As the employee wellness team, our job is to help inspire & motivate MUS employees to take better care of themselves through healthy lifestyle choices. Thus, we are continually talking about positive behavior change; not only about what changes would be good to make, but just as important, how to make those new behaviors stick. Most of us can adopt a new behavior for a short period of time, say one or two weeks, but it’s long-term behavior change that eludes so many of us.
That’s why I was excited when I recently heard about a concept called temptation bundling. Temptation bundling is pairing an activity that you should do, but tend to avoid, with one that you enjoy, but isn’t necessarily productive. Usually the enjoyable behavior is something that is instantly gratifying, while the “should” behavior is something that has more long-term benefits.
The term temptation bundling was coined by Katherine Milkman, a professor at Wharton, who conducted a study wherein participants could listen to an audiobook of The Hunger Games or other highly tempting novel only if they were at the gym. In a nutshell, the study found that participants whose listening was restricted to exclusively while at the gym visited the gym 51% more frequently than the control group who were simply encouraged to workout more. This effect was most pronounced for people with the busiest schedules. If you’d like to read the full details of the study, here’s a link to the study abstract.
Although the study effect lessened over time, especially during the holidays, I think the concept of temptation bundling is still worth considering when implementing a new behavior, or when trying to increase the frequency of an existing behavior. In fact, after learning about temptation bundling, I realized that I had actually been applying temptation bundling in my personal life already! I have a very sweet, 7-year-old lab mix named Bianca who likes a morning walk. Most mornings, I am happy to take her on the 45 minute loop around our neighborhood, but some mornings, especially dark, cold, winter mornings, it can be tough to drag myself out of bed. And yet, I have missed very few walks and have remained surprisingly consistent with this behavior, even if that means suiting up in my one-piece Carharts and putting on a headlamp to venture outside. The reason? I only allow myself to listen to podcasts while I’m walking my dog. And I love podcasts. Several mornings, when the alarm is going off in the dark, and I’m tempted to hit the snooze and snuggle back into bed, it’s the allure of a listening to a new podcast that makes me get up. It’s true that the desire to be a good doggie mama coupled with a wet little dog nose in my face also helps keep this behavior going, but there have been many times that it’s clear Bianca would rather stay in bed too.
So give it a try! Take a behavior that you feel you should do but aren’t necessarily eager to do (i.e. cleaning, responding to email, or exercising) and pair it with something you love. Only allow yourself the enjoyable activity while doing the “should” activity. Here are a few examples of temptation bundling to get your ideas flowing:
- Listening to your favorite music album while cleaning the house, or listening to your favorite song while flossing your teeth
- Watching House of Cards or other Netflix favorite while chopping vegetables or prepping dinner
- Enjoying a fancy coffee drink only while grocery shopping*
- Eating a piece of chocolate while responding to emails you’ve been putting off*
*As a dietitian, I’d caution you against using too many calorie-laden treats as the enjoyable behavior, but you get the idea!