The Odysseus Protocol, or how to bypass willpower to get more out of life (in dating & beyond)

I’ve briefly touched upon the Odysseus protocol in the past.

The name comes from Homer’s Odyssey.  Odysseus and his ship are about to pass through the Siren-infested waters.  On the one hand, he knows that hearing their song will spell his doom.  On the other hand, he’s dying of curiosity and is tired of hearing about their song and just wants to hear their song, dammit, and be the only mortal to live to tell.  What’s the big fuss about anyway?

Now Odysseus is one crafty dude, so he tells all of his sailors to plug their ears with wax so they can’t be tempted by the Sirens’ song.  He keeps his own ears unplugged, but tells his mates to lash him to the mast and ignore everything he says.  That way, he gets to eat his cake and have it too: he hears the Sirens, but doesn’t die.

The essence of the Odysseus protocol is arranging your physical environment to achieve the outcome you want.  In this case, Odysseus’ outcome was “hear the Siren’s song but don’t croak.”  So he made sure his crew wouldn’t be tempted by plugging their ears, and he made sure he didn’t do anything silly by getting himself tied up nice and tight.

Now a lot of you may have heard a lot about this thing called willpower.  Really?  Aisle 7 at Ralphs?  I must have missed it.

Listen up: willpower does not exist.  Never had; never will.  There’s action, and inaction.  That’s it. And fallibility is just about synonymous with being human.  If you’re human, by definition it means you’re going to screw up.  You will forget.  You will blank out.  It’s just the way things are.

Now there’s this universal principle when it comes to the realizing of potential: things will flourish spontaneously when the conditions are right.

Behold the seed of a sequoia tree.  I looked it up online, and it’s actually not terribly impressive — about an inch long, smaller than an apricot pit.  And if you drop it on concrete, or linoleum, or on top of a hundred dollar bill, not much happens.

Yet it contains the complete blueprint for creating a huge sequoia tree – some of the oldest, largest organisms on the planet.  Some of those sequoias up in Northern California are over 2000 years old!  So the seed has the potential to become something pretty impressive.  But when it’s stuck in the wrong spot, it’ll just shrivel up and maybe get eaten by birds.

On the other hand, let’s say this sequoia seed just happened to fall on some nice, moist earth.  And let’s say a donkey passing by happened to step on it and drive it further into the ground.  And let’s say at that moment the donkey had the urge to bury the seed under a big pile of donkey dung.

Now the seed’s got a chance.  And according to the program it’s got inside, it will start to grow spontaneously.  Initially, it’ll be a wispy little thing.  Then if the seedling gains strength, it’ll put out a root system and become self-sustaining.

Pretty soon, it’ll be it’s own little ecosystem and provide shelter and food for thousands of other creatures.  And do so for a very long time.

So when the conditions are right, the hidden potential of things will spontaneously express itself.  Sometimes the right conditions are about preventing harmful events.  If a bird swoops down and eats the seed, end of story.

Now with people, we have a similar scenario.  I firmly believe that everyone has a vast amount of talent and potential within himself/herself; most of us just don’t tap into it as much as possible.

This may have to do with people thinking that it’s all about willpower or its flip side, weakness.

Well, the good news that I have for you is that you as a human possess the gift of arranging conditions to favor the outcome you want.  It’s not about your being perfect or having infinite willpower.  It’s about you recognizing that you’re inherently fallible, and then, in lucid moments, structure your life such that you serve your own best interest.

Let’s take watching TV, for example.  I rant extensively against TV in The Tao of Dating for Women, so I’ll just give you an abbreviated version here.  For me, TV is a net negative presence, since every minute spent watching others pretend to live life is a minute I haven’t spent living my own life.  I’d much rather read books, cook and hang out with friends, so the opportunity cost of watching TV is too high.  I recognize the tendency in myself to plop down in front of the boob tube and surf/watch for hours on end, justifying my torpor with reasoning like “it’s National Geographic, so it’s educational” or “the leech-eating contests on Japanese game shows are a fascinating window into their culture.”

Right.  I was wasting my time, and feeling guilty (and empty) about if afterwards.  Solution: I got rid of my TV about two decades ago.  Haven’t had one since.  Sure, I miss watching The Simpsons on Sunday nights, but you can get that online now, without the ads.  And it gives me an excuse to visit friends with TV sets.

So there’s the surefire Odysseus protocol: you remove the source of the bad behavior.  Then you don’t have to rely on your willpower, memory, or angelic abilities.  And after a few months, you’ll get so used to your new way of doing things, you won’t miss the old way or be tempted by it.

Let’s talk about food and health.  Over half of Americans are overweight, and it’s self-inflicted.  Unlike French geese, no one is shoving food down our throats through a funnel except for ourselves.  And Americans famously eat a lot of high-calorie, low-nutrition food that makes them fat.

So if you’re one of those people who wants to shed excess mass, you start by emptying your fridge and cupboards of sugary, fatty food and never purchasing that stuff again.  So there’s no butter, mayonnaise, processed cheese, sweets, candy bars, ice cream or dessert anywhere in your household.  Only healthy stuff like fruit, of which you can eat as much as you want (because you’ll feel too full before you have a chance to ingest excess calories).

I’m sure some of you eagle-eyed readers also noticed that I called it shedding mass, not losing weight.  Why?  Because losing stuff is one of the most distressing events we can experience (“Omigod, where’s my wallet?!?”).  And getting back stuff you’ve lost is one of the most euphoric experiences you can have (“I found it right by the sequoia tree — the donkey just missed it!”).  So be not surprised when people lose weight, only to gain it right back.  Also, do you like to wait?  In long, interminable lines that delay your gratification?  No wonder that the combination of ‘wait’ and ‘loss’ is something your unconscious might rebel against.

Let’s talk about the people you associate with.  Are some of them bubbly, fun, positive peole who are always propping you up?  Great!  If you like to grow as a person, spend more time around them.  Are some of them snarky, gossipy, negative people who always have something to complain about?  Chances are those friends aren’t going to be the catalyst to your greatness.

So quietly excise the merchants of negative energy from your life and spend as much time with the sunshine brigade as possible.  They say that your income is the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.  Well, I’m guessing your attitude and general contentment probably follows a similar pattern, so keep that in mind.

What else can we Odysseus here?  Dating?  Ah yes, dating.  Let’s say you do silly things when you’re drunk on a date.  One thing you can do is try not to order any booze the evening of your next date.  But that’s not the full Odysseus: you’re still relying on willpower here, and we already know that doesn’t work.  The key is to make it impossible for you to have the undesired behavior.  So you have the date at a cafe where alcohol is not served at all.  Or go for a walk in the park instead of the sit-down dinner.

As for the things you want to do: Odysseus yourself into committing to them early, so you can’t possibly waffle and weave your way out of the good stuff later on.  For example, if there’s a night class you want to take, sign up for it as soon as possible.  Once you’ve plunked down the money and made the time commitment, it’s a lot less likely that you’ll renege on yourself. Same goes for trips – lord knows how many times I’ve missed out on a potentially amazing journey by ‘keeping my options open’ till the last minute, until it was too late.

You want to send physical thank-you cards to friends?  Buy a big stack of them with a bunch of stamps and make them really handy.  You’re reducing the activation energy for making the thank-you note happen, which means that you’re going to send those notes a lot more often now.

I’m guessing that this is the first of a series of ongoing posts on the Odysseus protocol and applying it to your life.  In what ways have you utillized the Odysseus protocol and didn’t even know it?  How have you applied it to your dating or business life?  Let’s hear it from you.

The power is within you,

Dr Alex

3 Comments on “The Odysseus Protocol, or how to bypass willpower to get more out of life (in dating & beyond)”

  1. Argancel

    Hi, I’ve been reading your newsletter for quite long now and appreciate the quality of your writtings illustrated each time by numerous real life examples.

    About the Odysseus protocol, I personaly rely a lot on it.
    -Same as you : I don’t have a TV

    I don’t like to drink a lot also so that I can be the master of myself, and also because I like to be fully functional the following day. But I didn’t find yet a way to force me not to drink…

    I can add these several tips :
    -leaving your alarm clock out of reach from your bed so that you are forced to wake up on time
    -go to work abroad so that you are forced to meet new people and go beyond your comfort zone

    About your blog I recommand you to leave the comments open to non members so that you get more feedback.
    That’s what I do on mine : (also about personal development, but in french…)

  2. Mat

    Thank you very much for this !

    I’m also starting to utilize the Odysseus protocol more and more and it already has helped me in several ways: the example with the alarm clock is a very good one – putting it on a chair or table far away from your bed significantly reduces the urge to go to bed again after you were forced to stand up and turn it off ;)

  3. Steph

    Thanks for this! I have already begun using the Odysseus protocol but now I have a name for it! I have a TV, but it now resides in my closet after not having been turned on for 3 months. Like you, only healthy food is available at home. Now if I can work on my internet addiction, I will be set…