You’ve been through this many times. You commit to a goal or action and pump yourself up for it. But when the time comes to perform, you give in to the temptation to quit. It’s not your fault though, you just haven’t learned how to force yourself to stick to it. To do this, all you need a Ulysses contract.
A Ulysses contract is a way of forcing yourself to accomplish a goal by anticipating the potential temptations that will make it hard to complete and establishing rules for yourself so that you don’t give up when it gets hard.
I understand that for you, the idea of sticking to your goals might sound too good to be true. I was skeptical at first too. But it’s possible if you learn how to do it right.
I know because I used one last week to have my most productive week ever. Today, I want to teach you how to do the same. But first, where the heck did the term come from?
The First Ulysses Contract
“Take courage, my heart: you have been through worse than this. Be strong, saith my heart; I am a soldier; I have seen worse sights than this.”
You might know the name Ulysses better as it’s Greek alternative, Odysseus, who, as the main character in The Odyssey, was trying to get back home after a long war.
As part of the lengthy and difficult journey home, Odysseus and his crew would sail through the realm of the Sirens. These beautiful creatures were known for their alluring song, which, if followed, would lead to death.
Knowing the threat of temptation which the Sirens posed, Odysseus prepared by plugging his men’s ears with wax. Because he wanted to hear the Sirens’ song without dying, he also had his men tie him to the mast so he couldn’t follow the music into the sea.
Odysseus also understood that he would temporarily go mad once the Sirens began singing, so he even went as far as to order the men to attack him if he broke his bonds.
Sure enough, when the time came to pass through the Sirens’ territory, Odysseus began to go crazy at hearing their song.
But because of his foreknowledge and preparation, his bonds held, the wax in his men’s ears kept them from hearing the song, and they survived.
Making Your Own Ulysses Contract
“Motivation is what gets you started. Commitment is what keeps you going.”
Odysseus successfully navigated his way through a temptation that could have taken his life and derailed his ultimate goal of returning home because of two things:
- He anticipated the coming threat.
- He prepared by intentionally limiting his freedoms before the threat arrived.
This is the idea of a Ulysses contract, also known as a Ulysses pact. It’s when you’re so committed to accomplishing a goal that you will intentionally restrict yourself to force you to succeed.
So how can you make your own and reap the benefits of staying consistent?
The first step is to identify a goal that, if you accomplished it, would make a significant impact on your life. It may be a longer-term goal in which you want to set up rules that prevent you from quitting when you get bored. You can also do it with shorter-term goals, like needing to write an article or get into a certain habit.
Once you know what you want, ask yourself what may prevent you from accomplishing it. Will you be tired when it’s time to go for your morning run? Will the work of having to get dressed for exercise tempt you to give up?
After establishing your goal and the potential threats to your success, set up rules or restrictions on yourself that will make it impossible for you to give in. If you know that you aren’t going to keep your diet around chocolate cake, don’t buy chocolate cake, for example.
Let me show you how it works so you can use one to succeed!
How I Used a Ulysses Contract to Have My Most Productive Week Ever
“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.”
— Paul J. Meyer
Every Sunday I perform a weekly review in which I assess how I did on my goals the previous week and prepare for the week ahead.
Because part of my goal-setting system lets me review my performance each day, at the end of each week I can see what made me fail and succeed. I audit that information in my weekly review and by the end, I know my three highest-impact goals each week.
Last week I had done that and determined my three biggest weekly goals:
- Getting to bed on time every night.
- Finishing an email nurture sequence.
- Writing three blog posts.
Because I could see the data from my review, I knew these would make the biggest difference, and knowing that made me excited to accomplish them. I knew that I had to get them done, so I made a Ulysses contract with my wife.
Taking the family swimming is something I really hate, so I promised her that I would do it if I didn’t accomplish at least 85% of these three goals. I even shook hands on it to make it official.
That was on Sunday night. The next morning, when I felt tired and didn’t want to write, I thought of my promise. I found the motivation to keep going, and did.
This kept happening at each instant throughout the week when I felt any desire to not work on my goals. I won in nearly every moment that threatened my success because I had set up rules to prepare me to fight the temptation to quit.
By the end of the week, I had written five blog posts, gotten to bed on time every night, and finished 85% of the email sequence. I had also exercised more, ate healthier, and kept my commitment to my morning routine. Overall I reached 114% of my goals for the week!
Oh and in case you’re wondering, I still took my family to do fun things even if it wasn’t swimming!
Tips For Making Ulysses Contracts
“Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do long after the mood you said it in has left you.”
My story is just one way that you can use the power of a Ulysses contract to force yourself to succeed at something important to you. There are hundreds of other ways to do it though, and you just need to find what works for you.
If you want to try the way I did it, pick something that you really hate and promise that you will have to do it if you fail. That might mean writing a check to your least favorite charity and giving it to a friend to deliver if you don’t meet your goals.
It must be something that you really hate, otherwise, it won’t motivate you to push through when you want to give up. The more you dislike it, the better.
You can also promise that you will get to buy or do something you really want if you do succeed. I find that this doesn’t work as well for me, but it might work for you.
Iterate to find something that will help you succeed. Just start. Try one way this week and see how it goes. If it doesn’t work, maybe the incentive wasn’t powerful enough. Try something that you hate or like even more next time.
The form of Ulysses contract that I used is more like Odysseus tying himself up to the mast. It restricted what I could do. But you can also employ ways to “plug your ears,” just like Odysseus did to his men. This might mean not buying sweets, changing your social media account passwords, or not looking at your stocks as often.
It’s worth repeating that whatever you do, it must be something that works for you to help you reach your goals.
“Commitment is the glue that bonds you to your goals.”
You want to accomplish great things. But when it’s time to perform, there are dozens of temptations that try to derail you. You struggle to stick to your goals in those moments, but you don’t have to.
If you plan ahead by anticipating the challenges you’ll face, then make a commitment that binds you to resist temptation when it comes, you’ll unleash the power of a Ulysses contract.
Doing this gives you the power to reach any goal. Which will also unlock the full potential of your best self.