Use Temptation Bundling to boost your willpower and create better habits

Think about the last couple of goals that you attempted to pursue. Whether you want to exercise daily, write more, read more or complete everyday mundane tasks, chances are you set resolutions and tied a reward to when you had completed the activity. It's a familiar cycle, what we thought would once entice us to keep going, unfortunately ends up as restricting us and we simply lack the motivation and eventually give up.

If like me, when the lockdown happened you went and bought yourself an exercise machine and if like me it's sitting in your room unused - then this article was written just for you.

Temptation Bundling, is a fairly new strategy using behavioural psychology.

Picture this...

You bought an exercise bike and after reading all the instructions and spending an hour setting it up you step back to admire it.

5 minutes later you’re wearing your leisurewear and sitting on the exercise bike.

You feel motivated and excited. You plan to do a 30-minute workout, you set the timer and plot a route on the bike. But after 8 minutes you are… SO FLIPPING - BORED!

“How the hell do people do this?” you think to yourself AND You quit with the resignation to try it again tomorrow after work.

A few days go by and you realise you haven't even thought about the bike, you feel guilty due to the amount you spent so you decide to give it another try.

That’s when you notice that the bike has a drop-down ledge designed for a tablet or phone. And as it happens you just downloaded a newly released tv series that you've been looking forward to watching. You grab your tablet and place it in the holder and make yourself comfortable on the bike. You plot your route and set off.

Halfway through the show, you realise you've been on the machine for over 30 minutes and you're not bored, in fact, you didn't even notice how long you had been exercising. You carry on till the end of the show, proud of yourself for keeping to the workout.

When you finish you agree to save the tv show and only watch it when you're exercising. Your phone buzzes as it records your progress and asks if you want to set a reminder to exercise on your calendar for tomorrow.

What do you do?

Katherine Milkman—a young professor at the University of Pennsylvania coined the phrase Temptation Bundling after she realised how it could help motivate people to stick with an activity.

Milkman had made a resolution to exercise more after working hours, she struggled to find the motivation and willpower and would often come home and read her favourite book, The Hunger Games. She decided to test out a theory to see whether it would motivate her to follow through on her resolution. The trick was to only allow herself to read The Hunger Games books when she was exercising at the gym.

After several weeks of using temptation bundling to motivate her to go to the gym, Milkman developed the habit of exercising up to five days a week. She described it as: “Temptation bundling involves the coupling of instantly gratifying “want” activities (e.g., watching the next episode of a habit-forming television show, checking Facebook, receiving a pedicure, eating an indulgent meal) with engagement in a “should” behaviour that provides long-term benefits but requires the exertion of willpower (e.g., exercising at the gym, completing a paper review, spending time with a difficult relative).” –Milkman et al. 2013

In 2014 Milkman and her research colleagues continued to test her theory. They recruited 226 participants for a 10-week study on the effects of temptation bundling on exercise habits to see if they could improve gym attendance. [1]

Each participant was assigned to one of three groups with instructions to exercise for 30 minutes.

Group One (the control group) was given gift cards as a reward for participation.

Group Two was loaned an iPod with four audio novels of their choice and were told to only listen to these whilst exercising.

Group Three (the temptation bundling group) were also loaned an iPod with four audio novels, however, they could only access the iPod at the gym itself.

After the 10-week study period, Milkman and her team analysed the data and discovered that the participants of the third group—The Temptation bundling group—visited the gym 51% more frequently than the control group.

Simply put you “Temptation bundle” a source of instant gratification (like listening to your favourite podcast) with a beneficial “should” activity (like cleaning the bathroom). It allows you to enjoy the short-term benefits and instant gratification from your "guilty pleasures", whilst building good habits. To boost your temptation bundling make sure you only give yourself the reward (the indulgent activity) while you are doing the activity you should do.

Now that you know here's How you can apply Temptation Bundling to your business:

Temptation bundling is a great way to promote your services and keep your customers happy because some services seem more painful than others (but important) whereas others can be guilt-inducing, by combining the two you can reduce the pain and guilt. For example, many dentist offices now have TVs so patients can watch their favourite tv shows rather than staring at the ceiling. Gyms have Netflix. You can also flip the bundle if your service is on the guilty side for example if you are a spa promoting your 30min pedicures you could advertise your services: “Its tough being on your feet all day and even harder leaving the office when you're overwhelmed by emails. Get to inbox zero in 30 minutes while treating your feet." Just make sure you have a superfast internet connection.

If you're a business leader you can make dull work tasks more appealing. Maybe your team have to put together a presentation for a service launch. You can combine the brainstorming session with mediation or yoga. Or how about bundling those long tax audits with a simple morning coffee tasting.

To create your Temptation bundles, grab a piece of paper and create two columns.

  • In the first column, write down the activities you know you should be doing, but regularly procrastinate on.

  • Examples include household chores, writing a report, replying to emails, exercising and so on.

  • In the second column, write down your guilty pleasures or activities you enjoy.

  • Examples include: watching your favourite TV show or sports, browsing through social media, eating at your favourite restaurant, listening to a podcast or audiobook

You can now start to create your own temptation bundles by linking the activities you enjoy with those you should be doing. For example, you could sort through and reply to your emails, whilst listening to your favourite podcast. Do the ironing while watching a tv sitcom. Drink your favourite coffee when writing your first draft of your blog.

To keep things fresh when you feel yourself getting less motivated, interchange your temptation bundles every now and then - for example, You could only watch your favourite tv show when you exercise and then next month, you could only watch it when you're cooking that vegetarian meal.

For the past few months I've been using Temptation Bundling to help me stay focus as I created my new programs, tying writing blog posts with eating my favourite ice cream. Although I've managed to write so much more - I think I need to pull out that exercise machine and download another episode of Better Call Saul!!


  1. Holding the Hunger Games Hostage at the Gym: An Evaluation of Temptation Bundling

  2. James Clear Atomic Habits The two lists of temptation bundling.