[Podcast Review]: ‘When Willpower Isn’t Enough’

Like most of the universe, I became hooked on podcasts because of the Serial story. I have a great desire to generally learn more, but I don’t engage well with “non-fiction” book reading. However, reading blogs and listening to engaging podcasts has accidentally resulted in imbuing some more knowledge, and I’d like to keep that up. TED talks are definitely something I’d like to engage with more, but I have had a tonne of finance and behavioural economics podcast subscriptions gathering dust on my phone that I’m finally uncovering and listening to. One that really resonated with me was an episode of Freakonomics titled ‘When Willpower Isn’t Enough’. 

The episode basically involved interviewing a behavioural economist on her work into temptation bundling and the fresh start effect. “Temptation bundling” is where you restrict the time when you can do something you love, such as watching an episode of a favourite TV show, only when doing a particular activity or after you’ve done an activity you struggle to make yourself do, such as going to the gym. The “fresh start effect” is that boost in motivation or willpower upon a perceived restart of a cycle, such as the new year, or a birthday, or even the start of a month or week. 

What I took away from the episode is that temptation bundling and the fresh start effect are devices available to people to self-harness and form the basis for the creation of new habits that result in achieving personal goals, such as losing weight. I found the concepts pleasant and interesting, and generally easily applicable to my own life. However, the nature of the devices makes me wonder how they’d apply to more complicated or emotive changes than simply going to the gym more (so you can find out what happens next on your show). I feel as though my position is that these concepts are a bit of a stop-gap for those”nice to have” type of activities, such as gym-going or maybe writing consistently (possible temptation bundle: only purchase a coffee when you sit down to write for a half an hour?). That is, when you think”I’d like to do that thing”, but often find you just do something else, you can combine them. But say you’ve been told you’re pre-diabetic, or your debt is so massive that you absolutely must pay it down or face bankruptcy, then these pleasant devices are most likely insufficient? I also don’t think that your trigger has to be quite as drastic as the ones I listed above, but if it’s something you intrinsically believe you should do, there perhaps isn’t a place for the devices.

Then again, I’m on a constant mission to find a balance between guiltlessly enjoying myself and choosing to hustle in the right areas. These devices definitely play an important role in mixing and matching activities that fall under those two categories. 

Overall, I really enjoyed the podcast, and as you can see, it has definitely made me think. I am definitely not immune to the fresh start effect (coming back on board to this blog at the start of 2016!) and definitely am employing it with my finances on this vacation, where each day is a fresh reminder to “start fresh” with making the choices that will get me where I want to be.