Whether it’s because you dread going to the gym or just feel too exhausted at the end of the day, findings from a recent study may help you.

The study, led by Ph.D. Katherine L. Milkman at the University of Pennsylvania, introduces an innovative concept into not just field of behavioral economics, but into the field of weight loss and health as a whole.quote about temptation bundling

It’s called “temptation bundling.”

Temptation bundling refers to tying together two activities: one that you know you should do, and one that you usually want to do because you enjoy it so much.

The science shows that it works. And it can help you get into the gym and lose weight specifically.

How Temptation Bundling Applies to Weight Loss

Those of us who have struggled for many years with our weight know that the question of getting to the gym has very little to do with being what others may perceive as “lazy.” Walking through those doors and into an atrium of strange-looking machines and people with uncannily toned bodies can be absolutely overwhelming.gym locker

Is is also extraordinarily difficult to stay consistent with exercise when you have work, bills, and caring for family members all weighing on you.

It can be so much more appealing, after a long hard day, to just curl up by the TV in order to decompress.

That is where temptation bundling comes in.

Think about that favorite show, or something else you love doing in order to decompress. Maybe a favorite book or podcast?

An Enjoyable Incentive to Get to the Gym

In her landmark study, Milkman took 226 students at Penn who expressed that they desperately wanted to exercise more.

I’d actually enjoy my workout and my show more combined. I wouldn’t feel guilty watching TV, and time would fly while I was at the gym.

She asked them to track the amount of time they spent at the gym, as well as their weight.

She gave iPods with audiobooks rated by students as extremely tempting and hard-to-put-down, including The Hunger Games, Dune, and the Davinci Code trilogy.

The students were divided into three groups. Results are shown for the first seven-week period:

Full treatment Intermediate treatment Control
Given iPod with audiobook content that must kept stored in gym locker, not allowed to take home. Given iPod with audiobook content that may be taken home, but strongly encouraged to only use in gym. Given $25 Barnes and Noble giftcard, and encouraged to use it to download audiobooks onto own iPod to listen to in gym.
Average 7.8 gym visits Average 6.5 gym visits Average 6.1 gym visits

Students in the full treatment group, who could access their “temptation” in the gym exclusively, went to the gym 51% more frequently than the control group.

Students in the intermediate treatment group, who still had a separate temptation bundling device but were allowed to take it outside the gym, still benefited from the extra incentive. They went to the gym 29% more frequently than the control group, indicating that even just having a designated device, without the externally imposed usage restriction, can still substantially motivate increased gym visits.

So What Would Be Your Most Enticing “Temptation Bundle”?

Game of Thrones while on the elliptical?freakonomics radio logo

The Walking Dead while on the treadmill?

Or maybe an episode of the related Freakonomics podcast while on the stationary bike?

Let us know in the comments below!


Dubner, Steven J. “When Willpower Isn’t Enough: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast.” (2015, March 3.) Podcast retrieved from https://freakonomics.com.

Milkman, Minson, and Volpp: An Evaluation of Temptation Bundling Management Science 60(2), pp. 283–299, © 2014 INFORMS. https://pubsonline.informs.org/doi/pdf/10.1287/mnsc.2013.1784

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