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Ulysses and the Sirens – Precommitment and Credit Cards

27 July 2006

There is an academic theory called “precommitment” that describes behaviors that are designed to forcibly restrain yourself from acting in ways that are counter to your interest. It’s based on the story of Ulysses and his encounter with the Sirens, a group of attractive, female cannibals who sang an irresistable song. Any sailor who heard it would go mad and drive his boat in the direction of the Sirens, crashing it on the rocks.

Ulysses wanted to hear the song of the Sirens, but obviously didn’t want to die. His solution? He had his crew tie him to his mast so he couldn’t move, while they stuck wax in their ears. He got to hear the song, but wasn’t able to kill himself.

I thought about that when reading this post about frozen credit cards on the Birds and Bills blog. The idea one shopoholic had was to freeze her credit cards in ice, so that to use them she had to wait several hours for them to thaw out. This would force her to think about the purchase beforehand rather than acting on impulse.

That’s a little extreme, but the idea of precommitting yourself if you’ve got a spending problem is a good one. Some ideas that are less damaging to your credit cards:

1) Have a trusted friend hold onto the cards for you. Instruct them not to give it to you until 3 hours after you ask for them, and have them warn you when you ask and when they give it to you, “You’ll regret doing this in the long run.”

2) Put them in a safe deposit box if you’ve got one – it will make it a big hassle to actually use the credit cards.

3) If you want to be really extreme, and only use them in absolute emergencies, bury the thing in manure or something else that disgusts you. It won’t break it (ice can make the card brittle), but you won’t be touching it unless you’ve got a serious problem.

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    One Response to “Ulysses and the Sirens – Precommitment and Credit Cards”

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