Optimize Your Life

Episode #41: Temptation Bundling

Show Notes:

Welcome back to another episode of Optimize Your Life. Every week, I share tips and tricks about how you can become more masterful and live more fully so that you can avoid burnout. This week is no exception. 

One thing to note about us humans is that we are wired to go toward pleasure and away from pain. That doesn’t mean that certain things are truly physically painful. They might be psychologically painful and that’s really where mindset work comes in handy. 

I’m sure if you take a close look at your life, you’ll come across certain habits that you engage in that sabotage your health, your happiness, your productivity, and even your relationships. I know I for one should stay away from bread, cookies, and cakes because it bloats my stomach. And for the most part, I do a good job during the week. But once the weekend comes, I give myself allowances. So that’s an example of a habit that maybe isn’t working for me that I would like to improve on. 

Then we have certain habits that we would like to create because they are good for us but are challenging. We may not have the willpower or the motivation to do them. Part of that may be because we tell ourselves it’s too hard, it will take too much time, it will be boring, etc. Notice what kinds of excuses you make about why you’re not doing what’s best for you. 

So now we have two sets of habits: the ones that aren’t so great for us or the ones we enjoy doing and the ones that are good for us but that we don’t enjoy doing as much. 

What we want to be able to do is incentivize ourselves to do the hard things in life by rewarding our efforts with the habits that are easy and more enjoyable. 

As I stated in my book, The 7E Solution to Burnout, this is what is called temptation bundling. So let’s take a look at how this works and I’ll be sharing with you an excerpt from my book on this subject. 

“To gain mastery over any area of knowledge or skill, you need an investment of time and energy. What can get in the way of mastery is either boredom or a preference to engage in pleasurable activities.

Imagine that you want to write a book. This requires thought, research in some cases, and many hours of writing and editing. While you have good intentions to sit down and write, you may become distracted by a television show, or feel tempted to go out with friends for fear of missing out on the fun. All this temptation causes distraction and procrastination and prevents you from making strides toward your goal. Mastery requires discipline and a delay of instant gratification.

One evidence-based technique that can help you overcome procrastination is temptation bundling. Research by Dr. Katherine Milkman (as discussed by author Eric Barker), a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, focused on how to improve self-control through limiting access to temptation.

While we all know how vital it is for us to exercise, getting to the gym might be difficult. In her study, Dr. Milkman set out to discover what level of motivation would be most successful in getting 226 students and faculty members to engage in physical activity.

Milkman placed participants in three distinct groups. The first group received an iPod and was able to access audiobooks only at the gym. Members in the second group had audiobooks loaded onto their personal iPods and were encouraged to only listen to them at the gym. The third group received a gift card and an encouragement to work out more.

The results showed that the first group worked out 29 percent more than the second group and 51 percent more than the third group. The relative success of the first group resulted from bundling the temptation of the audiobooks with the challenging activity of working out, which increased the group’s motivation and follow-through in facing the challenge.

Consider how you might physically restrict access to temptation to boost your performance in challenging tasks. Notice that the temptation used in the study did not sabotage the results of the challenge. If you are interested in optimal performance, don’t load yourself up with sugary foods as a reward. This may give you immediate energy but will only lead to your energy dropping in a short while. Instead, consider a more inspiring, motivating, or relaxing reward such as a ten-minute meditation, stretching, or a music break.”

So that’s a little bit about temptation bundling from my book. 

What habit do you want to create? You can focus on just one or perhaps you have a list of them. These might include: 

  • Eliminating breakfast if you want to start the habit of intermittent fasting 
  • Making your bed so that when you enter your bedroom at the end of the day it is nice and organized
  • Going to the gym to work out
  • Calling your parents once a week to keep in touch
  • Reading for 20 minutes a day if that’s challenging for you

You get the point. 

Then find habits that you enjoy. These can include:

  • Taking a bath
  • Talking to a friend
  • Watching your favorite show on Netflix
  • Eating a piece of fruit
  • Taking a walk on the beach

Once you have both your lists, it’s time to couple them. 

So if you want to eliminate breakfast, you might state that on days you eliminate your breakfast, you’ll eat a piece of fruit between lunch and dinner.

Or if speaking to your parents is something you think you should do but is challenging for whatever reason, you might commit to call them once a week and then take a nice bubble bath.

This is where you get to be creative and mix and match your two lists. 

Now that you heard what I shared from my book, I want to share with you what other people have to say about this subject.   

James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, is perhaps the most popular thought leader on habit creation and he says, “Temptation bundling is one way to make your habits more attractive. The strategy is to pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do.” 

Now what is attractive to one person may not be attractive to another. This is where you really have to know yourself. Here’s what Michael J. Wilkins says to this point: 

“I’ve never liked eating sweets, so waving a box of chocolates in front of me won’t get my attention. For some people, chocolate is a severe temptation. But put me in a well-stocked bookstore and I’ll have to restrain myself from buying all those wonderful reference books!”

Perhaps you’ve tried temptation bundling in an effort to build up that new healthy habit but fell short? You succumbed to temptation. Now what? Here’s what Martin Meadows of the Simple Self-Discipline Box Set says, “Self-discipline isn’t built overnight. If you want to become mentally tougher and more in control over your temptations, play the long game and prioritize sustainability over quick results.” 

I also like to take a look at the language we use because this gives you a clue to how you think about things and your associations, all of which are 100% in your control to change. 

When it comes to things that tempt you, you might notice words like “urge,” “want,” “desire”, “comfort,” “delicious,” “easy,” and “soothing.”

Now look at the way you internally describe the habit you want to create. You might be using words like, “should,” “hard,” “pain,” “tough” and “boring.”

Here’s the thing. You can try temptation bundling in which you pair activities that help you stay engaged in the habit you want to create. And if you go this route, make sure to switch up the temptation over time because otherwise the effect can fade. 

And to make this work even better, pair positive wording with the activity you want to build. So if your goal is to work out at the gym and that feels hard or boring, find words that describe why you’re looking to build that habit. Perhaps it’s because you want to be stronger physically, to improve your health, or to look more toned. Then say to yourself, “Going to the gym will make me stronger and I get to benefit from working out for this reason and get a bonus on top!” Now that should help move the needle on this for you. 

You may not believe this message right now, but say it anyway because over time what will happen is you’ll wire your brain to think in this new way. Your brain learns with repetition. This is what we call brain priming. Priming sets the stage for what you want even if you don’t currently believe it. Just keep showing up in the way you would like, presenting your brain with the new program, and over time it will catch on. And when that happens, life becomes so much easier. 

In fact, I highly recommend you learn how to prime your brain. So check out my ebook, How to Train Your Brain for Success. It’s available on Amazon or you can download it for free by going to bit.ly/trainyourbrainforsuccess

Finally, if you want to utilize technology to help you stick to your commitment, go to www.stickk.com (that’s stick with 2 ks – I’ll have the link in the show notes). There you can create a commitment contract with yourself and put money on the line which activates the power of loss aversion. Just another tool in your toolbelt.

Now you have everything you need to stop procrastinating, stop making excuses, create healthy and sustainable habits, and reap the benefits to truly optimize your life. 

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