in: Advice, Character, Sunday Firesides

• Last updated: June 1, 2021

Sunday Firesides: Lash Yourself to the Mast

During Odysseus’ epic journey back home, he encounters many obstacles that threaten to push him off course. Some of these he dispatches with his famous wits and wiles.

Others, he overcomes through more practical means.

Case in point: his escape from the clutches of the Sirens. Their enchanting singing would draw sailors toward their island — and the rocky coast which would dash mariners’ vessels to pieces. To avoid this fate, Odysseus has his men lash him to the mast of their ship, so that even when he hears the Sirens’ “honeyed voices,” he’ll be unable to respond to their pull.

Oftentimes we think we should be clever enough, “sophisticated” enough, to figure out how to partake of all of life’s enticements with moderation, without the need for brute force tactics to control our consumption.

Yet it’s a sign of mature, humble self-awareness to admit that because of one’s individual history and proclivities, the temptation to take particular allurements to excess is essentially irresistible. If there’s a bottle of alcohol in the cabinet, you’ll drink it dry. If there’s a pack of cookies in the house, you’ll eat a whole sleeve. If there’s access to porn on your computer, you’ll obsessively watch it. If there’s a social media app on your phone, you’ll keep it open for hours.

The solution to these Siren songs is to make like Odysseus and intentionally tie your hands — to restrict your access to a temptation before you encounter it. You never keep certain drinks or foods in the house. You place filters on your computer. You block an app during particular hours, or entirely.

When it comes to the shoals that can shipwreck life’s happiness, it’s wiser not to perennially take an option on and off the table, but rather to ensure something is never an option at all.

Related Posts