Thoughts and experiences with big(ger) pledge Amounts?


This might not be interesting to anyone else but I’m trying to collect my thoughts on pledge amounts.

I started out using Beeminder with defaults of $5 pledges, $30 cap. And right from the start, it seems like I’m relatively careless when it comes to Beeminder–I know lots of you have these beautiful charts that just go up and right and I’m over here with some goals that look like a sawtooth blade of derailments. :sob: Therefore a few of my goals reached the $30 cap.

What I noticed is that the difference (in the moment of “oh crap I might derail on that goal today”) between a $5 pledge and a $30 pledge wasn’t that much mentally. It definitely wasn’t 6x greater. And I was STILL losing $30 every once in a while on pledges. This was painful, so I decided to lower my pledge amounts to $5 across the board. My thought process was that since a $5 derail was roughly the same disincentive as a $30 derail, I would save money and barely increase derailments (if at all).

There are a couple issues with this. First, I think this has affected my derailment count somewhat more than I expected. Second, part of me thinks this is exactly the opposite of what I should do. $30 wasn’t enough money to make me say “AAAA! I have to do that now! It doesn’t derail for a week but I can’t lose that much!!!” But the whole point of Beeminder’s increasing pledges is that, surely, there is some number at which I would drop everything and handle beemergencies ASAP, not wait until the last minute and have something come up and–oops! another derail.

But I’m also terrified that this could be a very expensive experiment.

Has anyone had a similar experience? Has anyone bit the bullet and just let their pledges climb to something terrifying? Did it work?


@jds02006 I’ve had the same fears you’ve had: what if getting slapped with several hundred $$ just hurts more without changing my behavior? Also, what if I get bit by that big one and then just wallow in self-pity because of it? Etc.

So I’ve never ramped it up to the big guns. I’ve done something else; this might only be tangentially useful to you, but here goes.

Every time I’ve had a significant number of wee derailments, I’ve taken that as a symptom that I haven’t structured the goal effectively. For me, the dollar figure is more punitive than motivating (check this Beeminder blog post for more on that subject), so I’m not relying on it to make me do good things. Instead, I’m taking it as a lagging indicator.

Also, I don’t check Beeminder all day. I check it right before bed, and by that point I’m unlikely to sit down for a hefty Spanish lesson. I need to structure my daily routine such that I reduce friction to goal completion.

Example I’ve shared elsewhere: “going to the gym 3x a week” failed miserably because it wasn’t part of my daily sprint. “8 sets of something daily” is currently crushing it, because the goal exists entirely in my daily routine. And weirdly it’s also got me to go to the gym more.

tl;dr, if the money punishment is really motivating to you, then I’m probably not super helpful. You might as well pull out the big punishments and see what happens. But it sounds like you’re worried that they’ll surprise you, which led me to think that the derailment isn’t what truly motivates you to effect change.


Funny timing as I derailed my time-spent-working-on-Beeminder meta goal last night at $270. (Congratulations to @Tarn for claiming the money!) The whole concept still works beautifully for me: $270 kept me in line for, I think literally years. I did derail at $270 on that goal previously, a long time ago, and $810 was super extra motivating and that was good, but at some point I was feeling too stressed by it and thought I’d like to have the option to decide to pay $270 if I ever really really wanted to. Of course the value of that goal for me is … I don’t even know, whatever Beeminder, Inc’s valuation is, arguably. Anyway, I’m now at $810 on that goal so, keep an eye on it! I may or may not drop it back to $270 at some point. But probably not for a while. I’m a little worried that psychologically I’ve set a precedent where I’ll be like “it was worth it last month at $270, why not tonight?”.


For me, I found that pledge amounts were functionally uniform in their motivational effect, UNTIL $90. $90, it turns out, is my motivational point, and I think I’ve only derailed once at that point.

$90 is also a lot of money (…there’s a correlation there) so I only use it for my Actual Important And Hard bees (completing my entire to-do list daily, and doing my set number of work pomodoros), so I have most of my “just for tracking” or “low priority” bees set at $5.


@erijohns I think you’re exactly right about where the problem lies. My typical failure might be something like this: All day, I vaguely know something like “I have to journal for Beeminder today,” so I’m tuning out the eep messages from Beeminder because “I know” already that it’s an eep day. I journal at some point (but don’t enter the data yet) and then at bedtime and realize, oh crap, I was also supposed to run today!

When I write it out like this it’s kind of hilarious how many obvious points of intervention there are.

  1. Read the dang eep day notifications, they’re kind of important.
  2. Enter beeminder data immediately instead of waiting until bedtime (so I know any further eeps are meaningful)
  3. Add “look at beeminder and note any deadlines approaching” to my morning routine

But I think you’re right that the primary fix needs to be adjusting my goals and my routine so that they actually fit together. Habits being much easier than conscious decisions and all that.

@dreev the point about psychological precedent definitely resonates with me. Good reason to let the pledge bump up. “Deciding to pay” is how I typically think of my derailments, but actually at lower pledge levels this seems to be a difficult decision to make rationally for me. Just like how paying $30 a month for 2 years is easier psychologically than paying $720 up front. I might be willing to say “eh, 10 bucks, oh well” every week, and then regret it in retrospect a year later.

I think this is much less likely at higher pledge levels, where I’m forced to actually consider the opportunity costs of spending $X. Maybe this is kind of the discontinuity that @lanthala brings up: a $90 purchase happens with a completely different mindset than a $10 purchase (for me, at least).

Okay–I think it’s worth a try. I’ll choose one or two important goals that are part of my daily routine (and actually adjust my routine if necessary), increase the pledge cap, and see how it goes!

Thanks everyone for your super useful and thought provoking responses.


$90 is a good motivator, but more importantly see constantly derailing on a goal as a sign that the goal isn’t something you really want to do, or is badly structured and archive these types of goals.

I did this back in March after derailing multiple times on goals that my heart wasn’t really into - they were just ‘wouldn’t it be nice goals’. Since then I’ve kept the defaults down and actually feel more focussed.


One other tip is to stagger the eep notifications, so they hit at useful times and also aren’t all clustered together so you end up missing the important ones. I went through recently and made sure everything eep’d either at the right time of day to remind me (pills notification in am, etc) or early enough that I would have time to complete it before the EOD (so journaling still warns me at 10pm, but “do daily to-do list” shows up around 6pm).


Or stagger the deadlines themselves:


I sometimes think that the one-way system of pledge escalation is unhelpful. If we’re trying to maximise awesomeness, or whatever, then an overly-high pledge creates some combination of stress and conservativeness of ambition.

Wouldn’t it be great if my reward for staying on track for a substantial period of time was that my pledge automatically drops to the next level down?


This is a good idea!


Quoting @dreev in today’s Weekly Beemail:

PRO: First, it’s a reward for staying on track that most users will appreciate. More importantly, when the pledge is scary high it makes you less ambitious in your goal-setting or even weaselly. Scary high pledges are, empirically, not actually awesomeness-maximizing.

This problem has already been solved by the ability to set a maximum pledge threshold. Maybe not for everyone, but that works great for me.

Automatically backing the pledge amount down would only make me more likely to derail, by reducing the disincentive.


The weekly email said 30 days, I wouldn’t call that a substantial period of time. Perhaps ‘substantial’ could be user-goal-defined? I can think of some goals where 3 months may be more appropriate.


I really like this idea. I tend to keep my pledge limit low, because high pledges stress me out and make me feel like my life is out of control even when I’m succeeding in my goals, but if I was able to get money off for good behavior, so to speak, I think that would give me incentive to keep pledge caps high and let dropping pledge amounts act as a reward for keeping up my goals. That would reinforce good behavior while not letting me give into the temptation of autocapping all my pledges at $5 because anything higher is too stressful.


I feel conflicted about this. When I think about it as a “reward” for keeping up with my goals, I like it.

But, umm. On the other hand. I started this thread because I was curious about whether large pledge amounts actually work. It sounds like they do, at least for some of you (testing now to see if it works for me). So: let’s say a $90 pledge works for me, but I’ve consistently found that a $30 pledge does not. So, I’ll succeed for 30 days with the $90 pledge, then be “rewarded” with a drop to $30, at which point I’ll derail and be boosted back up to $90.

So the “reward” here possibly turns into… “being charged $30 every 37 days.” Which would obviously be… unfortunate.

I don’t yet know how this will actually work, though (I am super self-aware about my lack of self-awareness). Maybe after 30 days at $90 my habits will be super dialed in and I’ll have no problems keeping on the path at $30. But I would be super hesitant about such a feature unless it were at least optional and preferably opt-in.


You wrote pretty much the same thing I wrote as a reply to the Beeminder daily beemail. (Except that in my example I used $270 and $90, since that seemed even more “unfortunate”.)


i totally agree! i do this manually on my goals now, but i would love it if it were a feature


Yeah, this is exactly my concern with the idea.


It may depend whether you’re trying to maximize awesomeness and achievement or to minimize financial penalties. Let’s aim for some of both. There’s two legit ways to stay on a goal’s road: do the thing and make the thing easier to do.

I definitely noticed that my high pledge goals gravitated toward the latter, by having more conservative slopes and less ambitious fine print. For me, that’s a net badness.

Part of the reason that we introduced pledge caps, iirc, was an attempt to stop the side-effects of monotonically-increasing exponential pledge amounts.

A good example is a mustdo goal, where each day you specify the task to be done. Eventually, your task becomes ‘get out of bed’ and the goal isn’t worth very much any more. It’s a less visible slippery slope than a rising pledge amount.

An automated down-pledge might counteract the tendency toward awesomeness-reducing conservativeness. Yes, it might have a financial cost, but on balance I think we will create higher quality goals as a result.


This sounds a lot like @dreev’s reflections on the evolution of his use of the system. It seems reasonable that over time you end up with less ambition but more confidence that you’re actually going to do the thing.


Not a coincidence… we’ve talked about this on and off for years. :slight_smile: