Commitment contracts - Yes, but between who?

English is not my first language and I might come of more aggressive/defensive than I actually am. Also is the title correct? Should it be „whom“?

(This post might cost me $10 in so far unaccepted derailment fees)

Beeminder is a service to set up a commitment contract. But when I set up such a contract: do I set it up between me and future me, or between me and Beeminder?

Now, I always believed (and still do!) that it’s between me and future me. However it is not specified in the faq, nor on the pricing page, and also not in the commitment contract template itself.

Why does this matter? I recently had a situation where I was going to derail on two goals if I recall correctly, but knew that akrasia had sunk its teeth into me as regards to the effect of the soon to come derailment charge. So I decided to recreate some goals with the following setup:

Goal with pledge of $1 (instead of $5) and capped at that, days of mercy of 1 day (instead of 7 days as it was set earlier). This kind of goal can be created when starting fresh. It’s not possible to create it, with an already running goal that has a higher pledge amount than $1. <- the possibility of this (specifically the capping at $1) btw. is considered a bug for non-beemium users, I‘ve been told by support.

Anyways. I consequently archived the old virtually same goals that I had now recreated that had two qualities the old goals hadn’t had:

  1. More prompts to do the right thing
  2. Not breaking the bank while providing more prompts

Finally I asked support to archive the old versions of the goals - including the two goals that would have derailed that day. As far as I can see it, the new versions of the goals superseded the old versions and were even going to derail in the same way as the old ones would soon do.

Support refused to archive them right away, stating the akrasia horizon and my attempt to replacing harder goals with easier ones as a reason. I on the other hand rejected the premise of an akrasia horizon which knows no exceptions - to me it’s (or should be) more of a „are you really sure?“ kind of prompt.

In the end they did archive it on the grounds that I didn’t understand the way Beeminder works. Hm…? O_o

I was and am baffled by the answer and the reason that made support finally comply with what I asked for. The only reason I can see why this discussion could go so sideways is that I have a commitment contract between me and Beeminder and not between me and future me. Otherwise support should have not challenged my use of the service in the way they did.

Am I missing something?

Let me be very clear that I enjoy using Beeminder a lot and have no interest whatsoever to drag support through the mud. But it’s a question that I can’t not ask and I think without some context it wouldn’t be as interesting of a question to anyone else.


I think it’s a very interesting question, on a philosophical level. Thanks for putting it here.

Philosophically, I think now-me-contracts-with-future-me is the right answer. That’s also how Beeminder pitches it. This means Beeminder is a support tool to help future-me keep its contract with now-me. The issue raised in your post is then: what does it mean to be a support tool? I think it means that now-me is also contracting with Beeminder.

Now-me’s contract with future-me is “this is what I sanely, rationally commit to, and you need to honor it even when it seems stupid to you later because CHOCOLATE CAKE RIGHT THERE ON THE COUNTER.” But the whole point is that future-me is going to be all “I don’t recall ever agreeing to this stupid contract you claim we made, and yo, I didn’t even exist when you made it, so EATING CHOCOLATE CAKE RIGHT NOW BABY OH YES QED.”

Which is why now-me also contracts with Beeminder (or other support tool). And both now-me and Beeminder existed when that contract got made, and both agreed to it. What was that contract? It’s what now-me told Beeminder to hold future-me to when now-me created the goal. Beeminder would be violating its contract with now-me if it did anything other than what now-me had told it to do.

Practically speaking, all the contracts Beeminder makes with someone’s now-me include a 7-day akrasia horizon, etc. Now-me agreed to all that. Future-me made no contract, and has no say in changing it. That’s my take.


Love @grayson’s answer so much! I think that’s exactly right.

Support’s job here is to hold you to the contract you made with yourself in the beginning, and that contract included not making your goal easier within the akrasia horizon.

Yes, sometimes that means putting up with a sub-par goal design for a week, but I think that’s a small price to pay in order to preserve the protection it provides against impulsively and/or akraticly undermining one’s goals.

Honestly, though, Beeminder’s akrasia horizon is ridiculously generous compared to any other commitment contract tools I’m aware of. I used to use StickK before switching to Beeminder, and as I recall they don’t give you any way to change your goal once you’ve created it. Decided your goal is too hard / counter productive / not optimal? Tough luck, buster. You made a six-month commitment and there’s no going back.


I adore @grayson’s reply here, as usual.

Yes and no! It’s an old grammar rule that hangs on in certain idioms like “to whom it may concern” but for the most part “whom” is just dead. (For example, by the old rule the Ghostbusters tagline should be “whom ya gonna call?”. :)) Ironically it’s probably an easy grammar rule for a German speaker since German always distinguishes who/whom (wer/wem). But in modern English I think it’s fine to just stick to “who” everywhere.

Aaand, I meant to reply to more things but I think @grayson and @narthur have expressed beautifully everything I can think of to say about the question of the akrasia horizon and who the parties to the commitment contract are.

In short, Beeminder’s duty is to follow through on the consequences past-you set up and that includes the inability to make anything about the goal easier within the one-week akrasia horizon. I think that most of the time, if you do overcommit you can either tough it out for that week, or just take the derailment and view the cost of it as part of the service you’re paying for with Beeminder. And if that doesn’t seem fair for whatever reason, talking it out with support is always an option, as you did!


Interesting answers!

Where do they pitch it like this, though?

I agree Beeminder is a tool that helps now-me to have a contract with future me. But the contract between those two and now-me and beeminder is of a different type: I pay Beeminder to use their service as I see fit - within the bounds of plausibility, of course. My payment entails me to create goals and so on. But how I use the tool, that can not be up to them, right? How could it? Again, within the bounds of plausibility (and good taste).

Again, yes, I agree, but: I never agreed to the akrasia horizon thing, which I think is a (not super-terrible but still) terrible crutch. If I use a tool like, say, Microsoft Word, I can use different font sizes and font weights. But I can choose to not use those features. Beeminder makes it hard to not use the akrasia horizon feature (for obvious reasons, I guess), but should it really be impossible to accommodate use cases that do not want or need the horizon thing in the way they have envisioned?

I appreciate the argument, but I do not think that this is the case here. If I have implicitly agreed to this: How do I explicitly disagree with this? Furthermore: Why do I even have to explicitly disagree? Can I even do so? This should be between now-me and future me. And now-me and future-me (or rather past-me and now-me…) have both never intentionally agreed to this. Of course now-me (rather future-me at goal creation) might lie, but this could always be the case.

I guess there could be an argument that goes like this: If we compare the weekends off feature and the akrasia horizon on the feature level, then we can see, that one can be toggled on/off by the user and one can’t. Therefore you can’t opt out of the akrasia horizon. But here’s the thing: I could. If I have the last say in my usage of Beeminder, then writing a message to support to do the thing I asked for is a functionally equivalent action to disabling the akrasia horizon for this specific change by myself.

This could not be easily said about entering data. This is indeed a core feature, since almost everything depends on the commitment and your entered data. Without data entry, Beeminder makes no sense. Without the akrasia horizon however, Beeminder still makes sense and has a lot of value.

StickK is a blunt instrument compared to Beeminder. And there is value in that, too. No need to use an exacto knife to chop down a tree. However even there a Referee can judge if you fulfilled the commitment. So it’s not without an escape hatch either.

Man, I agree, but this was not the situation, I think. I did not overcommit, but rather found a way to make the goal more effective. So the rest then seems moot to me. I pay my derailments or tough it out, when appropriate, but in this case I might need to pay because I (neither at-goal-creation-me nor after-goal-creation-me) did have a say in this. And that seems wrong to me. It feels artificial.

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I think you underestimate how core the akrasia horizon is to Beeminder’s philosophy, and arguably to its functionality. :wink: Beeminder less the akrasia horizon is no longer a commitment device, since without it you’re free to akratically change your commitment at any time. That leaves it a data storage and visualization tool and nothing else.

Totally agree. Did not intend to disparage StickK with my comments, so apologies if that’s how it came across.


And I think you overestimate it! :wink: Honestly tough: Similar to the legitimacy check when derailing I could see an akrasia check instead of the horizon. Regardless of other possible solutions even: This depends a lot on the user. I would be totally fine with no horizon, although I have benefited here and there from it. I can’t say for certain since I don’t have the data, but I don’t believe my derailment patterns are otherwise special or more weasel-y (or whatever) than other users.


I’m curious how open support would be (@shanaqui) to a user including rules for modifying their goals within the akrasia horizon as part of their global fine print.

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I can’t help but feel that this argument is like buying a hammer and insisting that you needn’t use it to hammer things with; you should be able to use it to open wine bottles, fertilize the azaleas, and send pictures to your grandmother. Yes: you paid for it, it’s your tool to use as you see fit. But it’s designed to hammer things. It can’t do those other things, aside from opening the wine bottles (for very generous interpretations of “open”).

Beeminder is designed to enforce a 7-day akrasia horizon. Echoing @narthur: that’s a core piece of how Beeminder works. Beeminder is precisely about not letting future-you change on a whim what past-you committed to. That is the point of Beeminder. If you don’t want to hammer things, a hammer is not the tool for you. If you don’t want a 7-day akrasia horizon, Beeminder is not the tool for you.

That said: if you love the rest of what Beeminder does, and just don’t want the akrasia horizon, you might opt for a Beemium subscription. That way you can keep goals at a permanent $0 pledge, so the akrasia horizon is irrelevant, at least financially speaking.


And this is like saying a DSLR is like a piece of glass. Beeminder is more complex than a hammer, as is my argument. But let’s go down this route: Let’s say I want to open wine bottles this way: Why does it matter to you (EDIT: as the shopkeeper), after I bought the hammer? And even further: I can obviously see why it might matter - seeing someone doing something needlessly complicated, you have to say something, right? - but why force the person to not open wine bottles in this way? Maybe there are no corkscrews available? Maybe they are super adept in doing it this way? Maybe it’s more fun to do so? Whatever the reason may be, where’s the benefit of the doubt?

And you know what: I might still want to hammer things in most of the cases, too. I might not want to use it as a dog leash or as a container of corrosive liquids, or do a skype call with it or watch Moneyball on it. But from time to time, I might want to use it to open a bottle of wine. What’s the harm in that?

What if even the inventor of the hammer could have not fathomed the use as a bottle opener and still it’s possible to use it like this? Was the hammer precisely designed to not open bottles? I don’t think so.

P. S.: And I’m aware that I started this thread, too. So I appreciate you saying how the argument looks from your perspective, too. I just try to also articulate how this answer looks to me.

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I continue to be in love with everything @grayson and @narthur are saying here and disagree with @matti but love the debate.

This is actually pretty relevant to our latest blog post about the Anti-Settings Principle. The common use case depends on an enforced akrasia horizon and in theory we could have an option to customize it, and that’s sometimes tempting, but we’re resisting doing that. Beeminder is Opinionated Software, as they say, and our Opinion is that you should tough it out for the 7 days or eat the derailment if you find yourself wanting to make anything about the goal be easier than what you committed to. We think having that bright line and credible threat has a lot of value. For special circumstances there’s always support, which, as I hope you’ve found, is super understanding and accommodating.

But that brings me to your hammer analogy. Beeminder is (slightly) more like hiring a carpenter than buying a hammer. If you start asking your carpenter to serve you dinner or whatever they’ll explain that that’s not what they do.

Probably @shanaqui’s too polite to say so but I can be the bad guy: Not very open? I mean, for the amazing hardcore people who are this deep in this thread and who have premium subscriptions and everything, probably the answer is we’ll be plenty amenable. But it would be a case-by-case thing, I think. We don’t want to officially encourage or support that. We do love feedback and hearing about use cases though, where the standard akrasia horizon doesn’t work well for you.

In short, official answer is no but talk to us. Also what @grayson said. “You can’t change this commitment within a 7-day horizon” is pretty fundamentally the service Beeminder’s providing. I definitely don’t like the “well I can always email support” answer. I mean, you can, but saying no (or trying to, or at least pushing back) is part of the service we’re providing.


This isn’t quite analogous. It’s more like saying, “Hey, Stanley, can you change the way you make your hammers’ heads, which are currently only optimized for hammering, so that I can also use them as corkscrews?” Though it’s not really like that… except in that Stanley might think that making those changes would make the hammers work worse for those who need them to work as hammers. I think I have now tortured this metaphor out of usefulness.

On the goals for which you want to avoid having an akrasia horizon, set a much less steep road (the rate at which you’d NEVER want to be able to go under and want to be committed to keeping up with even given the 7-day horizon) and then set your autoratchet settings to adjust to a higher desired frequency by tightening your road regularly. For instance, if there’s something you want to do every day, but want to be able to quit with a day’s notice, then set the road rate to 1/week and set the autoratchet to 0 days of safety buffer. You’re only committed today to do it every day and can always be uncommitted for tomorrow, until tomorrow comes.

I’d predict that’d lead to less follow-through on things I care about for me, personally. You might want to keep a record of the goals you do that with and the goals you use the akrasia horizon with to see if after a few months there’s a big difference in how well they’re doing as groups, to see if you’ve just kind of let your akratic self in through the side door.

Also, like opening a Côtes du Rhône with a hammer, it’s probably going to lead to problems and irritations since this isn’t really how it’s meant to work, but you’d be expecting that, I would presume!


Yes, Support is always amazing! Honestly, I’m not trying to drag them whatsoever.

An option to disable the horizon is not really needed, as long as support follows what I’m asking them to do - within in the bounds of reason. Let’s not forget, that this thread was and is about who has the power over the commitment contract. I say it should be me. In the end I should be able to say - and only if it’s possible/plausible (but it absolutely is in the case of the horizon!) of course! - please change this, in this instance. This is not what happened. This is not what is argued in the answers.

All the answers so far have suggested that asking to circumvent the akrasia horizon is akin to a categorical error, that is: A hammer is not a phone, a carpenter is not a waiter, etc. But this is not really the case with the akrazia horizon. What I tried to show is that a hammer very well could be used to open a wine bottle, that is, it is a “bad” bottle opener, but it is, nonetheless.

Using your carpenter example: My request is more like asking the carpenter to, in this case, maybe not put on the radio in the background while working, because I have an important call coming (I’m sure this example could be twisted in myriad ways also, my point here is only: I am not asking something ridiculous, just a slight change, in this instance.).

This is pretty far from a bright lines argument, but I guess that’s as good as it gets? I’m curious though: Why not say “no, we don’t do that and in the end we dictate the terms of your usage of our service” outright here? If I’m wrong, than there is no need to muddy the watters by making exceptions, right?

I’m not advocating for a change that all users have to suffer through. Stanley merely has to sell me the hammer and watch - in agony, I suppose - how I open a bottle of wine weirdly. There is a workaround already existing, no need to change the design.

Yes. I would hope Stanley would presume that I’d presume that, too… and then just let me do it.

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Yes! This is great. You’ve put your finger on what’s bothered me about your expectation.

Actually, it is. Beeminder is built on the akrasia horizon. In asking for no akrasia horizon, you’re asking Beeminder not to be Beeminder.

Beeminder says it should be you, too. Here’s where the mismatch comes in: you want the “you” who has power over the commitment contract to be you-in-any-given-moment, while Beeminder deliberately gives that power only to past-you who created the contract. And that is the whole point of Beeminder.

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No, not to me. Again: Using a Hammer as a bottle opener, not as a phone. However even that doesn’t matter…

Alright, so past-me never agreed to this hard horizon. As I said before I accept the horizon as an “are you really sure?” prompt. I (as in past-me) have the power and I have granted future-me, now now-me the power to answer to that prompt. The point of Beeminder is in my hands at that point.

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Fair enough, but I’m with Mary on what this is actually asking for: namely, a hammer that’s been modified from its nail-banging-optimized design so it won’t break the bottle when you use it to open the wine.

I think what confuses me is that this sounds like you’re more, or mostly, interested in Beeminder’s use as a self-quantization tool, to track past choices, actions, etc. without holding yourself to them. Which is of course a perfectly valid use of Beeminder. But then you’re not really talking about commitment contracts.

Agree! As suggested above: go Beemium so you can have $0 pledges, set your road to a ridiculously shallow slope, etc. For example, my weight goal is a QS tracker rather than a to-achieve commitment, so the slope there is flat and the road is set at a weight that will never blindside me one morning.

Here’s another idea: one thing I’m trying out now on several of my goals is having a zero-slope road for the whole year, then a super-steep one-day cliff. (You can see it in action here, frex.) I’m playing around with ways to capture "I want to work on this regularly, but that should include ‘nothing for two weeks and then a marathon of 40 hours with no sleep’ " type commitments. For 51 weeks of the year, these goals effectively have no akrasia horizon that limits me-in-any-given-moment.

The one workaround I would say you don’t reasonably have is to ask support to circumvent the akrasia horizon for you. That’s asking for an exception to the rules.

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@grayson I appreciate a lot your consistently insightful comments. I especially appreciate your (and all the other commenter’s) commitment to be empathetic in your answers. It’s not a simple matter to discuss these things, while keeping the other side in mind.

I can live with beeminder as is. But I want to be able to use it as I see fit. I want to be in power over my own usage as much as plausibility permits.

Interesting that it sounds that way. I use beeminder much more as a commitment device, though. I guess, that allowing myself to very rarely skip a seven day wait if it makes sense to me and then add to that my impassioned arguments for allowing this must make it look different. My point really just ist: I’m committed to use this tool as prescribed by Beeminder itself, but sometimes I know better for myself (aside: you might be interested to check out a thread in which I try to argue for the relative harmlessness of fake data). :wink:

Hehe. Nice try. My workaround for this particular situation was to ask support to do the thing that I couldn’t directly. I want the stings, I want pledges and I want an often times conservative but still motivating road slope. I know you say that this would be asking for an exception to the rules. Again: Exception from whose rules? Mine? Beeminder’s? If it’s the latter we discussed this already: I have never accepted the premise of a hard horizon. So it cannot be my rules which are circumvented here. But since I’m in power… well, you know the rest. :slight_smile:

I will say that I like your inventive idea of zero-slope goals. I might have to try those out in an appropriate context.


It’s been an illuminating conversation, @matti! Thanks for including us all in your thought process and giving us the space to share our own take on things. You’ve definitely captured the spirit of Beeminder in that regard. Happy Beeminding, and please do share any new workarounds you come up with for Beeminding @matti style. :slight_smile: