Beeminder vs CBT

There’s a really interesting book called “Goals Suck” by M. F. Stone that discusses this - he went too far with goals and ended up hating things he used to love. He had to fix it by swinging dramatically in the opposite direction - giving up all goals and just doing what he felt like. I think it takes some balancing and I think breaks from Beeminder can be really important (like the rests in music).

How did you rebalance towards identity?


Rebalancing is much too active of a verb for what I did :slight_smile: It was just a mental shift, going out of my way to think about the reasons for doing the thing beyond “making beeminder happy”. It didn’t take more than a few seconds per activity.

(I think the place where I got the inspiration from was Atomic Habits.)


This sounds like a perspective I need for how I struggle with reading sometimes! The identity-based goals idea, too… hmmm.


Interestingly, Beeminder has worked in an opposite direction for me. Very much like the catholic church, I get to pay for my sins (against productivity) and be absolved without the pesky shame spiral and self-flagellation. So I didn’t do it that already cost me $10 tomorrow’s a new day, no sense in obsessing over it if I didn’t make it despite even having money on the line. There was obviously something in my processes or in my life that kept me from it and I lost the bet this time.

(Works ~80% of the time unless it’s anxiety/depression that had me miss the goal anyways but then I’m also likely to call non-legit because mental health is a health-related issue obv.)

Edit: Your CBT friend would get a chuckle out of the reframing, I’m sure.


That’s great framing. I have tended to keep feeling badly about sliding off track after a derailment and I like this idea of just setting the pledge to whatever the appropriate amount would have to be for me to be able to just “buy” that absolution from my own brain on it, hehe.

1 Like

I have issues with food. I am one of those people who’s on a diet by default. I have recently gained back a lot of the weight I lost a few months ago.

Beeminder has helped keep me in check and slow the process down. I am eating better most of the time. It’s not perfect and I have paid for my derails. When I derail, I binge and go out of my way to do so.

Still, overall, the picture is a lot prettier and healthier. Most days I am eating well (low carb by my definition).

Do I have issues with food to deal with? Possibly yes. Do I want to dig into it? No. Seems easier to manage the symptoms with Beeminder.

1 Like

This is interesting. Perhaps it’s because I’m naturally an avoider, but my CBT therapist spends a lot of time encouraging me not to push my difficult feelings away, instead becoming aware of them and directly addressing them.

1 Like

I agree, my CBT experience does have practical focus – What can you do to improve this situation or to influence the way you think about it? – but that is not to the extent of suppressing or ignoring bad thoughts/feelings/symptoms. Rather, those things are discussed, but then the focus is on things you can do (physical things) that will help (as opposed to trying to think your way out of it, or talk your way out of it).

@zedmango if you ever look at CBT again maybe try a different therapist?

To be clear, I’ve also had talking therapy ([arts] psychotherapy) and I also think that’s good.

Anyway, to this end Beeminder can be compatible with CBT. Suppose you spend a while talking about some insecurity about your body (e.g. hair loss), after a while you might agree with your therapist that doing exercise might help you feel better about your body (and overall). Now, is this directly addressing the root cause? I guess not: Doing exercise won’t help you grow more hair, and there is probably some underlying insecurity that it is not directly addressing. Is this ignoring the thoughts/feelings/symptoms? No, because you’ve spent a long time discussing it with your therapist. Could this make a significant difference towards improving your symptoms? Potentially yes: Doing exercise can help you appreciate your body and marvel at it, even though it is an imperfect machine. It can help you feel more connected to and content with your body. All of this could combat/counter feelings of insecurity.

Beeminder is compatible here because you could set up an exercise goal.

Oh I totally want to read that book, thanks for mentioning it! I have always been of the opinion that goals suck, and I’m curious to read the author’s experience with them.

I would love to know what you think of it!

He’s kind of the anti-Danny Reeves, in his extremy extremeness - Danny wants to make (almost) everything into a goal, this guy says nothing should be a goal.

There’s definitely something to be said for taking breaks from goals to let yourself realize the consequences of inaction and to get more in touch with what you really want. Putting too much pressure on yourself can make you lose sight of the fun and the real purpose.

But for many people who are very ADD or akratic, like me, we need some form of structure to allow us to start, and without it we become very depressed and listless. On the other hand, maybe that’s something we need to somehow deal with in some way or work through rather than avoid? I’m not sure.

I think it’s important to check in regularly about your goals - I think people know deep down whether their goals are good for them, and whether they’re being used in a healthy way. You have to be able to self-correct and avoid unhealthy extremes so any system or anti-system you set up needs some kind of regular check-in or escape valve.

1 Like

This may depend on what “goal” means but, as we say in an ancient blog post, Beeminder is the very embodiment of systems over goals.


To be clear, a system is just a type of goal - specifically, a measurable one.

It sounds like you’re using goal to mean “any intentional planned behavior”; I mean goals in the sense that people mean it when they say “it’s important to have goals” – new years resolutions, “5 year plans”, OKRs, etc.

I don’t find the latter helpful at all, but I do find the former a requirement for life. “Lunch” is a goal, after all (and in fact I have a daily to-do for lunch, otherwise I tend to forget it!). In a slightly less reductionist example, I spent this weekend putting up a porch swing – this was intentional, and planned (it involved many steps that were unlikely to happen coincidentally – buying the swing, buying wood stain, checking the weather) but I didn’t actually put “build swing” on my list of things to do yesterday. Instead I left it up to how I felt at the time; I was fairly confident that I would feel like building the swing (I want a swing, after all) but it’s not an urgent task that I will suffer for leaving undone.

So by my own metrics, building the porch swing wasn’t a goal, it was a spontaneous activity I did of my own volition; it just needed some advance planning to be ready for spontaneity (and good weather). Based on the summary of the Goals Suck book, that sounds like the angle the author is aiming at, but there’s probably other nuances as well.

1 Like

No, not at all. I mean “goal” in the same sense that you do. My point (in response to dreev) was that this includes so-called “systems” - for instance, a goal to spend an hour a day doing X is still a goal.

The whole message of the Goals Suck book is to use intrinsic motivation, not extrinsic motivation. You were intrinsically motivated to build the swing.

To be clear, I don’t totally agree with the book. The author thinks that if you need a goal to motivate you, then you don’t really want to do the thing. Whereas I really do want to do some things, but struggle to start them, and find that creating a structure helps me get started.

Based on that and on reading the summary and some comments from the Amazon page (so I don’t have a fully educated opinion!), it sounds like the author is lucky enough to have a brain that actually lets him do things he loves without irrational interference, and is probably lucky enough to have enough money and/or support from other people to get other things done without effort from him (housework, taxes, etc).

THAT is more familiar to me! :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes: :+1:


Hi there,

I rarely participate on this forum, but I found this conversation interesting.

I am on my quest to outsource my self-discipline. So I use a lot of tools for that. Mainly ColdTurkey and, sometimes I try Habitica, sometime Beeminder. But also RescueTime, WakaTime. And various tracking app for health and fitness sush as Strava or MyFitnessPal.

I also have a weird system to prevent myself to spend mindlessly. I have a traditionnal bank account but no debit card, and N26 as a debit card that I refill manually. As the transfer takes 2 days it prevent me from compulsive buying.

In the end, all those tools are very specific and can be a burden to manage. But I a going off topic here.

So, I stopped using Beeminder lately because it relies on motivation and fear, which is mentally exhausting. It’s not exactly guardrails. You can easily give up and think “I’ll just pay the fine this time” and get use to it. It comes as a punishment.

It’s less motivating than a reward. How about getting a reward once you’ve reach your daily goals ?
That’s why I contacted web blockers such as ColdTukey to suggest them to connect to all those tracking devices as you do. Then we could have scenarios like "If you reach you 8 hours of productivity, tracked by RescueTime or WakaTime, I unlock YouTube for the rest of the day as a reward.

Maybe for Beeminder it could come as a form of Cash Back. I don’t know, maybe paying the “fine” upfront, but getting a daily redeem every successful day, and losing it on failing days. Or something around it.

Just sharing my thoughts and experience.

Cheers, Arthur.


Love your thoughts! But I also completely disagree :smile:

IMO the power of Beeminder is that you can choose to pay and derail. Beeminder takes a small percentage of the ambiguous future costs of not doing X and brings it into the present in concrete form for your present self to grapple with. For example, it converts the ambiguous cost of being sick and out of shape in five years and turns it into the concrete cost of “go for a run in the next hour or pay real money!”

The fact is, that, if your stakes are set appropriately, saying to your self, “huh, actually, I’d rather sit on my butt today and lose the money” does not break the system at all! Beeminder has still done its job–it’s forced you to consider the costs of not doing X before you decided not to do it.

This way of looking at Beeminder goals indicates that what you cap your stakes at matters:

  • If you cap your stakes too high, you won’t be willing to eat the loss and derail even when circumstances warrant it. This can lead to excess stress and ultimately resentment toward the goal and/or Beeminder. It isn’t sustainable.
  • If you cap your stakes too low, you won’t be adequately motivated to consider the trade-off between your short-term desires and long-term goals, and may choose to derail too often. Doing so limits Beeminder’s ability to motivate you toward your goal.

In essence, your stakes represent the value you place on making regular progress towards your long-term goal. Misrepresenting this value in either direction leads to problems.


Unfortunately, if you have ADHD, there really isn’t anyway (yet, I hope) to materially improve your executive function on a neuro level. And in many ways it is a disorder of your environment. Without appropriate structure, you (more specifically, I), will default to our “interest-based physiology.” But put someone with ADHD in the right environment and they can thrive. In this case, environment refers to external cues, consequences and so on. It still won’t ever be easy, but it can be hacked. Beeminder serves as that environmental scaffolding (to a degree), esp useful for goals that either have a longer time horizon and those that don’t lend themselves to obvious external accountability.

CBT can be immensely helpful in recognizing distorted thinking and the emotional dysregulation side of ADHD, but it has its limitations. Obv. EF is very complex and multi factor, so different clusters of deficit will present differently and require their own interventions. But absent immediate, visceral negative or positive consequences for tasks, our brains just aren’t that well suited to “just do it” and no amount of therapy or practice will ever get you to the general ease with which a neurotypical can accomplish dreaded or long time horizon tasks. Hence, thank goodness for things like beeminder.


Update: this is now a major motion blog post by @narthur!


Agreed, I am an adhd type and I always used to pull of miracles via deadline. The threat is really helpful.

Beeminder works great for me in tandem with permanently blocking out time wasters (via Cold Turkey) and precommitting to things with Focusmate. One app cant be a one size fits all if it wants to be effective. I use taskratchet now for singular tasks.