Archiving and lying for a week

I’ve been mulling over how Beeminder “should” handle someone giving up on a goal.

First, some background on my thinking. Beeminder works because of an interesting mix of factors that are in balance, here presented as a typical dialogue between me and someone I’m telling about beeminder:


I use this thing Beeminder, which charges me money if I stray from my goals.

Oh god, I would hate that, I would always fail and be charged money.

Well, you can set the goal as easy as you like. You can set it so that you have to go for a run once a month, or study French for 3 minutes/day.

Well, that would make me feel silly, I would want to set it higher than that.

You can set it to something higher that is meaningful for you, but still much easier than you think will make you fail. Maybe a run once per week and french 10 minutes/day.

So what’s the point of using beeminder then if it’s so easy and realistic?

Do you currently go for a run and study French at that rate?

Point taken. Okay so, how much control can it really have over me. I can just turn it off any time can’t I?

No - you can change your rate, but that change doesn’t kick in for a week.

Okay then if one day I’m sick of studying French so much I’ll just crank the rate way down, put up with the rate I’m sick of for a week, and then be on an easier rate and now I’m not studying like I want to.

Right, that’s a feature. You aren’t tricking Beeminder in that case, you are explicitly deciding to change your goal.

Well then I’ll just keep lying to Beeminder and never do any real work.

You are really lying to yourself, but Beeminder forces you to put that in writing and look at it and feel the shame.

Fine then I’ll just delete my Beeminder account and tell my credit card company to refuse all charges.

Okay… but again, you are fighting with yourself, you aren’t cheating a system.

So why use Beeminder at all if it’s just myself?

Because humans have a weird mix of weaknesses and tendencies and motivations at various times, Beeminder is a way to quantify and restrict those down over time so that goals can be achieved.

is enlightened, signs up for Beeminder


So, that’s why Beeminder works. But! I think there is an edge case that is an ambiguous mix of “cheating” and “deciding” - when bailing on a goal.

Just now I bailed on my running goal and archived it. I already go to the gym N times per week and usually after I strength train I do cardio. My goal was to also go for a stand-alone longer run once a week. But I’ve missed the goal several times and when I do go I somehow always end up running on Fri or Sat night, which is depressing. Long story short, it’s no longer a goal of mine to do this.

But I’m supposed to go for a run today… So I lied. I might have to lie one more time before the archive takes effect.

I feel totally fine with this. It’s no longer my goal. I made a decision about my new rate that starts next week: 0. I guess it’s possible that I’ll change my mind again between now and then. But I highly doubt it.

Anyone have any thoughts on this? Am I simply cheating, because the point of the archiving delay is to have to deal with bailing decisions for a week just like a rate change? Or is the bailing case different from the rate change case?

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That was our thinking – all changes, including ending the goal altogether, have a one-week delay. We’ve been talking to @mary though about how to be more flexible. Here’s the rough sketch of the idea:

  1. Make the fine print more prominent/central (include it in the legit check emails, etc).
  2. Have a button to “Invoke Fine Print” and immediately create a [gap in the road]( “Placeholder for the spec for this feature, which may be part of the Road Editor”).
  3. Doing that also prompts you to explain yourself (tweet-size) and sends it as an email to support (us) and your Supporters.
  4. Weaselproofing removes the feature altogether.

And a related proposal from you.

See also Combatting Cheating, aka “7 Reasons Not to Cheat on Beeminder” (hover over the link for a summary). And sort of related is our spec for sane account deletion

PS: Love that dialog, @jjb! Thanks so much for spreading the good word!

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I think that Beeminder is good for more that just the “makes you stick to this particular goal” piece. It’s good also for training willpower and for just reinforcing “stick to goals you make, generally speaking”. You wouldn’t want to stick to every goal you’ve ever come up with for the rest of your life, but a 7-day waiting period for quitting a goal seems like it’s far from that. In a way, you move from the specific “stick to this goal” point to the broader “stick to goals” when you keep going on a goal that you no longer want to do.

Plus, doing that helps to reinforce that we should be keeping an eye on the goals we have and the time they’re taking away from other goals. You seem to have started feeling iffy about this goal a while ago, but instead of dialling down, you put it off a little (“I’ve missed the goal several times and when I do go I somehow always end up running on Fri or Sat night, which is depressing. Long story short, it’s no longer a goal of mine to do this.”) There was a kind of procrastination, not about the goal, but about making a decision about the goal. If you give yourself a free pass, what’s the incentive to pay closer attention next time?

The question there, though, is “what’s reasonable (and useful)?” I mean, what if the goal is massive and takes 8 hours a week and is taking away from your other priorities and you’ve short-circuited it up to $270? Do you have to choose between losing either those 8 hours or that $270? Maybe… though, I suspect something like that is most likely to happen either the first week it’s created or the first week following a foolish massive hike in the road rate + retroratchet combo, or adding a new goal that interferes with your ability to manage all your beemergencies. I think in those case it might be worth it to have a “Rage-Quit Cost” to insta-archive. You’re not derailing, you’re giving up on the goal. To make sure it’s not just used to make goals cheaper to derail, maybe there could be a “this goal can’t be restarted for X days” constraint following a rage-quit+archive. It could be either a portion of the goal’s total cost, OR it could actually be something you could set in your account settings. If someone is annoyed with themselves because they tend to rage quit when the going gets tough, for example, or if someone else wants to teach themselves a lesson about not starting 97 goals at the same time or not being unrealistic about a rate when starting a new goal, they both might want to have a high rage-quit fee.

I can’t remember where I read this, but I think it applies to many, many things. Someone said something like: “On good days, I’m committed to my wife. On bad days, I’m committed to my marriage. On the hardest days, I’m committed to my commitment.” I think that’s good advice in so many areas, including this one.

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Agreed. I actually decided to forward it via email to someone who didn’t quite get why anyone would want something like Beeminder before even getting to the second part of your post.

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(Also, consider this conversation:

- I bet I can finish that project before week’s end.

  • I’ll take that bet with you!
  • Okay. $20?
  • Sure. $20 it is.
    *handshake*

*a week passes*

- How did that project go?

  • Oh, yeah I didn’t do it.
  • Bummer. Sorry to hear that. Guess I win that bet.
  • What? No. You totally don’t.
  • Wait, why?
  • Cause I changed my mind about doing the project.

This is different from Beeminder, of course, b/c they aren’t betting against you, but it does kind of feel a little like it’s in the same family as reneging on a bet.)

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Ha, @chipmanaged, I love the way you think, and empirically (well, anecdotally) it does seem to be the case that the most awesome people (who use Beeminder) have that “a bet’s a bet” mentality. And I do like the argument that the slopes must all be kept sticky as glue. Like, sure, a week of running when you’ve truly, dispassionately concluded that running is not worth the time is suboptimal. Or wasting the pledge – also obviously suboptimal. But overall, if such suboptimalities are rare and small compared to the day-to-day value of Beeminder’s sword of Damocles, then maybe it’s a bad idea to compromise the power of the Bee. (:

PS: Mulling your “Rage-Quit Cost” idea, but wary of the potential cascading complications, like additional settings and rules like a minimum time before restarting.

Here’s the “on the other hand” to what I’ve already said, though. The point of Beeminder, fundamentally, is to be an anti-akrasia tool (not necessarily a improve-all-your-productivity-related-tendencies tool) and any time you genuinely make a long-term decision that is not akrasia-related (and you can be decently certain of that last part), it seems as though you should be in the clear. My phrasing of the bet dialogue above seems to beg the question against the idea that it’s fine to quit a goal before the time is up by phrasing the bet as “finish that project before week’s end”. If I had phrased it, instead, as “I bet I can avoid being akratic about that project before week’s end”, the idea we get that the person in the scenario is going back on the bet would be completely different.

It seems like, if someone doesn’t have a habit of over-committing and then rage-quitting, or quitting early as a way of being akratic (by being able to avoid the task they still would think is valuable if they could just assign it to Tomorrow Them instead), then it’s probably not a problem at all. A potential option for accommodating the genuine “this has no value to me” decision, as well as de-incentivizing the akratic on-the-bandwagon-off-the-bandwagon cycling could be to have an insta-quit+archive feature, but then to also have a clock on any insta-quit goal that counts down to restarting it for free again; say, 31 days. Maybe with an attached restarting cost (proportional to the time left? days left / 31 x pledge at quitting time). That way if Tomorrow Me realizes that Today Me quit a goal for bad reasons, I can cough of up the derailment fee and keep going. But if I just realized that something has no value to me, I can make a decision, which is how jjb has framed his deciding to quit the goal, and just move on to higher priority things.

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Jerry, just remember. It’s not a lie… if you believe it…

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The point at which you decide to abandon a goal is an excellent time to re-evaluate how it (and your other roads) actually serves your wider purpose and intention.

Here’s a snippet from: Archiving my goals as I don’t have time for them:

e.g. I’d be leery of telling the graph that I went for a run on a day that I actually just sat on the couch, but if I’d just spent a session on the rowing machine, it might fit with the spirit of my intention. There’s some slippery slope in there, of course, but less slippery than just telling the graph what it wants to hear.

Also: there’s a time-honoured mechanism for stopping a goal before the akrasia horizon—it’s called ‘derailing’. There’s even a checkbox in settings to automatically quit a goal after the next derail. I use that all the time when it becomes apparent that a particular road isn’t serving me very well at all.

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how about this:

  • I bet I can lose 50 pounds in 50 weeks.
  • I’ll take that bet with you!
  • Okay. $20?
  • Sure. $20 it is.
    handshake

49 weeks pass

  • How did the weight loss go?
  • Pretty good. I lost 40 pounds. Also I have a big project coming up so I’m ending the bet now instead of next week.
  • Well then technically I win that bet right?
  • Yeah, I guess :disappointed:
  • But you lost a bunch of weight, so I’ll just take $5.
  • yay! :joy:

:laughing:

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Feature idea: when adding a new goal, Beeminder brings up an interstitial showing a listing of all the user’s current goals and maybe a summary of recent derailments and says something like “remember to start a new goal at a really easy rate!”. Then maybe after 3 weeks, an email reminder “wanna increase the rate for this goal?”

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It may feel different to lie to the graph when you have chosen to abandon the goal, but I have had several times where I had to do something on a goal but would have abandoned the goal if that meant I didn’t have to do anything that day (this way pretty much how I operated B.B). Since abandoning the goal would take 7 days and I would have to work on it that day whether or not I quit I choose to stay with the goal - this would mean that I would be in the same situation a few days from then, but a few days out in the future is the problem of future me and that guy doesn’t mind anything. For at least one goal (my goal to take a cold shower every day for a month) this was my situation every single day. Today I am happy that I completed the goal, but if Beeminder had implemented that feature then I wouldn’t have completed it.

That said when you really have abandoned the project because it no longer makes sense, it does suck to have to work on the project: there are few things as demotivating as thinking that what you are currently doing is completely pointless. You can choose to derail, or you can remember that you are still getting some exercise/reading a book/whatever and that has value whether or not you complete some goal.

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Before Beeminder?

Ha, yes. Quoting another user: “Tomorrow-me is a magical fairyland heroine who can do all the things!”

I should make again the case for coughing up the pledge instead! Think of Beeminder as having the low-low price of your pledge amount times the frequency at which you genuinely change your mind about your goals. By being conservative about the initial slope of your yellow brick road, you can make those instances of genuine mind-changings plenty rare.

Of course I’m considering the idealized case where the pledge amount is always sufficiently motivating as long as you continue to want the goal. If not then you may pay more, like “yup, totally happy to pay $5 to not have to go running today (but just today)”. That may be fine, like paying for the indulgence – part of the cost of finding your motivation point. If there were extenuating circumstances you can just reply to the legit check and let us know and we’ll stop the charge.

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PS: Last night’s blog post is pretty relevant to this discussion! http://blog.beeminder.com/crisis

This is an interesting thread!

Personally I get myself around some of this temptation by returning to the quantified self aspect. Surveying the last several months (and someday hopefully years!) of progress on a goal is satisfying. But if there’s a bogus data point in there, then the whole thing is bogus.

What to do? If I haven’t done the thing, then the goal is ruined. If I lie, then the goal is ruined. Ah, but Beeminder will step in and save your goal and your QS data! Of course there’s a fee for this service…

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Love the way you put that, and the way you think! I tried to make that point less succinctly in my argument above about just derailing and having the best of all worlds (for the low-low price of whatever your pledge was). (:

Some thoughts a few days later.

First of all, I think it’s fair to say that yes, I did cheat and defy my past self. If I had gone running last friday, maybe I would have felt great and enlightened and gotten a feeling of accomplishment, come home, decreased my beeminder goal rate, and still be sticking with it.

But: I think what messed up the delicate akrasia awareness balance that is working so well for all my other goals, none of which I have ever cheated on even a little, is the sparseness of my running goal. I had a rate of running 4 times/month. So that’s less than once/week. At that rate, I can run every 10 days, derail a few times, and next thing I know more than a month has passed where I’ve totally fucked up my goal but haven’t paid enough money or logged enough data within a narrow enough window of time to have cared much. So, by the time I was at $90 and actually put some thought into it, I realized I had really stopped caring about the goal several weeks earlier anyway. queue @dreev linking to some blog post from two years ago recommending to not do sparse goals

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I started using Beeminder last December and was (as I usually am) overoptimistic in my goal-setting. In February I got overwhelmed and realized I needed to dial them down. So I used the built-in mechanism that @philip mentioned: I dialed them all down flat, then derailed on them all, buying myself instant respite.

The wonderful part comes next: unlike usual, I didn’t give up on these goals. I knew I was just taking a break until I was no longer overwhelmed. I could still see my past progress on the graphs; I could see that I was moving forward, albeit at zero slope and holding steady. And when I came back to them—this week—I came back with much easier targets so I can build up a significant buffer and never need to derail again. That is: when I’ve built up a month’s worth of buffer, I’ll dial the goals up to my true aspirations, knowing that if I get overwhelmed again, I won’t have to derail—and I may not even need to take a break, because I’ll have time to dial them to an easier rate.

So, for me, Beeminer works perfectly as is. I’ve learned something useful about effectively working toward my goals, honored my commitment by derailing and paying as agreed rather than lying. In fact, I’d say that deliberately derailing actually reinforced my commitment to these goals, if that makes any sense.

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Has my spot in the queue come up yet? (: Insufferable language pedantry aside, all I’ve got, ironically, is a post from 3 years ago saying sparse goals totally work – contrary to popular belief that you can only beemind things you do daily. Which makes sense that you might get that impression, with the whole “you have to be on the yellow brick road every day” thing.

Actually, I think the revamped reminders we’re working on (by which I mean mulling a spec and waiting for @bee to finish the mountain of autodata stuff she’s buried underneath) are going to make sparse (chunky? bursty?) goals be easier to keep a handle on. This is a really good point to keep in mind as we work on that.

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I don’t know about the philosophy of sparse vs dense, but in the specific case of working out I can tell you that sparse workout goals have never worked for me.

I’m doing a lot better now that I am beeminding fitbit steps and fitbit active time. It doesn’t force you to go running, and in fact walking is a more efficient way to generate steps (but not active time). But you get credit for everything you do all day which feels good and makes a pretty graph.

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