"Paying Us is Not Punishment." Well...

Please understand that I appreciate the service you provide and that I am not advocating for changing anything. Except, I have another view of being stung. To state that “Paying Us is Not Punishment” is much like the State of Texas saying “Getting a traffic ticket is not punishment. You’re just helping to maintain traffic safety.” In a sense that’s true, but I don’t know anyone who honestly takes that view when receiving a traffic citation. From a Beeminder standpoint, I do view it as punishment if I have to pay a penalty for not meeting a goal, and I accept that I’ve signed up for that. In this case, with both Beeminder and BaaS. BaaS insures that I meet my goals or (in my words, not BaaS’), I get punished with a financial penalty that keeps me from using that money toward other things. I’m not complaining about that. This disincentive system has worked well for me in the past. I just view it a different way: complete tasks or be punished for not doing so.


This is a fun debate! I admit there are different valid schools of thought. There’s even @nick’s Success Spirals mindset where you treat derailing at all ever to be a Beeminder-ruining disaster.

But let me argue for my preferred mindset…

I think a better analogy here is “Getting a traffic ticket is not punishment. You just pay an expedited service fee when you need to go faster.” Or “This isn’t a parking ticket. Parking is just particularly expensive here.”

I think that’s a bad reframing for traffic tickets, certainly for speeding tickets where people can literally die from violating speed limits.

But, as we argue in a series of blog posts (“Derailing Is Not Failing”, “Paying Is Not Punishment”, and “Derailing It Is Nailing It”), it tends to be a user-awesomeness-maximizing reframing for Beeminder.

To recap the argument, if you view Beeminder’s stings as punishment, that can (a) encourage an excuse-making mindset over a results-oriented mindset, and maybe more importantly, (b) encourage you to make your goals less ambitious. If you accept that some derailments are inevitable – part of the cost of the service, just nudges or rumble strips keeping you on track – you can dial in a sweet spot where you’re being pushed to do as much as possible (or whatever maximizes the motivational value you get from Beeminder) at minimal cost.

See also this related thread:


I just remembered another great thread about this:


It’s probably worth clarifying, at least in your own head, when creating a goal, whether you want Beeminder to punish you for crossing the bright red line or just tax you for crossing it.

And in the Discord, @theospears and @rperce reminded me of Umeshisms. Example/analogy from Theo:

if you never lose a poker showdown (ie derail) you are folding too often (ie not setting ambitious enough goals)


I feel like this is not a 1 to 1 comparison. It kind of depends on the beeminder goal. For example, if your goal is to not eat ice cream. By paying the $5 derail you are allowed to have some ice cream as a reward. Albeit I understand that technically you don’t have to charge yourself. The mindset has helped me either way. As if I have a week I derail multiple times I don’t feel like it was a major failure more that I paid to do or not to do things and it keeps me going.


Do you think the exponentially-increasing sting regime makes it a bad reframing for Beeminder too? Searching for a price you will not pay only makes sense if derailing is something you must not do.

(Sorry if I’m retreading old discussions. I haven’t caught up on the linked threads. :slight_smile:

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This is an interesting question and it’s making me think about the arguments for auto-pledge-decay: if you don’t derail for, say, a month then Beeminder just presumes your pledge is too high and drops it down unless you tell it not to.

(@shanaqui has a really interesting argument in favor of something like this. Psychologically it feels like wimping out to proactively step down your pledge but if it’s something you earn by staying on track then it feels pretty great. I think that matches my own psychology.)

Anyway, but in the context of “is paying punishment?” the idea is that you need to find an amount that’s motivating but not punishing. Exponential increases is an efficient way to do that. Recall that Beeminder’s pledge schedule was constructed in order to have the property that whatever pledge level you’re at, you’ll have spent a total of exactly half that by hitting all the previous pledge levels.


I’ve previously argued that it makes more sense to me to use something like a Fibonnaci progression, so your new pledge is the sum of the two previous pledges. I’d argue it has two benefits:

  • brains discount “old” derails, and being more focused on the last few makes more sense to me
  • the progression is slower, so you’re more likely to find the sweet spot; right now I find myself thinking “$30 is too low as an incentive for this goal, but $90 is way too high and I’d just never want to derail, so I’ll quit the goal”.

Exploring more slowly for the right incentive level makes sense to me (and wouldn’t necessarily reduce revenue). Not sure what evidence there is either way, in terms of other people’s views: I know alternative progressions were tried a while ago, but not sure they looked like this. Some people have previously wanted to skip straight to the “hard” levels on goals, I believe, so this is some evidence against Fibonnaci progressions, as they take too long to get “hard” - but you should fix that instead by allowing people to set their start point, as anyone who might pay a $270 derail isn’t going to be motivated by $5 and it makes sense (to me) to let them start higher up the ladder, although I know that probably would reduce revenues.


One more vote for positive reinforcement modifications (or options!) like this one.