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  • Cameron M. Clark

Temptation Bundling

If you have all the willpower you need, you can stop reading here. If you never struggle to actually do the things you repeatedly tell yourself you should do but too often are tempted not to, stop reading this article now and by all means, go do one of those things...

As for the rest of us (myself very much included), read on. Far from having all the willpower we need, most of us are on a lifelong quest for the tips and tricks that will help us find more willpower, or at least help us find ourselves in situations where we need less and less of it in order to accomplish our difficult longer term goals.

We want to be thin, but we also want that chocolate bar right now; we want to be in good

physical shape, but we can't be bothered to go for that walk at the moment; we want to be well-rested, but we also want to stay up to watch the late late late news or comedy shows; we want to learn another language, but we don't want to start today; we want to save money, but we also want that new gadget; and perhaps most importantly, we want rich social connections, but we don't want to pick up the phone to call a friend just this minute. We want to be the best possible version of ourselves, but we don't want to start today.

It's not that the process of accomplishing these long term lifestyle goals is difficult. We know how to do it. The problem, of course, is in actually doing it - in prioritizing tomorrow over today. Our tendency to value want over should is what is known as the 'present bias' - or our dramatic overweighting of immediate rewards relative to more delayed rewards.

One technique that can help with these common 'want-should dilemmas' is "temptation bundling" - or pairing something inherently pleasurable (e.g. that chocolate bar, or watching TV etc.), with something that provides a more delayed reward (e.g. exercise, social connections etc.).

The idea here is to use the power of your wants, to help increase the ease with which you make should choices.

So, if you sometimes struggle to make the should choices you know you should... here is something you can try. Write a list of all the should choices you struggle with. Physical fitness? Weight loss? Diet? Reading? Learning a new skill? Cleaning your house? Then, make a list of all the small indulgences you grant yourself each week - your wants. Maybe it's a piece of chocolate, or extra sugar in your tea, or some particularly trashy television. Finally, pair one of these wants with a should, and commit to only letting yourself have that want, when you are also doing the should.

Examples here might include 1) only having chocolate while out for a walk, or only watching terrible TV shows while you are folding laundry, or only having extra sugar in your tea while reading or learning a new skill.

In the recent study referenced below, the researchers found that gym-going participants were 10-14% more likely to complete a weekly workout when they were provided with an audiobook and encouraged to temptation bundle it with working out.

What might you be able to achieve over the long term if you actually started looking forward to should choices rather than dreading them?


Kirgios, E. L., Mandel, G. H., Park, Y., Milkman, K. L., Gromet, D. M., Kay, J. S., & Duckworth, A. L. (2020). Teaching temptation bundling to boost exercise: A field experiment. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.


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