What is a Ulysses contract? How can it help you make better decisions?
A Ulysses contract is a commitment you make to yourself. It’s a way to use your rational mind now in an effort to override your irrational mind later, when it’s time to make a decision.
Keep reading to learn about Ulysses contracts.
You can use what’s known as a “Ulysses contract” to ensure that your past or future self has input into a present-day decision. The term comes from a story from Homer’s Odyssey, when the hero Odysseus (or Ulysses) had his crew tie him up as they passed by the island of the Sirens so that he wouldn’t steer the ship there and doom them all. He knew that the Sirens’ song would affect his ability to think rationally, so he used his past-self to keep his present-self in check.
Make commitments in advance that will place barriers on your future self, reducing the chance that you’ll make an irrational decision. For example, imagine that you have trouble waking up when your alarm goes off. When you’re half-asleep, you reach over, hit the snooze button, and doze off for a few more minutes. You do this again and again until you have to rush to make it to work on time, which is stressful.
So you decide to put your alarm on the other side of the room. Now, to turn it off, you have to get out of bed and walk over to it. You could still crawl back into bed afterwards—but, by adding a barrier, you’ve reduced the likelihood of making that choice. You’re forcing yourself to take an extra step before you can get to that bad decision. In other words, you’re giving your deliberative mind a chance to take charge.
The next time you anticipate a future decision, make a Ulysses contract with your future self and see what difference it can make.
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- How to get better at making good decisions
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- How to evaluate and learn from your past