“Bundle” your temptations to tackle your self-control problems

We all have things we should be doing… and things we spend way too much time on:

“I really should go to the gym, but I’ve got this novel I can’t put down”.

“I really should start working on my assignment, but I can’t stop scrolling through Facebook”.

“I really should go to bed early tonight, but I really wanna find out what happens in this next episode of…”

If you often find yourself dealing with any of the above or similar dilemmas, don’t despair!

A group of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have found a way to help us do the things we should be doing, and also enjoy our guilty pleasures, by “bundling” the two together.

Instant gratification plus long-term benefits = win-win!

The research

In the study (Milkman, Minson, Volpp, 2013) the researchers tested a new approach called “attention bundling” to get people to start exercising at the gym.

Volunteers were split into three groups. Participants in the first groups were given highly-engaging audiobooks that they could only access at the gym.

The second group was given the same audiobooks, but was not restricted on their use. However, the participants were encouraged to listen to them exclusively at the gym.

The control group received no audiobooks and were given no restrictions. They were simply instructed to go to the gym.

The results

After the study, the group who had gym-only audiobook access had visited the gym 51% more frequently than the control group. Those in the second group (unrestricted audiobook access) also showed up 29% more frequently than the control group.

Overall attendance did decline after a while, particularly after Thanksgiving.

However, 61% of participants found the method so useful, they stated they would pay to have gym-only devices to help them with their training program.

How to use “temptation bundling” in everyday life

“Temptation bundling” is a great way to get you going on what you should be doing, by taking away the tedium and replacing it with things you actually enjoy.

The gym example used in the study above is a great starting point. You could also apply it to other physical activities.

Let’s say you want to start running.

Find an audiobook you’ve really been wanting to listen to. Download it to your phone and commit to listen to it only while running.

If it’s a good audiobook it will serve as motivation to get you on the road. Plus, you’ll be so absorbed with listening to it, your mind will be distracted from the running, making it the activity easier to stomach.

If you don’t trust yourself to stick to the plan, just use an old phone and dump the audiobook on it. Then, give it to a family member or friend who wants to help you succeed, and ask them to only give it back to you when you go running.

Remember, this method is intended to take away the tedium of you initial attempts at building a habit. Once you’ve repeated an activity enough times, you’ll probably find you won’t need these external motivators anymore!


Milkman, K., Minson, J., & Volpp, K. (2013). Holding the Hunger Games Hostage at the Gym: An Evaluation of Temptation Bundling. PsycEXTRA Dataset.

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