Reading goal dilemma

Lately, I’ve seemingly got reading goals down: I create an odometer goal for every book I read, with a really easy-peasy goal of 5 pages/day and an autoratchet. I usually read more than five pages a day, progressing through the book way faster than the rate, but the autoratchet ensures I have to read every day. The intent behind all these goals is to allow me to read multiple books at once and not forget about any of them – I read according to my whim and whatever seems fun at the time, but I don’t want to end up with seventeen half-read books lying around waiting for me to be in the mood for them again.

This has worked beautifully, in general. However, I’ve no intention of making myself finish bad books for the sake of finishing them, but this situation never arose before, so I never thought about how to deal with my Beeminder goals for such books.

Which brings us to the book I’m reading at the moment, which I think is dreadful. I’ve given it 100 pages and if anything it’s going downhill: juvenile, silly without being funny, and I’m meant to believe a complete airhead can solve murders by blundering around.

But how can I ditch it? I have a Beeminder goal! I’m trying to decide what’s consistent with my true goals, which are:

  1. Read for fun, not for stats or goals or to clear my TBR (to be read) shelf.
  2. Not leave unfinished books lying around half-read with the intent of coming back to them “someday”.
  3. Don’t ever read when it’s not fun.

Not quite compatible with Beeminder, in general.

What should I do with my reading goal I don’t want to finish it?
  • Change the end total to current page + 35 (a week’s worth of reading), read that, archive it
  • Set it to archive and read 5 pages a day until it goes away
  • Stick with it
  • Delete it (only an option for ~1 more day; feels bad because I’d like to keep the record around)
  • Something else I will describe in a post

0 voters

I think I know what the Beeminder-consistent thing to do would be, but I don’t like that answer (because it doesn’t align with my larger goals around reading).


Agh the terrible book dilemma! Good on you for staying strong and realising that this book just isn’t worth your time. There are so many great books waiting to be read and I love the conviction

Don’t ever read when it’s not fun.

I’ve come across the same dilemma a couple times recently because I have tried a few reading goals recently in the style of yours. (Hope that’s okay! Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?) I’d previously been doing the strict # pages / days odometer goal, but I love that your method is more flexible to read on a whim and when the mood strikes. Knowing that I had 42 pages of a classical tome to finish before I could go to sleep caused more stress than good.

I think you’ve identified that while Beeminding “your reading” in a general sense is aligned with your life goals, Beeminding individual books sometimes isn’t. There are some benefits – accountability to read each day, a nice graph of your progress at the end, tracking in the same place as other goals… But the problem is that you don’t actually want to get into a commitment contract holding you to finish every book you start. (At least I don’t, and it sounds like your reading goals don’t either.) A pages read Do More goal doesn’t have that problem, but then you can’t see the graph of your progress through a book in the same way and I know I wouldn’t want to give that up.

Some ways I’ve dealt with this recently, imperfectly to be sure:

  • Delete the goal within the 7 days time frame, but, like you said, you lose the data
  • Entering some weasel-y data that gets me through the 7 days until the archive (the much more noble path being actually reading the 5 pages/day like you suggest) but keeping my reading pages meta goal true (don’t tell… oh, wait)
  • Keeping my books goals at $0 pledge with a 7-day leeway after a derail so I could derail without penalty and then archive

Perhaps, a better way:
What about writing into the fine print that a derail isn’t legit if the book isn’t worth finishing? Then the goal is a more accurate commitment contract, more suited to your goals.


Ooh, I just had an idea for making it moot: Start books at 1 page/day until you know you like it. (Or just don’t enable the autoratchet till you know you like it?) Having to read a single page a day of a lousy book for one week – 7 more pages total after deciding the book sucks – should be a non-issue, right?

In general I think there’s value in treating commitment devices as a little bit sacred and accepting that they do have a cost, that you can’t always achieve the best of all worlds. I think Beeminder is pretty brilliant at minimizing that cost: stick it out for one final week, or pay the pledge.

I don’t like trying to cover it in the fine print, or the feeling that one should never be penalized if one has an excuse. (Even thinking of it as “being penalized” feels wrong to me, but this is a bigger can of worms.) Solutions like that are dangerous to Beeminder’s future efficacy for you. Of course, feeling resentful of Beeminder may also be dangerous. Some people are especially good at mentally reframing this. An example from @philip recently, translated into my own words:

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.


Ah, but I coulda sworn I’d like this one. I read 60 pages on the first day! Then it just went soggy in the middle. Bah.

I agree about treating it a little bit sacred – it’s why I haven’t gone with any of the imperfect solutions already (including deleting the goal, even though I still could). I see people breaking Beeminder for themselves now and then in support, so I have a fairly good handle on where those points will be for me, and I am noooot going there.

This is why the second of @aliceofbattenberg’s mentioned imperfect solutions definitely won’t work for me:

No matter how good the reason is, I don’t wanna go down that route, because I can always come up with an only slightly less good reason to do it with another goal that still feels consistent – and then on down the chain until I barely need a reason.

I’m thinking that actually #3 is the answer here, or the beginning of it. I start all my goals at $0 anyway for precisely this reason, because sometimes what you think is the reasonable rate is not and you don’t foresee how to implement the goal in xyz situation, and that’s particularly true with my reading goals. Sooo just accepting that it’s a derailment and it’s legit is probably right; most of the time the goal will still be at $0, and when it’s not… well, maybe that is a fair cop – I probably could’ve planned ahead and turned off the autoratchet at the very least if I was struggling to read the book (which usually I don’t, making it a fairly reliable sign a DNF [did not finish] is coming up).


Here’s an idea: your odometer goals could be pages read from this book or from the buffer page bank goal. That’s a goal with slope 0.0001. When you read a page from a book, you can either add it to that book’s goal (usual case), or, when that book reveals itself to be Really Bad, you switch to another book and start adding pages to the buffer page bank.

When you need to add pages to your Really Bad Book Goal, you add +5 and in the comment add (from book bank) and you go in the book bank and add a -5 datapoint with a (to Really Bad Book) comment.

You can’t ever draw more from the bank than you have because that will make you derail, but you can get a 1-day loan; if you add a -25 datapoint to the bank and a +25 datapoint to the book, you’re instantly fine with the Really Bad Book, but you have to add to get the bank to 0 by the end of the day if you don’t want to derail!

I like this kind of thing because while sometimes you want to read fiction book x specifically, I feel like it would be really counterproductive if you had to derail on fiction book x even if you felt like reading fiction book y :slight_smile:

If you want to be more strict about the semantics, you can specify in your book bank that you can only draw pages to deposit them on a bad book, not from a good book to another good book.


A perfect solution that seems obvious in hindsight. I think I’ll make all my future book goals this way! I’m pretty sure I could stomach 7 more pages of just about any book.


I’ve had some thoughts on this, and whilst they probably won’t work in all situations and for all goal types the big one I want to talk about is the idea of “finished”.

Hypothetically, if you create a goal to read a book then the normal assumption would be that this means to… read the book from start to end and therefore be finished with it. Correct?

This means that there’s an implication that you need to finish a book even if you are not enjoying the book, or else you will derail on the goal. Which obviously is not an enjoyable situation. However, in my mind if you are to decide that a book is unreadable for you, for whatever reason within reason, then there is no reason why you cannot be finished with a book regardless of whether you’ve read to the end of the book or not. It follows, for me, that if you are finished with a book you are allowed to mark that goal as complete and move on.

This, of course, is not applicable to all situations but hopefully it gives light to my thoughts on the “bad book” situation. :slight_smile:


Before you make a new reading goal, define clearly and in writing what allows you to DNF (did not finish) a book. Also define what you will do then, my advice would be:

Have a proxy of +35 that immediately DNFs this book and the goal. Add that proxy, archive the goal, stop reading bad books.

It’s a very slippery Beeminder slope though, so you have to be very precise beforehand under which circumstances you are allowed to proxy.

For me this approach helps, when I in general want to stick to a goal but there are unpredictable but clearly defineable situations where I absolutely do not want to stick to the goal. One example could be:

Goal: “Run every day.”
Unpredictable situation: I get sick or injured. In that situation I absolutely do not want to run, that would counteract the overall goal of fitness (which is less track-able then runs).
Solution: Pre-defined proxy that I am allowed to use in case of sickness.

I know I don’t cheat myself with this one but it has to be very clearly defined beforehand. If it’s not, no proxy.

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It’s a very slippery Beeminder slope though

Open for better, Beeminder-y solutions to the example I gave (where I absolutely rationally do not want to force myself to do something in specific, unpredictable situations but want to most of the time).

I have an elaborate blog post draft I’m working on called “Paying Is Not Punishment” and part of it addresses this feeling of “what should I do if, in certain unpredictable situations, I absolutely rationally don’t want to force myself to do something that Beeminder says I have to do”. Personally, my answer is “pay the pledge”. Commitment devices are powerful and you shouldn’t expect them to have zero cost. Sometimes you’ll pay when you don’t “deserve” to and that’s fine – it’s still worth it.

You’re paying in part to preserve the power they have the rest of the time. There are compelling counterarguments to this way of thinking, like not setting up a too-aversive relationship with Beeminder perhaps. Lots of debate and discussion ongoing!

A less extreme answer is “let it derail and reply to the legit check”. Fake data is never the right answer. [shudder]

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Nah, for me this totally blurs the relationship between Beeminder and akrasia. Beeminder’s my tool for avoiding akrasia, and that’s what it should incentivise. If I have to keep my goals/pledges low enough that being in a car crash tomorrow either won’t take my rent money or won’t stop me still managing to fulfil the goal, then Beeminder’s not doing much for my long-term goals.

(You can argue about whether the payment is a punishment or not, but if money isn’t working as an incentive or disincentive here, what is it doing? Obviously it’s an incentive, or we wouldn’t need it to be involved at all.)

Not liking a book is a different level, but I think that Beeminder working against my actual goals by punishing me for not liking a book by either forcing me to read it or forcing me to pay is Beeminder shooting itself in the foot. Why would I continue using Beeminder if it’s going to disincentivise my actual goal?

I’m happy with my decided-upon solution of setting the goal to archive (…once I can; please make it possible to archive a goal even in the first week instead of insisting I delete it) and then letting it derail, because my pledge is still at $0 and I expect that to be the case most of the time – and when it isn’t, I will have already had my chance to re-evaluate and realise I don’t want to finish this goal. But maybe this is wrong-headed, because it wouldn’t work at all if the starting pledge was something other than $0 – Beeminder would definitely be working against my actual long-term goals.

Which is a pretty ridiculous situation for Beeminder to create, given that as long as I don’t have to derail for not liking a book, the system is very helpful and I’m happy to use it. Beeminder doesn’t help me at all if the rule is “just pay even if it’s not fair” (and also doesn’t earn any money off me at all because I definitely take my goals elsewhere).

Aligning with my actual goals, Beeminder helps a lot, and does earn money off me because I do fail at my reading goals for other reasons (I paid at least once on my Kushiel’s Chosen goal, for instance).

[[NB: This is all a personal post and not the policy I have to hold to as Beeminder’s Support Czar. If you come to support saying that the derailment doesn’t align with your actual goals and should be cancelled, we’re still going to be reluctant and sceptical, and check in with you again before cancelling any charges that there’s no “just this once” thing going on. And I fully expect the other workerbees to do the same for me if I decide to call not legit for that reason!]]


I think you’ve made the right choice. :slight_smile: For anyone worrying if Beeminder is getting misused here, I think not: part of the point of holding yourself accountable to some goal is to figure out if you actually truly care enough about the goal in question.

As for just paying anyway, because “commitment devices are powerful and you shouldn’t expect them to have zero cost”: that sounds pretty macho. :slight_smile: “Chainsaws are pretty powerful, you should expect to lose a finger or a toe while using them.”

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Ha! But you could also put it like this: “we can’t risk the chainsaw cutting off someone’s finger so we better replace the metal chain/blades/whatever with rubber”.

I mean, the real question is how to trade off the chainsaw’s power and its safety. Similarly with commitment devices: if we make it impossible for Beeminder to ever charge you for a non-akrasia-related reason then, arguably/possibly, that’s a slippery slope to Beeminder being toothless. There ends up always being an excuse for why any given derailment wasn’t legit.

This is a thing that varies a lot from person to person though. I do personally love the kind of hardcore attitude of “a commitment’s a commitment” and think it’s a good default. But I also agree that with some thought – like Nicky’s doing in this thread – you may be able to get closer to the best of both worlds. It’s interesting because I know we have some people who err way too far in one direction and others who err way too far in the other direction.

PS: How I put this in a recent daily beemail:

You may not want to commit to Currently Fun Thing because what if it doesn’t stay fun? But it’s always at most a week from changing your mind to being off the hook so if it’s otherwise valuable then that may be a fine and fair price to pay. Or of course pay the literal price, which also might be a fine and fair price to pay to change your mind about a previously valuable commitment.

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