A Love Letter to Goals That End

Hello! My name is Russell, and this is my second attempt at using Beeminder. I used to just derail constantly and feel awful about myself all the time. But now I don’t. I’ve only derailed once, I haven’t archived any goals, and I even managed to build up lots of safety buffer with the excess motivation and time I have. I think the main difference that has allowed me to succeed has been setting time limits on goals. I think this feature of Beeminder should be advocated for more often.

For me personally, I see derailments as failures. Still learning experiences, but also still failures. Each derailment is demotivating, no matter how many times I’ve read the “Derailing It is Nailing It” post. That’s why I really like bounded goals. With infinite goals, it’s basically impossible to avoid derailing. You can’t succeed at something forever, and so it feels like you’re just postponing how long it is until you fail. I love deadline goals because there is a tangible sense of reaching victory. You don’t need to be perfect forever. All you need to do is reach the deadline, and you’ve succeeded! It gives you a set date to reevaluate whether you want that goal to stay in your life, and if you do, you can restart it! If you don’t, no worries! You already reached your goal, and so you can safely discard it without berating yourself.

This is my personal love letter to goals with deadlines. All of my Beeminder goals have deadlines, and that’s what makes them so effective for me.

Danny Reeves from the Beeminder team brought up Cranial Silicosis as a flaw of the system, and I can see why that could be a problem. But I think the same thing applies to regular goals too! I had a Japanese reading goal of 10 minutes every day, and I stayed mostly on track, derailing twice and [link to Fake Data Is The Devil | Beeminder Blog inserted by dreev]. I archived it after I finished my book and was floundering around, trying to find something else to read that interested me. I think if I had set it as a bounded goal that finished at the end of my target book, I would have derailed less and wouldn’t have faked any data, and the end of the goal would have felt like a victory. Archivement always feels like failure for me. I think that bounded goals can be a great option for anybody that doesn’t have any difficulty starting new goals, but has trouble following through with them.

I also think bounded goals help increase your self confidence and motivation more than usual goals. I think of it in terms of Expectancy in the Motivation = (EV)/(ID) equation. A derailment/archivement hurts your expectancy a lot more than the daily small wins help it, because of stimulus desensitization. Eventually, you get used to the regular small wins, but the big, irregular derailments continue to hurt considerably. To combat that, you need to have large milestones that signal your success and help your expectancy while also limiting the number of archivements and derailments. Bounded goals achieve both of these in one simple solution. They also allow for natural breaks, eg. a deload week at the end of a training cycle, without messing with your graph.

Danny also brought up the hashtag feature as a potential way to mark milestones, but that doesn’t feel as satisfying as reaching the big target at the end of the graph. Flat spots signal slacking or derailment for me, no matter the reason really.

What are everyone’s thoughts on bounded goals? I’d be very curious about how fellow akratics think about the difference between endless and bounded goals.

6 Likes

Most of my goals have been created as endless goals, but I will give this idea a try. Thanks for sharing!

2 Likes

Seconding the recommendation for goals that end.

Once something ends, it’s easier to take a breathing and decide “ok, what next?” — which might be something else entirely. When I’m in the middle of a goal (or a job, or a relationship, etc), reflecting is harder for me at least.

3 Likes

I personally love bounded/end date goals. I often use them for books I would not otherwise finish in a reasonable time frame. For example I recently read the book The Way of Kings which is like 1,000 pages.

I have a general reading goal but if I did not have a separate goal specific to that book I probably would have focused on my shorter books.

2 Likes

I set up all my goals (currently 49 active ones) this way these days. Either a fixed amount like pages in a book or a fixed date which is usually the end of the calendar year.
Previously I also had some set to end monthly but restarting them was awkward enough that I weeded them out - either archiving them or moving them to yearly.
I use the ‘goal has ended’ as a time to reflect on the progress throughout the year and to evaluate if I would like to have such a goal in the next/current calendar year.
Restarting and configuring them anew is still neither straightforward nor easy but it is just once a year (though for many goals) and I can add the (cognitive) cost of renewing them with the cost in the benefit/cost of having the beeminder goal at all.

That is, +1 for terminated beeminder goals.

2 Likes

Thanks for being open to that mental reframing, even if it hasn’t stuck so far! We actually have a whole series of posts trying to make the case for that reframing. I’m working on yet another one and put together this rundown of the existing posts, in case anyone finds it useful:

The "derailing is good-actually" series

  1. "Bee Nice To Yourself" (2014) planted the seed for the rest of this list. It's our cofounder, Bee, pointing out that treating oneself to a derailment now and then is ok. It even helps clarify the value you have for various behaviors. Bee asks herself, for example, "how much do I want to not go for a run right now?" If it's less than $10, she'll run. If it's more, she'll pay. And if she gets up to $90 at stake and still does't want to go running, she'll re-evaluate why she's trying to get herself to run in the first place.
  2. "Derailing Is Not Failing" (2019) argues that Beeminder revenue is proportiional to user-awesomeness -- that pushing yourself hard enough that you sometimes derail is great for us and great for you. You don’t know how much more you could be accomplishing unless you sometimes find your limits!
  3. "Paying Is Not Punishment" (2022) is a prelude to the subsequent announcement of No-Excuses Mode and advocates for a generally less excuse-making and more results-oriented mentality with Bee minder.
  4. "Derailing It Is Nailing It" (2023) turns the concept up to eleven and gives it a positive spin.
  5. "Beeminder As Your Personal Pigouvian Tax" (2024) argues for a reframing from a punitive to a taxing mindset, where you treat Beeminder's stings as a behavior-shaping tax and accept that some derailments are inevitable. You can view that tax as the cost of the service Beeminder provides: nudges or rumble strips keeping you on track.

I don’t buy the logic here. The right metric is how often you derail per unit of time you’re on track. Quitting while you’re ahead is still quitting.

A lot of the other points here are great, like having milestones, points to reflect and reassess. I agree that Beeminder should have better support for that.

My best recommendations in the meantime include calendialing and, as you mentioned, the hashtag feature for displaying milestones on your graph. And of course just scheduling breaks as times to reflect and reassess.

I’m worried people underestimate Cranial Silicosis. If a goal ends, the path of least resistance is to leave it ended. If you just schedule a long break, the path of least resistance is for it to eventually start back up again

I do buy the use case of reading books though. That’s the one thing I beemind where I too set end dates on my goals. Though even there, I’m wondering if I may want to mostly go back to having an ongoing reading goal, using the odometer reset feature when I start each new book.

But recently, as one example, someone really wanted me to read a book (Bryan Caplan’s new graphic novel about YIMBYism) and offered to send me a copy. I’m always afraid to say yes to an offer like that in case I fail to actually read it. So it’s nice to able to point the person at a Beeminder graph:

https://www.beeminder.com/d/readcaplan

(If you’re curious: the book is correct. Preaching to the choir in my case.)

So that’s my one clear use case for goals that end. I strongly disagree with putting an end date on something like a 10k steps/day goal.

Technically speaking, a goal ending is like a mega flat spot!

3 Likes