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

Aims:

  • To become familiar with the concept of a “Ulysses Contract”
  • To revise some classic examples
  • Prepare for part two

Tales of Brave Ulysses

The ancient legends of Greek mythology are full of useful tales and fables offering advice that can be helpful in today’s modern world. We might not need to polish our bronze as much as they did but many a fable translates into modernity with a little thought and creativity. And our favourite here at Waetugo is the good old Ulysses Contract and how it can help with goal achievement.

Legend has it that on his famous odyssey, Ulysses wanted to do something that no man before him had done and survived – to hear the song of the sirens. These honey tonsilled beauties would sing for passing sailors who would be so besotted with the tuneful damsels that they would immediately steer their boats onto the rocks and be dashed to death. Other legends have the sirens as cannibalistic monsters who devoured the surviving sailors.

Today we will refer to ‘siren song’ as anything that tempts us away from the path we intended to follow. It might be staying at the bar for an extra drink, eating an extra Easter egg or having a long lie in on a Sunday morning when we had great intentions to get up and go for a run or attend church.

The siren’s may even get us off track of longer term goals but if we can follow the actions of Ulysses then we can ignore their call and stay on the right path. So how did he do it? Ulysses wished dearly to hear the song but knew he had no greater strength or will than any other man despite all of his achievements so took advice from the wise Circe. Circe was, in legend, the daughter of Helios and sister of the keeper of the famed Golden Fleece. She told Ulysses to fill the ears of all of his sailors with beeswax (also useful for polishing bronze) so they could not hear either the song or his cries and appeals to them. He would, in turn, be tied to the mast, rendering him helpless. Being tied to the mast he could not change the course of the boat or leap into the water. And try as he might, he could not command his men to change course if they were incapable of hearing him. In effect, Ulysses had set in course a set of actions that guaranteed his success and eliminated any chance of failure. Binding us into a pattern from which we cannot break free or to do so is more painful than giving in is our Ulysses Contract.

 

In Real Life

The book, ‘The Brain’. By David Eagleman, tells of some great examples of people using Ulysses Contracts for all sorts of reasons. An equal rights activist in the USA was desperate to give up smoking but, try as he she might, she couldn’t do it. So, she bound herself to success with a Ulysses Contract. She agreed to right a cheque for $10000 that she then gave to a trusted friend. The friend would send the cheque off if she ever saw the contracted woman smoking or found out that she had given in to the siren song of the deadly herb. Only the contract was even tighter than it sounds for the cheque was gifted to the Ku Klux Klan. In effect, if she gave in to smoking, she would be funding the very group she despised. But if she stuck to her commitment, she kept the $10000 and denied them the cash. Needless to say, she never smoked again. And well done to her.

I frequently use smaller versions of Ulysses Contracts to get me out of bed at the weekends. My wife will tell you that long lie ins are my favourite waste of time, yet I always feel guilty whenever I succumb to the siren song of my mattress. So, what do I do to overcome the temptation? Although I like my days off, I will very often arrange a meeting for 0900 on a Saturday morning. Just an hour, rarely more, but it does mean I have to get up, get ready and get out and if the meeting is over by 10:00 then I have more of my Saturday than if I had lay in until 12:00 (or later).

I also enjoy attending church, but we have this terrible tradition of going early on a Sunday morning in England. I have for many years now agreed to take a friend so unless I come up with an outrageous excuse that he can see right through, I get up and go. A nice example of a Ulysses Contract.

 

Preparing For Success With Part 2

Prepare for success

Now let us get personal – real personal.

You know what you want to achieve with regards weight loss, weight management and fitness. You also know what the siren song sounds like and how you dreamily drift away from the course you were steering only to regret it later. Willpower is a skill we can learn and develop and with a Ulysses Contract it becomes even easier.

So in preparation for part 2 of this article I am going to ask you to do a few simple exercises.

Here we go:

  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.
  8. Check back for part 2 of this article next week.

 

Summary

  • A Ulysses Contract binds us to the behaviours that help us in achieving our most important goals
  • We can benefit from the help of others and help them in return
  • They help us overcome obstacles and temptations
  • Weight loss becomes more likely with a Ulysses Contract

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