Should I set a low pledge cap?

A few days ago I derailed on my “inbox-zero” goal while I was on holiday. I hadn’t set a flat spot for that goal in advance, because I thought “oh, you can always find a few minutes to clear your inbox”. But the holiday was more intense than I expected and I was really keen to squeeze the juice out of all the time I had with Jess, so when the emergency day arrived I decided to derail. Now as it happens the goal was at $0 so the derail didn’t cost me, but I would have paid more, and it still seems like the right call in hindsight.

It feels like the standard way to plan to use Beeminder is to plan to never derail. When we derail, we step up the pledge in the hope it will prevent future derails. But I can see future such situations arising again, and I’m OK with weighing up the cost and deciding to derail again if they do, so I’m inclined to set a low pledge cap, like perhaps $30.

Sound like a good idea? Am I opening myself up to a motivational pitfall that will transfer all my money to Beeminder?

1 Like

It depends. Be selective. Pay attention to your subsequent behaviour. Adjust accordingly.

I’ve got some goals with caps and some without. As you’d expect, the goals with low caps derail more often. If I get into the habit of ignoring the emergency days, that’s a disaster, and not just because of the lost pledges. You need to find your own balance.

One of the benefits of beeminding something is that it turns the nagging unease that I ‘should’ be doing something into a semi-rational economic decision, so that I can ‘buy’ a guilt-free period of not-doing. If the pledge cap is too low, you may find it doesn’t trigger an actual decision process.

My nutshell advice is this: for important life goals, leave the exponential pledge schedule alone. For the less important things, set a cap that is just high enough to make you think twice about derailing on purpose. For everything else, find some other way of minding it, because Beeminder is too good a tool to risk going numb to.


Beautifully said, @philip. I’m the same. It depends on the level of akrasia, how hard staying on track is, and how bad going off track is. Imagine yourself next week purposely letting a goal derail and paying the pledge. Does that sound plausibly rational under some (reasonably rare) circumstances? [1] Then a lower pledge cap is probably smart. This is also related to Bee’s classic “Bee Nice to Yourself”.

[1] Of course actual extenuating circumstances warrant a reply to the legit check email saying it wasn’t legit. Which is a slippery slope so weaselproof yourself if you want to rough that slope up a bit.

1 Like

I can only answer for myself, but for me Beeminder is a way to get myself to do those things that never really get done consistently but that I want to get done - unfortunately this relies on a huge assumption, namely that today is as good as any other day. In your case that day was not just another day, so it seems reasonable to skip that day - your pledge is there to make sure that if you skip the day there is a really good reason.

That said don’t just skip any non-special day, because there are too many days that are special instead ask yourself how much more special that day was/is compared to a normal day and how important the goal was.

Just lazy? If derailing is worth it you need a higher pledge.
Want to spend time with your family? You need a higher pledge, this is one of the things you can as easily do tomorrow.
Want to spend time with family that you won’t see every day? It could go either way, depending on how important the goal is, inbox zero isn’t likely to be that important so I would say keep the pledge at that level - but if the goal had been to lose weight to save your leg from diabetus and you would have to stay home from the Cheese Cake factory with the out of town family? You don’t want to derail on that goal, it is too important and the situation is not special enough (assuming you had already tried to persuade them to go somewhere else and failed).

So basically I would look to a combination of how important the goal is and how likely you are to skip it - and also realize that there is a point where it doesn’t matter how much you have to pay - if a close family member is suddenly rushed to the hospital and isn’t going to make it through the night I am going to derail whether the goal is 5, 2180 or 10000 dollars, and it is going to be worth it even if the goal I derailed on is saving myself from diabetus - why? Because a) I would regret it forever if I didn’t and b) the situation is so special that it won’t matter much if it cost me a week extra to accomplish the goal because it isn’t likely to happen again. Me being lazy on the other hand? Happens every day.

Also try to ask yourself “a year from now will I regret that I didn’t work that day or that I did work that day”?. If you think you will regret it, then you need to have a higher pledge cap, if you think you won’t regret it then you should be happy that you derailed.

Also, at least for me, there likely isn’t any goal I am willing to beemind that I would derail for 90 that I wouldn’t derail on for 210, 400, 800 or 2000, so that effectively puts a limit on the maximum pledge cap for any goal. Sorry beehive owners.


Also, keep in mind that the “family member is rushed to the hospital” scenario is going to be seen as extenuating circumstances by support, so that kind of thing won’t cost you either way.


Good thoughts. Just wanted to highlight one thing you said: There’s probably an amount ($90 seems common) where the motivation you’re getting maxes out. You’re already going to do everything humanly possible to avoid a $90 derailment so there’s no point in letting it go to $270. (Not that everyone maxes out at $90. Plenty of people derail akratically at $90 and need the pledge at $270. Beyond that it gets rare. So far there’s been at most one person maybe a couple people at most who’ve really needed a pledge higher than $810.)

To nerd this up:

motivation($30) < motivation($90) = motivation($270) = motivation($810)

At whatever point those less-thans become equal signs, that’s a good pledge cap.


I like low pledge caps. Someone posted a while ago (I can’t find the post right now, sorry) posted about how she was using a very low weekly rate + a low pledge cap to basically make the free cookies available in her office not free. I thought this was a really good idea and it’s influenced a bunch of my thinking: Some goals are OK to design to expect to derail every now and then.

One thing I would suggest is that if you have a low pledge cap you should also have a zero mercy recommit. This is the setup I’m using for my triangle alcohol goal. The pledge cap is only $10, but if I fall off the road I don’t get a week of slack: I’m still just as on the hook next day.


Yeah, that was brilliant. (Thanks to @chelsea for digging it up.) Turns out it was before moving to this forum (I still would like to import everything from the google group eventually) and was by Bethany Griswold:!topic/akratics/aON9NsmH8vA