ulysses-sirens-draper-l.jpgNo, I’m not talking about S&M bondage!

The self-binding I’m talking about is taking action in your strong moods to make it more difficult to do the things in your weak moments you know you should not do! Remember Ulysses in “The Odyssey” tying himself to the mast of his ship so he would not be able to respond to the call of the Siren’s song? That’s the kind of self-binding I mean.

The question: Does voluntarily limiting your choices increase or decrease your freedom? Your happiness? Or in Zen terms, is less ever more?

While in general I vehemently object to others limiting my choices, I’ve come to believe that the ability to narrow your focus is essential to happiness and even achievement and productivity. You can’t do everything and removing temptation can free up tremendous amounts of energy. I make “rules” for myself all the time; they allow me to do and be more. Small rules, little rules, but they add up and by now, most are habits. No dessert if I’m over my target weight. Doing first the thing I least look forward to every day brightens the whole day once it’s done! Do one thing new and different every day. Keep my journal faithfully. Exercise 4 to 5 times a week. In my drinking days, I had three strict rules: 1. Never drink until the sun goes down, 2. Never drink more than the people I was with (I preferred to be the most sober in the crowd, not the least), and 3. Never have more than 3 drinks in a 4 hour period and drive. (And when the blood alcohol limit was lowered to .08 from .10, I reduced that one to 2 drinks.)

At first I chafed at rules, even my own. As I began to see the benefits, I regarded my self-imposed rules as friends, allies, coaches. An important principle is to honor the commitments you make to yourself. Regard self promises with the same weight you would an external promise. Make your promises carefully, keep them diligently, and their power will grow. Never, ever undermine your internal or external credibility and reputation with commitments casually made and quickly dishonored.

If you wish to delve further, “Ulysses Unbound: Studies in Rationality, Precommitment and Constraints,” by Jon Elster, is an interesting book on the concept of the power that can lie in constraints. And if you are addicted to cruising the internet, there is an application called Freedom that can be programmed to block Internet access for up to 8 hours at a time (sorry, for Macs only). Perhaps reflecting a mass erosion of our collective self-control, the app is downloaded 4,000 times a month.

Self-binding also can be thought of as an intermediate step to the forming of a desired habit or learning more internal self-control. Just as wood forms hold concrete until it sets, self-binding can direct desired behavior until it becomes a habit, a new, better way of life.

Got any good self-binding techniques? Love to hear them!