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Ulysses Contracts
Sailing through the sirens' songs


2 epic poems exist in Greek mythology (really, the 2 poems are like the first and second part of a long story)

1) Iliad (featuring the Trojan War) and;

2) Odyessy a 10-year journey of a King travelling home after the victorious Trojan War


That King is Odysseus, or Ulysses (as he was known in Roman). In the poems, Ulysses was the champion warrior who conceived of the idea of the Trojan Horse. After gaining victory for Greeks over the Trojans, Ulysses embarked on that 10-year journey back home, where he faced many trials.

One of these was that he had to sail past the islands of the Sirens. The Sirens were women who would sing in such enchanting voices, that they lured sailors into the rocky coasts of their islands, causing shipwreck. According to legend, no one was able to resist the songs of the sirens*. 


Ulysses was an adventurous fellow, and he wanted to hear what the songs of the sirens sounded like. But he was wise enough to realise that if he did hear the songs, it would likely end in shipwreck and death.

Ulysses Contract

Ulysses came up with a terrific solution, that we can all learn from. He signed a contract with his future self.

  • He told his men to tie him to the mast

  • He instructed his men to not unbind him no matter he said until they made it pas the islands of the sirens. 

  • Finally, he got all his men to plug their ears, so they would not be affected by the siren song as they rowed past.

  • Ulysses' plan worked. He was seduced by the sirens' song, and pleaded and begged his men to release him. But they simply couldn't hear him. 

  • Ulysses' ship made it safely across the islands of the sirens, and he heard the sirens' song.

Ever set your mind now to do something in the future?

  • Tomorrow morning I will go to the gym before work.

  • Tomorrow morning I will get up early to read a book. 

  • From tomorrow onwards I will eat properly

  • By next month, I would have talked to 3 people who are experts in the area I'm interested in.

Of course, you're a different person the next morning. Go to the gym? Crazy! I need to sleep. Eating properly? Just one more dessert, last one I promise.

Here's where a Ulysses Contract comes in. Depending on motivation or will to do something you should is very difficult. There are too many temptations and distractions that will cause us to give up long term goals for short term pleasures.

Ulysses ordered himself to be tied to the mast and ignored, to prevent him from leading his ship to shipwreck. In the same way, we can think of similar means to bind our future selves to do the right thing. 

  • Want to get down to work tomorrow and not get distracted?  Put your phone with a friend for an hour and go to a place with no internet(if you don't need it)

  • Want to go to the gym in the morning? Sleep in your gym gear, leave your alarm further away beside your gym bag, or even leave your workshoes at the gym the day before so that the only way you can get to work is by going to the gym first. 

  • Want to eat properly and not succumb? Don't have food that will tempt you at home. If you're going out with friends for a meal, take the initiative to decide where to eat. Or call ahead to order your meal, so that yo don't pick something else when you get there.

  • Want to make sure you put off learning something? Make an appointment with a friend that you will be explaining the topic to him/her at a set date. 

Write and sign your own Ulysses contracts. Don't depend on motivation or willpower, because more than likely, when the going gets tough, you won't feel like doing it. 

Ulysess contracts can also be combined with the Duneier method - breaking things down into the smallest possible sub-units. 




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