When Willpower Isn’t Enough

How can you get yourself to do things you really don’t feel like doing but really should do? University of Pennsylvania professor Katherine Milkman has developed an ingenious strategy to solve this conundrum: temptation bundling. Temptation bundling is the coupling of two activities—one you should do but avoid, and one you love doing but feel guilty about.

It’s about combining “want” experiences (listening to an un-put-downable audio book or binge watching Narcos) with a valuable “should” experience (cleaning the house, exercising, writing thank-you letters). Dr. Milkman personally discovered the benefits of temptation bundling a few years ago when she was having trouble making it to the gym on a regular basis. Her solution was to allow herself to listen to Hunger Game audio books only while exercising. She ended up at the gym five days a week.

Here is how it can work for you:

1. Think about activities you should get do but put off. Exercise, studying, working on a special project, having dinner with a relative you are not particularly fond of, etc.

2. Make a list of your guilty pleasures: Watching Narcos, reading Us Weekly, listening to your favorite music, eating your favorite food, etc.

3. Now pair them

As Milkman explains:

So what if you let yourself get a pedicure while catching up on overdue emails for 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 favorite restaurant whose hamburgers you crave while spending time with a difficult relative you should see more of.

Temptation bundling can be especially effective when trying to jumpstart a positive new habit and make it just a little less painful. Combining a guilty pleasure with an unappealing activity is a win-win strategy.

So go ahead and watch The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Just make sure you do it at the gym.

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman