By Mary Louise VanNatta, APR, CAE


Everyone struggles to reach goals and meet deadlines. It’s easy to fall victim to procrastination or to let the draw of a doughnut or a bag of chips cause you to stray from your diet.

The new year is a great time to set expectations and resolve to improve certain aspects of life. To make sure you succeed, try a strategy known as the Ulysses Pact.

The idea behind the Ulysses Pact is based on the mythical hero, Ulysses. Ulysses is the Latin version of Odysseus, the famed protagonist of The Odyssey. He’s known for devising the Trojan Horse.

In the novel, Ulysses’ journey would sail his crew past sirens, mermaid-like creatures, who would lure men to their deaths with their enchanting voices. To avoid the demise of his crew, Ulysses told his men to put wax in their ears so they would not be attracted by the sirens’ song. Ulysses also ordered them tie him to the mast so he could not escape. As he anticipated, he heard the sirens call and begged to be set free, so he could swim to them. Alas, he could not — much to his benefit.

This is the concept behind the Ulysses Pact. You make an agreement between your present self to benefit your future self. It’s an effective way to resist temptation and to make sure you reach your goals.

Here are a few ways to use this theory to fulfill your resolution this year:

  • Set deadlines: The first step should be to set yourself deadlines. If you have monthly or yearly recurring goals/tasks, make sure you have hard deadlines that will motivate you to stay on task. Setting daily reminders to motivate and keep you on track could be helpful too.
  • Plan to avoid failure: Avoid situations where you will be tempted. If you are trying to cut down on sweets, don’t even go near the dessert table. Have someone else prepare your buffet plate for you. if you have a group of friends (you know who they are) that consistently lead you away from your goals, take a break from them while you develop your good habits.
  • Choose a consequence: If deadlines and avoidance aren’t enough to keep you on track, raise the stakes. Set a consequence if you don’t reach your actions. This could mean a lighter consequence like no morning coffee, or something more significant (and with a financial impact), such as buying lunch for the office or having to skip night out with friends in lieu of cleaning out the garage.
  • Choose a referee: If you can’t adhere to your deadlines and aren’t able to consequence yourself, bring in a neutral party. Find someone trustworthy and reliable who can check you when you aren’t keeping your commitments. They can even hold on to money or a treasured item and return it once you meet your goal. Typically, a friend or trusted coworker will be the best referee to help make sure you stay on track.

So, in 2020, prepare for the sirens’ song, whatever it is for you. If you make a Ulysses Pact with yourself, you’re sure to obtain your goals.

Mary Louise VanNatta, APR, CAE is the CEO of VanNatta Public Relations, a PR, event planning, and consulting firm in Salem, Oregon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *