Too Lazy To Work Out? Try Temptation Bundling

“Damn you Netflix, how did I just watch 12 episodes of House of Cards! I have stuff to do!”

We’ve all been there. There are the things we know we SHOULD do, the things we NEED to do, and the things that we WANT to do.

More often than not, the WANT wins out over the NEED and SHOULD.

It’s like trying to win a tug-of-war against a tractor pulling in the opposite direction. It’s why you struggle to get to the gym after a long day of work. It’s why you opt for Taco Bell instead of taking the time to cook a healthy meal.

Today, we’re going to give you a quick life hack that can help you start leveling up your life and actually get things done that need to get done!

What is Temptation Bundling?


I bet you’ve said the following: “Before I can watch TV, I need to exercise.” And yet, TV ends up winning over exercise almost all the time, especially if it’s after a long miserable day at work.

So, instead of “if I do this, then I get this” What if we combined the two into one epic activity?

That idea is called “temptation bundling,” a term coined by Wharton Professor Katy Milkman: ultimately, you combine something that needs to be done with something you want to do.

She describes the idea in a paper entitled: “Holding The Hunger Games Hostage at the Gym: An Evaluation of Temptation Bundling.” The goal is to get us to do things we need to do by combining them with things we want to do, removing the “either/or” temptation and getting us to ACTUALLY do stuff!

Participants were randomly assigned to a full treatment condition with gym-only access to tempting audio novels, an intermediate treatment involving encouragement to restrict audiobook enjoyment to the gym, or a control condition.

Initially, full and intermediate treatment participants visited the gym 51% and 29% more frequently.

Long story short: the people in the study who were told they could listen to addictive audio books only while working out visited the gym 51% more frequently than those who were just told they should exercise more.

Here’s some Nerd Fitness examples:

In love with the show Arrow? I am, and I want Stephen Amell to be my best friend.  Don’t say, “I can only watch Arrow after exercising.” Change your phrasing, and try this instead: “I can only watch Arrow WHILE exercising.” Bring your iPad or Laptop to the gym, and only watch particular shows while you are on a treadmill, walking, or using the elliptical.

Addicted to Clash of Clans on your phone? Only allow yourself to work on your clan while at the gym, in between sets of deadlifts. Same goes for looking at stupid Buzzfeed links on Facebook: only while resting in between squats!

Maybe you can only listen to Serial or Tim Ferriss’s podcast while walking, doing a particular work task, or even completing a chore at home like cleaning or laundry. An hour episode while walking could result in you racking up 3+ miles on your walk to Mordor!

Afraid to try cooking a new healthy meal? You can ONLY listen to a podcast or music in your house while you are cooking. BLAST it at top volume while having fun making a mess trying to cook.

Now, what’s interesting is that although this study teaches us that bundling a healthy life-improvement activity with one you enjoy can help you make a change, the boost can oftentimes be temporary.

The study went on to say that the “allure” of the audiobook + gym combo wore off after a few months, thus furthering the suggestion that you have flip a switch after you get started to “enjoying the journey.” So, although this is a great strategy to get started, it’s not a permanent solution. But that’s fine – we’re going to be using it to build long term habits.

Try the temptation bundle challenge

lego hazmat

If you can implement it properly, temptation bundling can both increase your time spent doing a healthy activity while also helping you limit the unhealthy one.

Want to watch 10 hours of a TV show? I hope you’re ready to walk on a treadmill for 10 hours!

Now, you might be saying, “Steve, doesn’t this make the fun activity less enjoyable and the exercise/health portion less efficient?” 

Kind of. Sure, I would love it if you went to the gym, completed a kickass workout, ate a healthy meal, and then got 8 hours of sleep.

However, this isn’t Imagination Land, and I know the best workout plan is the one you actually complete. This is infinitely better than the perfect workout plan that makes you say “meh, I’ll start tomorrow.”

So what do we do? We use temptation bundling to get us started, and then use drive to keep us going. When we build interest ih the activity itself, we shift our focus from “I’m enduring this workout” to “I can’t wait to see how much better I am this week.” The change can become permanent.

Here’s a temptation bundle that I’ve implemented recently: I love to play video games, and oftentimes get lost in them for hours.

Because gaming is generally a passive activity, spending 12-straight hours slouched on a couch is NOT good for my back!

So I’ve created a temptation bundle when it comes to gaming:

I can ONLY play video games when I am standing, or doing the grok squat. Standing for 12 hours or squatting for 12 hours will certainly pose a challenge, so I will certainly do less marathon gaming sessions, and I’ll spend much less time slouched on a couch as well. I figure if I’m going to game I should at least work on mobility and movement simultaneously!

Your turn: what’s one activity that you love to do, and one that you know you should do more of? And how are you going to implement this strategy TODAY to your daily routine? Here are some other rapid fire examples:

  • Are you studying or getting some work done? Get your favorite sugar-free coffee drink/food item/snack only when you are doing it.
  • Try walking outside (or a cardio machine) – that’s now the only time you’re allowed to browse your favorite website, subreddit, or social media.
  • Try pairing chores like ironing, doing laundry, or cleaning dishes while watching your favorite tv shows or a new movie you’ve been waiting for.

Your turn! Let’s give away a free t-shirt (by the way, we’re having a sale on a few items in the NF store).

What’s one temptation bundle you are going to combine and start TODAY? Leave a comment before 11:59 PM next Thursday the 4th, and we’ll pick a winner at random to get a free Nerd Fitness Shirt.


PS: In case you missed it last week – we announced a few more coaches for Camp Nerd Fitness, including Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo! We’re down to 12 of 300 spots left – hope you can join us 🙂


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  • Etonje

    Thanks for share

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  • daniellejones


  • TypingApe

    I like this a lot! Especially as someone who’s gone down the Witcher 3 rabbit hole while looking for a job and being unable to get to a gym. So, after every quest I’ll do spider-man pushups, sit-ups, and lunges

  • Kunal Obhrai

    I’m addicted to DOTA 2 which requires me to sit on the bed for 45 minutes per game (3-4 games at a time). Now I have put my laptop on the stationary cycle and slay enemies ONLY when I am cycling. 60-90 minutes of cycling per day. Its a start.

  • jasonmlehr

    I just started season 4 of Game of Thrones.
    Looks like I’m going to have to hit the dreadmill if I want to get caught up.
    Bonus…I’ll crank up the speed every time Joffrey comes on the screen to simulate chasing him down to punch him in his stupid head. #hatethatguy

  • Rena Morrison

    I’ve been struggling to make house chores fun, so I’m going to create the best playlist so I can get all my cleaning done without wanting to browse.

  • Rebecca Lugg

    I will limit myself to only snacking on honey buns/listening to a verse of whatever song is on my pandora every time I get through my marching try-out music without messing up on transitions, which is not that often.

  • Angela

    Yes this is wonderful! I usually listen to The Teaching Company audio lectures while in the car. I’ll start restricting that to the gym and see how it works! I hope my attention span can focus on both 😛

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  • Amanda

    I really need to put in time on Sunday nights to prep food for the coming week, as well as supplement with additional food prep mid-week. To be better about this, I’m going to bundle it with my Hulu queue – I’m only allowed to dip into the queue if I’m prepping food.

  • Tricia

    I listen to Welcome to NightVale podcasts, only when I’m doing household chores like vacuuming, dishes, and general scrubbery.

  • Bekah

    I’m going to listen to the radio while I cook and tv while I do laundy, and Buy some audiobooks for the treadmill walks 🙂

  • K.

    eating while studying really doesn’t do it for me, because the snack takes 2 minutes to eat and studying takes 30 to 60 minutes, minimum. A few pushups during TV commercials works great, but I don’t watch TV so that one doesn’t really do…

  • FedUpWithIgnorantPeople

    I know it’s going to date me, but I can only watch “Red vs. Blue” while I do my cardio (elliptical or recumbent bike plus yoga to stretch out), or do “Zombies, Run!” while slogging (really, reeeeally slow jogging).

  • Ronny Aranaga

    I’m only going to listen to Mariah Carey’s #1 hits when I do HIITs (see what I did there?) – I’m a straight 28-year-old guy. No shame.

  • Diann G

    I will only drink iced coffee if I’m actively working on a paper.

  • Ronny Aranaga

    I will only listen to Mariah Carey’s #1 hits when I do HIITs (see what I did there?) – I’m a straight 28-year-old guy. No shame.

  • anaxor

    I’m going to be a bit different. I love running, but don’t like reading my chemistry textbook(I’m a college student) I’m going to run on the elliptical or treadmill while reading. Hopefully the endorphins from running will help the reading go by easier. 🙂

  • HappiKampers

    I put a DVD player in my garage, hooked up to an old tube tv, and put together a 7 station circuit training program with two cardio stations and 5 resistance/weight training sations. I bought the Sex and the City DVD collection and now, I can only watch them while circuit training – which is two episodes (60 minutes) every other evening (the other night I walk for an hour). Since the kids think I’m working out, I don’t have to worry about them coming in and seeing/hearing my favorite show while Mommy is getting “Samantha” fit!

  • Tracy

    Watching Supernatural at Lunch on the elliptical. It’s really the only time I do get to watch it =)

  • Tracy

    I like to bundle Supernatural and the elliptical at lunch. I’m playing catch up and it’s the only time I get to really watch it.

  • TimeTravelForFitness

    Two: I can only listen to Welcome to Nightvale (which I’m unfortunately caught up on) and Professor Blastoff (which I am listening to back episodes of) while I wash dishes/fold laundry, and I can only play a game of Jelly Splash after I’ve attempted to do a pull up (hopefully more than one in a few weeks).

  • Skye Bickett

    I do my homework while I catch up on the contents of my DVR or watch Netflix. I also listen to Welcome to Night Vale when I walk around my neighborhood. I’ve started doing this the past month or so and it works great! Now I need to find something to make me cook at home instead of eating out as much! Picking up rotisserie chicken and Steamfresh veggies is one thing that’s helped. Also, my husband and kids are my cheerleaders for getting healthier!

  • Courtnie Marie

    If I want to continue watching TV past being done with dinner, I must complete at least 5 minutes of mobility/foam rolling while watching!

  • Jo Attree

    I only listen to my new favourite playlists when doing weights.

    I meet my best friend at the gym on Friday evenings, so we both have an incentive to turn up and work out together. Seeing who can swim the furthest underwater is as good for you as swimming lengths right? I still can’t believe the Power Plate machine counts as exercise. (pro tip: always turn it up as high as it will go, it’s funnier.)

    For a new thing, I’m going to try watching Leverage on the rower tonight…

  • Rowan

    Dresden Files Audiobooks! I can only listen to them while OH GOD FOAM ROLLING.

  • Amaya Barrios

    This is an incredible idea. I’m sure it crossed my mind (and everyones) but we didn’t make it happen. The day goes on so quickly if you don’t put limits, goals and make a plan to get everything you want done.

    Temptation bundling sounds amazing specially because you can do something that needs to be done not even noticing it because you’re combining it with something that you love and have fun doing. The most important thing is that this “idea” gets us moving… It gets us started and then… Doesn’t let us leave it… It keeps us going.

    I can think of a few things I would like to combine….

    *I’m a Creative Copy in a publicity office so creating ads and commercials is my job… Nothing expands the mind more than exercise… Si I’m going to start running while a record my thoughts.

    *I’m going to watch my favorite shows and movies while I’m doing Orbitrech.

    I’ve learned from Jan Zands plan ( that you can get in the best shape of your life if you really want to and if you stay committed to your goals.

    Since a read about him and what he’s accomplished, I understand that the power is in the mixes you make. Mixing it up is incredible when it comes to your body.
    Check him out and see what I’m saying.



  • M Cleveland

    I’ve started watching Longmire while rebounding and doing the beginners body weight exercises!

  • Arielle Kent

    I am only going to play in between squat sets or while on the stairclimber!!! (I hope this works and then maybe my laundry will start getting done!)

  • David Wisniewski

    When I stopped drinking soda I basically replaced them with sweet fruits like apples and oranges. I was drinking a 12 pack a day and stopped basically cold turkey by just eating fruits which finally tapered off and I haven’t had a soda in like 4 year except at restaurants that don’t have filtered water. I’ll drink a sprite. or tea.

  • J

    I told my hubby I wanted a treadmill with a desk so I could watch NEtflix while exercisisng and he scoffed at me …

  • Denko

    Great idea, thank you for share
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  • S.G.

    Love the article! It is often what I have done, either watch TV while working out or incorporate some of my video games that constitutes as working out e.g.: UFC training through xbox.

  • Dawn MacIntosh-Felhaber

    Great idea, I can watch S H I E L D while on the elliptical machine at home 🙂 thanks for the article.

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  • violetsilver13

    I should try this with watching The Big Bang Theory. I watch it almost daily, so finding time to exercise should not be a problem at all.

  • Shift Hawke

    That’s me. I have such a hard time with the soda. I mean don’t get me wrong. I can seriously drink me some smart water. But I struggle with soda, as long as it’s carbonated. I’m quitting it cold turkey. Hopefully it goes well lol.

  • Shift Hawke

    I’ve never heard of a grok squat until now. It conjured up images of resident evil 6 for some reason. Much to my self appreciation (which doesn’t happen much) I lasted a minute doing this. And that was when I was done amusing myself and shin splints reminded me that I suck. Wow that hurt my shin, but that was all it hurt. I was surprised. And I made it all the way down too. Yay for me. I have hope. Like The king of red lions wished for, I have hope.

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