Highly motivated individuals may have assumed that a global pandemic forcing them to stay home would be the perfect time to crush their fitness goals. What else is there to do with so much time at home? It might not be working out that way for everyone, what with a looming Quarantine “15” by giving in to the temptation of eating and drinking more and moving less, perhaps there’s a way to overcome these challenges with something called “temptation bundling”.

The real story

Many fitness enthusiasts and professionals, including myself, have self-reported a lack of motivation while sheltering in place. Rather than spending more time working out, there is a visible uptick in the amount of time spent indulging in what would traditionally be considered “guilty pleasures,” you know those unproductive things that consume us only during rare occasions. Add to that difficulty grocery shopping and the permissiveness of drinking more alcohol while not having work or other places to go, well we’ve got a recipe for disaster. 

Now, how do you think your clients are doing?

Free home workouts for days

Even with an abundance of free programming, Zoom classes, and Instagram live workouts, when exercising without a trainer, go-to gym partner, or group many can feel absolutely uninspired.

For example, my exercise spirit comes alive when I’m in a gym-like environment where other people are working and working out. The small patch in the living room, bedroom, or garage all alone simply doesn’t have the same impact. Although I do it, the mental struggle is real.

According to Dr. Katherine Milkman, our intuition tells us we should just suck it up, but forces beyond our control such as temptation and guilty pleasures are stronger than we realize; so strong they extinguish our motivation.

Quarantine means it’s OK to be unproductive, right?!

There is growing support for the notion that quarantine time doesn’t need to be “productive,” so maybe crushing fitness goals doesn’t have to be the aim. Dr. Milkman says research indicates that 20 minutes of exercise can be a 12-hour mood booster. And let’s face it, the need for a mood booster these days cannot be denied.  

Temptation bundling: Using temptations to your advantage

How do we harness motivation? Dr. Milkman says the most effective way to remove temptation is a change of environment. While this is not possible under the current situation, the next best thing is a term Milkman dubbed: “temptation bundling.”

Temptation bundling uses those very temptations demotivating us to our advantage by allowing ourselves to do what we want only when bundled with an action we should do. 

In other words, we only get to do what we desire when we combine the action with another action we need to do. 

Dr. Milkman tested her temptation bundling claim with an experimental study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania. Three groups of participants who wanted to adopt more consistent gym attendance habits were included. Group one participants were given a borrowed iPod loaded with participants’ top four out of 82 identified popular novels. The iPod was kept at the gym, and they could only access them when they were exercising at the gym. Group two were individuals with their own iPods and told about the popular novels. Group three was just told about the novels. Group one exercised 56% more than the rest.

Just being incentivized with a good book motivated gym-goers to actually go.

Bundling Beyond the Gym

Temptation bundling can be incorporated in other areas of life, and some examples Milkman gives are:

  • getting a fancy coffee drink when going to the library to study
  • burning scented candles only during meditation
  • enjoying a “protein bar” only after a workout

So how can temptation bundling work with less motivated clients stuck in a quarantine rut? Here are a few habits I’ve been testing out:

  • only listening to Podcasts while walking
  • only listening to music when working out
  • only watching TV after bedtime while foam rolling and/or stretching 

What are some temptation bundling ideas you think would help incentivize guilty pleasures with productivity? Please share. There cannot be too many ideas to dabble with right now.




Theresa Perales

Theresa Perales has an MA in Spanish, and is an ESL teacher at San Diego State University (SDSU). After years of struggling with her weight, she decided to give exercise a try. A passion for health and fitness grew instantly and inspired her to become certified as a personal trainer with NFPT, and as a group fitness instructor with AFAA Group Fitness and Madd Dog Athletics® Spinning. Theresa believes that nutrition and fitness are not about aesthetics but ultimately about feeling healthy and empowered.