Need to Train Things You Hate? Try Temptation Bundling



By Charles Staley


Charles is here on a weekly basis to help you cut through the B.S. and get some real perspective regarding health and training. Please post feedback or questions to Charles directly in the comments below this article.


In all the various realms of our lives, there are two types of “things”:

  • The things we love to do
  • The things we should do

The problem is, these two categories are not always synonymous.


Fun Versus Useful

If we restrict this discussion to our training efforts, it’s easy to see the built-in conflict we need to resolve if we ever hope to actualize our potential. Naturally, we like doing certain things because we’re good at them, and therefore, doing them gives us a sense of satisfaction. Just as surely, we tend to dislike the things we’re not very good at. Those tend to be the things we ought to do.


Visualize two different circles: one representing the things you like to do, and the other the things you ought to do. The more overlap you have between each circle, the better you will do in any venture you choose. How can you bring these two circles together so they converge as much as possible? How can you learn to like, or at least accept, doing the things you need to do.



What is your strategy for increasing the overlap in the middle?


Trick Yourself With Temptation Bundling

“Temptation bundling” is one promising strategy. The idea was conceived by Katy Milkman, Professor of Economics at the Wharton School. Temptation bundling involves combining a temptation with something you know you should do, but might struggle to do. It’s similar to rewarding yourself after doing a difficult but necessary task. With temptation bundling, your reward behavior happens in conjunction with the unpleasant task.


In a recent interview with Freakonomics Radio, Milkman provides a simple example from her own life: only allowing herself to watch her favorite television shows while she’s on the treadmill at the gym. This strategy makes her much more likely to go to the gym, and she also feels less guilty about watching the shows. Here’s Milkman describing the process in more detail:


I use a similar behavioral trick in my own life – I listen to podcasts while taking my daily walk to Starbucks. Ever since I started this habit, I look forward to my walks much more than I used to. I also feel less guilty about all the time I spend listening to podcasts.


In the gym, I’ve been using this approach to help me pay more attention to mobility work. Doing simple band exercises in between sets of my normal strength exercises has been an effective way to solidify this new behavior. While it may not be temptation bundling in strict terms, it has the same flavor: for every set of weights I do, I do a set for mobility.


This strategy has been suggested by other coaches (Dan John comes immediately to mind), and the inter-set mobility drills are often referred to as “fillers.” If you’ve found yourself using this technique without having a term for it, I’d love to hear about it. Or if you have other techniques you use to “trick” yourself into doing unpalatable, but ultimately beneficial behaviors, please share them in the comments section below.





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