My next book, The Upside of Stress, is now available for pre-order at most major booksellers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books a Million, iTunes Bookstore, and IndieBound (which will direct you to your local independent bookseller).  Release date: May 5, 2015.

About the book:

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 mindset, 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 mindset 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 6 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.

Can’t wait for the book? Watch the TED talk or check out this article from Stanford Magazine about the upside of stress.

I’m frequently asked questions about how to get started meditating, what is the best meditation for beginners, what is the best meditation for reducing stress (or training willpower, or cultivating self-compassion, or developing focus, etc.). Below is my favorite meditation for all these intentions.

You can listen to (or download) a version of these instructions and a 15-min guided practice here.

Mindfulness of Breathing

The intention of this practice is to turn your attention to the breath, notice when the mind wanders, and bring your attention back to the breath.

This meditation cultivates self-awareness, mindfulness, and the ability to make conscious choices about what you are doing. It also is good practice in not following every impulse or habit.

There are a few different ways to focus on the breath; choose the one that feels right to you.

The first involves labeling the breath. As you inhale, say in your own mind inhale, say in your own mind “Inhale.” As you exhale, say in your own mind “Exhale.”

The second approach is to focus your attention on the sensations of your breath. For example, you might notice the flow of the breath in and out of your nostrils. Or you could focus on feeling your belly expand when you breathe in, and release when your breath out. Let yourself notice whatever sensations of breathing are present.

The last approach is to count your breathing cycles. Each time you exhale, that counts as one cycle. So with your next exhalation, you would mentally count “one.” With the second exhalation, “two.” With the third exhalation, “three.” Continue counting until you reach 10; then begin again at 1. If your mind wanders and you lose count, simply begin again at one.

When you practice, you can use any of the techniques, but it’s good to find one you like and stick with it.

Your mind will inevitably wander. That’s not a problem; it’s part of the process. When you notice your mind wandering, let it point you back to the breath. Each time you notice the mind daydreaming, or planning, or worrying, or whatever the mind does – that is an opportunity to cultivate awareness, and bring your focus back to the present moment experience of breathing in and breathing out.

Have an attitude of compassion toward mental distractions. These are simply habits of the mind that contribute to our daily stress. When you find your mind wandering, gently but resolutely guide your focus back to the breath as an act of self-compassion — without self-judgment or preoccupation with the content of the distractions.

How to Practice:

Begin by practicing for 5 min, 1-3x day; build up to 15-20 min at a time, 1-2x day.

Meditate in a comfortable, upright position. You can sit in a chair, or on the floor with a pillow, cushion, or stacked blanket under your hips or. Sit with your back comfortably straight. If you are sitting in a chair, place your feet flat on the floor.

If sitting is painful, you can practice in any position that allows you to feel physically supported while also staying alert and awake.

Your eyes can be closed or open. If you leave them open, drop your gaze, and let the eyes rest, without wandering or focusing on anything specific.

As you practice, keep the body as still as possible. Make a commitment to holding the posture you have chosen, without fidgeting or moving around. This is an important part of training the mind to make conscious choices. See if you can feel the impulse to move before you mindlessly follow it; when you feel the urge, pause, and see if you can calmly observe the impulse without acting on it. Most of the time, the impulse will recede on its own.

Always end a session by appreciating and acknowledging your own practice. The success of focus meditation is your own willingness to sit, attend to the breath, notice when the mind wanders, and bring it back to the breath. Some days it may be easier to focus than others, but trust that as long as you are coming back, again and again, to the breath, you are cultivating self-awareness, mindfulness, and the ability to make conscious choices.

One of my favorite projects I’ve worked on with SuperBetter Labs and my twin sister, superstar game designer Jane McGonigal, launched in May 2012: Oprah’s Thank You Game. The Oprah Winfrey Network and partnered with SuperBetter Labs to create a game that spread the benefits of gratitude to millions of people across the globe. Although the 30-day game is over, you can still learn the secrets of “giving good thanks” in this 3-min video that shares the science of how gratitude can improve your own well-being — and change the world.

So let the secrets be revealed:

San Francisco Public Radio did a lovely 1-hr show on the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. The piece features the founder of CCARE, the scientists who are studying compassion, as well as one of my compassion cultivation courses, and stories from students in it.

You can download or stream the audio story here, or read the transcript here.

Below is one of my favorite excerpts:

Deborah Defilippo heard about CCARE when she attended the 2010 discussion between scientists and the Dalai Lama. Researchers talked about the health benefits of meditation.

“I am, I guess you could say I’m a type A, high achieving person,” DeFilippo says. “And I’m now catching myself when someone in front of me is driving below the speed limit, saying the phrases that are in almost every single meditation practice that Kelly has. And that is, you say for each individual and yourself and the world, ‘May you be happy. May you be free from pain and suffering. And may you experience joy and peace.’ …It’s like taking a deep breath and a lot of calm does instill within me.”

Stanford’s CCARE program has its critics. Some worry this type of secular practice will lose something, and perhaps lack substance. Others say the aspirations of CCARE – to make a more compassionate world  — are too idealistic. They question how much students can learn in nine weeks.

But McGonigal says many students do connect what’s taught by CCARE with what’s occurring in their lives.

“One of my favorite stories was a man who was in a church setting and a homeless woman had approached this group that was meeting at the church…. And he could feel in himself that little bit of threat or stress arising that would normally have led him to maybe get rid of that person as quickly as possible so that she didn’t disturb the group that was meeting.”

The man remembered a lesson from the previous week in class.

“He considered the other ways of thinking about her,” McGonigal said. “That, just like him, she was human. She was suffering. Going down the checklist, does this person need help? Do I have the resources to help? And turns out that she had diabetes and she needed food and there wasn’t food available in that moment and the people in the group were able to get her something to eat and the whole thing ended very differently because he was using this framework from the study that we talked about … People can take something from a study and use it in everyday life.”

– Narrated by Judy Silber for San Francisco Public Radio. You can download or stream the audio story here, or read the entire transcript here.

I’m excited to announce the release of my latest audiobook, which presents six live lectures and twelve guided self-reflection and mediation practices. The Neuroscience of Change: A Compassion-Based Guide to Personal Transformation (Sounds True) integrates the most exciting scientific findings about how the mind works with the wisdom of mind-body traditions like yoga and Buddhism. It deepens some of the most important ideas from The Willpower Instinct (Avery 2012), including the importance of mindfulness, self-compassion, and acceptance for change. The program also provides practical support to help you explore and embody these qualities through breathing, meditation, and relaxation practices.

You can order the 6-CD set OR download the program in MP3 format at Sounds True.

Or order the 6-CD set from any major bookseller, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Chapters (Canada), and Indie Bound.

Program Description

Personal Transformation Based on Mindfulness and Self-Compassion

What’s your most important goal? Why does it matter so deeply? How will you overcome the obstacles? Answer these questions with sincerity, proceed with mindfulness and compassion, and you have just set in motion a revolutionary method for personal change that is supported by both the latest science and traditional wisdom. On The Neuroscience of Change, psychologist and award-winning Stanford lecturer Kelly McGonigal presents six sessions of breakthrough ideas, guided practices, and real-world exercises for making self-awareness and kindness the basis for meaningful transformation.

Practical Methods to Retrain Your Brain to Support Your Goals

Our understanding of the incredible power of the human brain is at an all-time high, with the emerging fields of neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, and psychophysiology opening new possibilities for greater health, happiness, and freedom from suffering. Drawing on her training as a research scientist and longtime practitioner of meditation and yoga, Dr. McGonigal reveals these startling findings, including the clinically supported methods for training the mind away from default states that no longer serve us, and establishing behaviors and attitudes aligned with our highest values and aspirations.

The First Rule of Change: It’s Already Happening

As the world’s wisdom traditions teach and science is now verifying, our lives are in fact defined by constant change. Whether you’re looking to change a behavior, improve your health or other circumstances, or simply for a way to bring hope and resilience into your life as it is, The Neuroscience of Change will help you trust yourself and unfold your true capacities for personal transformation.


  • Willingness, self-awareness, and surrender—how to nourish the seeds of change
  • Focusing on the process, not the outcome
  • How to overcome the “trigger-to-instinct” reaction
  • The proven benefits of meditation—and how to start practicing yourself
  • How to transform self-criticism into self-compassion
  • Why your mind creates habits-and how to consciously create new ones
  • Making values-driven commitments
  • Visualization and the principle of “encoding prospective memories”
  • The power of the vow
  • “Deep activation” and the danger of rejecting what is
  • Working with inner experiences as the key to making outward change
  • Six hours of breakthrough science, practical wisdom, guided exercises, and mindfulness meditations for making positive change that lasts

You can order the 6-CD set OR download the complete set at Sounds True.

Or order the 6-CD set from any major bookseller, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Chapters (Canada), and Indie Bound.

In this 1-hour webisode of the tv show “Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour“, Dr. Kirsten Sanford and Dr. Kelly McGonigal discuss the science of self-control, why and how to become a “willpower scientist” in your own life, and what the latest research says about parenting strategies, behavior change, and motivation.

Watch via the link below, or download the audio or video for your ipod/phone/computer.

Whatever your New Year’s Resolution, there’s a science-help book for you.  You’ll get great advice mixed in with the funniest, most fascinating stories and studies science can provide. I put together my favorite science-help books for every possible New Year’s Resolution.

Check out the slide show on the Huffington Post’s Books Section.

[Excerpted Below]

The self-help shelves are full of guides on weight loss, health, happiness, and self-improvement. But sometimes the most life-changing ideas and advice are found in the science section.

As a health psychologist, it’s my job to help people make difficult changes. I learned early on that it was easier to change people’s attitudes and behaviors with a fascinating new finding than with platitudes or pleading. The right study doesn’t just convince you that you should do something. It gives you a whole new way to understand yourself and the world around you.

For example, when I show my Stanford students videos of an addicted rat willing to be electrocuted for its next fix, they report back that remembering this image gives them the willpower to resist temptation. Pictures of how the brain responds to bargains helps shopaholics understand their need to buy; studies showing the importance of self-compassion for weight loss convinced dieters to stop calling themselves fat, lazy, and hopeless.

And in my experience, it’s these “A-ha!” insights that give us the inspiration and motivation to make a change for good. That’s why I wrote The Willpower Instinct – to give people enough A-ha moments to tackle any challenge.

Want to know my favorite picks for science help to be happier, get fit, save money, have better sex, lose weight, break bad habits, be kinder to yourself, and more? Check out the slide show on the Huffington Post’s Books Section.

Bookstore browsing image by Martin Cathrae, licensed under Creative Commons.