Laundry, washing dishes, going for a checkup. There are about a thousand other things you’d rather be doing. If you’re struggling with your to-do list, a technique known as temptation building can help you find your motivation through those humdrum tasks. Read ahead to learn more about how you can make temptation bundling work wonders for you.
What is temptation bundling?
The term was coined by behavior researcher Katherine Milkman and her colleagues in a 2014 study. To put it simply, temptation bundling is when you pair something you don’t like to do with something you love to do. A classic example would be listening to reserving watching your favorite show (a favorable task) while folding laundry (an unfavorable task). Temptation bundling can help make unpleasant tasks seem less dreadful, increasing the chances of doing these tasks. It’s a way of “rewarding” yourself while you’re doing something you don’t enjoy as motivation to get it done.
Meet the Experts
Jennifer Jim, M.S.Ed, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor and owner at Renew Coaching.
Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist, international bestselling author, editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind and the host of The Verywell Mind Podcast.
“It works because when you focus on the desired action, our brains don’t put up roadblocks,” says Jennifer Jim, M.S.Ed, LPC, Licensed Professional Counselor and owner at Renew Coaching. “When we focus on the positive, desirable action, it is easier to integrate [the undesirable action].”
Jim points out there are similar concepts, such as Paired Action in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Habit Stacking, coined by writer James Clear. Clear also touches on temptation bundling in his book, Atomic Habits. Like temptation bundling, these ideas focus on diminishing self-limiting behavior and incorporating new healthy habits into our routines.
How we can apply it to everyday life
It’s essential to remember that each person’s temptation bundling may look different. What may work for one person may not make sense for another. “[For example], if you’re a true-crime podcast lover, you could pair it with going to the gym,” Jim recommends. “You could begin to only listen to your favorite podcasts when on the treadmill — this works because of your love for true crime.” It will give you the immediate gratification of indulging in one of your guilty pleasures (podcasts) while also creating healthy, long-terms habits (working out consistently).
Amy Morin, LCSW, psychotherapist, international bestselling author, editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind, and The Verywell Mind Podcast host, also gives an example of how temptation bundling can be tied to your social life. “If you feel obligated to spend time with a difficult person, you might take them to your favorite restaurant,” says Morin. Another example Morin gives is coupling your favorite Netflix show with exercising if you hate working out.
Temptation bundling now exists in many areas of my life. For example, I only listen to some of my favorite songs while doing tasks I find tedious or overwhelming, such as the laundry above and dishwashing. I also only eat certain treats while working to help me keep motivated. When getting my annual blood test (a.k.a. anxiety central), I pop in my headphones and play soothing music right before the needle comes out. This helps me create positive associations with going to the doctor.
“Some people worry temptation bundling will have the opposite effect — like they’ll stop liking that show so much if they associate it with an unpleasant task, like cleaning or exercising,” she shares. “But research shows our brains release feel-good hormones when we do something we like, and it increases the pleasure of the task in front of us.”
Tips to get the most out of temptation bundling
Even though temptation bundling is pretty simple, there are still some tips and tricks out there that we can utilize to help us get the most out of it. For instance, Morin suggests that when you begin to implement temptation bundling into your life, you should first review everything you dread doing. “Create a plan to incorporate something pleasant alongside that unpleasant thing,” she says, “Then, give it a try and see what happens — you may need to experiment to figure out what works best for you.”
Jim advises that you should try to start slow. You can do this by only trying to master one “temptation bundle” at a time. “Temptation bundling is a very effective strategy, so you may be tempted to begin multiple strategies simultaneously,” says Jim. “To get the most out of it, start with one at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Once mastered, you can add on or begin a new bundle.”
Lastly, it would help if you always ensured that the “pleasant” action you are doing is “desirable” enough. This will increase your chances of having a better outcome. ”If the desirable activity brings you joy, it will be hard for your brain to convince you not to take action,” says Jim.
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