Sometimes the hardest things to do are the best things you can do for yourself and, by extension, your business. 

Take exercise. Many entrepreneurs see health and fitness as their competitive advantage, since exercising at moderate intensity for 20 minutes elevates your mood for up to 12 hours. Exercise improves memory and cognitive skills. Exercise helps you better manage stress, a small-business owner's constant companion. Exercise even makes you a better leader

But still: Despite the benefits, fewer than one in five people exercise regularly.

Maybe that's why so many people dangle rewards in front of themselves. Lose five pounds? Buy (this.) Exercise three times this week? Get to eat (that.) 

But self-rewards typically don't work, as research shows, and anyone who has ever tried to bribe themselves to do something knows.

What can work?

Temptation Bundling

The Premack principle, named after University of Pennsylvania professor David Premack -- you know you're onto something when a principle is eponymous -- involves using more probable behaviors (things you really want to do) to reinforce less probable behaviors (things you need, but don't particularly want, to do.)

That's the idea behind temptation bundling: Combining things you want to do with things you know you should -- but tend to struggle -- to do.

A temptation bundle might be listening to your favorite podcast only when you take a walk. Or watching Netflix only when you do calisthenics. Or listening to music only when you're on your stationary bike.

Granted, that also sounds like a bribe, but it's concurrent rather than after the fact -- and works much better as a motivation and procrastination-avoidance strategy. 

One study determined that people who used temptation bundling were approximately 25 percent more likely to follow an exercise program than those offered a reward at the end. (And they were only slightly more likely to stick with the program than the control group.)

Create Your Own Temptation Bundles

Start by creating two columns.

Title one column "Want to Do." Include things you enjoy doing. Things that tempt you. Things that divert you. Things you find hard to resist. 

Title the other column "Should Do." Things you know you should do, but tend to put off. Or avoid. Or find excuses not to do.

Exercise might be one of your "should do" items, but don't stop there. Include business tasks. (Bookkeeping and travel planning are two things I can almost always find a way to avoid.)

Then see which "Should" items you can link with "Want" items.

Maybe:

  • Only watch a series you want to binge when you exercise
  • Only listen to music when you take a walk
  • Only listen to your favorite podcast when you do inventories and order supplies
  • Only have a donut when you hold regular employee "check-in" meetings

Just make sure your "indulgence" takes place at the same time as the thing you need to or should do, not as a post-willpower treat. Again, that's a self-reward, and self-rewards rarely work.

Granted, it also takes willpower to resist the temptation to do something you really want to do until you're also doing something you should do.

But body chemistry will help you overcome that hurdle. We don't get a shot of dopamine -- the neurotransmitter that makes us feel good -- after we get a reward. Dopamine gets released in anticipation of a reward.

Like knowing you get to watch Netflix if you exercise.

Link a dopamine-producing activity -- listening to your favorite music -- with a procrastination-producing activity -- organizing your desk -- and you're much more likely to be motivated to undertake your "should do" task.

And in time, you'll not only biochemically but also mentally link the "want" with the "should."

And likely be more eager to hop on your exercise bike. 

Especially if that lets you see what happens in the last season of Peaky Blinders.