A Guide to Temptation Bundling
The quest to better ourselves is not an easy one. Stress causes us to fall back on old habits, life gives us more responsibilities, and our routines change.
No one said it is easy trying to develop healthier behaviors. However, there are a few psychological tricks that can help you.
One of those tricks is known as temptation bundling. While the name is relatively new, it’s actually a new spin on an old principle. We’ll take a look at what temptation bundling is, how it works, and how you can use it to help achieve your goals.
What is Temptation Bundling?
Temptation Bundling is a term coined by University of Pennsylvania researcher Katherine Milkman. It refers to the act of combining a highly enjoyable, low beneficial activity with a less enjoyable, but highly beneficial activity.
Katherine refers to the first behavior as “want” – or temptation – activities, and the second behavior as “should” activities – or behaviors that people avoid but are beneficial in the long run. Hence the name temptation bundling.
The first activity is used as motivation to engage in the second behavior, which is less frequently performed. Temptation bundling is a strategy used to build healthier, more productive habits and activities.
You can watch Katherine as she talks about temptation bundling using the example of Liz Lemon – a character from the show 30 rock.
How Temptation Bundling Works
Temptation bundling uses the instant gratification of the first activity to help engage in the second activity. You are engaging in a rewarding activity with little long term benefit with another activity that has little upfront reward, but is more beneficial in the long run.
The instantly rewarding behavior makes it easier to perform the second. Combining them together, in theory, can give you both instant gratification and the long term rewards. Basically, all the benefits from both activities, with very little downside.
The graph below, from Katherine’s study, illustrates this concept.
It is a behavior strategy used to make one more productive, achieve longer term goals, and build healthy habits by tackling separate, but complementary self-control problems.
The Temptation Bundling Study
Milkman tested temptation bundling in her paper titled: “Holding the Hunger Games Hostage at the Gym”. The research was also published in Management Science.
Her research tested temptation bundling by splitting people into three different groups.
The first group was given an iPod – which they kept at the gym – that came preloaded with several novels that were known to be difficult to put down. Books like The Hunger Games and The Davinci Code.
They were told that they could listen to the novel only during their 30 minute workout. If they wanted to find out what happened next, they would need to come back to the gym for another workout.
The second group had a similar, but slightly different, scenario. Instead of keeping the iPods at the gym, the novels were instead loaded on to people’s personal iPods that they could take home. This group would have to self impose the rule of only listening to the novels when they were exercising.
The final group served as the control – or baseline. They received a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble and exercised for 30 minutes at the beginning of the study. They were free to listen to anything they wanted at the gym. The only thing researchers told participants in this group was simply to exercise more.
The three groups were followed for a period of 9 weeks. The first group worked out at the gym 51% more frequently, and the group who had to self impose their listening restrictions worked out 29% more than the baseline group. As you might expect the frequency of gym visits slowly declined over time.
How to Make Your Temptation Bundle
So how can you apply this concept to your own life? How can you use temptation bundling to achieve your goals and build better habits?
Building your bundle is a straightforward 3 step process.
1. Make a list of your absolute favorite activities. What are your guilty pleasures? Thing that you love to do. When your at work and bored, what can’t you wait to get home and do? What are some of the most relaxing activities that you can think of?
For many, a lot of guilty pleasures come from entertainment. Think books you can’t put down, TV shows you can’t stop watching, your favorite wine, a good cigar, or your favorite video game. Write down as many as you can think of.
2. Make a list of your “should” activities. What are the activities that you know you should be doing, but never really get around to? The things that you constantly put off or always seem to have an excuse for not doing? Or what things do you want to start doing but maybe have failed in the past, or stopped doing because live got in the way.
Many of these will be your healthy activities like exercise, eating better, chores around the house, or maybe getting organized.
3. Look for activities that are complementary and can be “bundled”. Once you have your two lists, you can start looking for activities that could be done together or shortly after one another. There may be hidden opportunities, or some slight modifications done to your schedule or environment to make them happen.
For instance, you might set up a treadmill at home, so that you can walk or run while watching your show.
Tips For Temptation Bundling
This probably goes without saying, but you won’t want to bundle two activities that are at odds with each other. If your temptation activity is listening to music while working, then the music shouldn’t distract you from being productive.
Also, you may want to consider engaging in your “temptation” only when engaging in your other activity. If you do your “want” activity all the time, it will lessen the motivation you have for performing it with the other activity.
For example, say your two activities were reading Hunger Games while working out. If you are always reading the book while not working out, there’s a good chance that you’ll stop going to the gym. If you don’t restrain yourself in part, then you’ll be less likely to do the two activities together.
You should also use temptation bundling along with other habit forming and goal tips. Anything you can do to help bolster engaging in your bundle to help you reach your goals or form habits – such as monitoring your goals – can increase your success.
Related Psychological Concepts
There are a couple of related concepts that are worthy of mention.
The first is Premack’s Principle. Although the term “temptation bundling” is relatively new, the psychological concept is not. If you’re a psychology buff, you may recognize the term Premack’s Principle, which simply states that more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors.
It is named after researcher David Premack, who demonstrated in his research how a preferred activity can increase the frequency of another activity.
When reading about temptation bundling in the news or online, this fact usually gets left out. However, this is exactly what you’re trying to do with temptation bundling.
The second related concept is a commitment device. This also links two activities together using incentives. However, commitment devices usually rely on a consequence, or type of punishment action, for not following through with a particular behavior.
For example, a person might commit to exercising, but if they fail to exercise that day, then they wouldn’t allow themselves to watch their favorite TV show. Blocking themselves from watching TV would be the punishment for not having done the exercise. Another example would be someone who donates a certain amount of money to a charity every time they swear.