How many times have you skipped the gym in favour of an evening out with friends? Switched a healthy meal for a cheeseburger? Or even ditched cleaning your closet because you wanted to relax and watch some TV? When it comes right down to it, it’s the base instinct that wins – you end up doing stuff you like even though you know it’s not good for you instead of doing stuff you know you should because it is good for you but not exciting enough. Well, turns out you’re not the only one. You’re just as bad (or good) as a Wharton university professor. It all started when Katherine Milkman, an associate professor of operations, information, and decisions at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, realised she couldn’t stick to a gym routine. Most times when she came back from work, she would feel too tired, lazy or lethargic to hit the gym. Instead, she would curl up on the couch, watch TV, read or listen to audiobooks of novels like The Hunger Games. That’s when she hit upon an idea. Milkman decided to combine her love for audiobooks with her dislike of going to the gym and created a rule for herself – she would only listen to audiobooks if she had gone to the gym. This would be her reward for doing something she knew was good for her but which she rarely ended up doing. “I struggle at the end of a long day to get myself to the gym even though I know that I should go. And at the end of a long day, I also struggle with the desire to watch my favourite TV shows instead of getting work done. And so I actually realised that those two temptations, those two struggles I faced, could be combined to solve both problems,” Milkman was quoted as saying in this temptation bundling article. The result: Milkman started going to the gym five times a week. Not only did she begin going regularly but she actually began to look forward to her gym sessions, because it meant doing her favourite thing – reading The Hunger Games. Terming this concept temptation bundling, Milkman decided to test whether it worked for everybody.  

Bundling Temptations

In her research paper, Milkman defines temptation bundling as something “which involves coupling instantly gratifying ‘want’ activities with engagement in a ‘should behaviour’ that provides long-term benefits but requires the exertion of willpower.” Milkman and her colleagues studied the exercise habits of 226 students, faculty, and staff at the University of Pennsylvania, divided into three groups. After teaching one group of the participants how to use temptation bundling, Milkman found that these people were 29 per cent to 51 per cent more likely to exercise when compared to the control group. The findings were quickly published in Management Science.  

How You Can Use Temptation Bundling in Your Life

Want to try this out yourself? Start by creating two lists on a sheet of paper. In the first list, write down all the things you love to do. These could be anything from listening to rock ‘n’ roll to watching a particular TV show to going to eat at a favourite restaurant or getting a pedicure. Your second list should be about the things you know you need to do but never end up doing, such as going to the gym, studying, cleaning the house, or doing laundry. Once you’re done making your lists, link one behaviour from your first list with one from the second list. For example, you can link going to eat at McDonald’s with doing the laundry three times a week. Next, make sure that you only go to McDonald’s once you’ve done the laundry thrice a week.  

How Temptation Bundling is Linked to Success

One way to judge a person’s success is by their ability to consistently accomplish tasks which are important, but not always urgent. For example, cleaning up your office space is not urgent but it’s important because it reduces chronic stress. Similarly, going to the gym every day is not urgent but is important as it will lead to a healthier, fuller life. With temptation bundling, you can ensure that you don’t skimp on these tasks (by linking them to other, immediately gratifying ones), thereby contributing to long-term success.


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