The will comes and goes so simple. What we set out to do at one point, convinced that we would, can turn out to be a titanic odyssey the next day, and we are unlikely to do it unless we are forced to or have no other choice.
It also goes the other way around: doing something we shouldn’t be eating, like eating that luscious and delicious candy from the pantry despite the diet or going cane with friends on a day we had to hit the gym. .
Fortunately, there is a strategy to keep temptation and laziness from keeping us from achieving our goals: the contract of Ulysses. Below we’ll find out what it is.
What is Ulysses’ contract?
Ulysses, a hero of Greek mythology, made a long journey back to Ithaca after the Trojan War. The odyssey was not without dangers, as the goddess Circe warned. One of them was the siren song, a malicious melody that would bewitch anyone who heard it and would end their life..
Some sailors, dazzled by the beautiful song, jumped into the sea and drowned there as their captains steered the boat to where the sirens were, crushing the ship and sinking. Our hero knew that when the time came, if he did nothing, he would succumb like all those who had sailed on the Sea of Sirens.
Luckily, Circe told him what to do: his sailors had to put wax caps on his ears, and if he wanted to hear the sound of sirens, he had to ask his men to tie him to the mast of the boat. That way he could hear the hypnotic song and, if it worked, he wouldn’t lose his life jumping into the sea. No one would let him go if he started asking his men to let him go, because the sailors wouldn’t. would not hear him and would be too busy paddling with his head down.
And that’s exactly what happened. When they passed the Sirens Island and sang their songs, the sailors, deafened by wax caps, did not hear them.. They continued to row, safe from the hypnotic song of these malevolent beings, and also from the pleas of Odysseus asking for his release. They survived, were able to tell, and continued Ulysses and his men to live stories that would thicken the famous work of the Odyssey.
All this history has served to name a curious phenomenon present in our daily life: the contract of Ulysses. This term designates any agreement by which barriers are erected to avoid falling into future temptations. It could be seen as a remedy to combat one of the main weaknesses of our brain, which is the desire to receive immediate reward.
We can conclude this type of contract only with ourselves or, also, involving other people, anticipate the possible loss of control over our decisions. To ensure that we do not fall into the trap of immediate reward, vice and laziness, we are forced to not have the opportunity to reward the present, the present, in the face of future benefits or consequences. The Ulysses Contract works by taking away our ability to choose, limiting our free will, and forcing us to do what needs to be done.
We continually sign Ulysses contracts, without knowing it. We do this so as not to succumb to temptation, knowing that each is not an I, but the sum of many, many here and many now that make the effort that we undertake at a given moment to become nothing. . Envy comes and goes, optimism too and our will is extremely moldable by circumstances..
Examples of Ulysses contract
To better understand the idea of Ulysses’ contract, we will see some examples that represent this phenomenon very well, with its equivalent to the staff to which the Greek hero was attached and also the deaf sailors with wax caps. Many not only give them to us to explain what the contract of Ulysses is, but also for those who wish to apply them to their life if just one is the vice or the temptation of what is happening right now.
A fairly simple example of such a contract would be, when you are in the supermarket, do not buy sweets and avoid succumbing to a diet. When we’re home we won’t have them on hand and when we want to we just won’t be able to use them comfortably because we don’t have them. The here and now ask us to eat sweets, but luckily our car from the past at the supermarket was able to anticipate this situation and avoided buying any.
Another case would be to want to get in shape and join a gym. By paying the fees, we are forced to go there so as not to feel like we are losing money. If that doesn’t work, we can agree with a friend to go together, ask them to force us to go. Social pressure and the fear of going wrong with a friend will make it less likely that we skip the training day.
The gymnasium share could be compared to the pole that Ulysses was attached to, while the friend who forces us to go and throws ashore any excuses we can make is like the faithful sailors with wax on their ears at the shelter from the supplications of the Hellenic hero.
And given the importance of money, we can give another example, very useful for saving. It would also be a Ulysses contract to program automatic transfers from one of our accounts to another, also ours, to force us to save. Another option is to make your credit card run out of cash, or just drop it off at home and take what’s right in your wallet to avoid wasting it on nonsense.
A curious case of Ulysses’ contract is as follows: there are people who sign a check to quit smoking with a very important donation to an organization that causes them visceral rejection and they give it to a friend with the instruction that, if he smokes, he must give it to them. An extreme case is that of people with alcoholism, who, during their first treatment of drug addiction, are asked to throw away all bottles of alcohol at home.
Is this strategy foolproof?
While they sound great as we’ve seen so far, Odysseus’s contracts aren’t foolproof. The main problem is that the easier it is to register, the easier it is to cancel. The ideal would be to use the system to involve other people in what we propose to do, physically present to prevent us from giving in to our vices or avoiding doing what we should be doing.
This, however, is not practical because in addition to those people who are as human as us and can also fall into vice, we must first convince them that we both need to be strong and move on. . Plus, they can manipulate each other into breaking what they’ve agreed to and ignore what they’ve decided to do together, whether it’s going to the gym, quitting smoking, or spending less money. We can use persuasion to violate the agreement, making the involvement of another person unnecessary.
It’s hard to find a friend you trust so much to sign such an oral contract with but let it be strong and hard and cold enough not to allow us to break it.
This is why Ulysses’ solution was so effective. By covering the ears of their sailors not only did they prevent them from being enchanted by the mischievous song of the sirens, but they could also bow their heads and continue to row without being fooled by their hypnotized captain to change course.
The problem of persuasion is more serious when we ourselves are judge and jury. If we had the ability to conduct ourselves according to certain self-imposed rules without resorting to external restrictions, we would have no problem achieving our goals and therefore we would not need such contracts. We just need to come up with something and we’re good to go. The problem is that we end up negotiating with ourselves and sooner or later we end up giving up our desires.
However, we must not give up hope. It is better to apply a contract of Odysseus, limiting our options and eliminating temptations, than to hope that out of sheer will we will achieve what we set out to do. Desire, optimism and strength are changing from day to day, they are very variable, so we must not allow the slightest opportunity for what can ruin our goals and dreams that we want to achieve.
- Ryan Spellecy (2003). “Resurrection of Ulysses’ contracts”. Journal of the Kennedy Institute for Ethics. 13 (4): 373-392.
- Namita Puran (2005). “Ulysses contracts: linked to care or free to choose?” The York Scholar. 2: 42-51.
- Radden, Jennifer (1994). “According to thoughts: to revoke decisions about one’s own future.” Philosophy and phenomenological research. International Phenological Society. 54 (4): 787–801. doi: 10.2307 / 2108410. JSTOR 2108410
- Feinberg, Joël (1986). Self-Injury: The Moral Limits of Criminal Law. 3. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Fried, Charles (1970). An anatomy of values: problems of personal and social choice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-33248-5.