I have written about the fresh start effect, which I heard about on an episode of the Freakonomics Radio podcast, When Willpower Isn’t Enough. I have written often about the way willpower impacts our ability to make changes that stick—simply, we have a limited amount of willpower (it’s been studied), which is why we fail when we try to make too many changes at once, or changes that are too big (think New Year’s resolutions).

I regularly write about the way to make changes that actually stick: break down your goals into small pieces and work on them one at a time for the 21 days it takes to create a habit. Once you have created that habit, you can work on another for the next 21 days, and so on. A couple of years later, you will have adopted numerous small habits, adding up to significant change (as opposed to years going by with the same New Year’s resolutions).

This week I’m writing about the other topic discussed on the podcast, Temptation Bundling.

Katy Milkman is a behavioral economist who invented that phrase. She described how she uses it:

What I realized is that if I only allowed myself to watch my favorite TV shows while exercising at the gym, then I’d stop wasting time at home on useless television, and I’d start craving trips to the gym at the end of a long day because I’d want to find out what happens next in my show. And not only that, I’d actually enjoy my workout and my show more combined. I wouldn’t feel guilty watching TV, and time would fly while I was at the gym. So when I talk about temptation bundling, I mean combining a temptation — something like a TV show, a guilty pleasure, something that will pull you into engaging in a behavior, with something you know you should do but might struggle to do.

I’ve been doing a version of temptation bundling for years. It’s not so much that I didn’t allow myself to read when I wasn’t exercising, it’s more that it is challenging to do everything I want to do each day, and over 30 years ago I realized I could read while pedaling a stationary bike. As Milkman said, I loved that I was able to do both at the same time. I knew I could have had tougher workouts if I did it without reading, but I also knew I would find it much less enjoyable.

Years ago, I watched very little TV. Now that the quality of many TV shows is high, I watch quite a few, and watch nearly all of them while lifting weights, stretching, riding the stationary bike, or speed-walking on the treadmill.

Milkman suggested these additional “bundles”: “What if you only let yourself get a pedicure while catching up on overdue work? Or what if you only let yourself listen to your favorite CDs while catching up on household chores? Or only let yourself go to your very favorite restaurant whose hamburgers you crave while spending time with a difficult relative who you should see more of?”

Here are a couple of others I heard mentioned: “If I don’t work out, I don’t drink beer.” “If I don’t clean my apartment, I don’t go out with friends.”

Have you tried temptation bundling? Or do you have some good ideas for bundles that could work for you? If so, please share your experiences by joining the conversation with your comments… 

All the best,

David

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