Beeminder Forum

I need a second opinion on legitness


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.)


@dreev what have you done?! :astonished: :wink:

Seriousness aside, this is A LOT of great input with very diverse views on the subject. Thanks everyone!
If anything it shows that maybe it wasn’t completely unreasonable for me to be so conflicted about what to do.

I didn’t mean to imply it was poor planning on anyone’s part at all. In fact there was basically 0 planning involved. It was a spontaneously call to meet up if I got time. That’s all there is to it. I could have simply said nope, no time. Like a normal person :smiley:
I can’t picture myself ever asking someone in such a situation to cover my Beeminder costs. That just feels alien to me. It’s not like she asked for, I dunno, fixing her printer in the middle of the night or something.

YMMV but outside of work I don’t normally have people queuing up throwing money at me just so they can see me :wink:

Haha! I figured you’d like it :wink: Speaking of which, I love both this…

…and that title! I’ve grown up with cats, so maybe that’s why.
And this brings me to some other quote of yours, @dreev:

This is exactly what I had in mind here:

When I set up this goal I was basically living on YouTube and other similar time sinks. This goal helped at combating that. Really well in fact.
Spontaneously meeting up with a deer friend whom I had to dismiss the past 4 times already (as I learned on that evening) is not what this goal was initially set up to combat. That’s where my motivation comes from to classify it as non-legit. At least for me watching just one more video and then I’ll get started is something different than meeting someone.

On the other side, I wondered what would the Beeminder people do in that instance because they arguably have been beeminding for a longer time than me and maybe been in this spot already.
So it was super interesting to read @dreev’s take on this.
And of course reading the war stories of everyone else here who has had a similar struggle is super insightful and reassuring, thanks again!

So as stated in an earlier post, I did barf up the $30. And I realised that $10 was already motivation enough. So now I’m slowly reducing the pledge from $90 back to $10.
And next time I ma either again shell out the $10 or maybe call non legit and dial up the road afterwards for a bit and then take a step back and see if I feel any different about the goal than I did before.

Thanks for reading so far :slight_smile:
I want to leave you with two things:

German has the idiom “päpstlicher sein als der Papst” (= to be more catholic than the pope) which crossed my mind a few times during this endeavour.

The Struggle is Real


What’s the second thing?
Don’t just leave us trembling in antici…


Well, this is.
And I want to see that in the top left corner of the website :wink:


A/ next time make it an actual poll so people are forced to make an actual decision and you get hard data to drive your choice / learning experience

B/ poor planning leads to hard choices. Cough it up and learn to build buffer, treating orange as red, because flexibility is what buffer is for

C/ or put in your goal rules the clear-cut ‘if someone I didn’t see in 3mo+ asks for my time, I get to weasel out’ (or make an explicit list of the people who can trigger this, effectively saying “I stick to my schedule except for those people”)

B+/ on the beeminder side, it would be a nice extra functionality to ‘bank and hide’ a bit of buffer instead of retroratchetting, effectively setting yourself an artificial deadline, with the proper deadline colors (something like this).


Sounds like she was guilting you a little. Were the last 4 times also last-minute with no notice? What does she expect if she doesn’t let you know ahead of time?

Something about this whole thing is frustrating me. This whole situation could have been prevented if your friend had planned a little better by letting you know ahead of time that she would be in town, yet it sounds like you are getting the blame here and you are out $30.

If you’re only going to make last minute plans, you shouldn’t expect others to juggle their schedule and goals around for you. Here her poor planning ended up costing you $30 and that is NOT FAIR.

Yeah, that’s pretty much my point. There was no thinking ahead of you, just this expectation that you’d jump at the chance to see her, enabling her lack of advance communication and costing you $30 to boot.

No one else finds this frustrating or thinks there’s something upsetting or dysfunctional about this dynamic? No one else thinks it’s unfair or that payment is not being properly allocated here?

And it’s not just about money. In my mind, while this is a non-legit derailment, it’s still a good idea to pay because of slippery slopes. So her failure to let you know in advance, combined with the apparent guilting, could have started you down a dangerous slope.

I really like @olimay’s suggestion that there are two types of goals: “never fail” increasing pledge goals and “ok to pay to fail” capped pledge goals. But that second type of goal can end up unfairly costing you when someone else’s failure to give you advance notice ends up putting you in a position where you have to turn them down or pay for derailing.

So the moral is, when setting up a goal of the second type, beware that it puts you in a situation where you might have to pay when it should be someone else’s responsibility.

I see three options here:

  1. Suck it up and pay. This just seems unfair and enables someone else’s bad behavior. But maybe having to pay when this happens is good motivation not to enable.

  2. Call it a legit derailment. The bright line here is “I should have known earlier but I didn’t because someone else didn’t plan ahead - if they had, I would have made time and kept my goals.” I think this is reasonable, but the concern is that it’s too easy to slide down a slippery slope here - that is, maybe this isn’t a bright enough line.

  3. My preferred option - properly allocate the penalty. The penalty should properly be paid by the person who was in a position to be aware of the issue and plan for it (in the US, this is a general principle of tort law).

So if you’re in a situation where someone asks you for something, and their failure to think ahead puts you in a position where you might derail, consider telling them you’ll only agree if they pay the costs of their failure to let you know earlier.

Since apparently some people find discussion of money and payments in situations like this unusual or socially unacceptable, another option might be to ask them to help you out in a non-financial way by helping you with a task or doing some kind of favor. I feel like this kind of casual bartering is fairly normal.

Also see the “notorious example” of @dreev and @bee allocating household tasks by making payments:


I begin to see why it’s called “Messy Matters” :wink:


If I were in an analogous situation, I wouldn’t be frustrated with another person for asking to get together, I would be frustrated with myself for not working ahead enough that I couldn’t get together with a friend without impacting my progress.

Not to “yuck your yum” (as I tell some of my students), but I wouldn’t ask a friend to split a Beeminder pledge with me. I don’t use Beeminder to make other people awesomer, I use it to make myself awesomer.


As I understood OP, this wasn’t a situation where working that far ahead would have been possible, but rather a situation where any spontaneous request to get together would have required derailing.

In that case, it strikes me that the best thing to do for you in an analogous situation would be to call the derailment non-legit (option 2 in my post above), since it was someone else’s failure to let you know in advance that caused you to derail.


Some people are just like that. You can choose not to be friends with them, but you can’t choose for them to plan ahead more. You can make sure they’re aware of the consequences of their lack of planning, but I don’t think it’s all that likely to make them change, and who knows, maybe they are actually using the appropriate amount of planning for their personality and their lifestyle. Other than that, you kinda have to take people as they are.

(There are other reasons for this kind of thing to happen as well, of course, like last-minute flight changes due to weather / cancelations / etc.)