May 2, 2012

May 2, 2012

The Ulysses Contract

While reading AJ Jacobs’ newest (and excellent) book, Drop Dead Healthy, I learned about a Ulysses Contract. Have you heard of this? Basically, you motivate yourself to do (or refrain from doing) something by making the consequence untenable. AJ couldn’t figure out a way to stop eating dried mangoes, which were simultaneously delicious and diet-destroying. So he had his wife write a check for $1000 to a pro-Nazi organization, and made her promise to send it if he ate another dried mango.

Every time AJ considered having a li’l snack, he thought about how many (insert Nazi propaganda item here) you could buy with $1000. And he put the mangoes back. It’s not pretty, but it worked.

I seem to recall hearing about a website that did something similar. You had to designate an amount of money up front in exchange for…something…exercising every day? Quitting smoking? I forget. But if you didn’t succeed, the money was withdrawn from your account automatically. Again, I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but the gist seems to be that of a Ulysses Contract. Like that sailor of old, you resist the siren song of cigarettes/mangoes/actual sirens by giving yourself a Really Powerful Motivation the other way. (I don’t want to lose money/I don’t want to fund white supremacism/I don’t want to lose my arms while tearing myself from the mast of this ship, respectively.)

Some would say we just don’t have enough willpower. That if you need to start (or stop) doing something, you should Nike up and JUST DO IT. (Fun fact, also learned from “Drop Dead Healthy”: the Nike ad man who came up with that slogan was inspired with the last words of a guy preparing for lethal injection.) I consider myself one of those willpower advocates. Then I find myself staring at the bottom of an empty peanut butter jar. Burn!

Now I just need to figure out an organization that I hate enough to keep me from a faceful of Nutella.

0 Fish in a Sea of Diet Coke: