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Could ‘temptation bundling’ make me want to exercise more regularly?

IMAGE VIA NAGNATA

WORDS BY LAUREN PAYNE

Now leaving procrastination station.

I’ve always struggled to maintain a consistent fitness routine. Growing up, I wasn’t surrounded by weightlifters or marathon runners. I was surrounded by people who unconsciously exercised. We’d dance, walk and ride our bikes for fun, without realising we were staying fit.

It was when I moved away from these people and stopped doing these unconscious things so often, that I tried to build a fitness routine. I’m not going to lie, trying to go to the gym and be consciously aware of how you exercise, when you’ve never done it before, is hard.


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It’s taken me years of trial and error to really understand what exercises need to be done to help me take care of my body. I’ve asked a lot of people a lot of questions, but despite now knowing what exercises I need to do to stay healthy, I struggle to do them consistently. I continually put it off, thinking that going to the gym is just another chore I’d rather not complete.

But then I stumbled across temptation bundling. While researching ways to rewire my brain to love exercise, I discovered a study conducted by behavioural economist Katy Milkman. The study investigated the effects of temptation bundling on exercise habits and whether this psychological practice could encourage more people to get to the gym.

Basically, temptation bundling is the idea of combining an activity you should be doing but tend to procrastinate on, with an activity you enjoy doing, to improve productivity and motivation. Milkman’s study theorised that if someone was given an enjoyable activity to do while at the gym, like listening to an audiobook, it could encourage them to go to the gym more regularly.

And sure enough, the study found that people were 51 per cent more likely to visit the gym if they had something pleasurable to do while exercising. Obviously, these results excited me. When I found another field experiment that showed high school students were more likely to enjoy completing challenging math problems whilst snacking and listening to music they liked, I was sold.

Temptation bundling sounded like it was the perfect way for me to improve my relationship to exercise. Right then and there I followed author James Clear’s instructions and created my own ‘temptation bundles’.

I split a page of my notebook into two columns. The first column listed everything I liked to do and the second listed everything I needed to do. I then paired activities in the first column with activities in the second column and just like that, I had a plan.

The bundle I wanted to focus on the most, of course, was fitness. I decided to only listen to my favourite podcasts at the gym and hopefully, this would get me excited about being on an elliptical for an hour a day. On the first day, I could feel the temptation bundle working. I was so excited to listen to a new episode of a podcast that when I got home, I quickly changed into my activewear and almost ran to the gym.

This system worked to get me to the gym, but it’s taken a lot of effort to keep going. I started to see the cracks in my bundle quite quickly. What if I don’t feel like listening to a podcast? Do I just skip the gym? What if I wanted to just listen to Olivia Rodrigo and dance to ‘Driver’s Licence’ with my dog instead?

Sometimes you can find holes in your plan and that’s okay. My hole was that I didn’t always want to listen to podcasts, so I revaluated my bundle and decided to try a new combination. Overall, temptation bundling has helped me be more productive, not just with my exercise routine, but throughout my day-to-day life.

As we speak, I’m sitting at my favourite cafe, drinking delicious coffee (something I want to do), while writing this story (something I need to do and want to do, but there’s the potential for me to procrastinate). This technique has helped me utilise my time better, and it’s motivated my lazy butt to get back to the gym.

Temptation bundling can take some time to get right, but once you find a bundle that works for you, creating a new habit and sticking to it will be a lot easier. Listen to a funny podcast while you meal prep, or fold your laundry while you binge-watch Schitt’s Creek for the millionth time. You’ll feel more capable, and it’ll be done in a pinch because you’re doing something you enjoy at the same time.

To learn more about temptation bundling, head here

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