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Temptation Bundling Can Help You Achieve Your Fitness Goals

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By Dr. Dawn M. Sweet

Employing temptation bundling in your weight loss journey can be an effective catalyst for sparking behavior change and changing activities

We’ve all been there. It’s the end of a long day at work and all you want to do is grab some takeout on the home, watch the next episode of that show you love, listen to the next episode of your favorite podcast, or maybe read the next few chapters in that page-turner everyone’s been talking about. The last thing you want to do is cook a healthy meal or exercise, even though you know physical activity and eating healthy is good for you. Afterall, it’s been a long day.

Every day we make decisions that not only affect our present selves, but also our future selves — that version of us who we will be in a few weeks, months, or years down the line. It is easy to give in to “present bias” by paying more attention to what we want to do in the here and now so that we experience immediate rewards or gratification. While choosing immediate gratification feels good, it’s important to consider how future you might feel about it.

Taking Care of Future You by Temptation Bundling

Temptation bundling involves pairing an activity that you may not feel motivated to pursue with an activity that you really want to pursue. For example, maybe you don’t feel like going to the gym or maybe you don’t feel like going for that walk. Maybe you really don’t feel like washing and cutting fresh vegetables for dinner and fruit for dessert. By allowing yourself to only listen to your favorite podcast while you are preparing healthy meals or allowing yourself to only watch the next episode of that show you love while riding the stationary bike, you are temptation bundling! Temptation bundling can reward “present day” you and “future” you! You are not only setting the stage for gratifying future you by eating healthy and engaging in physical activity, but you are also experiencing immediate gratification because you are listening to that podcast or streaming that next episode.

For temptation bundling to work, the want must be truly tempting for us. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Watching the next episode of a TV show may not be as much of a temptation for everyone, so it is important to find the thing that tempts us and pair it with an appropriate activity. For example, reading the next few chapters of your favorite book likely won’t pair well with going for a walk or a hike. But downloading the audiobook will pair well with your walk or hike or preparing a healthy meal! What if you really want to try that new desert place that just opened downtown? Instead of driving there, you could walk there and back with a friend. If walking is not possible, then perhaps you could add another mile to your daily walk or take attend an extra spin class that week. To further optimize the benefits of temptation bundling, mix things up. Instead of riding the stationary bike five days a week and streaming your favorite TV show, go for a walk and listen to a few chapters of your audiobook, your favorite podcast, or maybe call that friend you’ve been meaning to reconnect with.

Getting Started with Temptation Bundling

Temptation bundling can be an effective catalyst for sparking behavior change and changing activities that present you might not want to into activities you want to pursue. To get started, consider the following:


  • Make a list that has two columns. Reflect on all things you want to do (e.g., watching TV, listening to podcasts, stopping for take out on the way home). List all those “wants” in the column on the left. Reflect on all the things ought to do to take care of your health and manage your weight and list all those “oughts” in the column on the right.


  • Review your list. Read through list and start pairing things that will go well together, such as riding the stationary bike and streaming that episode of your favorite TV show. Identify how the “ought to do” will gratify not only present you but also future you.


  • Check-in. After a couple of weeks of temptation bundling check in with yourself to see how you are feeling. Reflect on what you’ve enjoyed and be creative — start thinking about what other non-preferred activities you can sensibly pair with preferred activities.


There are few, if any, shortcuts to achieving our goals in life. Achieving goals takes commitment, work and effort. While there are no shortcuts, we can certainly set ourselves up to work smarter and optimize our chances for success. Temptation bundling just may be strategy to set ourselves up for success.


About the Author: Dr. Dawn M. Sweet has over 20 years of experience in the field of communication. Dr. Sweet has given several invited talks to and workshops for academic and private sector audiences on the role of nonverbal and verbal communication in achieving positive outcomes and mitigating bias. Her research has been published in several top ranked peer-review journals, and it has been featured on NPR’s River to River / All Things Considered, Buzzfeed, and Science Daily. Her research has also been used to inform expert testimony.

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