How many times you have set a goal and not reach it? When that happens, I bet you don’t feel too great about it. But what if I told you that if you only changed your perspective, you’d meet more of your goals?
There is a famous excerpt from the Odyssey when Ulysses (aka Odysseus) made his men tie him to his ship’s mast, put beeswax in their ears and promise to keep the ship moving even if he tried to give different orders later. Why did he do this? So that he could listen to the Sirens’ beautiful songs without subjecting himself to their effect on most men: turn insane, crash their ships and die.
This became known as an Ulysses contract. And there are a few steps to using it to crank up your productivity.
Remember a time when you thought you were more than capable of handling a situation? If that didn’t pan out as you thought, then you overestimated yourself. Same goes for the times when you underestimated yourself and lost out on an opportunity.
The ability to prevent these type of situations is called self awareness. When you can honestly perceive yourself without any bias, you tend to make more accurate decisions.
This includes acknowledging your weaknesses. They will still be there, no matter how you perceive yourself. This also goes for the opposite. If you keep limiting yourself because you think your strengths aren’t as good as they are, then you’ll become a self fulfilling prophecy. So why ignore that information and instead use it your advantage?
Now before we get to that, you may be wondering how you can go about developing self awareness. There is no set formula but there are some methods that work more often than others.
One is to get a trusted member of your inner circle to give you their perception of you. Ideally they care about you but are also willing to be blunt with you.
Just the other day, I had lunch with a dear friend (who I jokingly say would be part of my board of advisers if I ever went for world domination) and she did just that. When she gave me her perspective of how she saw me in the past four years, she gave me a new way of looking at my current struggles. Given how lost I was feeling, that was invaluable.
Another is to incorporate regular and deliberate self reflection in your routine. When you start to document and analyze your thoughts, feelings and behaviors regularly, you will notice patterns. When you take a honest look at those patterns and explore what’s causing them, you make new realizations about yourself.
The best way is to have a mentor or coach in your life. Excellent ones will not force their perspectives onto you and instead expand your own. Self awareness can go a very long way. In the case of Ulysses contracts, it’s absolutely essential to the next step.
Execute Your Contract
Once you become aware of your motivations, strengths and shortcomings, you can start to create systems that align your behavior with your goals.
In Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith, the main culprit of failed behavioral change is the environment. So what better way to reach your goals than to create an environment that nurtures your goals instead of sabotaging it?
The formula of these contracts first involves recognizing your patterns and then creating a plan around those patterns. Patterns come from self awareness. The planning comes from using “If Then” statements. If scenario A happens, then do action B.
By nature, we are creatures of habit. Our default responses have more influence on our decisions than we realize. This is especially true in unexpected situations. We don’t have a plan so we default to our usual behavior, which sometimes may be what we’re trying to change.
The “If Then” planning addresses that very challenge. When you realize you are getting into your old patterns, having a set plan to hold you accountable to your desired change will go a long way.
For example, if you are on a diet and you know sweets are a weak spot, eliminate them from your home. Humans and inertia go hand in hand. If you make it difficult to get sweets, you have a higher chance to sticking with a low sugar diet.
Focusing on a system, one that you can envision doing day to day, raises your chances to be consistent. You’re not chasing after some lofty goal in the distant future. You are creating an environment that helps you to succeed daily. In time, this builds up into a giant step towards your goals.
These systems only work if you thoroughly plan them out. If you don’t, there are some common pitfalls.
One is failing to have the right perspective. Part of self awareness is knowing what drives you. If you make the wrong assumptions here, you’ll find that you will lose motivation very fast. For example, if you are living by another person’s expectations of you, is that really your motivation? How driven will you be intrinsically?
Once you are sure of that, then you can be confident in creating a workaround for the next pitfall: not thinking about accountability. There are many methods for this and different ways work for different people. For example, some can only do their best in situations where they would be publicly embarrassed if they failed to commit. Others surround themselves with more successful people so they feel like they have to live up to higher standards.
There are many different ways. You will hear just as many stories about how certain ones more effective than others. But that may not the case for you. The key is figuring out which one will really get to stick to your system. You can start with these two questions. What worked best for you the last time you had to make a change? If a method failed, what about you made it fail?
The last major pitfall is letting your system go stale. Another part of self awareness is to constantly audit yourself to keep learning and seeing what changed. Systems need to grow as well, especially if your goal changes. Even if you think things are going well, systems work best when they put you outside of your comfort zone. If you become content, then you stop growing.
The Ulysses contract is an amazing method of getting you to reach your goals. If you ever pick up Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris, you realize that half of the people in there achieved the success they did by focusing on systems.
They kept doing a few small but critical tasks consistently. As those daily successes built up, they became masters at what they focused on. Then they turned to other tasks and became masters at those as well. Those masteries turned them into titans.