Personal Growth

Reinforce Good Habits With Temptation Bundling

You probably know the feeling: you should go to the gym, but you want to binge-watch the latest series on Netflix. You should save money for that vacation next month, but you want a new pair of shoes. You should be getting work done, but you want to read this fascinating article on Curiosity. For many of us, the wants usually win out over the shoulds. But what if you could use the wants to make you accomplish the shoulds?

Carrot and Stick

That's what Katherine Milkman set out to determine when she designed a study of a self-control strategy she conceived called "temptation bundling." For a 2014 study amusingly titled "Holding The Hunger Games Hostage At The Gym," she put 226 volunteers into three groups. One group — the control group — got a $25 gift card and was encouraged to visit the gym regularly over the 10-week study period. The second group was loaned four audiobooks of their choice and encouraged to make a rule that they could only listen to the novels while exercising. The third group was just like the second, except they could only access their iPod loaded with audiobooks at the gym itself.

Sure enough, the people in the third group made 51 percent more gym visits than those in the control group. (For their part, the people in the second group made 29 percent more visits to the gym — nothing to scoff at.)

Temptation Bundling in Action

Since not everyone is a fan of treadmills and audiobooks, how can the average person put this into practice? The first step is to make a list of things you love — whether that's something to do, eat, or listen to — and figure out which ones complement the habits you're trying to start. Here are a few temptation-bundling rules you can try:

  • You can only watch your favorite show when you're doing laundry.
  • You can only eat at your favorite sushi spot with the relative you never make time to see.
  • You can only play video games while you're doing an audio language lesson.
  • You can only get a pedicure while you're answering emails.
  • You can only have dessert once you've washed the dishes from dinner.

Good luck!

For more self-improvement tips, check out Gretchen Rubin's "Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits." We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Temptation Bundling

Hear Katherine Milkman explain her fascinating study.

Written by Ashley Hamer February 15, 2018

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