Beeminder Forum

Are non-akratic derails ever legit?

@dreev said in another topic:

My own view is that the whole point of Beeminder is to disincentivize akratic derails by charging you for them. So non-akratic derails shouldn’t be charged; they’re not legit. If you know that a derail was non-akratic - that is, it’s genuinely what you wanted long-term, and you would have specified it in the fine print if you had been asked about the situation originally - why should you be charged? (I don’t believe anything will ever completely quash akrasia; there will always still be plenty of genuinely akratic derails that Beeminder will get paid from. And I’m Beemium so Beeminder is still getting paid regardless.)

The counterargument, of course, is that it’s not always easy to know if a derail is non-akratic, you can’t always trust yourself, and it’s very easy to fool yourself so you end up not meeting your goals.

But if I have to pay every single time I don’t do the task, I’m less likely to set the goal up in the first place, because that’s more of a commitment than I want to make. I don’t actually want to commit to doing the task every day - I want to commit to doing it most days, but not when there’s a non-akratic reason not to.

For me, Beeminder helps me be a little bit better, and it’s better to do the task 50% of the time - and call non-legit the other 50% - then to not set up the goal and do it at all.

You might well ask - why not just lower the rate by 50%, if I only want to do the task 50% of the time?

But I’m too akratic for that. It’s hard for me to do a task unless it’s the last possible moment, so I use up whatever buffers I have as soon as I get them. It’s beemergencies that get me to do something. Maybe there’s a way to use a meta-goal to fix that - but that doesn’t address non-akratic derails.

What are people’s thoughts? Are you ok calling non-legit when a derailment was not due to akrasia?

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On certain types of non-akratic derails, I definitely do call non-legit. My global fine print (@shanaqui’s idea) is basically a list of non-akratic derail types that I never consider legit.

However, given a definition of “akratic” as “characterized by weakness of will resulting in action against one’s better judgment” (thanks, Bing), there are many situations in which I wouldn’t call non-legit on a non-akratic derail.

This is because I’m very focused on Beeminder’s ability to inform my decisions, and calling non-legit can prevent Beeminder from doing that. If an unforeseen circumstance comes up that seems to require me to derail on a goal, Beeminder’s magic is in preventing me from ignoring the long-term consequences of skipping a day on my goal by taking those long-term consequences and turning them into short-term consequences. I see this as being valuable regardless of where the circumstance falls on the embarrassingly-akratic-to-entirely-not-akratic continuum.

For instance, if my reason for wanting to derail is because there’s a computer game I want to play instead, that’s obviously very akratic, and Beeminder does a great job of reminding my lizard brain that there’s more at stake long-term than just what’s in front of me.

But say someone calls me and asks me to volunteer at a food bank tomorrow. Derailing for this reason would seem to be much less akratic, but I still need the reminder that this unplanned derail will set me back on the path towards my goal, and Beeminder’s sting makes sure I include that reality in my calculation.

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I like this comment. I’ve been thinking about it and whether it applies to me.

Let’s look at your example of a call to volunteer at a foodbank. Let’s say this is something you genuinely want to do - it’s not just procrastination or akrasia or avoidance. It’s genuinely something you want in your life. Let’s also assume you can’t volunteer and meet your goal that day.

Then this means that from a more distant perspective - say you’re planning a week or a month ahead - you would plan time to volunteer. Otherwise, it’d be akratic.

But, we’re assuming you can’t both volunteer and meet your goal that day. This means that you actually want to reduce the rate on your goal - that is, adjust your time so that you spend more time volunteering and less time on your goal.

So, a non-akratic derail won’t set you back on the path towards your goal. By definition, if the derail is non-akratic, it corresponds to how you actually want to spend your time taking the outside view.

There’s an additional wrinkle in my case. My rates are higher than the rates at which I actually want to do the goal. I have the tasks in for every day, but in fact there are a lot of other things I need to do, so I don’t actually want to do the tasks every day.

Why don’t I just lower the rates? I’m harnessing the motivational power of beemergencies. I can’t seem to get myself to do anything if it’s not due today.

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I think this may be where we disagree. In my view, life is all about trade-offs. I have multiple real-life goals, all of which I’d like to achieve ASAP, and they often conflict.

Say the goal I would be derailing on to work at the food bank is TaskRatchet. Derailing on that goal means less time towards the project, which, on a simplistic view, means a later date of completion. So, yes, this non-akratic derail would set me back on the path towards my goal; namely, completing TaskRatchet ASAP.

But, of course, that’s why I value Beeminder’s sting—it helps me reason about trade-offs that I might otherwise ignore, or at least not give as much attention to as they deserve.

On the other hand, maybe I only think I can’t go to the food bank and also satisfy my Beeminder goal. If I can call non-legit because I don’t think I’m being akratic, there’s not much incentive to seriously question that premise. But if the money is at stake regardless, that threat is going to push me to try to find a way to work both into the time I have available.

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I get your point about trying to fit both in.

But if you can’t, it just seems odd to me to penalize yourself for making the trade-off that you genuinely long-term want to make (say, working at the food bank) and reward yourself for making a different trade off.

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Right, which is probably another point where our perspectives differ. I don’t view Beeminder stings as being primarily punishment. I view them as being a sliver of a future consequence brought into the present. So I’m not being arbitrarily penalized for making a trade-off. Rather, I’m tasting a little of the future consequences of that decision. If I’m ok with those future consequences to the point that I’m willing to experience them in the present, then the trade-off is legitimate and I don’t have to feel guilty for making it.

Even so, the way those consequences are being brought into the present is incentivizing you to make a tradeoff that’s different from the one you genuinely want. That’s what seems off to me.

Let A = TaskRatchet time and B = foodbank time. Maybe your ideal is A 5, B 2, but Beeminder is incentivizing you to do more like A 7, B 0 by bringing the consequences of doing A into the present. So it’s off balance because Beeminder is not bringing consequences of doing or not doing B into the present.

Perhaps, but, in my mind, that’s not Beeminder’s fault. If my intrinsic motivation to volunteer at the food bank isn’t high enough to outweigh the small portion of future consequences Beeminder is bringing forward, then why am I volunteering again?

On the other hand, perhaps Beeminder is threatening to take $90 and there’s just no way I’d ever take that sting in order to volunteer. What that may mean is that I need to reduce the pledge cap on that goal because it no longer realistically reflects the real-world consequences of failing to meet my commitment.

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The point is, if your commitment is higher than you genuinely want it to be, there will be many different situations in which you should derail, and why should you experience the real-world consequences of failing to meet a commitment when your ideal rate is below the commitment you made?

I’m going to copypaste @zzq’s comments from another thread so I can respond here:

I agree. If your commitment is higher than you genuinely want it to be, you should lower it.

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I feel you. Real deadlines and commitments to people I admire motivate me like nothing else. In Beeminder-land, you and I have adopted opposite strategies for dealing with that, both with slipperiness.

If I understood rightly, you let yourself claim a lot of non-legit derails owing to your true priorities. I set (too many) of my pledge caps to $0, so that there’s no financial impact to the derailment, but unfortunately still a lag before the next beemergency day.

This. One reason that I periodically overcommit to projects is to understand my true priorities, through the trade-offs I make IRL. The insights that this provides are valuable.

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