Datapoint Fatigue: When you don't feel like it anymore


#1

Hi everyone!

Someone asked me an akrasia question today and I don’t think I answered it satisfactorily, so I’m posting it here.

Here’s the skinny: a friend and I get on a daily phone call for an addiction recovery discipline. It’s been highly effective – each morning we can kinda plan out our days, talk about any dangers, etc. It’s like a daily version of Beeminder’s akrasia horizon, and I’m sure we’re not the first ones to do it: if it’s a risky day we check in with texts regularly, if the risk is unknown we develop flexible plans, and if the day’s risk free then we just continue the daily check in discipline. Easy peasy.

Yesterday he relapsed, and I think the main reason was that he was fed up with tracking his habits and planning his days. Beeminder has been incredibly effective for me on a host of habits, and I also use Habitica and Toggl and RescueTime and HeyFocus – I love tracking habits, watching things iterate their way up, feeling like I have a psychological construct that allows me to Adult with Purpose. You guys all know this, probably, since you’re on the app.

But some days I get where he’s coming from. I’ve had those days, where this thing feels more Sisyphean than busy bee-in’, and you just want a “day off.” Whatever that means. My buddy’s problem yesterday was that he threw out his Flossing Habit (or whatever he also tracks) and his Addiction Recovery Habit on the same day – it was either Track Everything And Feel In Control, or give it all up.

I’m not sure I’m asking this question right. I know Beeminder the product allows for off days – that’s why you have buffers and all that. I’m more asking about Beeminder the lifestyle: what do you guys do when you don’t want to track your habits or think responsibly, when it feels frustrating and maybe a little boring? What do you do tactically to give yourself a break without just breaking down?

Thanks!


#2

That is a reasonable feeling when tracking habits. I can think of a few possible solutions to data fatigue:

  1. Automate: The easiest thing to do is to rethink your goals so that they are automated. For example, if you have an Android Phone you can use IFTTT and add a datapoint whenever you call a certain number. So all your friend has to is worry about calling you. You could also use IFTTT to send a datapoint if you enter a certain area of a geo-fence.

  2. Less Check-ins: You could also have less check-ins which means less data to track (e.g. 3 days instead of 7).

  3. Treat it like a transaction: Sometimes you just don’t want to do your goal. Ask yourself if not doing the goal is worth the cash consequence. This reframes the failure or fatigue as a choice.


#3

I have mass derailments every now and again, and set my pledge caps to a level that makes that kind of ok. At least as long as I also remember to allow for a safety buffer post-derailment, instead of my usual ‘no mercy’ setting…


#4

Android app and automate, automate, automate! I think out of my 13 goals only 4 or 5 require that I type in a manual datapoint, and I only interact with 3 of those daily. The others are weekly, semiweekly, or only on weekdays.

If I’m low on spoons for the day I just look through the android app, see if anything requires my immediate attention, and if not, blissfully close the app and forget about it for 24 hours.

Usually though I have to open the app in the early morning because it’s where I log my weight for a weight-loss goal I’m working on. It goes from there via IFTTT to several other goals and apps.

For automation, the conditions I use include but aren’t limited to:

  • my phone connects to a certain wifi network
  • I log my weight in a beeminder goal
  • I press a bluetooth button
  • I log a workout on strava
  • my phone detects that I’ve walked or run a certain number of steps
  • a new document appears in a certain google drive folder

In general my rule is to automate as much as possible, set my rates so I can do them easily, and take action when I’m having a beemergency.


#5

Automating still leaves the emotional problem for me, I think. On a good day, I just sail through all my productive habits, and don’t even notice that my beeminder goals automatically get happy as I make my way through things. But on days when I Just Don’t Wanna, the automation just makes it easier for Beeminder to know that I haven’t flossed; it doesn’t make it any easier to actually floss.

I don’t know that I have a good solution for this, though. I’ve spent today in this funk of “I know I am capable of working very hard, which I what I need to do to accomplish today’s new list of important tasks, but I would prefer not to.” In the past I’ve had success with pre-emptively dialling down / turning off all the little “noisy” commitments so I only have to focus on the ones that are really important to me, but you have to have some foresight for that to work – and it kind of just shifts the timescale on which you are responsibly managing yourself.

It seems sensible to need breaks and to take them, and to acknowledge that as humans we’re not going to operate with 100% perfection all the time (or even come particularly close to that ideal) – but I think it’s a personal balancing act of having a few principles to cling to during those restorative irresponsible moments.

On reflection, I think I usually plan in some “irresponsibility” by travelling frequently – I go somewhere far-flung to do something a little ridiculous every six weeks or so, and it gives me a break from all the careful habits and routines, without being in danger of overwriting those routines permanently, since I’ll go back to doing my homework and flossing once I’m back home. But that works for me because of some particular details of my life; it wouldn’t work for everyone.


#6

Seconding nearly every sentence in oulfis’s post.


#7

Yeah agreed. These are great posts. @oulfis definitely gets at what I was thinking of, the emotional “I’m too tired to Adult” slump.

Talked about this some more with my buddy today, and one of my takeaways was that the akrasia horizon seems to apply to recreation / relaxation, too. Used to be that my weekends were terrible, because I’d have worked hard all week and I thought that the opposite of work was lack of structure. But my most fulfilling and refreshing experiences all have structure to them – getting outdoors requires packing a bag (and setting an alarm), family/friends require at least some contact, etc.

I read somewhere last year that humans don’t seek the most pleasurable thing to do, but the easiest thing to do. That definitely rings true for me in the moment. e.g. my Worst Breaks Ever have been “watching 5 hours of youtube clips of a show I could see full episodes of on Netflix,” or “playing a boring video game because my mouse is in the other room.” My Best Breaks Ever haven’t required a ton of planning – anything more than putting my bike bag by the bedroom door and setting the alarm – but they required me to pre-bind a little bit.

Anyway, friend and I were wondering if one solution was to intentionally skive off. If you’re in the slump anyway, to pick something that will actually be refreshing. Even something little like “**** packing a lunch; today I’m hitting the taco cart.” Or “forget the dishes in the sink; I’m grabbing a movie tonight and I’m giving myself permission to do it.”

I’m not sure how true that is – maybe when you’re really fed up with anything to do with planning or pre-committing or the whole lot of it, this is still too much – but that’s currently one on the table. “Treat yo’self” stuff.


#8

I like that we’ve discussed the two different types of fatigue differently. There’s the data-entry fatigue, which is often solvable through automation, and then there’s the “doing the actual work” fatigue.

No amount of Beeminder entry automation makes it easier to actually read the books or study the French or run the miles, at least for me. I am personally the type of person that does not like to have emergency days, so I usually have a good amount of safety buffer, at least a few days. I have found “Max Safety Buffer” critical to allowing me to have a gentle road slope while still making sure I make progress.


#9

I totally agree: this problem seems like it skirts the edges of Beeminder’s ability to solve. Much as we would like it to be the case, some situations aren’t solvable by locking yourself into a rigorous commitment schedule, especially situations where you find yourself unable to muster the energy to even get out of bed.

When it’s that bad, though, I think that constitutes a viable reason to draft a rule for yourself where you allow yourself to call “not legit” on any derailment that occurs on such a day. The criterion could be something like “you weren’t able to shower due to intrinsic lack of motivation,” or some similar indicator that your mental health will not be well-served by updating datapoints. I realize this approaches slippery-slope territory and doesn’t actually solve the problem of the mental load of updating datapoints/answering derailment emails but mental health issues are kind of inherently slippery.

And anyhow it seems good to me to institute a Hippocratic criterion for Beeminder use: you probably never want to let falling behind on goals reflect directly on your self-worth, and if that ever seems to be in danger of becoming the case, to allow yourself an escape clause.

disclaimer: I work for Beeminder as a support workerbee but i’m not speaking any kind of officially here