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The Odyssey, the classic tale by Homer, tells the story of Ulysses and his travels home to his wife and kingdom. On the journey, Ulysses is told he will encounter the Sirens. In Greek mythology, these creatures would tempt sailors to venture near their rocky islands with beautiful songs.  As boats would approach the islands, the boats would be sunk on the rocks, and the sailors would drown.  Ulysses has his men tie him to the mast of his ship and then fill their own ears with beeswax.  In this way, he, and he alone, could hear their song but would be unable to crash his ship on the rocks or dive into the sea.

Behavioral science research implies that Ulysses had a great idea, suggesting that Ulysses was onto something. He was, in fact, using the mast and his being tied to it as a “commitment device.” Something that inhibits your ability to make impulsive decisions is commitment.

For a commitment device to be effective, one needs to be aware that goals and the behaviors that are required to reach those goals are sometimes misaligned.  If you want to lose weight, you need to skip between-meal snacks.  You know that the temptation during the afternoon is too high, and you will end up buying a candy bar. You cannot buy snacks if you bring to work only the money you need to buy lunch and leave the ATM and Credit Cards at home.

Limiting choices, according to studies, is effective. If you do not have to decide whether or not to do something, your success is based on supply and not on self-control.

Commitment devices are powerful tools. People can use commitment devices to help them quit smoking, save money, exercise more often, lose weight, exercise more, and save money.

Here are some ways to use commitment devices:

Use Smaller Plates

If you want to eat less, try eating from small plates, and it will decrease the amount you eat.

Get An Exercise Partner for Workouts

If you want to exercise more, having a friend waiting for you at the gym will motivate you to get there.

Direct Deposit to a Savings Account

If you want to save money, have a certain amount of your paycheck direct deposited to savings automatically. You will be less tempted to spend it.

Order Groceries Online

Grocery stores rely on impulse buying for many things. If you order food online and have it delivered, you might eat healthier by avoiding the temptation to buy something on a whim, saving money in the process.