Beeminder Forum

Common reactions to Beeminder

I got 50ish replies to the monthly beemail and wanted to summarize the feedback and open it up for more discussion.

(Click to expand the full text of the beemail in case you missed it)

This is the monthly beemail – the default frequency if you never opted to get these less or more often. Which means a lot of you created an account years ago out of morbid curiosity and don’t remember what Beeminder is. Oof! So as a reminder: Beeminder is goal-tracking with teeth where you keep all your datapoints on the right side of a bright red line on a graph or we literally take your money. So motivating!

But it garners four canonical dismissive reactions from those first hearing about it:

  1. “That’s [evil] genius, I would lose so much money lol”
  2. “Why wouldn’t you just lie?”
  3. “Beeminder’s incentives are perverse and they’ll end up sending you Twinkies to sabotage you!”
  4. “Isn’t positive reinforcement better?”

STRAW POLL! Let me ask you, monthly beemail subscriber who may have fallen off the Beeminder wagon, or never gotten on: Which of those was the biggest hurdle for you? Hit reply to this very email with a number, 1-4!

We figure #1 is knee-jerk dismissal because the concept is so bizarre at first blush. You probably wouldn’t have signed up if that one was you.

The second there’s tons of discussion on if you google “beeminder cheating”. My favorite answers are the inherent incentive to not ruin Beeminder’s efficacy, plus autodata. Beeminder has dozens of integrations with other apps and gadgets and we keep adding more.

The third has the simple counterargument that we couldn’t have survived a decade (!) without our incentives being aligned with the success of our users. Google “beeminder perverse” for lots more discussion of that objection.

Finally, our most recent blog post at blog.beeminder.com is about why we think positive reinforcement isn’t all that. Roughly: loss aversion is powerful and common ideas for a positive-reinforcement version of Beeminder don’t work when you’re ultimately in control of your own behavior, as Beeminder assumes.

In case your answer is that Beeminder seemed too confusing or overwhelming, we’re working on that! There have been ___ User-Visible Improvements to Beeminder since you (____) signed up, and ___ UVIs since you last beeminded. The full list is at beeminder.com/changelog

(You’re getting this because you signed up for daily Beeminder emails. Cry uncle here: Beeminder )


The meat of it was listing what we’ve identified as the four canonical dismissive reactions from those first hearing about Beeminder:

  1. “That’s [evil] genius, I would lose so much money lol”
  2. “Why wouldn’t you just lie?”
  3. “Beeminder’s incentives are perverse and they’ll end up sending you Twinkies to sabotage you!”
  4. “Isn’t positive reinforcement better?”

The question was which of those was the biggest hurdle for you.

If we extend the question from “first hearing about Beeminder” to “first trying or first reading more about Beeminder” then another common one is “it’s too confusing / overwhelming / has too many usability issues” which a few people gave as a write-in response to the poll.

Without further ado, here are the poll results so far:

  1. “Evil genius / I’d just lose money”: 1
  2. “Wouldn’t you just lie?”: 17
  3. “Perversion!”: 1
  4. “Prefer positive reinforcement”: 10
  5. “Confusion etc”: 5

So largely it’s fear-of-cheating. Interesting! Probably we want to get the things in our “Combatting Cheating” blog post more front and center. I could start by making it a Twitter thread… voila, done.

Finally, here are some paraphrased excerpts from your responses, with occasional commentary from me [in brackets]:

  1. “None of those reactions. When I stopped beeminding for a while, it was because I had zero money.”
  2. “Did you mean to send this to me? I’m an active user!” [Yes but I see now how that was confusing!]
  3. “I’ve never understand how the system works. I know the theory well, but how it is applied is a mystery to me! Also I think positive reinforcement helps more, especially for those with executive function skills such as estimating how long something takes.”
  4. “I’d do better with (substantive/monetary) positive reinforcement, but nobody is offering as good a tool for that!” [Exactly! See blog.bmndr.co/contrapositive for more on that.]
  5. “I stopped using Beeminder because I started actually following through on goals without needing the reinforcement. For me, the cash incentive was very powerful as I hate spending any money.”
  6. “This email convinced me to give Beeminder another serious go. My answers were 1, 2, and 4.”
  7. “For #1, I don’t think it’s knee-jerk dismissal, just fear and lack of confidence.” [Fair!]
  8. “My barrier to getting started is finding reasonable, quantitative metrics for evaluating goal progress. I am a software engineer and break down tasks for work, yet for some reason I struggle to do this for myself.”
  9. “I lost a lot of money at first because I didn’t get that I should’ve started with smaller goals. But I tried again with something small and over time shifted my focus to inputs I could control rather than outcomes I couldn’t.” [Great case in point for blog.bmndr.co/burnout!]
  10. “While I still use Beeminder, the main thing stopping me from making more goals is pure inertia. Adding a new goal is a big commitment!”
  11. “I never felt like I had anything important enough to beemind. Thanks for the reminder that you exist!”
  12. “I jumped on the Beeminder wagon a few times, but I have always ended up being lazy enough to prefer paying $10 or $20, or whatever it was, than actually doing what I had committed to do, and past a certain point I stopped because it simply became a money sink. Initially it may have been due to overcommitting, but the later times I tried doing Beeminder, this still ended up happening. I think this may be because I don’t value money enough, since I’m still a student and I haven’t had to work much for it yet.” [In theory this has the elegant solution of climbing the exponential pledge schedule until you hit your Motivation Point. We’re very interested in talking about cases where that may fail!]
  13. “I found Beeminder’s negative reinforcement was OK as long as I never derailed, but enormously demotivating after my first derailment. I now have a homegrown spreadsheet-based system that is all about positive reinforcement. It shows streak lengths and rates-per-day and uses color for ‘yay, you did some amount of the thing’.”
  14. “I am a chronic procrastinator so I haven’t gotten around to setting up Beeminder yet. I guess that’s my reason.” [Oof, yes, Beeminder’s Achilles heel!]
  15. “All my successes with Beeminder were through autodata, and I don’t trust self-reporting.”
  16. “I’m scared to really go all in. I’ve got two goals so far […] and I haven’t gotten fined once. Been a few hours away from it multiple times but, yeah, I ain’t paying $5 or, more to the point, explaining to my fabulously frugal spouse why there’s a $5 charge for Beeminder. Okay, one day I will quit being a cheap bastard and sign up for a subscription.”
  17. “Also fear of commitment, fear that all my money would be taken unreasonably, and fear that in an emergency situation when I could not work all my money would be taken!” [I guess anyone reading this deep in the forum knows that’s extremely not the case!]
  18. “I probably have spent most of my life believing positive reinforcement is better, but after 8 or so years on Beeminder I definitely know that’s bunk! Beeminder finally got me on track with several goals over the years. The things that are hardest really need more serious commitment and loss aversion helps fight that.” :heart:
  19. “Near the end of my usage of Beeminder, I knew that lying would completely destroy the efficacy of Beeminder, but I didn’t want to lose money, so I think I may have lied (it’s been like five years, I don’t remember the specifics) and then quit Beeminder. I still think it’s a cool system, but I don’t trust myself and I’d rather not fling money away when I fail every week or lie about it.” [Poignant cautionary tale! See also “Weasel Heart-To-Heart” for how to get back on the wagon despite that.]
  20. “Could you give an option where the person has to redeem themselves by doing extra? [details]” [Skeptical-face, but this would be great as a separate forum thread!]
  21. “What keeps me coming back is the wonderful graphing of datapoints, and the multiple lines showing how my weight is trending. It was really motivating in 2018 when I managed to lose 20 lbs.”
  22. “My first reaction was ‘Hmm great service but I’d rather send money to a charity than to a company’. After a bit of ‘getting to know you guys’ by reading some blogs and forum posts I decided it was ok to send you money for my failures :slight_smile: Keep up the good work!” [Glow!]
  23. “For me the most valuable part of Beeminder was the habit coach I found through one of the beemails. Beeminder itself stressed me out too much.”
  24. “I fear I will throw money away out of laziness or rebelliousness. Like, I cannot, will not, be forced to do something if I don’t feel like it at that moment. Crazy, I know.”
  25. “I’m a student and I can’t afford the high pledges, but the low ones don’t seem to motivate me enough.” [Is there no sweet spot? On the verge of unaffordably high and thus plenty motivating?]
  26. “For me personally, Beeminder only really works for small things that I can easily do; for everything else it’s just not motivating enough and I simply end up failing AND feeling guilty over it. But for those small things that I can do pretty easily it’s been incredibly helpful. For positive reinforcement I use other services like Habitica.”
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This was my beemail response:

For #1 - I don’t think it’s knee-jerk dismissal, just fear and lack of confidence.

The biggest hurdle for me was “5 - how do I get this thing to work? How do I set it up? It’s so confusing and unclear and poorly documented.”

I still feel that way - the interface is counterintuitive and it has a steep learning curve, and the documentation is incomplete and out-of-date, but I perservered and figured it out for the most part. Still, there’s a lot of room for improvement there, and I wish that were a bigger focus of Beeminder UVIs, rather than adding new features.

I’m a firm believer that no UVI should count as a UVI unless 1) there are no longer any references to the old behavior in the doc or blogs, and 2) the new behavior is thoroughly documented and explained.

Re. positive reinforcement, the main issue is that there’s no funding source! It’d be really effective if you got a grant to pay you $5 every time you brushed your teeth (sort of like that article I posted on the forum about paying addicts to stay sober).

But I think Beeminder could in theory be slightly altered to make use of positive reinforcement, while keeping the benefits of loss aversion - just charge the user every week, and pay the user back every day the goal is met. That’d be even more effective.

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I’m one of the 15 who replied with the second choice! I’m no liar, mind you! But that was my initial reaction.

The fact that one could lie also might be keep the honest folks from starting out. If I’m likely to have to decide between paying $ and fabricating data, I might decide in advance to avoid the uncomfortable position.

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I was additional response number 5. I stopped using Beeminder because I began actually accomplishing goals, and partly because the goals I still had on Beeminder were outdated and I didn’t have new goals to add. But, partly because of what I learned in using Beeminder for a couple years I was able to complete a New Year’s resolution in 2019, creating a podcast of me reading through the Bible in a year. (Devoted to Scripture • A podcast on Anchor) That is a goal that I wouldn’t have considered before Beeminder, but that I knew from the beginning of the goal that I would be able to accomplish it, because I had learned how to accomplish goals.

Thanks Beeminder!

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I was #9. I set goals for a week that should have been a good goal for that year. I think they may have added “start small” to the onboarding experience because of me.

I think Beeminder could solve the problems I had starting out if you added the inputs (stuff you can control) versus outputs (stuff you can’t control) concept and clear goals (James Clear calls them bright line goals: Use Bright-Line Rules to Unleash Your Willpower and Declutter Your Mind) to your “I signed up, what do I do now?” article. And make the same advice (start small, bright lines, focus on inputs) more accessible for reference later through a generic “How to structure a goal” article. It took me a bit to find the “What do I do now?” article because I was already a user when it came into existence (there was at least no information about starting small then). I think I’ve read these ideas on the blog by now, but they didn’t make it into your onboarding experience. I spent a lot of money and almost quit before trying again with these concepts and realizing the problem was that my goals stunk.

It would also eliminate the weasley fine print I had. It wasn’t a fine print problem, it was a bad goal problem. My goal was *HUGE, wasn’t clear and it was based on an outcome I couldn’t control. I tried to fix that with weasley fine print, but it didn’t work. *HUGE being defined as a goal for a week that should have been a goal for that year.

Josh

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Re: Positive reinforcement: How is paying yourself $5 different than paying Beeminder $5 in terms of the funds you have available? I really like the idea of being charged every week and paid back for accomplishing a goal. I think that’s genius. You’d get both positive and negative reinforcement. I want that as a Beeminder feature, it’s a double motivation hack.

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I was number #1, and my original answer was: “I never had that reaction. When I did stop using Beeminder for a pretty long gap, it was because I didn’t have any money… and that was solved by being, um, hired by Beeminder. So, thank you!”

I think I remember being like “this seems pretty extreme” when Beeminder first had an integration with Habitica, and then trying out a goal or two and finding it helpful. But I was a penniless student and ended up having to stop, until my self-employed life really kicked off. :slight_smile:

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I know, right! I would really love that. You get the best of both worlds. I was tempted to write up a beeminder variant that does that. Someone should do that at some point.

I’m not following - if you pay yourself something, it’s not particularly incentivizing because you don’t actually gain or lose anything.

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I guess I might think differently than most people. I do a budget each month where I have different “buckets” for what I’m spending money on: Giving, Insurance, Savings, Fun, etc. When I think of paying myself for completing a goal I’m thinking in terms of dropping money in my Fun bucket which I can then turn around to buy an experience or item I’ve been wanting. But without a framework like that, you probably wouldn’t feel it. You don’t have any more money coming in.

Wait, check out our latest blog post – blog.bmndr.co/contrapositive – on why we don’t think that works.

So you reward yourself by increasing your Fun bucket? Where does the money come from - what other bucket decreases?

Makes sense. I can just Beemind a goal and pay myself in my Fun bucket if I complete it as a better means of accomplishing the goal.

Yes. It only works if you have margin or include goals that increase your income. The idea being if you meet your goals, you can either reduce another bucket to increase your fun bucket or your goals increase your income and you pay yourself some of the difference (both in terms of savings and fun). For me, it sounds something like: “If I do another video this month, I can increase my fun bucket and fund positive reinforcement for my other goals.” *Creating videos is my primary source of income.

[We got a bit into the weeds on positive-reinforcement variants of Beeminder so I’ve branched that into a new thread – Pro Positive Reinforcement: Zedmango's rebuttal – so this one can stay focused on objections to Beeminder generally. Thanks, y’all!]

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My original response was (as common) that my biggest worry was lying. From the email:
And the solution is very much ‘Beeminder is an incredible tool and lying to it causes nearly irrevocable damage’. All but one of my 10 ongoing goals are manual entry and there doesn’t seem a strong reason why lying to one is OK but not others. Special exception to physical goals that are temporarily infeasible; I subscribe to the philosophy that if I’m sick enough to take the day off work I’m sick enough to tell Beeminder I did the bare min (although if I don’t have enough buffer to deal w/ a single sick day, that’s a bad sign for the habit!).

dreev kindly replied that I should instead reply ‘not legit’ to the legit check email. I’ll continue that discussion here. I would rather fudge data on sick days than reply ‘not legit, was sick’ for two reasons. First and more importantly, entering the fake data is easier than replying to the email. Second, I don’t want to bother the Beeminder team (even if they are asking me to!). I think the rule of ‘never fabricate data’ is a good clear line in the sand, but ‘fabrication is allowed when you’re too sick to work’ works well anecdotally.

I’ve gotten some brilliant replies to this objection that I wanted to share:

I fear I will throw money away out of laziness or rebelliousness. Like, I cannot, will not, be forced to do something if I don’t feel like it at that moment. Crazy, I know.

Here’s my paraphrasing of @philip’s reply:

Beeminder doesn’t force you to do anything, it just puts prices on things and you continue to do whatever you feel like doing, factoring in those prices. Just like you might buy a box of cookies if the price is right. As long as what you end up paying Beeminder is low relative to how much more awesome you are because of Beeminder, it’s a good deal.

Then @adamwolf made this lovely point:

“Would you pay $200 right now to, guaranteed, reach your goal? Great! How about maybe less, paid later, for slightly less certainty?”

And then @adba:

I share that bit of personality to some degree.

Say I throw away $10 today because I’m lazy; that doesn’t really say much about whether I’ll benefit from Beeminder.

Beeminder can’t force me to do things, and I appreciate that about it. What it can do is remind me and encourage me – and it does. It makes me do more of specific things I want to on average than I would otherwise, without anything as crude as force. It largely binds me to particular paths I want to walk, without preventing me from taking happy little darts off the side for various times and reasons in the way some more rigid systems do.

I <3 stochastically getting closer to my goals, and I see Beeminder as that.

That I sometimes pay for the privilege of using this particular approach isn’t the same thing as force. :smiley:

These feel like powerful reframings to me, but I don’t know if they’re actually persuasive to someone who starts with the “I’m incorrigible and would just throw money away” objection.

A thought I had (that might not be useful at all; who knows!) about how to beemind even if one feels a strong aversion to doing things that are prescribed to them by an external system, even if set up by their former selves:

To set up a very broad goal that always leaves a degree of freedom in the moment as to what to do but that advances positive things in life overall. The idea would be to try to counteract the feeling of being forced to do some particular thing, while still being able to nudge oneself in directions we want to.

So, I imagine something like a goal to “Pick and do one item from my Ass-kicking Habits list”. And then have a closed list of habits they’d like to do more of but have the freedom to pick any from.

So, let’s say the list contains things like

  • Write a journal page.
  • Listen to 15 minutes of an audiobook.
  • Make a meal that’s healthier than any of the meals I made yesterday.
  • Go for a 20-minute walk.
  • Go for a 5-minute run."

…or whatever series of want-to-do tasks that roughly rival with one another in difficulty and that they’re having trouble motivating themselves to do.

Then add a +1 whenever any one of them gets done. That way, if the deadline starts to approach, something has to get done but they keep the freedom to determine which something is the something they feel like doing now, still increasing the overall number of positive habits, tracking a beautiful upwards trajectory and watching those dots go higher and higher, faster and faster as they do more of what they want, but always retaining that “You can’t tell me what to do, past me!” freedom about what to do.

Just a thought, though!

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Another reaction to the “I would just throw money away out of laziness or rebelliousness” objection that I like a lot, quoted with permissions from @bluetulip:

I don’t have the exact same issue, but there is some overlap and I still find Beeminder incredibly useful. The payment model doesn’t really work for me (Beeminder understands I’m irrational about goals I care about but expects me to care about money in a rational way? I guess that works for a lot of people) but the turning large goals into incremental progress and noticing when I fail is still extremely valuable. Often knowing that it’s down to doing this little thing to be succeeding at X today is enough. Sometimes it’s not, and even if Beeminder doesn’t prevent that it makes it noticeable enough that it makes me think about whether the goal was realistic (Beeminder saves me from feeling bad about not doing some poorly defined thing that wasn’t reasonable to begin with) and if it was, figure out what I can change in life so I don’t find myself in the situation that makes it really hard again.

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I replied “2: lie”, but that was a mistake. I answered a question you didn’t ask: “what do you think is the most common objection to the use of Beeminder?”

I haven’t yet fallen off the Beeminder bandwagon, so I shouldn’t have answered the question. I periodically stop using the app after reaching the end of a commitment, which I usually set to be 1 to 3 months in the future. Every time I start using it again though, I find Beeminder to be extremely valuable. Really glad that you guys exist, and hope you keep it up.

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I have done this exact thing with Habitica’s dailies, then having a certain number of dailies,always less than the beeminder amount due, be due per day, so I can pick from one of those.

The issue with this is that now you can’t use that feature as intended - for things you have to do one of every day.

AFAIK beeminder’s integration still will not count your “habits” tab, which would really be better for this kind of thing.

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