Beeminder Forum

I need a second opinion on legitness


I’m skating the YBR today and it so happens that by the time I’ll be done with my goals for today (there is a duration based one in there) an event starts that I want to attend. It aligns perfectly. So far so good. But 0 wiggle room.
My BFF just called asking to meet up and last time she did I already had to tell her I got no time because uni. And tomorrow she leaves town. And I told her uh… it’s like the one time where I actually got something planned. And then we decided she can come to said event, too. Awesome. Problem solved.

Until she brought up we should meet up before that and drink something so the event is funner and then she can show me her flat and we could talk. Because I haven’t seen her in months. And meeting up with her is always awesome and I’m in a really great mood afterwards. And at the event we can’t really talk because it’s a movie night.

And… that would make me derail. And there’s $30 at stake. Now I know, that’s “just” $30 and I won’t starve (not yet) if I just coughed it up.
But it got me wondering: So far on that goal (it’s a 6hrs per day goal) when I derailed because of extraordinary things I could not anticipate I cried non-legit. Or coughed up the money when it was something where I could still get my goal done albeit with a lot of stress. Basically “buy myself free”.
So for instance, when I called non-legit on that goal it’d be because of a sudden very strong and long lasting headache, some family emergency, intense drama in my social circle.

Doing so the goal worked for me exactly as intended so far. So I think I’m doing this right.

Now in this case I was wondering if the “she wants to meet up” falls under the unexpected stuffs category for me. Things I could not reasonably account for. And she calls like 2, 3 times a year. Very spontaneously. And that worked great in the past for I wasn’t wearing a rigid Beeminder corset.

And now I wonder a lot what to do.
There’s one thing I’m definitely not gonna do and that is to “massage” the data so I won’t derail. That’s not happening. So that leaves:

  • I could of course just meet up with her directly at the event, we watch some movies and go separate ways again but that would be awkward and dumb and required a bit of explaining on my end why I got SUCH a strict timetable. Now she’s a super awesome person and she’d understand but still, it feels dumb.
  • I cough up the $30
  • I consider this non legit because in my book this is something very unexpected and I am convinced this goal will still work great for me even then.

I don’t think I’m a weaseler, it’s definitely not checked and again – so far this goal worked wonders for me and I don’t see why it’d stop doing that.

In the past whenever I derailed on this goal be it legit or not I always retroratcheted so I’d be on an eep day very soon. The only time I didn’t do that I thought “Maybe this time I can do without training wheels”. And I regretted it. No surprise there.

So – I’m between “cough it up” and “call it non-legit” because to me this is an exception in my book. What makes me gravitate for “cough it up” is at least partially the known “problem” that the Beeminder folks are super nice and I know it’s good when they get money.
Would it make me procrastinate less on this goal? I don’t think so, actually. And that’s why I am also gravitating towards “non legit in my book”.

So yeah, as you can see, I’m not making this decision easy on myself.

Now please throw at me what you’ve got! Opinions, love letters, life threats, routing numbers…


Did you have any advance notice she would come into town? Could you have planned better so you could have done both? Or did she just call out of the blue saying she was only in town today?


Nope, totally out of the blue.


What’s the problem with paying the $30? That’s cheap to make sure you don’t slide down a slippery slope. Calling this nonlegit seems like a very dangerous game to me.

Yes, you could argue that when you set up the goal you did not intend for an out-of-town friend’s visits to derail you. So it would not totally be cheating. But it’s better to play it safe. Pay the $30. Better yet, ask her to pay it!


I am confused, why would I ask her to pay it?


Well, there’s certainly been dumber things I did that cost me more money, so I ma cough the $30 up. Easy as that I guess. Thanks for the input!

Also in the time it took me to wonder about this and write it up I could have just actually gone and met her already. Oh well. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned here.


I love it when people … [I accidentally posted this without finishing that sentence because I got distracted digging up an old gem: “mob justice”] … was about to say I love it when people pose these conundrums to the community!

My philosophy is to decide legitimacy not based on the strength of the excuse but on how cleanly you can formulate a general principle you’d be comfortable sticking to for all future cases. More about that in this blog post:

(Hopefully it’s not too insulting that I’m sort of categorizing this as a Barfing Cats Excuse, namely, the kind of thing that feels like a fair excuse but ultimately the point of beeminding your goal was to make sure it would happen despite that kind of excuse. But if you can formulate a not-too-ad-hoc general principle – ideally with a nice bright line for applying it – then you could call it a non-legit derailment!)

PS: One more sort of relevant but embarrassingly self-serving (from Beeminder’s perspective) blog post is which is like thinking of it as “I want to always stay on this yellow brick road unless something happens that makes it worth $5 (or $30 in you case – but you can cap the pledge at whatever makes sense) to derail”. That’s a nice bright line, and nice and unabusable. You just have to make sure the amount is something that will only feel tempting to pay in unusual circumstances.

Maybe that’s not even particularly self-serving, now that I think about it. You’re setting it up so Beeminder is providing highly valuable motivation in normal circumstances and getting paid for its trouble in unusual circumstances. As I’ve started saying recently, derailing is not failing!

Just step back occasionally and make sure the amount you pay Beeminder on average feels worth it for what you get out of it.


Stuff happens and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it.
Call non-legit and dial up the goal for a week to cover the lost time.


It’s something I’ve used before when a girl wants to see me when I need to do a beeminder task instead - “hey, if you really want to see me, you can, but seeing you will cost me $X, so you’ll have to cover that.”

Especially in this case, where it was her poor planning that put you in a position where the only way to see her was to pay the $30.

I see this as a win-win - you don’t fall down the slippery slope, beeminder gets its $30, the person responsible for incurring the $30 charge (her) pays it, and you get to see her without losing money.


i was in a similar situation earlier this week, i woke up very late on saturday and my goal is writing 750 words/day, i was catching up with a friend i hadn’t seen in over a month and i realized a little before midnight that i wasn’t going to be able to do my words unless i stopped paying attention to my friend. i decided to change my time-zone on instead, because i decided that for me, my day was not even half-over, (despite what the clock might say) and it was important to me to keep up on my goal. (i had plenty of cushion on beeminder, but i didn’t want to lose my streak.)

I feel a little guilty about it but i think i did the right thing. it’s not fair to ourselves to say that only bad things are allowed to make us have non-legit derails. unforeseen things happen that are beautiful and happy and enjoyable. provided it’s not a vice that’s keeping you from your goals, i think it’s totally reasonable to say that was a non-legit derail.


So for me I’d decide the legitimacy based on “was there anything that, in retrospect, I could have done to prepare myself better so it wasn’t a zero wiggle-room day”. Which I guess is pretty similar to the post about barfing cats.

Like if there was really nothing in my control I could have done better then, sure, I think that counts as an illegitimate derail. Otherwise, I think it’s a legitimate one.

I suppose to put it another way I see Beeminder not just as a way to keep me in this moment accountable but also my past self that was planning the life for me in this moment.


I’ve used the “buy myself free” thing too! And for the same reason, I didn’t feel bad super about it. Beeminder is good people, and I don’t mind throwing them some cash. Also, there are points where I would pay $30 to be able to resolve the issue and walk away.

But I think the retrospective is important. In all of my “buy myself free” experiences, there was something I could have done to avoid it. Even if that was just having more buffer in there so that I could skate if something emergent or serendipitous arose. Like, “sometimes things come up on Saturdays and I’m close to YBR; I should get some more data points in this week.” So the takeaway there was always that I needed to think about my Beeminder habit in a broader timeline than just one day at a time. The fault of one day might have been my inadequate planning from a week (or a month) beforehand.

^^ I don’t mean all that to be pejorative at all. I just mean that in an ideally functioning system I’d have adequate buffer to handle unexpected happy (or unhappy) occurrences. And that’s something I always want to work towards. Risk management.

Point 2 — sometimes the trouble was the beeminder goal itself and how I’d structured it. Six-hour duration goals would require me to be super on top of my life, and if I couldn’t stack data points (if the thing needed six hours of my day every day) then it would definitely cause me to structure my days differently, deny social engagements, whatever. If the cost of that prioritization is acceptable to me, awesome. If it isn’t, then maybe there’s another way for me to incentivize the same behavior or track progress towards the same goal.

All of this is very much IME and IMHO. My tl;dr thing is that I think you could buy yourself free, but that should come with a hard look at what happened and what you might do differently next time.


Yep, I’m in complete agreement with @erijohns on this: the takeaway I would take from this is “I need to not skate so close to the line on this goal” (or “I need to restructure this goal”, but you said it was working great for you otherwise). As every procrastinator knows, the price of cutting it close is sometimes something comes up, and “close” becomes “undoable”.

(In general, I structure my beeminder goals so that the ones that are due every day can be cried off because of Serious Problems (very sick, family emergency, etc), but the ones that are supposed to be done over a longer amount of time, getting enough buffer for those emergency situations is on me. And I treasure every safe day on my $90 goal, because that’s a day saved for when I need to do something like take care of a sick kid, or visit my best friend when she’s having a crisis!)

Also, re what @cam said, I think the reason beeminders tend to side-eye “not legit” claims for fun/good things is that part of the whole point of beeminder for chronic procrastinators is to force us to do the not-fun things instead of the fun things; I’d certainly always pick hanging out with friends to doing work, if I didn’t have a bunch of monetary swords hanging over my head! Saying that I can beg off the monetary consequences of doing fun things if the fun things were just unexpected enough seems disingenuous, when you always had the choice of not doing the fun thing (whereas you didn’t have the choice to not get a headache, or have a sick kid, or have the internet connection go out).


see, i get that but i also feel like when we retroratchet there’s room for wiggle room. i often do that just because i want the graph to look a certain way. as long as the “fun” things are not happening on a regular basis, to the point where they really DO present an obstacle to your goals, i think it’s harmless. but i think in general my approach to beeminder is a lot less strict than many other users, because i’ve learned that’s bad for me (but evidently great for other people! :slight_smile: )


@cam I’d actually kinda like to hear the rationale more because, to me, the whole point of retro-ratcheting is “I don’t want wiggle room”. If you want the wiggle room why bother with the graph munging? Like what’s an example of “wanting the graph to look a certain way”?

(to be clear this isn’t “grar justify your choices to me” it’s that since I can’t see the reason I’m really curious what I’m missing)


sure! i didn’t take it badly don’t worry!

so like, i’m sure that’s what other people use it for but i personally don’t really feel like i’m making progress if my yellow brick road and my goal data are too far apart. like in my survivor goal you can see that i have like 13 days buffer. I keep considering retroratcheting this goal because the distance between the yellow brick road and my data makes the graph of my data seem less satisfying to me. like, a buffer doesn’t help me relax, it just makes me kind of frustrated that my progress doesn’t line up with the yellow brick road. it’s kinda dumb but my favorite thing about beeminder is the satisfying graphs of my progress and seeing uneven datapoints is punishment enough for me sometimes to get me to do something.

i’m actually really glad that i’m doing the survivor goal because it’s getting me used to having a goal where i’m so invested in succeeding that i won’t retroratchet it. i’m still thinking about retroratcheting at the end of the month because i think that 2 weeks of buffer is just way way too much for something i hope to be doing almost daily.


Does anyone need a spare pitchfork?

On a more on topic note:
There’s also the option of calling non-legit and making up for it the next day (week?) for the special occasion. Clearly, if it’s an “only this once”-occasion this will not end up in you borrowing from the future all the time. As a bonus, your conscience can be clear in the evening.

It seems like this is a strict goal that works for you 99% of the time. I don’t think it should be to your detriment to meet your friend once in a full moon. However, it’s important this is not a slippery slope. Could use the hashtag as a marker on your graph to track, the few times in a year when you take a day off too. Just to have the data and stay accountable.

If you know this will be a slippery slope. Don’t do it.
If you know this is actually a singular event and will not devalue the goal in your mind. Do it and consider making up for the half hour to hour.


A little late to the conversation, but I like Danny’s reply.

On the other hand, $30 is a great amount to learn the ultimate lesson - that you can’t plan life so strictly. If I understood it right, you have a requirement to do something for 6 hours daily and an unexpected outing will derail you. If you were treating your commitment to yourself like you were contractually to the military or something, you couldn’t ‘call in sick’ on a special op mission. Do you want to be the kind of person who says, I’m 100% committed, except when something spontaneous and random and BFF comes along?

I personally would bit the bullet and pay the $30 and take the lesson. I’ve paid thousands over the years upon getting a little bit of clarity that I was actually on the wrong path - or couldn’t keep my commitment.


Can you come up with a strict rule that clearly defines a line at an appropriate place between situations like this and “there’s something else I feel like doing right now”? If so and you’re happy with it, call it not legit and put that rule in your fine print. If not - if any rule you think of feels like it would undermine what you want from the goal - consider the $30 a fee for flexibility while skating the road and try not to skate the road so much if you don’t want similar things to happen in the future.


I am really, really in favor of being kind to ourselves. But I don’t see the money at stake as a threat of punishment. I see it as making the tradeoffs of backing away from your commitment an explicit thing.

Derailing this once would mean you pay a $30 premium to pass up on your commitment and go see your friend. That sounds totally worth it under most circumstances. Even outside the context of a goal, I would pay an extra $30 to see my friend for the last time in what might be years.

Here are examples of circumstances where it would be questionable:

  1. the $30 charge takes up financial resources you needed for the goal, or something that enables the goal directly
  2. the $30 charge will cause your bank account to become overdrawn, launching a cascade of financial institution fees

In both of those cases, I would argue that the issue is the penalty ending up being more than $30.

I have been in situation 2. I sent a panicked email to Beeminder, and they very graciously worked with me to delay the payment until I sorted out the surprise funds shortage. But in the case of example 1, I paid anyway.

Trying to scope out commitment and leave room for the unanticipated can be a major challenge when setting up a Beeminder goal. I think it’s partly because part of us wants to err on challenging ourselves to make it interesting or worthwhile.

How much is your overall commitment worth to you?

I think its fine if you reflect and see that maybe the e.g. six hours of work a day isn’t worth the $30. Maybe ensuring a smaller baseline is worth the $30, but that forcing six hours has undesirable side effects.

A single Beeminder goal is pretty good at helping to maintain a pretty consistent baseline average. But for something where you want a really consistent minimum, I would factor the one goal into separate goals:

  • Baseline goal: default exponentially increasing pledge; strict max safe days; failing at any point indicates the rate was unrealistic and you should adjust downwards; increase this rate only when the max safe days keeps getting triggered week to week
  • Target amount: capped pledge, no max safe days (free to buffer), adjust along with the baseline, but feel more free to keep increasing with a record success

(I also usually either add a meta goal that tracks data entry, or make it part of a larger accountability review to ensure compliance.)