Have you ever seen those cartoons or comic strips where a dog has a fishing pole attached to his collar, with a delicious treat dangling right in front of his nose on the end of the hook? He sprints around in circles, desperately trying to get a taste of that snack that’s just out of reach.
Well, I’m no cartoon character. But, I can’t help to think that we’re all programmed a similar way. We want rewards—those bonuses that inspire us to haul our butts off the couch and actually get things done.
However, if you’re like most people, you only reward yourself once you’ve actually finished something productive—finding the inner wherewithal to actually get started is all on you.
But, what if there was another way? What if you could combine those simple pleasures you so enjoy with those tasks and duties you typically find yourself dreading? A way to mix the two together in order to make those loathsome activities a little more tolerable?
Surprise! This method actually exists, and it’s called “temptation bundling”—a term that was coined by Katy Milkman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. I recently read an article by James Clear that digs into this topic in detail, and it really started to get my wheels turning.
The concept is really quite simple. Milkman asserts that temptation bundling involves combining a behavior that is good for you in the long-run (think exercising or tackling your inbox) with a behavior that feels awesome in the short-run (think reading a great book or relaxing on your patio). Basically, it’s a way of marrying the things you have to do, with the things you really want to do.
Sounds like it could be effective right? As I was reading, I was surprised to realize that this was a strategy I was already implementing in my daily life. Much like Milkman’s experiment, I use temptation bundling to inspire me to exercise. I have a certain reality television show (which shall remain nameless, in order to protect my own pride) that I only allow myself to watch while I’m on the treadmill or recumbent bike. It sounds silly, I know. But, this tactic has already proven to be particularly successful for me!
I’m not alone in that regard. In her study of 226 students, Milkman found that the ones who made use of temptation bundling were 29% to 51% more likely to actually exercise.
Needless to say, temptation building doesn’t just talk the talk—it also walks the walk (quite literally). So, this inspired me to think of some other aspects of my life where I could incorporate this method, outside of just my exercise regime.
So far, I’ve decided that I’m only going to allow myself to listen to podcasts while cleaning up around the house and that I’m going to leave my iPod at home when walking the dog—so that I can use that quiet time to brainstorm new pitches and article ideas.
I’m curious to see if this strategy works just as well for things that don’t involve the treadmill. But, if my commitment to my exercise routine is any indication, I already have a sneaking suspicion that this tactic is going to significantly boost my motivation to tackle those other pesky tasks. While it’s not quite the same thing as a tasty cartoon treat dangling in front of my nose, it can definitely still work wonders!
But wait—I don’t want to be in this thing alone! Give temptation bundling a try right along with me. Tweet me and tell me what two activities you’re going to combine.
Photo of person working out courtesy of moodboard/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, self-development, and the freelance life. In addition to writing for The Muse, she's also the Career Editor for The Everygirl, a columnist for Inc., and a contributor all over the web. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her rescued terrier mutt or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author