Ulysses Contract

Ulysses (or Odysseus, as he's also called) in Homer's the Iliad & the Odyssey went to war.  He was a brilliant warrior - renowned for self-restraint and diplomatic skills.  In fact, that whole Trojan Horse trick?  His idea.  Smart guy.
Ancient Warrior Pose.

Anyway, on his sea-bound trek back from the battlefields (a journey which oddly took him 10 years...), he wanted desperately to hear the fabled Sirens sing.  The Sirens were shrewd creatures that lured sailors with their mesmerizing songs to shipwreck on the deadly rocks surrounding their island (devious wenches....).  So, he tied himself to the mast of his ship and ordered his crew to stuff bees wax in their ears, lest they hear the Sirens' song and be compelled off course into the cliffs.  As the ship sailed passed the island, Ulysses heard the singing and was apparently driven half-insane, demanding his crew untie him so that he may dive into the ocean and swim ashore.  This, of course, would have meant certain death.  When the ship had passed safely away from the Sirens' island, the crew cut Ulysses loose, unscathed from temptation.

Ulysses and the Sirens_Herbert James Draper
What, you may ask, does this clever tale of Greek mythology have to do with health?  Well, based upon the bargain that Ulysses made with his future self, the term "Ulysses Contract" has evolved.  A Ulysses Contract is a freely made decision made to obligate oneself in the future.  And, this, S.P. readers, has everything to do with health.

For example, my husband and I just spent the past two weeks (that's 14 days...or 336 hours...or 20,160 minutes...but who's counting...) abstaining from alcohol.  Gasp!  I know, it was awful.  But...we had decided that we needed to detox a little before the outrageously demanding academic year started up again.  (In previous years, we ramped UP on the drinking, determined to squeeze every last boozy second out of the summer...but all we ended up with was a huge bar tab and a hangover.  So, we decided to try a new, sober-as-a-bird, strategy).  However, in order for this plan to work, we needed to purge our house of the delicious bottles of California Cabernet, French Chateauneuf, and Spanish Garnache.  If there were full bottles on the shelf, our future selves would drink it.  Those two weaklings were NOT to be trusted!

Yes.  Wine Flu.  That's it.

And there, is the crux.  Tangible decisions must be made today by our sane, logical (sober) selves in order to ensure our future health goals and risks.  If the temptation is there tomorrow, are you going to be able to overcome it?  Are you sure?

This is why we make verbal commitments, and pay lots of money for personal trainers, spin studios, and WODs.  If we have an appointment, we will go.  If the food's simply not there, we can't eat it.  So, it is essential to empty our freezers of pints of Haagen Dazs, our cabinets of Frito Lays, and (even sometimes) our wine racks of Italian Barolo. Because we know our future self won't be able to resist hitting the snooze alarm, savoring one last spoonful, or pouring one more glass.  In the moment, in the actual flash of decision, we think that brownie is a good idea.  Hell, were sure it's a great idea! We jump overboard.  But, when you are on a mission for health - fitness, weight loss, successful aging - you cannot be tempted by the Sirens, lest you end up on the rocks.

So, you make a bargain, a contract, with your own self  - the self that lives two days, one week, one month from now.  "If I don't have Peanut M&M's in the house, I won't eat them".  "If I sign up for that yoga class next week, I will go".  "If I commit to meeting my friend for a run, I will get out of bed".

Making a Ulysses Contract with yourself, ensures that you won't bail.  You'll go (because you said you would).  You'll run (because your friend is running).  You'll eat broccoli with brown rice instead of frozen pizza (because that is what is in your fridge).  You won't jump overboard, because you knew it was coming.  You are prepared.

So, go do it right now (while you're sober and motivated).  Throw out the crap.  Make a verbal commitment.  Sign up for that class.  Paint yourself into a corner.  Because, you will never, ever regret eating a healthy meal or doing an extra workout.  But you will regret bailing on your plan, sneaking that last donut from the box, or not going to the gym.  You will regret jumping onto the rocks.  Be strong and set yourself up for success.  Do it.  Do it right now.  Or your future self might change her mind...