Struggling to meet your goals? Try a Ulysses Pact

It’s currently 10.30am. I know that I have to write a blog post. The only problem – every time I try to make a start an email arrives in my inbox, the phone rings or my son thwacks me round the head with his new toy fire engine and I get distracted.

So how did I solve the problem? In short, I’ve promised myself that, unless I’ve written the post by 11.30am, I’m going to give £50 to a political cause that I particularly despise.

The revulsion at doing that has got me typing furiously. I now know that nothing will stop me finishing this post in time.

What I’ve done to get the words flowing is make a ‘Ulysses pact’ with myself.

The concept comes from the story of the Sirens in Homer’s Odyssey. The goddess Circe warns Ulysses of Sirens, monsters in the shape of beautiful women who want to enchant passing sailors with their singing.

The truth, of course, is that the Sirens want to lure in and then kill the sailors. Yet Ulysses wants to hear their beguiling songs and still survive. So he orders his crew to block their ears with beeswax, preventing them from hearing the Sirens’ songs.

Next he orders the crew to lash him to the mast, adding that if he begs to be untied, they are to tie him even tighter. In other words, he makes a deal with his men about a future event – hence the name ‘Ulysses pact’.

The Sirens completely bewitch Ulysses as they sail near and he pleads to be set free so he can swim to them. But the crew, who can’t hear the singing, refuse and row further and faster away until the Sirens can no longer be heard. Ulysses by this time has come to his senses and is grateful to his crew for not caving in to his earlier pleas.

The Ulysses pact is great tool if you want to become more productive.

If you are working on a project, you can set yourself a time limit – and agree that you will pay some kind of forfeit if you fail. For example, you could agree with yourself to either write a report by the end of the week or not have those glasses of wine you were looking forward to on Friday night.

Or if the carrot works better for you than the stick, you could promise to treat yourself and your partner to a luxury meal – but only if you finish your report.

Self-motivation works so well because most of us don’t like to feel we are letting ourselves down.

So, as long as you keep your goals achievable – and your proposed rewards or forfeits proportional – you can significantly increase your productivity with the Ulysses pact.

And did it work for me? It certainly did. It’s now a few minutes past eleven and my £50 is staying firmly where it belongs – in my account.

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