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How Temptation Bundling Can Help Build Healthier Habits

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“Damn you Netflix, how did I just watch 10 episodes of Stranger Things, I have stuff to do!”

We’ve all been there. There are the things we know we SHOULD do, the things we NEED to do, and the things that we WANT to do.

More often than not, the WANT wins out over the NEED and SHOULD.

It’s like trying to win a tug-of-war against a tractor pulling in the opposite direction. It’s why we struggle to get to the gym after a long day of work. It’s why we opt for Taco Bell instead of taking the time to cook a healthy meal.

Today, we’re going to give you a quick life hack that can help you start leveling up your life and actually get things done that need to get done!

What is Temptation Bundling?

I bet you’ve said the following: “Before I can watch TV, I need to exercise.” And yet, TV ends up winning over exercise almost all the time, especially if it’s after a long miserable day at work.

So, instead of “if I do this, then I get this” What if we combined the two into one epic activity?

That idea is called “temptation bundling,” a term coined by Wharton Professor Katy Milkman: ultimately, you combine something that needs to be done with something you want to do.

She describes the idea in a paper entitled: “Holding The Hunger Games Hostage at the Gym: An Evaluation of Temptation Bundling.” [1] The goal is to get us to do things we need to do by combining them with things we want to do, removing the “either/or” temptation and getting us to ACTUALLY do stuff:

Participants were randomly assigned to a full treatment condition with gym-only access to tempting audio novels, an intermediate treatment involving encouragement to restrict audiobook enjoyment to the gym, or a control condition.

Initially, full and intermediate treatment participants visited the gym 51% and 29% more frequently.

Long story short: the people in the study who were told they could listen to addictive audio books only while working out visited the gym 51% more frequently than those who were just told they should exercise more.

Here’s some Nerd Fitness examples:

In love with the show Arrow? I am, and I want Stephen Amell to be my best friend.  Don’t say, “I can only watch Arrow after exercising.” Change your phrasing, and try this instead: “I can only watch Arrow WHILE exercising.” Bring your iPad or Laptop to the gym, and only watch particular shows while you are on a treadmill, walking, or using the elliptical.

Addicted to Clash of Clans on your phone? Only allow yourself to work on your clan while at the gym, in between sets of deadlifts. Same goes for looking at TikTok or Instagram: only while resting in between squats!

Maybe you can only listen to Serial or The Rewatchables while walking, doing a particular work task, or even completing a chore at home like cleaning or laundry. An hour episode while walking could result in you racking up 3+ miles on your walk to Mordor!

Afraid to try cooking a new healthy meal? You can ONLY listen to a podcast or music in your house while you are cooking. BLAST it at top volume while having fun making a mess trying to cook.

Now, although this study teaches us that bundling a healthy life-improvement activity with one you enjoy can help you make a change, the boost can oftentimes be temporary.

The study went on to say that the “allure” of the audiobook + gym combo wore off after a few months, thus furthering the suggestion that the best chance for long term success is to truly “enjoy the journey.”

Long story short: this can a great strategy to get started, and a great way to identify types of exercise or strategies that work for you, long term results might require leveled up strategies!

But that’s fine – we’re going to be using it to build long term habits.

Try the temptation bundle challenge

If you can implement it properly, temptation bundling can both increase your time spent doing a healthy activity while also helping you limit the unhealthy one.

Now, you might be saying, “Steve, doesn’t this make the fun activity less enjoyable and the exercise/health portion less efficient?” 

Possibly, but that’s not the point! Sure, I would love it if you went to the gym, completed a kickass workout, ate a healthy meal, and then got 8 hours of sleep.

However, this isn’t Imagination Land, and I know the best workout plan is the one you actually complete. This is infinitely better than the perfect workout plan that makes you say “meh, I’ll start tomorrow.”

So what do we do? We use temptation bundling to get us started, and then use drive to keep us going. When we build interest ih the activity itself, we shift our focus from “I’m enduring this workout” to “I can’t wait to see how much better I am this week.” The change can become permanent.

Your turn: what’s one activity that you love to do, and one that you know you should do more of? And how are you going to implement this strategy TODAY to your daily routine? Here are some other rapid fire examples:

Are you studying or getting some work done? Get your favorite snack or beverage only when you are doing it.
Try walking outside (or a cardio machine) – that’s now the only time you’re allowed to listen to your favorite podcast/audiobook.
Try pairing chores like ironing, doing laundry, or cleaning dishes while watching your favorite tv shows or a new movie you’ve been waiting for.

Your turn!

What’s one temptation bundle you are going to combine and start TODAY?

-Steve

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Photo sources: Visiting Friends, A good Sunday to youRain doesn’t stop a photographer

Pecan pie protein oatmeal

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