Ulysses Contracts: How We Can Use Them To Stop Bad Habits Part 2

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  • Review the concept of a ‘Ulysses Contract’
  • Know when a ‘Ulysses Contract’ is wrong
  • Assess our success


Reviewing The Concept

You may recall from the first part of this series that we began by remembering the ancient legends of Greek mythology. You may also recall that we said our favourite here at Waetugo was the Ulysses Contract and how it can help with goal achievement.

Let us review the story. The legend goes that on his famous odyssey, Ulysses wanted to do something that no man before him had done and survived – to listen to the song of the sirens. These tuneful maidens would sing their song for passing sailors who would be so besotted that they would immediately steer their boats onto the rocks and be dashed to death. Now the sirens don’t themselves exist, but their song does and it comes in all forms. You are probably visiting us at Waetugo because you are keen to lose weight and could recall many less than heroic moments that ended up with a biscuit or a chocolate bar having enticed you. We need to build our own Ulysses Contracts to help us with our willpower.


Avoiding a Pitfall

But can it ever be wrong to set a goal with a Ulysses contract? Every year I set for myself a reading challenge. This is often around a book a week, so for the year 52 books and I don’t beat myself up if I don’t achieve it; it’s just a rough goal. But it is a nice target to aim for and keeps me measuring my reading, so I don’t get lazy. This year I have set myself a target of 60 books in order to just put myself under a little pressure but really so that I spend a little less time on wasteful pursuits such as watching television that I’m not interested in or wasting time on social media that I’m not really enjoying. But a friend of mine recently told me that because I do this, he had himself had set the goal of reading 52 books a couple of years ago and found that during that year he had actually read fewer books than he would normally and he felt this was down to signing himself up to a reading challenge and contracting himself with other people. So how can we stop this happening? Here at Waetugo, we recognise that a great question to ask when setting any goal and before signing the Ulysses contract is, ‘is the outcome worth the effort? ‘. Don’t rush with the answer take some time. If my friend had felt that reading 52 books in the year would’ve made him richer, more handsome, healthier or would’ve guaranteed him winning his beloveds pub quizzes every week then the answer to the question, ‘is the outcome worth the effort?’ would probably have been ‘yes’ and a resounding ‘yes’ at that. But I’m sure we can all agree that reading 52 books a year would not have achieved any of those other things, so tying himself into a contract to achieve this goal was pressure he did not need.


Setting Ourselves Up for Success

Years ago, I wanted to walk the Pembrokeshire Way, a long distance coastal path on the South west coast of Wales. This is a truly beautiful part of the United Kingdom. However, I understood that my levels of discipline weren’t the greatest and that this endeavour would take over two weeks to complete although it would provide me with a lifetime of great memories and be a truly phenomenal achievement, one which I would treasure for the rest of my life. I knew however that my lack of discipline and a peculiarity to become homesick very quickly could scupper the plans early into the challenge, so I had to set myself a Ulysses contract. Looking back now I would’ve asked the question, ‘is the outcome worth the effort?’ which I didn’t ask at the time and I’m fairly sure that I would’ve said yes, it most definitely is worth the effort. So how did I create a contract to help force my hand and keep me going when homesickness started to test me or the desire to give up and spend the day in the pub took control? It is not unusual in the United Kingdom to try to raise money for charity when one is participating in an endurance event and as my eldest son attended school for children with special needs I agreed that whilst I would pay for all of my own costs on the trip I would try and raise money through sponsorship for his school. Knowing that the school would benefit from money raised if I completed the walk I believe would keep me going when things got really tough and indeed things did get tough and the thought of raising money for Williams school did keep me going. During the long distance walk I often felt that I had done the wrong thing in binding me to the task, but I couldn’t give up because of it. And it most definitely was worth it. I do treasure those memories and the achievement always goes down well in the circles in which I mix (the YHA types who love a good walk).

So, we need to understand that the level of commitment that comes with a Ulysses Contract might prove painful at times, but you will have already decided that the commitment was worth the effort.

worn hands from effort

Reviewing Your Waetugoal and Ulysses Contract

In part 1 of this article we asked you to take a few steps in preparation for this, part 2. Here are those steps again:


  1. Review your Waetugoal. If you don’t yet have one, register here and set one – it’s all free and we do not ask for card details.
  2. Is your goal still relevant? If not, make it so.
  3. Now list when and why you slip into behaviours that take you towards the rocks and away from the safe and healthy course.
  4. List the unhealthy behaviours and temptations.
  5. Get creative – what uncomfortable alternative could you put in place for falling off the wagon?
  6. Who can bind you to this contract? Can you reciprocate?
  7. Write it all in your journal – this is your very own, brand new Ulysses Contract.

Now add these steps to the above:

  1. Ask yourself, ‘is the outcome worth the effort’?
  2. Am I prepared for that level of commitment?
  3. Go get ‘em, Tiger!



  • A Ulysses Contract binds us to the behaviours that help us in achieving our most important goals but can spoil the fun of activities if we don’t plan wisely.
  • We can benefit from the help of others and help them in return but commitment needs to come from all sides
  • We are more likely to achieve our goals with a Ulysses Contract than without but being so committed can be uncomfortable
  • I repeat: Weight loss becomes more likely with a Ulysses Contract!


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