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  • Writer's pictureRiver Valley Student Editorial Club

Willpower and Temptation

By Chua Jing Wen Rachel (22J19)

Willpower and Temptation. Two concepts which seem entirely different with no correlation. Temptation is undeniably challenging to resist, but what if I told you there exists a mechanism to help you utilise it to strengthen willpower and boost productivity?

Devil by the Window

Do you ever find yourself stacked with “to-dos”, but unable to find significant motivation to work on them? Or have you ever felt guilty for indulging in activities you know aren't productive?

The word temptation itself is traditionally associated with many bad connotations, a loaded word commonly used interchangeably with devil or sin. Nowadays, temptation is more often than not used as slang to describe being enticed or attracted (such as the dying need to own a classic, functional fedora hat). Despite the change in its use over the years, the root of the word is still the same - the need to resist it due to the idea that succumbing to it would potentially lead to undesirable behaviour, ultimately.

We are usually tempted by things that give us momentary satisfaction, such as watching youtube, and the inability to resist such temptations thus causes us to frequently procrastinate and delay our more important, but also less enjoyable tasks at hand.


With all these distractions, it is no surprise that we would attempt to find ways to curb such procrastination tendencies. With no exception, I recently came across a quote, while researching how to reduce procrastination.

“Make your wants dependent on your shoulds”. This quote hinges on the idea of ‘temptation bundling’, which may turn people off on the first listen due to the negative connotations associated with ‘temptation’, so how can this help us stop our procrastination?

What is Temptation Bundling?

“Temptation bundling” is a productivity technique founded by behaviour researcher Katherine Milkman and her colleagues in a 2014 study. In Milkman’s study, researchers gave participants iPods with audio books they wanted to listen to, but could only be accessed while working out. It was then revealed that the participants’ gym attendance had improved, suggesting increased motivations when an indulgence was tied to it.

Correlation to Willpower

So how is temptation bundling linked to willpower? Many people have the impression that temptation is due to not having the willpower to resist, and this is exactly what temptation bundling builds on.

Since these temptations are difficult to resist, the key is to pair them with our responsibilities so that we do not waste our lives away in excessive indulgence, but also involve some productivity by doing our “to-dos” concurrently. By pairing enjoyable activities with less desirable tasks, we can motivate ourselves to stay on track and avoid procrastination. It's a simple concept but can be a game-changer when managing distractions and staying focused on your goals.

How it works

Let me show you how temptation bundling can help boost your willpower by making you do productive work while limiting indulgence to that particular time span of doing the work.

One form of temptation bundling: pairing watching TV with vacuuming the floor

In simple terms, temptation bundling is allowing ourselves to do something we enjoy doing (wants) only when doing something we dislike doing (shoulds). Wants are actions that provide short-term pleasure but no long-term benefits, while Shoulds provide long-term benefits but often involve short-term pain. While it may not always be the case that we dislike our Shoulds or to-dos, pairing them with our Wants may give us that push to look forward to performing the less desirable habit or task.

While we previously may have felt increasingly unmotivated to do our Shoulds, with temptation bundling, we may feel more motivated to do what we dislike since it is paired with something enjoyable. Illustrations of temptation bundling include only watching your favourite shows when you are working out, going to your favourite place only when you study, or in the context of school, creating art only when consolidating study content through mind maps, and summary sheets. With this formula, we make it such that we can only indulge these ‘temptations’ when doing our ‘to-dos’.

For myself, I usually limit myself to listening to music and podcasts only when I am exercising, or watching shows on the television while planking. This has helped me strengthen my willpower and discipline, preventing procrastination and limiting the time spent on indulging in short-term pleasures which often only involve my phone or my laptop.

Moving forward

Temptation bundling can be beneficial in today's world, where we're constantly bombarded with distractions and competing demands on our time, and may be just what we need to insert some structure and organisation into our daily habits.

So if you're looking for a way to motivate yourself to engage in productive behaviours requiring willpower, and reduce the likelihood of engaging in regrettable indulgences, give temptation bundling a try. It's a small change that can greatly impact your overall productivity and well-being by solving both problems at once!

Temptation alone may be a bad thing, but bundling it together with your “to-dos” may just in fact make you more productive and efficient!

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