Magic, Temptations and Walks

These past two weeks I’ve been trying what is known as “Temptation Bundling”. The first time I heard of Temptation Bundling was while I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast at work. Temptation Bundling is a term coined by Katharine Milkman, and falls within the field of Behavioral Economics. Now I didn’t study Behavioral Economics as part of my International Political Economy major but this is in fact a very interesting field, especially when it comes to analyzing particular habits, not only at the state level it but also at the personal level. Here I’ve written briefly about my little experiment with Temptation Bundling, mostly to have some sort of record of it. My experience might not be the most interesting, but if this concept does interest you, I recommend reading Milkman’s paper (or it’s summary) “Holding the Hunger Games Hostage at the Gym: An Evaluation of Temptation Bundling.”

The Concept

The Freakonomics podcast (in the form of a conversation between Steven Dubner and Katharine Milkman) explains temptation bundling as “a method for simultaneously tackling two types of self-control problems by harnessing consumption complementarities.” In simple words this is “the idea of tying together two activities — one you should do but may avoid; and one you love to do but isn’t necessarily productive”. The idea of using a “temptation”  to motivate oneself into doing something one wouldn’t always do isn’t genius, but surprisingly few people use this sort of motivational technique in everyday lives. Milkman explored this concept through an experiment that involved going to the gym and listening to the Hunger Games on audiobook.  The experiment group was only allowed to listen to the audiobook at the gym, essentially forcing them to go to the gym if they wanted to know what happened next in the Hunger Games. Milkman found that this greatly increased gym attendance in the sample group where this rule was enforced, as opposed to the control group who were allowed to listen to the audiobook at any time or place (given only the suggestion that they should listen to it while at the gym). In theory, temptation bundling of this sort can lead to the development of better habits (such as going to the gym) and also spending less time on the so-called “temptation” (if you watch copious amounts of TV for instance, this could be a good way to cut down on it!)

My Experience

I’m one of those people who isn’t too fond of exercising. The only types of exercising I enjoy are dancing at a club and swimming (both of which are not something I can work into my daily schedule). So I decided to try using temptation bundling, in an effort to make myself more active. My “temptation”, just like in Milkman’s experiment was listening to an audiobook. This only made sense considering my  love for reading, so I downloaded an audiobook that I’ve been meaning to check out for a while – The Magicians by Lev Grossman, approximately 18 hours of fantasy, magic and alternate worlds (once I’m done listening to it, I’ll be sure to put up a review). I also created a playlist of some of my favorite upbeat happy workout music on Spotify. My goal was to increase the number of steps I took throughout the day.  I use the app Pacer to track my steps; it has neat features like the ability to challenge your friends, graph tracking and a clean interface. I decided (with as much willpower I could muster) that I would only listen to my playlist or the Audiobook when I went on a 30-45 minute walk. Now anyone who knows how I get when it comes to reading is probably thinking “There’s no way she would put a a really good book down in accordance with her ‘rule’.” Sadly, they were correct – at first, I had no control when it came only listening to the audiobook while walking (Don’t judge, it’s an enthralling book). I’d listen to The Magicians even while lying in bed, staying up later than I should have, probably not moving more than an inch, and unfortunately I didn’t have Milkman to enforce otherwise.

Then, I discovered that Pacer allows you to pair up with friends and see how many steps they’ve walked. Now this was something that could motivate me! With this added piece of information, my competitive nature kicked in, and I wanted to make sure I was beating my Pacer buddies in this “steps competition” I had created in my head. Since I discovered the added incentive of “winning” (sort of), I got pretty good about only listening to my audiobook/special playlist when I walked. In turn, and as predicted, I started going on walks more frequently, increasing the number of steps I average every week. I’ve started to find that I actually enjoy going on walks now, and having some time cut out of my day to mindlessly just “BE”. All in all, I think Temptation Bundling can work very well, though you have to have the willpower to enforce the rules you create (or have someone do it for you). Otherwise, you might need some sort of added incentive besides just wanting something to happen. For me, the added nature of competition perfectly complemented my initial strategy. And as an added bonus, I’m getting to listen to a wonderful book while exploring the beautiful Greenbelt. As Idaho slowly opens its eyes to summer, I can only hope that my daily walks become a force of habit.


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