Life Hacks that work: Combining Temptation Bundling and Habit Stacking for Better Health
Here’s a shock… Human beans have a tendency to procrastinate and struggle with maintaining healthy habits. No kidding!
I know this to be true because I built a career out of coaching and mentoring women to do just this. We all struggle. Even more when we’re feeling crappy. There are, however, a couple of handy strategies that can help to mitigate these very-human penchants for not doing what we know is good for us. These are what are known as temptation bundling and habit stacking. These two surprisingly easy techniques can be especially powerful when they are combined, helping you to create a nifty personal system for building and keeping those good habits that move you towards being a healthier version of your current self (and closer to becoming a healthy old person!)
These two cheeky little strategies help me. Particularly when it comes to creating rituals and routines that support my health stuff. I find them a constructive and systematic way to approach incrementally improving my health stuff. They help me move from “I should do this” to actually doing the doing with ‘grease’ (grace and ease!). And I can be a procrastinator of the highest order!
Let’s look at them individually first…
Temptation bundling is a productivity technique that involves combining an activity that gives you instant gratification, something like catching up with one of your favourite people for a chat, with one that is beneficial but may have a delayed reward, like taking a walk. (FYI – this works in person, on the batphone or on FaceTime. No excuses!)
Put simply, it involves pairing something you enjoy doing with a task you need to complete. For me, this can be as simple as saving my Grey’s Anatomy viewing until getting on my rebounder for a bounce. By linking the enjoyable activity with a less exciting one, you create a powerful incentive to get things done. This strategy is a particularly sneaky one to try when it comes to activities that you tend to avoid – for me, housework or getting in more incidental movement.
According to the great habit dude, James Clear, “Temptation bundling offers a simple way to accomplish (these) tasks that are always important, but never feel urgent. By using your guilty pleasures to pull you in, you make it easier to follow through on more difficult habits that pay off in the long run.”
In other words, we know that many important activities that are healthful in the long-term can be commandeered by things that are more appealing in the moment. By linking the healthy or productive activity with something you love doing, you’re more likely to actually do it.
Here are a few possible temptation bundling examples for you…
- Enjoy a glass of red wine with dinner, but only if half your plate is filled with vegetables
- Indulge in dark chocolate for dessert, but only after you take a post-dinner perambulation (with or without your beloved!)
- Call your bestie for a chat, but only after you’ve done your stretching routine
- Flick through that favourite magazine, but only after you’ve done ten minutes of legs up the wall
I’m sure you get the picture. What unsexy and tend-to-avoid activity could you temptation bundle with something you love to do?
Habit stacking is the process of gradually incorporating new lifestyle habits into your routine by associating them with an already-established habit.
Habit stacking involves adding a new habit onto an established one. One of my most successful examples is adding to my morning ritual. No secret that I’m a big fan of the morning ritual. Every day, as part of my practice, I get up and head to the beach for a decent walk. Recently I have added the Big 6 Routine for Lymph Flow to my pre-walk stuff. Stacking your good habits like this allows you to leverage existing habits to create a chain reaction of positive behaviour. The idea here is that by linking new habits to an existing one, you create a domino effect that makes it easier to maintain the new habit.
And it works. It is much easier to stick to new behaviours when you link them to existing ones. Think about habits you have now that are working for you. What could you add?
One of the ways I have noticeably improved my (previously poor) oral health is to add to my twice-daily teeth-cleaning ritual. Admittedly, I had a pretty strong incentive, but adding small tweaks, things like brushing for 3 minutes (I set a timer on my watch!) and using a mouthwash every time, has been an easy way to improve things.
Over time, these small changes to your everyday routines add up.
So, how can you combine these two techniques to maximise their effectiveness?
One way is to use temptation bundling to establish a habit and then use habit stacking to build on it. For example, one I’m working on at the moment is to link a particularly enjoyable activity, like alternate reading a bit of light fiction (I call it candy-floss reading, my guilty pleasure), with reading a more informative book of non-fiction that teaches me something. I have a tendency to read for escapism. Once this becomes a habit, I can then stack additional habits onto my existing routine. In my case, I could allow myself to sit down and read after I have done at least fifteen minutes of housework.
Another way to combine temptation bundling and habit stacking is to use them in reverse order. Start by identifying a habit you want to build and then find an enjoyable activity that you can link to it. For instance, if you want to make a habit of a morning walking ritual (I recommend it!), you could reward yourself with a really good cup of coffee when you get home. That’s what I do. Once the habit is established, you can then stack additional habits onto it, like preparing a healthy breakfast after your walk.
Combining temptation bundling and habit stacking can be a tricksy way to build up your positive habits and overcome procrastination. When you link enjoyable activities with less exciting ones, you create an incentive for yourself to improve your health by stealth. By stacking new habits onto an established one, you create a chain reaction of positive behaviours that make it easier to maintain the new habit.
The real key to success, though, is to keep playing with different combinations and find what works best for you. With a little bit of intention and some creative thinking, you can turn positive habits into a lifelong ritual.