About Kelly McGonigal

McGonigal2013HeadshotSmall “Kelly McGonigal is a leader driven by compassion and pragmatism.” – Forbes.com 20 Inspiring Women


Contact Kelly McGonigal

Kelly McGonigal, PhD, is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, and a leading expert in the new field of “science-help.” She is passionate about translating cutting-edge research from psychology, neuroscience, and medicine into practical strategies for health, happiness, and personal success.

Her most recent book, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It (Penguin 2012), explores the latest research on motivation, temptation, and procrastination, as well as what it takes to transform habits, persevere at challenges, and make a successful change. Her audio series The Neuroscience of Change (Sounds True 2012) weaves the newest findings of science with Eastern contemplative wisdom to give listeners a revolutionary process for personal transformation. She is also the author of Yoga for Pain Relief: Simple Practices to Calm Your Mind and Heal Your Pain (New Harbinger, 2009), which translates recent advances in neuroscience and medicine into mind-body strategies for relieving chronic pain, stress, depression, and anxiety.

She teaches for a wide range of programs at Stanford University, including the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, the Graduate School of Business, and the School of Medicine’s Health Improvement Program. She has received a number of teaching awards for her undergraduate psychology courses, including Stanford University’s highest teaching honor, the Walter J. Gores award. Her popular public courses through Stanford’s Continuing Studies program—including the Science of Willpower and the Science of Compassion—demonstrate the applications of psychological science to personal health and happiness, as well as organizational success and social change. Through a wide range of conferences, workshops, university-affiliated programs, and consulting, Dr. McGonigal also provides continuing education and training to executives, teachers, healthcare providers, and other professionals.

Her psychology research (on compassion, mindfulness, and emotion regulation) has been published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Motivation and Emotion, The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, and The Journal of Happiness Studies. From 2005-2012, Dr. McGonigal served as the Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, a peer-reviewed journal of mind-body research, healthcare policy, and clinical practice. A long-time practitioner of yoga and meditation, Dr. McGonigal is a founding member of the Yoga Service Council and serves on the advisory boards of several non-profit organizations bringing yoga and meditation to underserved and at-risk populations, including Yoga Bear (providing yoga in hospitals nationwide and to cancer survivors and their caregivers) and The Art of Yoga Project (brining yoga into juvenile detention facilities in the San Francisco Bay Area).

Dr. McGonigal’s work has been covered widely by the media, including the CBS Evening News, U.S. News and World Report, CNN.com, O! The Oprah Magazine, Time magazine, USA Today, and the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology. She is also a frequent source of expert advice and commentary for media outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, MSNBC.com, 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. In 2012, she teamed up with the Oprah Winfrey Network and Superbetter Labs to create an online game that would spread the benefits of gratitude to millions of people worldwide.

Dr. McGonigal received her PhD in psychology from Stanford University, with a concentration in humanistic medicine. She received a B.A. in Psychology and a B.S. in Mass Communication from Boston University.

She is also passionate about the benefits of physical exercise and has been certified as a group fitness instructor since 2000. In her free time, she continues to teach group fitness classes – because sometimes moving, breathing, and sweating is the best thing you can do to create health, joy, and resilience.


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  1. As a former fitness instructor and personal trainer, I have seen Kelly’s name popping up for many years. I admire her passion and knowledge, and how she has positioned herself to do so much good in bringing together Western science and Eastern mindful practices. I myself am currently pursuing a degree in clinical social work and yoga teacher training so that I may explore and offer a holistic practice to my clients. Kelly is one of my inspirations for this goal and desire, and I am grateful for her work.

      • I just finished your book “Autocontrol” (Urano). I am a professor of the Faculty of Education at the Pontifical University of Salamanca, Spain, and I want to thank you from the heart, it is one of the best books I have read in recent years. It was a very pleasant surprise to meet you. God keep you many years, and you can continue giving us light and wisdom. Thank you very much. Warmly, Luis Alberto.

  2. just finished reading yr book maximum willpower ( UK edition )…. tears of gratitude…. speechless ….also ordered yr CDs THE NEUROSCIENCE OF CHANGE ……i would like to send u some gift from here in india …pl accept it .. GOD BLESS U N YR NEAR ONES ……deepak

  3. […] Kelly McGonigal, PhD, Lecturer at Stanford University, and author of the book How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More Of It spoke at Authors@Google about how to boost and maximize the willpower we do have by first acknowledging that anytime we decide to rely on willpower to attain personal goals, we enter into a competition…with ourselves. I know all my fellow A-Type-high-achiever-intrinsically-motivated people reading this are thinking “Yeessss! Another chance to set a new personal best!!” Trust me; this isn’t the kind of competition you want to invite further into your life. […]

  4. […] Keely McGonial, especialista en Psicología de la Salud y profesora en la Universidad de Stanford, ha estudiado este tema y ha llegado a una conclusión importante: la percepción positiva del estrés nos protege de los efectos negativos del mismo. La idea inicial del estudio era vincular el estrés y la mortandad. Para ello, hizo un seguimiento de 30.000 adultos estadounidenses a lo largo de ocho años. Al comienzo del análisis preguntó a los participantes cuánto estrés habían experimentado a lo largo del último año y si creían que este era malo para su salud. Tras esta pregunta, utilizaron los datos públicos para analizar la mortandad del grupo y estudiaron la asociación entre mortandad y estrés. Por supuesto, los resultados volvieron a arrojar la misma conclusión: las personas que habían experimentado mucho estrés en los últimos doce meses tenían más probabilidades de morir de aquellos que lo habían sufrido, pero (y he aquí el punto revelador) esa relación se daba únicamente en aquellas personas que creían que el estrés era malo para su salud. Por el contrario, aquellos que vivían mucho estrés pero no lo entendían como algo negativo, no solo no tenían menos probabilidades de morir sino que además, registraban menos riesgo de mortandad de todo el estudio. No está mal. Así pues, la percepción que tengamos del estrés pueden determinar el efecto de tenga en nosotros. Y si profundizamos en este hallazgo, encontramos otra conclusión interesante. En la medida que seamos capaces de variar nuestro modo de entender el estrés, podremos protegernos de sus efectos negativos en la salud. Una vez más, el poder de la mente no deja de sorprendernos. […]

  5. Modern healthcare is severely lacking in Holistic aptitude. (Ok no surprise here).
    In an attempt to better serve itself they have focused on protocol based teaching and complicated it even more. As a 30 year healthcare privider I have seen a greater focus on technical vs clinician based training. Most of it to comply with federal Billing practices. For 20 years I have focused on Holistic therapies and learned that more and more patients have become proprietary ATM’s for hospital and medical practices. This demeans individual care and endangers the quality of Real patients lives.
    The answer to many people’s maladies lies in an altruistic approach to individual care and remedies. Dr Mcgonigal has opened a beautiful window into realistic seemingly amazing yet artfully simple. HER charismatic appeal helps to allow for strangers to break away from the unfortunately often false hope of popular medicine and. Embrace a world of alternative therapies that we control intrinsically. If the world could stop and focus on her message many of our tomorrow’s would surely be richer for those who are in need of real healing.

  6. Hi Kelly, I just saw your TED talk about Stress this morning and I want to say thank you very much. I really appreciate your efforts to bring a more holistic and compassion-oriented approach to mental healthcare.

    Best of luck for the future!

  7. I saw your talk on TED; How to make stress your friend. I just want to thank you for excellent presentation and a very fascinating insight into stress.

  8. Hi Kelly, thanks so much for your book ” Maximum Will Power ” , I haven’t finished studying it yet, and it will be a book that I will dip into for a long time after. It has been so helpful to me. It was the first book available to me once I fully realised that my main problem all through life was me ! and my severe lack of self-control.

    Your book has opened my eyes to science-help !

  9. […] The good news, McGonigal informs us that our brains have evolved from our caveman ancestors.  She tells us that we can tap into the parts of the brain that counter our bodies’ impulses and strengthen the controls of our willpower. Hallelujah!  The dark clouds began to part because processing this new information brought about a huge wave of relief. I started to think I’m not a lost cause after all.  It wasn’t me, it was stress and lack of sleep which weakened my willpower.  As McGonigal writes, “It hardly ever occurs to us that we don’t need to become better people, but to become better rested.”  No wonder I caved in to my cravings.  Which in term sums up the last five years of my life.  I’m been chronically fatigued and stressed.   What I LEARNED:   *Stop Being the Enemy.  I found out that I’m still own worst enemy.  Instead of being gentle towards myself I was harsh and unforgiving.  I do have the power to change the inner dialogue that will support my endeavors.  Inner critic be gone. Be KIND to Thyself.  *Know Thy Weakness. Stress, lack of sleep, illness, and busy schedules can sabotage and undermine the best of intentions.  Always be PREPARED for the unexpected.  Which means, having food and snacks in my car or purse at all times when I might unexpectedly be delayed. *Have a STRONG MOTIVATOR:  My ‘want’ to improve in this area of my life is shaky.  It’s clear now that Greece or my desire to gain more willpower is not a strong enough motivator yet.  Before I can find a way, I’ve got to get truly clear and focused on my purpose.  The reason Diana Nyad was so focused on ‘finding a way’ to swim across the Atlantic was because her goal was iron clad.  She knew with her whole being what she wanted and she was not going to stop until she achieved that. Stay Tuned as I bring forward more revelations from McGonigal’s book, The Willpower Instinct, and my mission to find a ‘reason’ to stay focused.   For more information about Kelly McGonigal’s book The Willpower Instinct go to: http://kellymcgonigal.com/about-kelly-mcgonigal/ […]

  10. Hi, I came cross with your TED talks a couple days ago while I was preparing my lecture on stress to university students. It was really inspiring speech and I was so influenced. Many thanks. It corresponded to my views while I am under stress..

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