This post was spawned by my current interest in cognitive neuroscience. I find it completely fascinating and feel that as I learn more, I will be able to apply much of what I am learning to helping my clients achieve results in fat loss and muscle gain by modifying behaviour more efficiently. Reading about the Ulysses contract in the book Incognito sparked my interest in writing this particular post. I feel that using this method may help a lot of you get to where you want to go in the near future.
Ulysses Contract: A Short History Lesson
‘Ulysses, King of Ithica, and hero of the Trojan War, was on a protracted sea voyage after the war to go back to his home island of Ithica. He had a rare opportunity ahead, in that his ship would pass the island where the beautiful Sirens sang melodies so luring that no one had been able to avoid their magnetic pull. When they lured the sailors and their ships toward them, their ships were dashed on the rocks, drowning all aboard.
Ulysses knew that, like everyone else, when he heard the music he would be unable to resist it. But he created a present plan to deal with his future self. In his present rational state, he ordered his men to lash him to the mast of the ship and not untie him no matter how much he begged or pleaded. He then had them fill their ears with beeswax so they would not be seduced by the voices of the Sirens. He made it clear to them that they were not to release him until the ship was well past the Sirens, nor were they to take the beeswax out until then.’ – Dr. Krueger
It got me thinking how this could be used as a tool for weight loss, or for increasing activity levels. I’m not the kind of person who thinks that forcing someone to do something they don’t want to is a good decision. Pretty much everyone knows the decades old mantra of “eat less, move more.” Horse shit, I say! No one seems to really give a crap, or follow that advice. I’m not saying that a Ulysses contract is THE golden ticket to weight loss either, just an interesting tool that could be used to help individuals reach their goals.
A Quick Example…
An example of a Ulysses contract for weight loss would be something like this: “Joan wants to lose 30 pounds in the next 6 months. She gives her best friend a sum of money, say 500 dollars to keep for her. Her friend is only to give her the money if after the 6 month time period, 30 pounds of weight has been lost.” I think this is a pretty cool idea, and I’d love to try and implement it with some of my clients.
I Recommend This One
Since initial weight loss doesn’t seem to be much of a problem lately, I’d prefer to look on a larger scale. The inability to sustain weightloss from various diets seems to be the major problem that obesity researchers have discovered over the past few decades. For instance, on this study on obese subjects using very low calorie diets for an extended period of time, 73.4% of the weight lost during the intervention period was gained back during the first three years. So maybe a Ulysses contract with this in mind would be an even better idea?
Let’s say Joan wants to lose 30 pounds and keep it off for the next 5 years. She’s super serious about it, and is willing to put up a decent sum of money to help her with her goals. She gives her friend $1500.00 to keep for her. She get’s 500 back after she loses 30 pounds, then gets 1000 back after 4.5 years after the initial weight loss. She also makes it part of the deal that she must stay in a limit of 10 pounds regain over that time period. This might sound complicated, but it could very well work.
But WHY Do They Work?!
Let’s take a look at why Ulysses contracts work. Let’s take my personal favourite: cheesecake. It’s staring you straight in the eyes, just waiting to be eaten. it’s almost as if it’s literally trying to throw itself onto your fork and into your mouth (insert ‘that’s what she said’). The emotional part of you wants to gobble that mug up, pronto. However, if you are trying to maintain your lean physique, or get leaner, your rational mind will tell you to walk away from that cake and not look back. David Eagleman, the author of Incognito states “freely made decisions that bind you in the future are what philosophers call a Ulysses contract.” So you’re essentially allowing your rational system to gain power over your emotional system by avoiding loss aversion (of cash-money in this case).
“Freely made decisions that bind you in the future are what philosophers call a Ulysses contract.” – Tweet That Sheeit
If you have a Ulysses contract, your emotional self will be less concerned with eating calorie dense foods, and more concerned with getting that money back. This is especially true when the deadline is approaching. David Eagleman suggests an altered Ulysses contract in which you would lose a little money each day until your weight loss is achieved. This would force your emotional self to feel the sting of lost money with each passing day that weight is not lost. Although this model is interesting, losing weight fast usually is unsustainable. The methods used for super quick weight loss are too extreme to use continuously. An example of this would be a very-low calorie diet, or a long-term fast.
My recommended choice I feel would benefit an individual who has an appreciable amount of fat to lose and keep off. If you’re already at 10% bodyfat and you need to lose 5 pounds to get down to 8% (for example) then a Ulysses contract might not be the best way of going about thangs. In this case a more detailed approach would be what you are in need of.
It is my hope that perhaps one you will try one of these more drastic methods to aid your fat loss. Let me know if you’ve ever made any kind of conscious Ulysses contracts in the comments section that worked for you!