[This is something I thought about and wrote up a few months ago, with the vague intention to publish it here on the forum. I didn’t at the time, but just now reading @clouedoc’s post about ‘time vs. session goals’, I was reminded of it. I’d love to hear anybody’s feedback about these ideas, etc.!]
The concept of “Double-Threshold Goals” came to me as a possible way to run beeminder goals/similar. Let me explain the whole chain of reasoning!
Situation: You have some unit of interest that you want to achieve dailyish — words written, minutes spent meditating, number of 3 hour sessions of focused work, kilometers run, etc. — but you don’t want to track just the straight-up accumulated sum of those over time in a goal with a simple target rate — 1000 words, 15 minutes, two sessions, 5 kilometers, etc.
This might be because you expect to overrun that baseline target, which lessens the pressure on the following day, and you want don’t want the pattern of one “binge day” where you do tons of the thing followed by a series of days with little to none of the desired activity. (And you don’t want to set the target rate higher, because then you’ll fall short too often.)
The solution is to set that daily rate as your threshold, and to track the number of days you beat that threshold. Say, you could have the goal of exceeding your threshold five days per week, and then advance your goal by increasing that threshold each week.
This solution is all well and good — and its simplicity is a key virtue! — however, at the cost of a measure of complexity, we can reincorporate some of the benefits of the straight accumulation-tracking approach.
You can set one threshold as your minimum — the least you wish to do that you’ll count as a win, as before — and then also choose a higher threshold that you can strive for, motivated by it counting as credit for a future day.
For example, you can set your weekly rate at seven “day points” with one point earned by hitting your minimum threshold — ensuring you work your habit every day — but then have your higher threshold give an extra 1/5 of a point — a max of 1.2 points that day — so every five times you hit that level, you’ve accrued a day off.
Or to be even more concrete, say you have a goal to write every day. You can set your minimum threshold at 100 words per day — it’s important to maintain the habit at an easy level, and being forced just to start often makes it easier to keep going. Then you can set your stretch threshold at 1000 words, with hitting that level granting 1.25 days worth of points.
The fine balance of these numbers likely rests on experience and experimentation. The key is that you are incentivized to keep going beyond your base threshold, even though the bulk of the motivational-energy goes into getting you to start at all.
The double-threshold method, compared to default accumulation goals, allows you to have a low daily “must-do” amount without “penalizing” you for exceeding it by making subsequent days much easier. And it beats a single-threshold by still giving some bonus for doing more than the minimum amount.
Thus is the complexity penalty overcome.
Triple-Threshold Goals and Beyond
It is easy to imagine having a third threshold at a still greater target, which gives even more fractional day-units for having met it — or a fourth or more. But I think here the tracking complexity outweighs the value gained. In the limit, with more and more thresholds you are further approximating the accumulation approach.
I think two thresholds is the sweet spot: the daily minimum and your stretch goal.