When Willpower Isn’t Enough


Because of the inevitable drop-off of students in the summer (uughghg), I pick up a seasonal life guard job. Yesterday was my first day back at the pool where I love to catch up on one of my favorite podcasts, Freakonomics. The episode was titled “When Willpower Isn’t Enough” and gave advice backed by academic research on how to follow through with personal goals. The episode used exercise and dieting as their main personal failure subject, but my mind went straight to PRACTICING.

Behavioral economist Katherine Milkman presented the idea of “temptation bundling”, where you compliment two activities: “one you should do but may avoid; and one you love to do but isn’t necessarily productive”. For example, you can’t eat that piece of cake unless you go to the gym! The concept seems simple, right? What about:

You can’t buy a new piece of music until you’ve tackled one of the dozens that you purchased and never finished.

After you’ve mastered a new orchestra excerpt, you can open up the new Billy Joel collection, arranged by Emily Brecker.

You can go to happy hour after you’ve practiced for an hour.

Did anyone else hear their mother when reading these compromises? 🙂 It seems so simple, but I can tell you that I don’t run my practice schedule like this! In fact, a lack of schedule or consequences wreaks havoc on my practice habits. Mental goals, or even goals written down makes a world of difference. I love to run everyday. Telling myself that I can’t run until I’ve practiced?? Look out world!

Check out the whole podcast here!



About Author

I am a recent Temple graduate with my masters in Harp Performance. I grew up in Findlay, Ohio and currently teach and freelance in the Philadelphia area.

1 Comment

  1. Dani, great blog!! I think we all struggle with motivation from time to time. When I was in college I would put truffles on my stand and tell myself that if I practiced a passage x number of times I could have one. Granted I wasn’t always great about following through on this. I think the idea of a reward based system is flawed. I feel like practicing because you have something exterior incentivizing you (food/drinks/going out/etc.) is essentially flawed practicing. I have found that when I try to do this I always end up focusing on the exterior object or goal rather than my practicing, and often don’t actually meet my intended goals before I am shoving my face full of chocolate.

    I think the comparison to working out is a really good one (at least for me)!! Much the same as practicing; if I want that burger you better believe I am going to have it wether I go to the gym or not. For me, with practicing and going to the gym the most important thing is consistency, and self-forgiveness. If you miss a day here or there don’t be too hard on yourself, and certainly don’t deny yourself something that you want!! Sticking to a schedule is the best way to keep yourself motivated in my experience!!

    P.S. I haven’t listened to Freakanomics before but I am a podcast fiend when I am at the gym!!! I will certainly check it out 🙂 thanks for the recommendation!!

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