Temptation Bundling – In a Nutshell

What it is and how it can help you achieve your goals.
Published January 28, 2018

Here’s a trick that may help you achieve your goals – and get this, you might have even already been doing it without realizing: temptation bundling.

So what’s it all about?

Temptation bundling, in non-layman’s terms, is “a method for simultaneously tackling two types of self-control problems by harnessing consumption complementarities” first explored by University of Pennsylvania associate professor and researcher Katherine Milkman in a study you can read here.

In layman’s terms, “It’s essentially pairing something that you find a sacrifice, but has a long-term benefit, with something that you want to do, but has a long-term cost,” explains Janis Isaman, owner of Calgary-based My Body Couture.

According to Milkman’s study, called Holding The Hunger Games Hostage at the Gym: An Evaluation of Temptation Bundling, the researchers conducted “a field experiment measuring the impact of bundling instantly gratifying but guilt-inducing ‘want’ experiences (enjoying page-turner audiobooks) with valuable ‘should’ behaviours providing delayed rewards (exercising).” The study explored whether such bundles increase ‘should’ behaviours, as well as if people would pay for the bundles.

“[Temptation bundling] is more effective than willpower,” Isaman says. “I used to listen to club music only when I ran. A guilty pleasure! I have clients who do yoga in front of the TV … and I tell them it is okay to do it!” 

The concept certainly makes sense – you basically reward yourself for doing (specifically, while doing) the things you know you need to get done (dishes) or the things you don’t particularly enjoy doing yet (meal prep and 5 a.m., workouts).

And it’s something we’ve all probably done, at least on some level, without really even realizing it. For example, what if you only listen to that new song you’ve been jamming out to all week when you’re on the cooldown of your daily workout? Your brain ties together the reward of listening to your favourite jam while getting your workout in all at the same time.

Need some more ideas for temptation bundling? Here are some suggestions – but we encourage you to personalize this method if you’re going to try it. The whole point is to make temptation bundling work for you and your personal goals.

  • Save that podcast or TV show you’ve been binging for your meal prep Sunday routine.
  • Listen to your favourite playlist or an audiobook you’re excited about while working out.
  • Write your monthly to-do list or catch up on work while getting a spa pedicure.
  • Plan a morning walk around your neighbourhood, with the route finishing at the local mall so you can shop (or at least window shop!) while you cool down.

If you’d like to learn more about temptation bundling, check out this episode of the Freakonomics podcast, featuring Katherine Milkman herself.