A Wharton professor may have solved the world's most irritating problem.
The problem with procrastination is that whatever you are putting off doing doesn't just go away; it gets worse and worse. That parking ticket you keep meaning to pay is slowly getting more expensive, and the rash you're supposed to call the doctor about is beginning to look fierce ... and not in a good way.
If you're procrastinating about doing something and don't think there are consequences, think again. For instance, going to the gym. Your muscles will start to stiffen, so things that used to be easy for you now seem like climbing Everest.
Katy Milkman, a Wharton professor, has come up with a psychological trick that will help you stop procrastinating, while developing healthy and productive habits. This life-changing system is called Temptation Bundling.
During a talk she gave at this year's American Economic Association conference, Milkman said, "I struggle a lot with will power. And I find it difficult at the end of the day to get to the gym.
I find it difficult to stick to my diet, I find it difficult to stick to my goals, more generally. One of the things I've found curious is why, and what, I can do to solve those problems for myself and for others.”
Every day after work, Milkman felt exhausted. She knew she should go to the gym (especially since as a teenager, she was one of the 150 highest ranked 18-and-under women's tennis players in the US), but all she really wanted to do was read a book or watch some TV.
Milkman says, "I actually realized that those two temptations, those two struggles I faced, could be combined to solve both problems.”
So, she came up with a rule for herself: she'd only let herself read a new favorite book, The Hunger Games, when she went to the gym. Not only did she go to the gym more; she actually looked forward to going as it meant she got to do one of her favorite things.
And Temptation Bundling was born.
The theory is that you can make it easier for yourself to do something that's good for you in the long-run, by combining it with a behavior that's good for you short term. In other words, you're bundling behaviors you're tempted to do with behaviors you should do, but often neglect or put off doing.
Milkman and her colleagues put Temptation Bundling to the test by studying the exercise habits of 226 students, faculty, and staff at the University of Pennsylvania. After teaching a group of participants how to use temptation bundling, Milkman found that people who used the theory were 29 to 51 percent more likely to exercise when compared to the control group.
Interested in eating procrastination? Milkman put together a "how to" for making your own Temptation Bundle:
1. Create a two column list:
- In the first column, write down the things you enjoy, and the temptations that are easy and that you want to do.
- In the second column, write down all the habits/behaviors/things that you should be doing, but often procrastinate.
- Write down as many behaviors as possible.
2. Look over your list and see if you can link one of your instantly gratifying easy-to-do behaviors with something you should be doing.
Temptation bundling shows you a simple way to do important tasks, but never feel urgent. By using your things that you enjoy to pull you in, you make it easier to follow through on the less-fun habits that pay off in the long run.
Another way to stop procrastination is the two minute rule, which makes it easy to start taking action:
If it takes less than 2 minutes, do it now. It's amazing how many things we put off that can be done in 2 minutes, such as starting a load of laundry, paying a bill, sending an email, and brushing your teeth.
When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes. After you've done it for 2 minutes, you'll gradually do it for longer.
Want to start walking more? Walk to the end of the street. If you want to write, write for two minutes. Get into the practice of doing the positive habit, and before long you won't even need to think about it; it will just be something that you do.
The most important thing about a new habit is taking action and being consistent. Everyone can do something for two minutes.
Whether it's combining something you want to do with something you should do, or just doing something for two minutes, you can start getting things done and building new healthy habits.