The Science of Willpower: 15 Tips for Making Your New Year’s Resolutions Last from Dr. Kelly McGonigal

This weekend, millions of New Year’s resolutions will go into effect, with the most common ones being lose weight, get fit, quit drinking and smoking, save money, and learn something new. Unfortunately, 33% of these resolutions will be abandoned by January’s end. And 80% will eventually fall by the wayside. Making resolutions stick is tricky business. But it’s possible, and psychologist Kelly McGonigal has a few scientifically-proven suggestions for you.

For years, McGonigal has taught a very popular course called The Science of Willpower in Stanford’s Continuing Studies program, where she introduces students to the idea that willpower is not an innate trait. Rather it’s a “complex mind-body response that can be compromised by stress, sleep deprivation and nutrition and that can be strengthened through certain practices.”

For those of you who don’t live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can find McGonigal’s ideas presented in a recent book, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. Below, we have highlighted 15 of Dr. McGonigal’s strategies for increasing your willpower reserves and making your New Year’s resolution endure.

  1. Will power is like a muscle. The more you work on developing it, the more you can incorporate it into your life. It helps, McGonigal says in this podcast, to start with small feats of willpower before trying to tackle more difficult feats. Ideally, find the smallest change that’s consistent with your larger goal, and start there.
  2. Choose a goal or resolution that you really want, not a goal that someone else desires for you, or a goal that you think you should want. Choose a positive goal that truly comes from within and that contributes to something important in life.
  3. Willpower is contagious. Find a willpower role model — someone who has accomplished what you want to do. Also try to surround yourself with family members, friends or groups who can support you. Change is often not made alone.
  4. Know that people have more willpower when they wake up, and then willpower steadily declines throughout the day as people fatigue. So try to accomplish what you need to — for example, exercise — earlier in the day. Then watch out for the evenings, when bad habits can return.
  5. Understand that stress and willpower are incompatible. Any time we’re under stress it’s harder to find our willpower. According to McGonigal, “the fight-or-flight response floods the body with energy to act instinctively and steals it from the areas of the brain needed for wise decision-making. Stress also encourages you to focus on immediate, short-term goals and outcomes, but self-control requires keeping the big picture in mind.” The upshot? “Learning how to better manage your stress is one of the most important things you can do to improve your willpower.” When you get stressed out, go for a walk. Even a five minute walk outside can reduce your stress levels, boost your mood, and help you replenish your willpower reserves.
  6. Sleep deprivation (less than six hours a night) makes it so that the prefrontal cortex loses control over the regions of the brain that create cravings. Science shows that getting just one more hour of sleep each night (eight hours is ideal) helps recovering drug addicts avoid a relapse. So it can certainly help you resist a doughnut or a cigarette.
  7. Also remember that nutrition plays a key role. “Eating a more plant-based, less-processed diet makes energy more available to the brain and can improve every aspect of willpower from overcoming procrastination to sticking to a New Year’s resolution,” McGonigal says.
  8. Don’t think it will be different tomorrow. McGonigal notes that we have a tendency to think that we will have more willpower, energy, time, and motivation tomorrow. The problem is that “if we think we have the opportunity to make a different choice tomorrow, we almost always ‘give in’ to temptation or habit today.”
  9. Acknowledge and understand your cravings rather than denying them. That will take you further in the end. The video above has more on that.
  10. Imagine the things that could get in the way of achieving your goal. Understand the tendencies you have that could lead you to break your resolution. Don’t be overly optimistic and assume the road will be easy.
  11. Know your limits, and plan for them. Says McGonigal, “People who think they have the most self-control are the most likely to fail at their resolutions; they put themselves in tempting situations, don’t get help, give up at setbacks. You need to know how you fail; how you are tempted; how you procrastinate.”
  12. Pay attention to small choices that add up. “One study found that the average person thinks they make 14 food choices a day; they actually make over 200. When you aren’t aware that you’re making a choice, you’ll almost always default to habit/temptation.” It’s important to figure out when you have opportunities to make a choice consistent with your goals.
  13. Be specific but flexible. It’s good to know your goal and how you’ll get there. But, she cautions, “you should leave room to revise these steps if they turn out to be unsustainable or don’t lead to the benefits you expected.”
  14. Give yourself small, healthy rewards along the way. Research shows that the mind responds well to it. (If you’re trying to quite smoking, the reward shouldn’t be a cigarette, by the way.)
  15. Finally, if you experience a setback, don’t be hard on yourself. Although it seems counter-intuitive, studies show that people who experience shame/guilt are much more likely to break their resolutions than ones who cut themselves some slack. In a nutshell, you should “Give up guilt.”

To put all of these tips into a bigger framework, you can get a copy of Kelly McGonigal’s book, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of ItAnd now you can take The Science of Willpower as an online course that begins on January 23.

Finally you might also want to peruse How to Think Like a Psychologist (iTunes Video), a free online course led by Kelly McGonigal. It appears in our collection of 1200 Free Courses Online.

A version of this post first appeared on Open Culture in 2014.

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Google Lets You Take a 360-Degree Panoramic Tour of Street Art in Cities Across the World


A friend of mine, a fellow American living in Seoul, just recently put up a vlog in which he at once admires a piece of street art he happens upon here and remarks on how much the presence of the stuff bothered him back in the States. It illustrates an important point about the very medium of street art, graffiti, tagging, or whatever you happen to call it: context is everything — or rather, context and skill are everything. The worst examples, as Paul Graham writes, happen “at the intersection of ambition and incompetence: people want to make their mark on the world, but have no other way to do it than literally making a mark on the world.”


How to find the best examples? Ideally, they’ll catch you by surprise in their natural urban environment, but you can’t be in every urban environment at once. Hence Google Street Art, the virtual museum we featured last year. Since then Google Street Art introduced another innovation: the ability to behold some of their 10,000 collected pieces in “museum view.”

We’ve all used Google Street View to remotely explore the faraway places that pique our curiosity, and some of us have already tried using it to check out the world’s street art, but this provides a kind of Street View especially for street art, a high-resolution 360-degree panoramic perspective that lets you step forward and backward, to the left and to the right, and look at it from whichever angle you want to look at it.


Now you can check out 94 pieces and counting in much greater detail, from Los Angeles to Baltimore, Lisbon to London, Buenos Aires to Melbourne. The selection even includes pieces of street art brought indoors, as found in Paris’ Palais de Tokyo and the Gyeonggi Museum of Art right here in Korea. Whether street art has the proper impact outside its original urban context, or in a digital rather than a concrete version of that urban context, will surely remain an interesting debate. “A city can never be a unified work of art or a beautiful object,” argues architectural historian Joseph Rykwert in The Seduction of Place, since “all sorts of things buffet and push human intentions about.” Perhaps, but that buffeting and pushing creates so much, from the grandest towers to the humblest alley murals, that counts as art in itself.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Jim Jarmusch Lists His Favorite Poets: Dante, William Carlos Williams, Arthur Rimbaud, John Ashbery & More


Wikimedia Commons photo by Chrysoula Artemis

When it comes to American indie director Jim Jarmusch, we tend to think right away of the importance of music in his films, what with his collaborations with Neil Young, Tom Waits, and Iggy Pop. (Jarmusch is himself a musician who has released two studio albums and three EPs under the moniker Sqürl.) But Jarmusch’s most recent film, Paterson, is an ode to poetry, drawn from his own love of New York School poets like Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery. Set in Paterson, New Jersey and featuring a main character also named Paterson (Adam Driver), the film aims to show, writes Time magazine, “how art—maybe even especially art made in the margins—can fill up everyday life.”

Jarmusch was drawn to Paterson, the town, by William Carlos Williams. The modernist poet called the town home and published an epic poem called Paterson in 1946. Although that dense, complex work is “not one of my favorite poems,” Jarmusch tells Time, he namechecks Williams as one of his favorite poets.

I think we can see the influence of Williams’ spare visual imagination in Jarmusch films like Stranger than Paradise, Down by Law, Ghost Dog, and Broken Flowers. Jarmusch goes on in the course of his discussion about Paterson, the film, to name a handful of other poets he counts as inspirations. In the list below, you can find Jarmusch’s favorites, along with links to some of their most-beloved poems.

–William Carlos Williams (“Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” “4th of July”)
–Wallace Stevens (“The Man with the Blue Guitar,” “The Snow Man,” “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”)
–Dante Alighieri (Canto I of the Inferno)
–Arthur Rimbaud (“The Drunken Boat,” “Vagabonds”)
–John Ashbery (“Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”—read by Ashbery)
–Kenneth Koch (“In Love With You,” “One Train May Hide Another”)
–Frank O’Hara (“Steps,” Various Poems)

As we read or re-read these poets, we might ask how they have informed Jarmusch’s stylish films in addition to the influence of his cinematic favorites. Several great directors have contributed to his peculiar visual aesthetic. The only filmmaker he mentions as a hero in his Time interview is Bernardo Bertollucci, but you can read about Jarmusch’s top ten films at our previous post–films directed by such luminaries as Yasujiro Ozu, Nicholas Ray, and Robert Bresson.

via Austen Kleon’s weekly newsletter

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer’s Haunting, Animated Take on Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy”

The late Leonard Cohen’s 1992 anthem “Democracy” feels not just fresh, but painfully relevant these days.

Cohen, a Canadian who spent much of his adult life in the States, avowed that the song was neither sarcastic nor ironic, but rather hopeful, an “affirmation of the experiment of democracy in this country.”

He started writing it in the late ’80s, churning out dozens of verses as he pondered the impact of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tiananmen Square protests.

The press kit for the album on which the song originally appeared stated:

These are the final days, this is the darkness, this is the flood. What is the appropriate behavior in a catastrophe, in a flood? You know, while you’re cleaning out your orange crate in the torrent and you pass somebody else hanging on to a spar of wood. What do you declare yourself? “left wing” “right wing” “pro-abortion” “against abortion”? All these things are luxuries which you can no longer afford. What is the proper behavior in a flood?

For musician Amanda Palmer and her husband, author Neil Gaiman, the answer to Cohen’s question is the stripped down, spoken word version of “Democracy,” above—a fundraiser for the free speech defense organization, PEN America.

The video’s stirring watercolors are courtesy of artist David Mack, an official Ambassador of Arts & Story for the US State Department who has illustrated several of Gaiman’s poems. Singer-songwriter Olga Nunes, another in Gaiman and Palmer’s vast stable of talented co-conspirators, animated.

Gaiman fans will no doubt thrill to hear that unmistakable accent gamely tackling such lyrics as “the homicidal bitchin’ that goes down in every kitchen,” but for my money, the most memorable phrase is the description of this country as “the cradle of the best and of the worst.”


You can purchase the track here—the project was funded by 9,408 contributors to Palmer’s Patreon and all proceeds benefit PEN America.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

25 Animations of Great Literary Works: From Plato, Dostoevsky & Dickinson, to Kafka, Hemingway & Bradbury

Over the years, we’ve featured a large number of literary works that have been wonderfully re-imagined by animators. Rather than leaving these works buried in the archives, we’re bringing them back and putting them all on display. And what better place to start than with a foundational text — Plato’s Republic. We were tempted to show you a claymation version of the seminal philosophical work (watch here), but we decided to go instead with Orson Welles’ 1973 narration of The Cave Allegory, which features the surreal artistic work of Dick Oden.

Staying with the Greeks for another moment … This one may have Sophocles and Aeschylus spinning in their graves. Or, who knows, perhaps they would have enjoyed this bizarre twist on the Oedipus myth. Running eight minutes, Jason Wishnow’s 2004 film features vegetables in the starring roles.

One of the first stop-motion films shot with a digital still camera, Oedipus took two years to make with a volunteer staff of 100. The film has since been screened at 70+ film festivals and was eventually acquired by the Sundance Channel. Separate videos show you the behind-the-scenes making of the film, plus the storyboards used during production.

Eight years before Piotr Dumala tackled Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the Russian animator produced a short animated film based on The Diaries of Franz Kafka. Once again, you can see his method, known as “destructive animation,” in action. It’s well worth the 16 minutes. Or you can spend time with this 2007 Japanese animation of Kafka’s cryptic tale of “A Country Doctor.” And if you’re still hankering for animated Kafka, don’t miss The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa (Caroline Leaf’s sand animation from 1977) and also Orson Welles’ narration of the Parable, “Before the Law.” The latter film was made by Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker, who using a technique called pinscreen animation, created a longer film adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s story, “The Nose.” You can view it here.

The animated sequence above is from the 1974 film adaptation of Herman Hesse’s 1927 novel SteppenwolfIn this scene, the Harry Haller character played by Max von Sydow reads from the “Tractate on the Steppenwolf.” The visual imagery was created by Czech artist Jaroslav Bradác.

In 1999, Aleksandr Petrov won the Academy Award for Short Film (among other awards) for a film that follows the plot line of Ernest Hemingway’s classic novella, The Old Man and the Sea (1952). As noted here, Petrov’s technique involves painting pastels on glass, and he and his son painted a total of 29,000 images for this work. (For another remarkable display of their talents, also watch his adaptation of Dostoevsky’s “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man”.) The Old Man and the Sea is permanently listed in our collection of Oscar Winning Films Available Online and our collection of 1150 Free Movies Online.

Italo Calvino, one of Italy’s finest postwar writers, published Italian Folktales in 1956, a series of 200 fairy tales based sometimes loosely, sometimes more strictly, on stories from a great folk tradition. Upon the collection’s publication, The New York Times named Italian Folktales one of the ten best books of the year. And more than a half century later, the stories continue to delight. Case in point: in 2007, John Turturro, the star of numerous Coen brothers and Spike Lee films, began working on Fiabe italiane, a play adapted from Calvino’s collection of fables. The animated video above features Turturro reading “The False Grandmother,” Calvino’s reworking of Little Red Riding Hood. Kevin Ruelle illustrated the clip, which was produced as part of Flypmedia’s more extensive coverage of Turturro’s adaptation. You can find another animation of a Calvino story (The Distance of the Moon) here.

Emily Dickinson’s poetry is widely celebrated for its beauty and originality. To celebrate her birthday (it just recently passed us by) we bring you this little film of her poem, “I Started Early–Took My Dog,” from the “Poetry Everywhere” series by PBS and the Poetry Foundation. The poem is animated by Maria Vasilkovsky and read by actress Blair Brown.

E.B. White, beloved author of Charlotte’s WebStuart Little, and the classic English writing guide The Elements of Style, died in 1985. Not long before his death, he agreed to narrate an adaptation of “The Family That Dwelt Apart,” a touching story he wrote for The New Yorker. The 1983 film was animated by the Canadian director Yvon Malette, and it received an Oscar nomination.

Shel Silverstein wrote The Giving Tree in 1964, a widely loved children’s book now translated into more than 30 languages. It’s a story about the human condition, about giving and receiving, using and getting used, neediness and greediness, although many finer points of the story are open to interpretation. Today, we’re rewinding the videotape to 1973, when Silverstein’s little book was turned into a 10 minute animated film. Silverstein narrates the story himself and also plays the harmonica.

During the Cold War, one American was held in high regard in the Soviet Union, and that was Ray Bradbury. A handful of Soviet animators demonstrated their esteem for the author by adapting his short stories. Vladimir Samsonov directed Bradbury’s Here There Be Tygers, which you can see above. And here you can see another adaptation of “There Will Come Soft Rains.”

The online bookseller Good Books created an animated mash-up of the spirits of Franz Kafka and Hunter S. Thompson. Under a bucket hat, behind aviator sunglasses, and deep into an altered mental state, our narrator feels the sudden, urgent need for a copy of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Unwilling to make the purchase in “the great river of mediocrity,” he instead makes the buy from “a bunch of rose-tinted, willfully delusional Pollyannas giving away all the money they make — every guilt-ridden cent.” The animation, created by a studio called Buck, should easily meet the aesthetic demands of any viewer in their own altered state or looking to get into one.

39 Degrees North, a Beijing motion graphics studio, started developing an unconventional Christmas card several years ago. And once they got going, there was no turning back. Above, we have the end result – an animated version of an uber dark Christmas poem (read text here) written by Neil Gaiman, the bestselling author of sci-fi and fantasy short stories. The poem was published in Gaiman’s collection, Smoke and Mirrors.

This collaboration between filmmaker Spike Jonze and handbag designer Olympia Le-Tan doesn’t bring a particular literary tale to life. Rather this stop motion film uses 3,000 pieces of cut felt to show famous books springing into motion in the iconic Parisian bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. It’s called  Mourir Auprès de Toi.

Other notables include: a two minute take on Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita; a 1977 experimental adaptation of The Rime of the Ancient Marinerwhich marries the classic engravings of Gustave Doré to an Orson Welles narration; and “Beer,” a mind-warping animation of Charles Bukowski’s 1971 poem honoring his favorite drink.

Are there impressive literary animations that didn’t make our list? Please let us know in the comments below. We’d love to know about them.

A shorter version of this post first appeared on our site in 2012.

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Download 20 Free eBooks on Design from O’Reilly Media


A quick note: Thanks to O’Reilly Media, you can now download 20 free ebooks focused on design–everything from Designing for Cities, to Designing for the Internet of Things, to Design Essentials. You can download the books in PDF format. No credit card is required. See the complete list here.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.

If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, and Venmo (@openculture). Thanks!

Roman Architecture: A Free Online Course from Yale University

Taught by Yale professor Diana E. E. Kleiner, this course offers “an introduction to the great buildings and engineering marvels of Rome and its empire, with an emphasis on urban planning and individual monuments and their decoration, including mural painting.”

The course description continues: “While architectural developments in Rome, Pompeii, and Central Italy are highlighted, the course also provides a survey of sites and structures in what are now North Italy, Sicily, France, Spain, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, and North Africa. The lectures are illustrated with over 1,500 images, many from Professor Kleiner’s personal collection.”

You can watch the 24 lectures above, or find the complete lecture set on YouTube and iTunes. To get more information on the course, including the syllabus, please visit Yale’s website.

Texts used in this course include:

Roman Architecture will be added to our collection, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities. Find more courses focused on the Ancient world here.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.

If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, and Venmo (@openculture). Thanks!

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An Animated Introduction to Voltaire: Enlightenment Philosopher of Pluralism & Tolerance

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz has the distinction of holding prominent places in both mathematics and philosophy. A contemporary of Isaac Newton, a rival, and Baruch Spinoza, an acquaintance, Leibniz will forever be associated with Enlightenment Rationalism. But thanks to French philosopher and writer Voltaire, he will also be associated with a strain of thought generally taken much less seriously: the philosophy of Optimism.

In the Theodicy, the only philosophical book he published in his lifetime, Leibniz attempts to reconcile divine providence, human freedom, and the nature of evil. He concludes, more or less, that the world is a perfect balance between the three. As “an absolutely perfect being,” God must have made the best possible world, he reasoned, and many conservative theologians then and now have agreed. But not Voltaire.

Drawing on a diverse body of genres—travel narrative, Bildungsroman, picaresque novel—the French writer’s rollicking satirical novella Candide, or the Optimist presents us with a comically grotesque and hyperbolic world that is nonetheless much more like the violent, chaotic one we actually experience than like Leibniz’s idealization. The novel’s hero, a gullible naïf, traipses through Europe and the Americas with his mentor, Professor Pangloss, “the greatest philosopher of the Holy Roman Empire.” A broad caricature of Leibniz, Pangloss insists—as the two run into devastating earthquakes, war, torture, cannibalism, venereal disease, and yet more earthquakes—that they live in “the best of all possible worlds.”

The assertion comes to seem increasingly, outrageously absurd and willfully obtuse. In the end, the various characters come around to the idea that their grand metaphysical questions have no real purchase on human existence, and that they would do best to practice a kind of quietism, settling down to small farms to, as Candide says, “cultivate our garden.” The response does not enjoin us to passivity, but rather to the use of our abilities for purposeful work rather than contentious speculation or in the service of blind faith. From his start as a writer, Voltaire fiercely attacked “fanaticism, idolatry, superstition,” as Alain de Botton says in the School of Life introduction to Voltaire above, as the basis of people killing each other “to defend some bit of religious doctrine which they scarcely understand.”

Voltaire found the phenomenon of religious war “repellant,” and his age had seen its share of war. In the historical background of Candide’s composition were the Seven Years’ War, the global imperial conflict that claimed the lives of eight million, and the Thirty Years’ War: the 17th century religious conflict that spread violent death, famine, and disease all over the European continent. In addition to these appalling events, Voltaire and his contemporaries were left reeling from the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, which historians estimate may have killed upwards of 100,000 people. This natural evil was wholly unrelated to any kind of human misbehavior—as Voltaire bitterly argued in his “Poem on the Lisbon Disaster”—and so made Optimistic philosophy and theology seem cruel and ridiculous.

The bawdy, bloody, and hilarious Candide has remained the most incisive literary representation of disillusionment in “best of all possible worlds” theodicy. It is by far Voltaire’s most popular work—a bestseller from the day that it appeared in 1759—and is still given to students to help them understand the philosophical Enlightenment, or what is often called, as de Botton says, “The Age of Voltaire.” With more clarity than even Jonathan Swift’s satires, Voltaire helps us grasp and remember the major historical, religious, and philosophical conflicts of the time. A “master at popularizing difficult material,” Voltaire also used literary techniques to explain the ideas of contemporary thinkers like Locke and Newton.

The anecdote of the apple falling on Newton’s head, for example, “is due entirely to Voltaire,” who heard it from Newton’s niece and included it in his Letters Concerning the English Nation. This work, composed during his two-year stay in England, implicitly critiques the intolerance of French society—causing the book to be banned—and makes the case for some of the philosopher’s most cherished values: pluralism, religious toleration, mutual respect, and free inquiry. We find these ideals all throughout the works of Enlightenment philosophers from all over the continent, but nowhere do we find them articulated with such forceful wit and vivid style as in the work of Voltaire.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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