Beeminder Blog Post: The Want-Can-Will Test for Akrasia

Link: The Want-Can-Will Test for Akrasia

This isn’t a new post by any means, but it’s one of the fundamentals. It came to mind when reading something on here the other day, and I started wondering about the nuances of applying the test. Whereupon my brain tied itself up in knots. Maybe a discussion on here will help untangle me…

The Test:

  1. How certain are you that you want to do this?
  2. How certain are you that you can do this?
  3. How certain are you that you will do this?

In the official version, the answers are absolute, but I think that they flex, or at least change over time. How consistent is that with the test?

I may be absolutely certain right now that I want to do something, but that certainty may fade. I suppose that’s what the akrasia horizon is for. I can change my mind about wanting to do this thing.

I may be right about definitely being able to do the activity, viewed in isolation, and wrong about being able to do it alongside everything else. There are only so many hours in the day, and I’ve got a lot of goals. Arguably they all passed the want-can-will test at the point of creation.

Does the slope that I set form part of the ‘can’ test? Or is it just the measured task?

Is the ‘can’ test better thought of in terms of whether it’s something that can be directly actioned, i.e. is an input rather than an outcome?

The third test is the most telling for me: without some kind of external support and reminder, I’m unlikely to do this thing that I wanted to. Do we need the other two tests? i.e. are we creating Beeminder goals for things that we don’t want to do? Certainly we’re prone to being overly ambitious with our slopes.

That’s far too many questions. As I said, my brain tied itself up in knots. What are your thoughts?


I think it simplifies things to think about the questions without worrying about details like slopes.

Here’s my personal opinions:

Perfectly consistent. Beeminder lets you create, delete, and edit goals in response to changes in The Test. But they make you wait 7 days before deletes/edits take effect. I suppose it would be more consistent if you had to wait 7 days before a new goal becomes active too but since you can instantly delete a new goal for 7 days I think the current solution is better.

In other words…

I agree.

I would argue that looking at a goal in isolation makes no sense. If you are willing to devote 100% of your time to something, #2 becomes true for a lot of things that are actually unrealistic. Similarly, you might get a wrong answer for #3 by thinking in isolation. If my only job in life were to floss I wouldn’t need to Beemind it (or anything).

I think that it is necessary to re-inventory your portfolio of goals from time to time. Although Beeminder’s premise is letting your past self control your present self, I don’t think there’s additional value in a self-imposed akrasia horizon of 30 days or 1 year or anything. When things change you need to re-evaluate your goals according to The Test.

Absolutely it does. In practice it’s not a huge consideration on a new goal, since it takes time to zero in on the best slope for a goal, especially since things often look different when you start doing the goal instead of just hypothesizing about it.

But I would argue that for existing goals it is important to tune their slopes according to The Test. As an example, when my flossing goal was set to 7 per week I found it very demoralizing thinking about never getting a freebie for the rest of my life. At 6 days per week I am motivated and I often end up flossing all 7 days a week anyway.

I think that’s part of why a goal could fail the test but not the only reason.

For me, the explanation is as simple as comparing these two questions:

  • Do I want my apartment to be clean? Yes.
  • Do I want to clean my apartment? No.

I view this quasi-contradiction as fully rational. I want the end result but I find the thing that creates that result unpleasant. So I’ve made a Beeminder goal to make me do the thing I both do and don’t want to do, depending on which lens you’re using.


I think the Want-Can-Will test is vindicated here if you add an implicit “all other current obligations considered” to the Can part. If applied carefully the test won’t lead you astray that way. Of course that’s a huge If, but I think the road dial saves you there. Dial other things down as you add new things. Keep adjusting to maintain the overall balance.