Doing the Right Things for the Wrong Reasons

Negative emotions are the cause of procrastination. What if we could manage our negative emotions while working?

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely calls this method "reward substitution" (it‘s also known as "temptation bundling").

Reward substitution is essentially getting yourself to do the right thing for the wrong reason. It works because humans aren’t wired to care about things that will happen far into the future. While it would be in our best interests to think about the future, we’re focused on what makes us feel good now.

Here‘s a story from the author that explains the concept:

Ariely contracted Hepatitis C and and had to inject himself with a drug three times that made him nauseous and induced fever and vomiting.

The side effects made it hard for Ariely to do the right thing (inject the drug) on a regular basis, as the good result was far in the future. So he devised a reward that took effect immediately. Being a big movie fan, Ariely stopped watching movies any other day of the week and saved up 2–3 films to watch every day he had to inject the drug. Immediately after the injection, before he started to feel the side effects, Ariely rewarded himself with starting his movie marathon.

Because his action was rewarded in the now every time, Ariely continued to do the right thing (inject the drug) for the wrong reason (so he could watch movies).

Here are some other examples:

  • Only listen to audiobooks or podcasts you love while exercising

  • Only get a pedicure while processing overdue work emails

  • Only watch your favorite show while ironing or doing household chores

  • Only eat at your favorite restaurant when conducting your monthly meeting with a difficult colleague