Ulysses, Strengths, and an Experiment in Accountability

When the adventurer Ulysses knew he wanted to do something but didn’t trust himself to follow through safely and appropriately, he made what we now call a Ulysses Pact. He undertook a “freely made decision that is designed and intended to bind oneself in the future”.

These types of pacts can be helpful when you know intellectually what you need to do, but you lack follow through. When you are calm and clear-headed, you make a commitment that you will feel obligated to follow through on later.

I use a variation of this concept when I speak at conferences. If I have a topic I’d like to explore more deeply and I think others would benefit from hearing about, I’ll submit a proposal to a conference. I know myself well enough that without an external commitment, I will find it more challenging to focus and put in the hours to create something of value I can share with others.

Every time I’m accepted to speak, my first reaction is: “Well, damn. Now I’ll have to do all that work.” I have just freely entered into a pact that binds me in the future. And it is a process that works for me.

So, this is interesting, but why share it now?

I’ve known for years that writing helps me clarify my thinking. And I’ve gotten good response from the articles and talks I’ve shared. Intellectually, I know that writing and publishing on a regular basis will help me, and (I believe) help others.

Yet, I don’t write regularly. This leads me to a place where I have spent far more time feeling guilty about the fact that I’m not writing than I have actually writing.

Recently I had the opportunity to be trained as a Gallup Strengths Coach (I’m not yet certified but will be soon). As part of that training, we explored the 4 domains and 34 themes. Many of my themes are in the ‘Relationship Building’ domain and the ‘Strategic Thinking’ domain (and I feel that lines up very will with my role as a coach). I don’t have as many of my top strengths within the ‘Executing’ or ‘Influencing’ domains.

To be clear, we all have parts of the 34 themes to some degree and even if we don’t have a strength in our top 10 in a domain, that doesn’t mean that we are lacking in any way. We’ll just have different strategies for executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking than will others with themes from those domains in their top 10 strengths.

I spent time during the training thinking about the ‘Achiever’ theme and the ‘Responsibility” theme. Those with an Achiever strength like to get things done and they often have a great stamina for work. Those with a Responsibility strength take their commitments very seriously and work to fulfill all their responsibilities.

When I think about my approach to conferences, that is leveraging both the Achiever and Responsibility strengths. I may not be as high in Activator (starting) but I own my commitments (Responsibility) and like to finish (Achiever).

That got me thinking of how I could use the Achiever & Responsibility strengths to help me with writing.

And I arrived at this. I’m going to make a Ulysses Pact with myself for writing.

List of posts with a future date

I will publish one post per week for the remainder of 2023.

Here’s how I will accomplish this. I have created one draft post per week for the remainder of the year. I have set each post to auto-publish at the end of the week for that post.

Right now the posts say: “Accountability Fail! David Frink didn’t add meaningful content for this week’s post, so this embarrassing reminder was published instead. Please send him an email at xxxxxxxxx or a text at xxxxxxxxxx to encourage him to do better for next week.”

This is my Ulysses Pact. Now I don’t have to think about when to start writing a post for each week. I don’t have to think about when to publish a post each week. The posts have already been started, and they’re going to publish on their own. All I have to worry about is the quality of what each post contains. Simple.

Previously, I could ask myself the question, “When will I feel motivated to write and publish?” And my answer could easily be, “not right now.”

Going forward, the publishing will happen automatically. I don’t have to ask when to start, I only need to think about how good or bad I want the post to be when it is published. The train is leaving the station with or without me. My Responsibility strength makes me want to not let anyone down and my Achiever strength now sees all these draft posts as work waiting to be finished, and I look forward to the writing.

Publishing this post is the first step in my experiment in accountability. From now until the rest of the year, you’ll see one post per week. It will either be valuable content or an announcement of my failure to follow through on my commitment for that week.

Thanks for being part of this journey. Your implied presence as a reader keeps me focused and motivated. Thanks!