Beeminder Forum

Accomplishing the goal but not the rate (aka when derailing might not be "fair")

I hate paying money for derailments when they are not justified (read: there is a derailment, but the derailment is “not fair” since I accomplished the goal for which I did set up the Beeminder Goal, but didn’t met the standards of the rate).

Since I have been using Beeminder (beginning 2019), I have used fake data around 34 times, most of them “justifiedly” (that could be up to discussion) like “I forgot to schedule breaks for vacations” or when there where riots in my country due to politics, last october on Catalonia, but also a very few times when I thought that the derailment was like this “not fair” situations.

I am a little OCD on this, so believe me that I have a list of all those 34 times (ask and I will show privately). I really just want personal reassurance that, when I do see any graph on my Beeminder App, all that there is in there is mostly true (or 100% true but at least, I know when is not, so I don’t fool myself or others).

What do I mean by saying "it is not fair?"

Imagine this situation: I wake up one day with the feeling that I have a looot of work to do, and feeling that I have procrastinated a lot. I think that I need to work 25 hours a day to accomplish all I need to do (when it is actually not true, I only need around 4 hours of focused work to do it all).

Then, I create a extra-hard goal (like 8 hours of deep work a day (which I know for me I can only do when I am at my very best)). Having such a big uphill motivates me to stop procrastinating, and during 2-3 days I am extra focused and I do meet the rate.

Then, when I am no longer have the feeling of being overwhelmed, I derail consciously (like: oh, I worked 7 hours of the 8 that I needed today. it is better for my productivity to go walk one hour so I will be in better shape tomorrow).

A few days later, I feel like this was fake data. And then pay 30$.

With perspective, I think that if I have worked 7 hours, working one more no longer makes sense. I am burned out and what I need is go to walk. Doing more work is actually not helpful at that concrete moment, because it won’t be productive, but that’s what I said I would do in the Beeminder Goal.

In a sense, the meta-goal (bringing me back from procrastination and doing some work) was accomplished, but ended up derailing.

These derails ARE derails. I do not want to hide myself. I need to learn to set better rates, but I still feel like I will be doing these kind of mistakes again in the near future.

Any solutions?

Some might say (and I think this too) that the strategy might be to do easier goals, but having huge pledges and big goals motivates me more than "do 2 minutes of work"or some easy thing. I know this is a rookie mistake, but still I am here. Aaaand I do want to stop paying for “not-justified” derails.

I have paid like 400$ for derails in around 1.5 years and a half, and I am okay with it because what I have learned has been amazing. But I am not not when it is for silly things like the ones I am describing OR I cannot learn anything to prevent a similar and probable derail for next time.


PS: On a related note, a lot of derailments come because i don’t have time to rethink whether the rate is accurate (the goal might be accurate, but not the rate). You derail because you don’t have time to do the goal whose rate you don’t have time to think about… :thinking:

another side note

PSS: I do want to treat this an exception, but I am tagging @dreev and @narthur (my beemidner coach :P) because I think they might have some perspective on this special situation.

PSSS: Hope all this makes sense. I tried my best. If it does not grammatically or ortographically or whatever, I will try to do my best to do it again :stuck_out_tongue:

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I’ve done stuff like this before. What I usually do is just email beeminder and tell them that the derailment is not legit.

If you accomplished your goal in full, then clearly the derailment wasn’t legit, and you shouldn’t have to pay.

Like if my goal is to work 10 hours on a project, and I finish it completely in 8, that still counts as completed. You could put that in the fine print if you wanted.

Riots or a prescheduled vacation are similar situations where a derailment would not be legit.

This type of situation is a little trickier, though.

I’ve done similar things, and called non-legit because derailing was the “right” thing to do and it doesn’t seem “fair” to have to pay.

@dreev and the Beeminder staff all hate me for it :joy:

The problem is that this can be a slippery slope. For instance, if you’re too exhausted to get work done, sleeping is the right thing to do. But if you let yourself off the hook for being exhausted, then you could stay up late the night before without consequence.

As I see it, there are two ways to go, and both are equally valid:

  1. Use your own judgment after the fact as to whether or not the derailment was justified, and call non-legit if it was. Maybe put specifically in the fine print that it’s at your discretion. This can be risky, because it can lead to slippery slopes where you end up not being motivated to create the conditions that will allow you to get stuff done.

  2. Make a very strict bright line where if you don’t do it, you have to pay no matter what (unless you complete the goal in full or there’s a genuine emergency) - and then exercise more care in how you set your goals. This tends to be the approach @dreev favors.

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Oh, and there is a middle ground, which is to spell out specific conditions in your fine print that allow you to call non-legit, but otherwise have a very strict policy where you have to pay if you don’t do what you said you would.

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Oh I’m definitely in the non-legit camp! I don’t have quite the situation of @marcmarti. Actually, I don’t have that situation at all. Except from the fact that I, too, paid about $400, a bit more than that, in derails over a similar period of time. And I, too, have written about it. Somewhere… where is it… here:

@zedmango re: slippery slope: Yeah. I feel you.

Including this bit :stuck_out_tongue:

What I do is: I tend to have a fairly solid understanding of why I need and made a goal in the first place. Commonly this is because time just pours away when I watch video or surf the web. If Beeminder makes me not do that then I consider it a success.
That is for indoor goals.
I got one mainly outside goal and the reason I have it is because I would otherwise lazy potato and stay inside when it’s perfectly good weather to do something outside.

So consequently, if I can’t meet my goals because I got a strong headache that lasts multiple days usually, I call non legit. Or when some social event comes up. Because that’s not the problem why I joined Beeminder. It’s not why I made these goals.

When it’s raining cats and dogs outside, I call non legit on my outside activity goal. Because, again, I made the goal so I wouldn’t potato when it’s perfect bike weather. Not to drench myself and risk a cold.

I can already see @dreev getting the pitchfork ready :stuck_out_tongue: I suppose it’s a different philosophy and I have to say that when I was new to Beeminder I was more strict with this. Which was both good and bad. It created stress (positive stress) and ultimately I got things done a day earlier than I would have otherwise.
But this one day of progress did not matter because it’s all about steady progress, not what you do in one single day.
On the other side I got into silly arguments with friends to whom I had to say no because I didn’t have time. Because some random website wanted to make me do something, completely oblivious that the outside variables changed. I would have never beforehand said “Yeah let’s work so much this day so I can’t attend my friend’s invitation”.
I have previously mentioned that the 7 days akrasia horizon does not work for me:

Hope this helps looking at it from a related perspective :slight_smile:

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One rule of thumb @dreev proposed somewhere was - if you had thought of the situation when creating the goal, would you have put it in your fine print?

TL;DR

  • You’ve committed to something that isn’t your real capital-G goal. Find what your real goal is and commit to that fully.
  • Clearly spelled-out commitments keep you from being unsure in the moment what you really have to do, which is what keeps Beeminder working.
  • Unclear commitments allow the “You don’t really have to do this now” voice back in, and make Beeminder kinda useless.
  • I think that if we treat each derailment like a to-do item to review why we’re derailing and make changes if any are necessary, we get a lot more traction on our goals.


I pay only when I’m akratic, not when the truly unexpected comes up

I’m on team this. Cards on the table, I’m not on team “pay even when it’s not my fault”. (But I think we’re about to start disagreeing about much of the rest, I’m afraid!)


Email support for the unexpecteds!
First things first: email support when you forget to schedule your vacation or there’s a “not-legit” derailment because of something unusual and unexpected like a riot. That’s a big part of what they’re there for! (And having to interact with an actual human when you’re not-legit derailing is an important part of pushing against the tendency to just lie to a machine, which is very different, psychologically!)


The loop you might get stuck in
It sounds like what you’re saying is that you planned to do too much (sort of deliberately), later feel like you’ve planned to do too much, and then are able to bail on or ignore the plan precisely because it was too much, making it not really a plan but more or a direction of sorts. Or, it might be plan-like at the time, but with that pattern, it’s not a commitment. Beeminder is for your commitments.

Telling myself I’m going to do more and knowing that I’m actually going to do less would be very un-motivating for me personally. Here’s what would happen if it were me:

Exactly!! This is the worst of all worlds! The threat of the derailment doesn’t really make you finish the task, cause that little voice in your head tells you that it’s fine, that this time is different and it’s totally legit to ignore that last bit of the plan you made, because you overshot what was reasonable. And since you’ve put yourself in a position where it’s at least a little right, the whisper works sometimes and you stop. But the voice that tricks us when it says “You don’t need to follow through on your goals today; there’s always tomorrow.” can masquerade very effectively as the voice that correctly says “You way over-committed here, friend.” How will you know which is which? Now you’re in the moment of “Do I need to keep going?” and there’s ambiguity; you’re back to having to choose.

So the akratic parts of ourselves, or maybe the reasonable parts—impossible to know which in the moment—are going to say that we’re done, but then later, the part of us that wants Beeminder to still work for us realizes we didn’t fulfill our commitment and also didn’t pay, even though there was no unexpected circumstance; we just decided not to in the moment. But that’s precisely what Beeminder is there to keep from happening and so if we continue like that, that’s pretty much the end of Beeminder for us. So now that “Oh no! I don’t want to lose this tool!” part decides to pay up, retroactively, for the derailment. But now you’re SCREWED because you’re in a situation where, when you’re in the moment you need to decide about your actions, it’s not clear whether you really have to continue or not and so you’re in the same pre-Beeminder position of just deciding whether to stop or follow through, BUT you’re also eventually paying for it when you don’t! You’re getting all of the charge without the benefit of closing off that option in your mind at the time of action! (And that’s the thing that gets you back to doing what you committed to and prevents the “it’s fine… just this time… come on” voice from killing all of your plans.


One of the main benefits that Beeminder gives you is to stop you from deciding on the spot whether or not today is a day when you have to do your habit / work on your goal / write your thesis / floss / go for a run. We’re all here because when we have to decide on the spot, we sometimes (or often) decide in the wrong direction and Beeminder is the remedy for that for us! Reintroducing that into your Beeminder goal systems is death to the thing Beeminder brings to the table!

My belief is that if you’re doing that, you’re going to be very unhappy with your progress over the long haul. You’ll find your goals sputtering in spite of paying, you’ll feel like it’s just not working, and you’ll undermine your goals Beeminder is there to support.


What I think might work better and would urge you to try (even if just with one or two of your goals). For science!

“But, 8 hours is too much; it’s not fair to pay to not do those 8 hours!”

Right, but the thing that I think would most help me to take from this is that I shouldn’t be planning to do 8 hours! It sounds like working 8 hours isn’t the actual target and you should probably be committing to something else, something you can be fully committed to and that is your actual target.

If you’re planning to do 8 hours but really you should only be planning to lock yourself into doing 4, then lower the rate on the goal to 4 and don’t budge from that commitment, even when you feel like you’ve done enough.

If what you need is to finish the tasks that are absolutely due today or things will go really badly, then have a +1 goal that says

"Finish those tasks that I marked yesterday as 'tomorrow's most important tasks' OR work 6 hours"

Then, get done those things you can’t walk away from and you’re free. Otherwise, work a full day, put that massive dent in them, and continue with your most important tasks on the next day. Bright lines and requirements honoured; everything’s nice and clear, but it has the flexibility you might need.

If what the real problem is is that you get stuck because you don’t start early enough and don’t come back from lunch or breaks on time, but when you do get started, things go fine, then maybe have "Get started on time" goals for those risk points.

What I’m saying is find the actual thing that you should be unambiguously committing to and commit to that.

Let your derailments be signs that either you’ve committed to the wrong thing or that you haven’t put enough things in place to support that goal and then relentlessly build the supports needed for the right goal.


"But when I’m planning, I really believe that I should be working those full 8 hours. It’s only when I’m not overwhelmed that I realize that’s too much! That feels like it’s a tax on being stressed!"

(Warning! Incoming opinion!)
Yes, this is a bad situation and you need to get out of that because it’s unsustainable and will make you feel like crap! I might be wrong; you might thrive on it, like @dreev does, but I think that if you did, you might not be feeling this tension. If you’re like me, you’ve gotta find another way or you’re gonna burn out and/or Beeminder’s gonna crash and burn for you.

You don’t want to keep paying for planning to work 8 hours when you’re stressed and then realizing when you’re not overwhelmed that that’s not healthy for you and derailing. But “pay even though that’s unfair” and “have requirements for my goals where the goal and the rate don’t match” aren’t the two only options!

Derailment costs can be used as a kind of higher-level commitment. Use the derailment costs as motivation to figure out where things are going wrong! Run an evaluation on what happened. Is the goal realistic? Are you measuring what you should be? Have you made the requirements clear and are they measuring what really matters? Have you set the alarms you need, gotten your tools where you need them to be, told your housemates you’re not available before 4 PM? Etc.

Stick to the commitment you shouldn’t have made by either following through or paying for it and make the unpleasantness of that your motivation to either change or replace that goal or to get the supports in place for it that you need, as soon as possible!

The non-stressed you knows that 8-hours is too much. And yeah, it’s gonna be pissed at either having to follow through on what the stressed you planned or having to pay for a derailment. So after one of those two unpleasant things has happened, have the non-stressed you make a better plan for next time!

If the thing I’ve committed to was not well planned and was impossible to carry out, it’s unfair to be charged for that, but if I pay $5 when I do that and take from it the lesson that I have to change my goal right now so that I don’t have to pay for another derailment… Well, that’s definitely going to be huge support for my real, capital-G goal.

(And maybe that kind of post-derailment reflection is something we should be better about guiding people with, but I think it’s such a highly personal process. Still, maybe I’ll write up a blog post to at least nudge people towards that reflection that we could link to in our derailment emails or something!)

If doing more than seven hours is not your real goal, though, you should stop committing to that! Like, right now.

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I see this kind of hyperbolic language sometimes, in particular from @dreev - and I don’t mean any offense, but I don’t think it’s helpful. I think this can be dangerous in that it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I haven’t found it to be actually true in my own experience.

I think what you’re missing is the other side of things - there are also risks in not giving yourself a little flexibility, a little wiggle room, namely you might just feel frustrated and give up on the whole thing, or might have to make yourself pay more money than you can afford.

I have an $810 goal now that’s very motivating for me, and helping me get a lot done. But if I were super strict about it, and didn’t, say, count a block of work where I took a phone break, I’d have to derail myself a bunch, and I’d either lose thousands of dollars or have to cheat, either of which would be far more destructive to my ability to use beeminder than giving myself a little wiggle room.

And in that example, reducing the number of hours wouldn’t solve the problem, because the actual issue is 100% attention during that time.

That’s one way to look at it, but there’s a problem, which is that it’s impossible to account for every single possibility when you write your fine print. Impossible. So you’ll always have to use some discretion and judgment.

I think what you’re missing is that Beeminder helps push you in the right direction, so the decisions you make when you decide on the spot with Beeminder are better than the ones you would have made without Beeminder.

I think there’s a middle ground here between “don’t budge” and “budge whenever you feel like it.”

What I understood @marcmarti to be saying was not that he budged whenever he felt like it, but rather that he budged when he, upon reflection, thought it no longer served his actual long-term goals:

So I agree he should probably lower the rate - but I don’t think that addresses the real issue, which is that your fine print can’t possibly include everything, and there will always be a need for some discretion. Like what @phi says here:

It’s a hard thing to specify this unambiguously in the fine print, but there’s a judgment call here other than just “do I feel like doing more.”

It sounds like using Beeminder more “directionally” - that is, with a little more flexibility - isn’t motivating for you, but I find it extremely helpful and motivating personally, and I think it’s a legitimate way to use Beeminder.

You’re worried about the possible harms from being too flexible, and I agree those are concerns, but there are also possible harms from being too rigid, like getting frustrated and just giving up.

I’m not being hyperbolic or otherwise using rhetorical flare. I entirely believe that there are certain practices that will eventually completely undermine Beeminder if I use them. (Ex-support-czar and repentant weasel Chelsea agreed.)

I agree that it there’s a risk in using Beeminder more rigidly than suits the in-world goal. In fact, that’s one of the main differences in the ways @dreev and I beemind, but I still think there need to be very clear lines as to where that flexibility is.

There’s a difference between

  1. not being able to foresee something that will unexpectedly come up,
  2. including unclear requirements in the satisfaction criteria of a goal, and
  3. having a goal that can be satisfied more than one way.

For one, the first is usually something external that imposes itself on me. I have a night of total insomnia, there’s a major protest nearby, someone is hospitalized, my apartment catches fire, I’m unwell, I’m fired from the job I’m beeminding hours for, a solar flare takes out the electric grid, whatever. Good fine print and the “Do you agree to put this into your fine print from now on” heuristic do the job here.

The second kind involves introducing ambiguity about when I’ve satisfied the goal. Ambiguity I now have to resolve on the spot each time I act… which is one of the things Beeminder solves. (As an aside, see Willpower Is for Losers.) I think this is an unhelpful kind of flexibility (and sometimes it’s something else masquerading as flexibility). I think this should be avoided or made explicit in the goal through 3.

If your in-world Goal really is “Work 8 hours OR until I feel like I’ve worked enough”, to use the OP’s example, then do the third and state that outright in the formulation of your goal. Make it a +1 that can be satisfied when you do one or the other of the options. Own that formulation of the goal, clearly, and see if that goal works. No ambiguity; no “Should I have derailed in the past that time that I let myself off the hook since I’m not sure if that’s really my Goal-goal?”, just clarity about what your goal actually is. Find out what the consequences of actually committing to that goal are. If it works, well great! If it doesn’t, time to change the plan and make a goal that does. But having a goal that’s committing to something but has all kinds of unstated, ambiguous, “maybe sometimes it’s fine; maybe just this once but I’m not sure…” criteria in the background is risky AF IMO. It’s also not a commitment.

Full disclosure, I absolutely have flexible goals that fall in 3, but I’m very clear about where that line is. For instance, I have had a goal to Stop eating by a certain time in the evening UNLESS there's a social event with food OR I'm not feeling well. But my goal isn’t to stop eating at a certain time of night… you know, most of the time… unless there are, like, reasons or something. That would leave me with way too much of the kind of flexibility I signed up to have Beeminder solve.

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The way I have done is to give myself a break from the unexpected. In other words if something out of my control occurs that prevents me from doing my goal I make an exception for that. However if I set a goal to do an hour of something a day and I do only 30 minutes because I just don’t feel like doing it I will derail. In other words if you set the goal too high I feel the answer is to lower it.

@mary Yea if there is ambiguity I tend cheat the system. I try my best to put in some fine print on all my goals. Also as you pointed on #1 is pretty cut and dry if something unexpected comes up I will stop the derail as that was out of my control. However if I just set the goal too high I feel like I must lower it and just take the derails. Because as soon as I start letting myself off the hook I know soon I won’t be really completing any of my goals. I also feel like this is why Beeminder allows you to delete goals within the first week. As you can see if it is just too much and delete and create a more realistic goal.

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I arguably cheated on my goal today! Uh oh! I restarted this afternoon but didn’t realize how exhausted I was and ended up taking a nap and feeling pretty sick and out of it. There was no way I was gonna be able to work 6 hours. So I just deleted the datapoints for the goal and I’ll regroup tomorrow.

That post is about entering false data, which is a separate issue entirely - I thought we were talking about calling non-legit on a derailment.

I understand that you entirely believe it, but I still think it’s exaggerated or overstated to say that it will completely destroy the value of Beeminder.

So as I understand your 3 categories, 1/2 refer to something coming up that you didn’t think of putting in your fine print, whereas 3 refers to something you did think to. The problem is that it’s impossible to think of everything.

Ooh, I haven’t encountered this criterion before! It’s a little more flexible than the one I’ve seen, which is “if someone had asked you about this when you made your goal, would you have put it in your fine print?”

So if OP said “ok, in this case, when I worked 7 hours, and with perspective, I am burned out and what I need is to go walking, and doing more work isn’t helpful and is unproductive now - so I’ll add that to my fine print, and call this a non-legit derail” - would you be ok with that?

But I’m not really clear on the difference between 1 and 2. I could see insomnia, for instance, going either way.

Or do you mean claiming a goal was satisfied vs calling non-legit?

I guess I don’t see the point in keeping a long fine print list of 100 things that might cause you to derail, and then continuing to add to it, when the real question is just a judgment call, as you pointed out - is this the kind of thing you signed up to have Beeminder solve?

I’m still a little confused - I thought we were talking about calling non-legit, which gets resolved the next day. And even with the external stuff, like insomnia or feeling sick, you still have to make a judgment call: “how sick am I? Am I just making myself feel sick due to the anxiety of starting on the task? if I start, will it go away? Did I do everything I could to help me sleep? Or did I at least do enough? Or should I have gotten off the phone/computer earlier, or lay down and tried to sleep for longer?” You still have to decide if it’s “something else masquerading as” something external.

So there’s just no way of avoiding the judgment call. This is why, for instance, contract law involves a court looking at the whole circumstances around a breach of contract, and various legal principles, rather than just sticking to the letter of the contract. Because we recognize that any number of different things could happen, and it’s impossible to write a contract that could cover them all (as well as possibly unfair - for instance, you generally aren’t allowed to contract to avoid the force majure doctrine, so even if your contract says you don’t have that protection, a court will still give it to you when something like covid-19 hits.)

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Chelsea was focusing on cheating by entering fake data and how it leaves a feeling of “well I could just…” In her case it’s entering fake data, but the broad issue is that it’s in a category of things that create an “I don’t really have to do this today” feeling in the background. Fake data is one way of doing that, calling not-legit on a should-be-legit derailment would be another. It’s just an example of the broader issue from a different point of view.

I definitely would destroy it for me. If I made good on-the-spot “It’s fine not to do this now” decisions, I wouldn’t need Beeminder! If I’m the type of person who only puts off what can totally and truly be put off without it harming my plans and goals… what value am I getting out of a commitment contract service?! I worry that people who use Beeminder because they really need it end up making it nothing more than an expense for themselves if they let the “Maybe I don’t really have to do this today” back in through a side door. I think that then we’re just not going to help them.

For me, “If I’m sick enough to call in sick from work”, counts as too sick on certain goals, while for others “If I have acid reflux, am lightheaded, hypoglycaemic, or headachy, or have a cold or flu” gets added to that list, like on my overnight fasting length goals. (Reflux b/c getting something into my stomach makes it stop hurting.)

When something comes up, if I find the reasons it’s an exception and use those to guide writing the fine print clauses for the future, I can find the moving parts and get pretty close to something solid that can be used for most goals. And if I find the common elements between things, I don’t have to write an eternally long list. I can catch most things under some larger umbrella. Yes, some judgment calls remain (“My office building burned down… but I could’ve finished the day in a coffee shop with my laptop.”) but I want to eliminate as many as absolutely possible and nix, wherever possible, situations where they’re frequent or borderline. That’s where a lot of my akrasia and willpower failure lives. I think it’s where a lot of people’s akrasia lives.