Andrea Schmutz, USU Extension Assistant Professor
It’s story time! Who doesn’t love a good story? Last month I was on a Dr. Seuss kick and had some fun drawing parallels between Dr. Seuss stories and personal finance best practices. Don’t worry, I’m not finished with Dr. Seuss yet so keep an eye on the blog to catch more ways to use the creative doctor’s writings in your journey to financial wellness. In the meantime, since I mentioned journeys, have you read about Ulysses’ journey in Homer’s Odyssey?
Often referred to as wily or crafty, Ulysses finds creative ways to face the challenges that arise in his life. The genius behind the Trojan Horse? That was Ulysses. My favorite display of Ulysses’ cleverness is when he accomplished the impossible - he found a way to listen to the famed Sirens’ songs and lived to tell about it. No other man had ever survived an encounter with the beautiful Sirens. Their enchanting songs lured men close, captivating them and rendering them incapable of rational thought until eventually their ship smashed on the rocks and they perished.
Ulysses knew of the danger of the Sirens’ songs, but he wanted to hear them nonetheless. He devised a plan where his men tied him to the ship’s mast and he instructed them to ignore everything he said and not to change course under any circumstances until they were past the Sirens’ island. His men then stuffed their ears with beeswax so they could not hear the songs as they rowed the boat past the enchanting Sirens. Ulysses nearly went insane and begged his men to untie him, but his men kept their pact and kept rowing. Once the danger faded in the distance, the men removed the wax and untied Ulysses. Because of his pact with his men, he accomplished what had not been done before and what seemed utterly impossible.
Ulysses’ success in the face of such long odds earned his cunning scheme a place in history and is commonly referred to today as the Ulysses Contract or the Ulysses Pact. The modern definition of a Ulysses Pact is a freely made decision that is designed and intended to bind oneself in the future. The pact provides a way to compel your future self into making the best choice, or another way to think about it is you’re anticipating noncompliance to specific goals and taking measures to prevent it.
Let’s look at how to apply this in our everyday lives. With the start of the new year, did you take some time to set goals or determine what new habits you wanted to implement? Now that it’s February, are you still going strong with the habits and goals? Most people are fairly adept at making a list of goals or diving into the first few days of a new habit; it’s the maintenance that usually derails them. This is where the Ulysses Pact is handy.
I’m hoping that your new year’s resolutions include ways to bolster your finances so I want to show you how to apply the Ulysses Pact toward some common personal finance goals:
As an added bonus, here are some ideas for using the Ulysses Pact in other areas of your life:
Ulysses experienced success in his quest because he knew his limits and then created a plan to work within them. Are you ready to do more than just set goals or make it beyond a few days of starting a new habit? Write yourself a Ulysses contract or two and review them often. You, too, can sidestep the figurative Sirens’ songs by taking advantage of your current good intentions and creatively building a sound plan to overcome the temptations faced by the future you.
Parting thought: “I am who I am today because of the choices I made yesterday.” - Eleanor Roosevelt
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