Ulysses Contract

Creating a new Habit, the 30 day challenge

Last week I was reflecting on how we might choose a new approach to our morning routine. As we are all aware it is so easy to think it would be a good idea to try something new, but actually to shift our behaviour means changing the old autopilot ways of behaving and creating new neural pathways in the brain so that the new habit becomes engrained.

It takes roughly 30 days to form a new habit (often 21 days is said, but around 30 to be sure!) It’s important that the new activity is done every day. If there is a break of one day we start the 30 days again so commit to fully engaging with your new habit every day even if only for a few minutes. The first 10 days may feel tough. The second ten we start to adjust to the new routine. The final ten we may even start to enjoy it and look forward to it.

Decide what you want to establish over the next 30 days and commit to it.

As the saying goes “if you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten” so over the next 30 days it’s your chance to shake up your autopilot way of being by creating your morning to be a time that nourishes body, mind and heart.



The Ulysses Contract

To achieve this it can help to have an accountability partner. Someone to whom you tell your intention, and with whom you then check in each day to say if you have done it. This is also known as a Ulysses contract. Although it perhaps should be know as the Odysseus Contract! There is a story in the Odyssey of Odysseus (known as Ulysses by the Romans) coming to the island where lived the Sirens. Many sailors had perished on hearing the Sirens song, for it’s beauty made them loose their senses and they would plunge into the sea to try and reach the island, loosing their lives in the wine dark water. Or sailing their boats towards the sound they would be dashed on the rocks surrounding the island, their boats destroyed and their bones joining those of the many others laying there at the feet of the Sirens. Putting aside its patriarchal fear of the feminine, it’s a powerful story!

Odysseus wanted to hear this song and survive. So he ordered his men to tie him to the mast and stop their ears with wax. They were forbidden to respond to him in the madness that would descend on him as he listens to the Sirens song, and to keep rowing. As they approached the island Odysseus went mad at the sound of the singing but his men kept to their pact, ignoring his ravings to be untied or to steer the ship to the island. On passing he returned to his senses.

Hence a Ulysses contract is one where we make an agreement with another whereby they stand for our integrity by holding us true to our intention and word. Or you may simply like to call them an accountability partner!

I was told about the Ulysses contract concept by a friend when we were training together at the same gym.  We had an agreement to meet three times a week on set days and whereas we might have made excuses to ourselves not to go, we could not let the other person down. So over the year that we went we kept to our commitment of three times a week. On finishing this and returning to training on my own it became easier to miss days…or even weeks.

Another example from a few years ago is when for some months a friend and I sent a text each evening to say what our intentions were for the next day and if we had met the intentions we set the previous night. Setting your intentions at night helps to be prepared to wake up feeling purposeful and engaged with the day. The brain may even engage with our intentions as we sleep, helping us wake with a clearer sense of purpose. I achieved more in those months than before or after. Just through  feeling accountable to someone else. It’s so easy to make excuses to oneself. But the way our mind works we don’t want to tell another we didn’t do what we said we would. And if we don’t do it, no blame….we just acknowledge it  to our partner and reaffirm our commitment.

Looking at what you want to create as a new habit over the next 30 days. Is there any way of setting up a Ulysses contract with someone? Do you have a friend who would be happy to be an accountability partner through a nightly text? Is there someone who could join you in your undertaking – even if not physically together you could text to confirm you have done what you said you would as you do it or at agreed times. Have fun reprogramming your autopilots into something you have chosen to do rather than just do out of habit!