolutionary and cognitive basis of willpower as well as the steps we can take to harness it.

In her book, The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It, Kelly “delivers a startling message: Stress isn’t bad. She highlights new research indicating that stress can make us stronger, smarter, and happier if we learn how to embrace it.”

Kelly is Lecturer (in Management) for the Stanford Graduate School of Business and for the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, part of the School of Medicine's Institute for Translation Neuroscience.

She is the former Editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. Her scientific research has been published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, and Monitor on Psychology. She’s been quoted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times,, Web MD, TIME, Fitness, Women’s Health and more. In 2010, Forbes named her one of the 20 most inspiring women to follow on Twitter.

Inspiring is definitely the word. Kelly’s winning, lively style makes the daunting task of reclaiming our lives seem within anyone’s grasp. It’s a message we’re confident will help you achieve your personal and professional goals — and live the life you really want to live.


The Upside of Stress

Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It

Kelly McGonigal

The author of The Willpower Instinct delivers a controversial and groundbreaking new book that overturns long-held beliefs about stress.

More than forty-four percent of Americans admit to losing sleep over stress. And while most of us do everything we can to reduce it, Stanford psychologist and bestselling author Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., delivers a startling message: Stress isn’t bad. In The Upside of Stress, McGonigal highlights new research indicating that stress can, in fact, make us stronger, smarter, and happier — if we learn how to embrace it.

The Upside of Stress is the first book to bring together cutting-edge discoveries on the correlation between resilience — the human capacity for stress-related growth — and mind-set, the power of beliefs to shape reality. As she did in The Willpower Instinct, McGonigal combines science, stories, and exercises into an engaging and practical book that is both entertaining and life-changing, showing you:

  • how to cultivate a mind-set to embrace stress how stress can provide focus and energy how stress can help people connect and strengthen close relationships why your brain is built to learn from stress, and how to increase its ability to learn from challenging experiences

McGonigal’s TED talk on the subject has already received more than 7 million views. Her message resonates with people who know they can’t eliminate the stress in their lives and want to learn to take advantage of it. The Upside of Stress is not a guide to getting rid of stress, but a guide to getting better at stress, by understanding it, embracing it, and using it.

Avery Publishing Group (5 May 2015)


'The Upside of Stress'Financial Times

The Neuroscience of Change

A Compassion-Based Program for Personal Transformation

Kelly McGonigal

If anything were possible, what would you like to see in your life? How would you like to grow? And what's stopping you? In The Neuroscience of Change, Dr. Kelly McGonigal weaves the newest findings of science with Eastern contemplative wisdom to give listeners a revolutionary process for personal transformation. Six sessions provide breakthrough ideas supported by clinical research, guided practices, and real-world exercises for making self-awareness and compassion the basis for meaningful change, choosing deep "wantpower" instead of brute willpower, dealing with setbacks and the inner critic, and more.

Sounds True, Incorporated; Abridged edition (April 28, 2012)

The Willpower Instinct

How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It

Kelly McGonigal

One of four new self-help books to start the year off right — USA Today

Based on Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal’s wildly popular course “The Science of Willpower,” The Willpower Instinct is the first book to explain the new science of self-control and how it can be harnessed to improve our health, happiness, and productivity. Informed by the latest research and combining cutting-edge insights from psychology, economics, neuroscience, and medicine, The Willpower Instinct explains exactly what willpower is, how it works, and why it matters. For example, readers will learn:

  • Willpower is a mind-body response, not a virtue. It is a biological function that can be improved through mindfulness, exercise, nutrition, and sleep.
  • Willpower is not an unlimited resource. Too much self-control can actually be bad for your health.
  • Temptation and stress hijack the brain’s systems of self-control, but the brain can be trained for greater willpower.
  • Guilt and shame over your setbacks lead to giving in again, but self-forgiveness and self-compassion boost self-control.
  • Giving up control is sometimes the only way to gain self-control.
  • Willpower failures are contagious–you can catch the desire to overspend or overeat from your friends­­–but you can also catch self-control from the right role models.

In the groundbreaking tradition of Getting Things Done, The Willpower Instinct combines life-changing prescriptive advice and complementary exercises to help readers with goals ranging from losing weight to more patient parenting, less procrastination, better health, and greater productivity at work.

Avery Publishing Group; Reprint edition (31 Dec 2013)
Avery Publishing Group (29 Dec 2011)


"What a liberating book! McGonigal explains the scientific reality of willpower, exploding the myths most of us believe. Stronger willpower — based on inspiring facts, not oppressive nonsense — is finally within everyone's reach."
— Geoff Colvin, author of Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else

"The Willpower Instinct is a new kind of self-help book. Using science to explain the why and strategies for the how, McGonigal has created a must-read for anyone who wants to change how they live in both small and big ways."
— Book Page

"Each chapter could stand on its own as something helpful, but taken as a whole, this book could be downright life-altering. If you are trying to lose weight, become more successful at work, rid yourself of toxic habits...heck, if you're HUMAN, you need to read this book."
— Library Thing Review

This book has tremendous value for anyone interested in learning how to achieve their goals more effectively. McGonigal clearly breaks down a large body of relevant scientific research and its applications, and shows that awareness of the limits of willpower is crucial to our ability to exercise true self control.
— Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D., co-author of You Are Not Your Brain and author of bestselling Brain Lock


Kelly tailors each presentation to the needs of her audience and is not limited to the topics we have listed below. These are subjects that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest her range and interests. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.

The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It

Stress is unavoidable. But is it always harmful? Stanford psychologist and award-winning author Kelly McGonigal, PhD, offers a surprising new view of stress — one that reveals the upside of stress, and how to capitalise on its benefits. The latest science shows that stress can make us smarter, stronger, and more resilient. Stress can even help you connect with what you care about most and strengthen close relationships. This session will explore both what makes stress good for you, and what you can do to get good at stress. Learn how to cultivate a mindset that helps you thrive under stress, and simple strategies for transforming the biology of your stress response, to improve health and well-being. The new science of stress resilience will give you a renewed sense of optimism about your own ability to handle whatever challenges life brings.

The Willpower Instinct

According to the American Psychological Association, Americans name “not enough willpower” as the number one thing keeping them from their goals. But what if willpower were not some unattainable virtue, but a natural instinct you could train? What if willpower were a strength you could cultivate, or even a “contagious” state of mind you could share with others? Stanford University Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct and The Neuroscience of Change, describes the latest scientific insights into what willpower is, why you already have it, and how to develop it. Learn practical strategies for tapping into the body’s willpower reserves, training the brain for greater focus and self-control, transforming old habits, and overcoming the most common willpower challenges.

The Science of Change

What's your most important goal? Why does it matter so deeply? And how will you overcome the obstacles? Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct and The Neuroscience of Change, describes the latest scientific insights into why change is hard — and how people can succeed. Discover why the strategies many people use to ignite change — including stress, self-criticism, and guilt — actually sabotage success, and how to make mindfulness, self-compassion, and social support the foundation for lasting change. Learn practical, science-based strategies for getting started, taming an overwhelmed brain, overcoming setbacks, and staying motivated.


When it comes to health, there is often a wide gap between what we know we should and what we actually do. Stanford University health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct and The Neuroscience of Change, describes the latest neuroscientific and psychological insights into what keeps us stuck, and what makes change stick. Dr. McGonigal will explore the three sides of willpower (“I won’t” power, “I will” power, and “I want” power), and how they work together to transform old habits and build healthier ones. You’ll learn why stress, including health-related guilt or fear, can sabotage behavior change, and how to create a sense of control and hope that boosts motivation. Dr. McGonigal will also share strategies for going beyond the “self” of self-control, including outsourcing willpower to the home environment, and how to make change contagious. The new science of willpower will increase your empathy for patients struggling to change, while giving you fresh ideas for enhancing patient compliance, prescription adherence, and behavior change.


How to Turn Stress Into an Advantage | 99U

Believe It or Not, Stress Can Be Good For You | big think

Can stress be good for you? |

How to make stress your friend | TED

Willpower Book Talk


A global professional services firm:
Kelly did an amazing job and exceeded our expectations once again. It was a very short piece and it went by far too quickly, her presence was terrific and the outcome of generating impact and insight for our participants was completely met. She was also a pleasure to work with throughout the process, shifting and customizing her approach as new information came in. I will continue to advocate for her at our events and appreciate [Leigh] managing the process so professionally.

A state community college
Thanks again for your wonderful interactions with all of us in Muncie. It is rare when someone touches the community, faculty/staff, and also students so powerfully.

An American financial corporation
I wanted to share our sincere thanks for your remarks yesterday. Everyone thought you were amazing, and the positive feedback continues to roll in. We really appreciate both of your participation in this important event for our women.

A higher education association
I also wanted to let you know you were the highest scoring speaker at the [ . . . ] Annual Meeting. Everyone really enjoyed your presentation!

A medical/business conference for cancer executives
Kelly – Everyone thoroughly enjoyed spending time with you on Friday! Thank you so much for customizing the talks and “embracing the stress” of connecting with middle and high school students. You did a wonderful job engaging and reading the audience.

A coaching conference
I just wanted to thank you also in writing. You made a huge impact on us at [ . . . ] in Malmø. It has been a joy working with you.

A conference on brain health
Hi Kelly, Everything was a wild smashing success. My email is blowing up today. It’s been a pleasure to work with you, and I’m truly thrilled with how this year’s event occurred and has had record breaking success.