Should we have a chooseable akrasia horizon?

I had a thought the other day: what about a choseable akrasia horizon? At the moment it’s 7 days, and 7 days is pretty arbitrary, right? It’s just a conventional unit of time, dating back to when we were oysters and could sense the tides or something. Maybe some people would want it set at 12 days, others as 3 days - or maybe allow it to be goal-dependent, as I can be much less akratic about some things than others?

Based on a brief offline discussion with @narthur and @adamwolf , the source paper for at least some of this is a paper by Katherine Milkman et al on the buying habits of people shopping for groceries online. In it, they look at the fraction of people’s grocery baskets devoted to “want” items (e.g. ice cream) vs “should” items (e.g. fresh vegetables). The authors refer to models of people as having a “doer” aspect of themselves (who wants things), and a “planner” self (who knows what we should do!). All of which totally makes sense. Their study concluded that:

“we find that for orders placed between two and five days in
advance of delivery, for each additional day in advance of delivery an order is completed, the
percent of an order composed of want groceries decreases and the percent composed of should
groceries increases.”

So akrasia horizons are a well-supported thing, and we should be overall happier and more successful if we do what we should do vs what we want to do. But there’s no particular evidence that 7 days is the right number (except maybe for oysters).

Thoughts?

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Thanks for bringing this up! I had thought it had been discussed in the forum before but I’m failing to find it. [oh, and I see you already recapped the Katy Milkman thing; thank you!]

So, yeah, it’s true that it’s [at least somewhat] arbitrary and person- and goal-dependent. Also @narthur pointed out the anti-settings principle. But that principle does have principled exceptions that would totally allow for a variable akrasia horizon, in principle.

The strongest objection is from @shanaqui who points out how much trickier support could be, having to keep track of everyone’s special akrasia horizon choices. It does make a lot of things easier – support-wise, documentation-wise, discussing-in-the-forum-wise, and cognitive-complexity-wise for users – to have the akrasia horizon be consistent and universal.

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As I see it, this is one of those places where anti-settings conflicts with anti-magic. The anti-magic principle, as I interpret it, says boo not just to if-statements, but to any arbitrary line in the sand, any carving of reality not at its joints.

The number 7 is one of those arbitrary choices, a “magic number” which doesn’t align with anything real. The generalized version, with the akrasia horizon length being a parameter, therefore is that bit less magical.

For this reason, if for no other, I’m inclined to favor a parametrized akrasia horizon. As a practical matter though, I think that 7 days works pretty well, and there isn’t a pressing need for anything else. If, as @shanaqui points out, a varying akrasia horizon would cause practical problems for support, it probably isn’t particularly worthwhile to chase theoretical purity here. Anti-magic is a good principle, but it’s also one that sometimes it is reasonable to compromise on.

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It is actually from this post that I realized that my personal akrasia horizon is waaay less than 7 days. Like, it’s somewhere between 1 and 36 hours. This has made TaskRachet/Complice the focus of my efforts instead of beeminder.

That extra 120-167 hours gives me no marginal utility but does represent a huge cost in terms of flexibility. I tend to keep goals lower than I would actually like to have them because I’m effectively acting on week-old information! I was always frustrated by this, but it never occurred to me that the akrasia horizon was an arbitrary thing.

As for the support issue, it seems like there’s a problem in the system if customizing the settings of a variable like the akrasia horizon increases the workload of support in a significant way. I know this is also a barrier to implementing custom weekends.

All my beeminder headaches stem from the fact that it requires a minimum level of exactly the kind of short-term time-management and long-term planning abilities that I don’t possess, and seek to compensate for with beeminder.

The limitation there is that there are no recurring events in either.

But - I am slowly getting better at this now that I have a beetuning beeminder!

Well, the problem in the system is that the support team are humans. :sweat_smile: It’d be easy enough to make it clear in the admin UI what akrasia horizon each person is trying to hew to, but that still requires support to mentally re-calibrate what the akrasia horizon is in every single support interaction. If everyone’s is the same, 7 days, then there’s no chance of us making mistakes. If everyone has a different one, we have to check that, and even if the page itself calculates what dates we can change it from, we still have to remember to take it into account with everything we do to your goal, everything we say to you, etc.

When users are confused about things like the akrasia horizon, there’s also usually a standard answer: it’s 7 days. But if it becomes configurable, then we can’t just give the simple answer. We’d have to check the user’s account, or if the akrasia horizon is configurable by goal, each individual goal, to be sure we didn’t say something confusing.

Obviously, if I was convinced that a single 7 day akrasia horizon is a terrible and broken idea, I’d figure out a fix and help the rest of the support team get on board with that… but I’m not convinced of that at all. A 7-day akrasia horizon doesn’t work for everyone, but few things do, so standardised one-size-fits-all answers get applied all the time to all kinds of things… and work fairly well for most people.

I do think that most people haven’t actually thought it through and figured out what their personal akrasia horizon is, and I’m not sure I’d trust them if they said they did. So that also raises my eyebrows a bit about the idea of a configurable akrasia horizon; I think people are in general way too optimistic about their own willpower/immunity to akrasia.

To be clear, I’m not sure I’d trust me if I said I knew it, either; e.g. in the spirit of honesty I have to admit that my akrasia horizon on stuff to do with exercise is long. I’m… not quite lazy, but I have low utility for exercise-for-the-sake-of-exercise, so anything that feels “pointless” in the moment is not something I can stick to for long. Long-term, of course, there is a point to any exercise I can add to my routine – but I probably need to be made to make the decision to quit something 2-3 months before actually being allowed to quit. Admitting that fact is low-stakes now without a configurable akrasia horizon, of course… but would I admit it if I could configure that? I’m not sure I would. 7 days is annoying enough once I am done with a particular failed exercise plan (assuming it failed, as it usually does with me, because it began to feel pointless or always felt pointless). :laughing:

As an aside, if it was me who said in the past that support burden was why we don’t have custom weekends (as it most likely was), I’m not entirely sure why now, because it’s really no different to user-defined breaks. I guess again it’s an issue of flagging it in the system so that a) we’re aware of it and b) we actually remember to re-set the correct weekend. That I’m more sanguine we could figure out and work with than I am about a configurable akrasia horizon, though.

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Well, the problem in the system is that the support team are humans. :sweat_smile: It’d be easy enough to make it clear in the admin UI what akrasia horizon each person is trying to hew to, but that still requires support to mentally re-calibrate what the akrasia horizon is in every single support interaction.

I’m sure I’ve totally underestimated how manual the process is for resetting the graphs!

I do think that most people haven’t actually thought it through and figured out what their personal akrasia horizon is, and I’m not sure I’d trust them if they said they did. So that also raises my eyebrows a bit about the idea of a configurable akrasia horizon; I think people are in general way too optimistic about their own willpower/immunity to akrasia.

This is fair. Plus, I think you’d want a long Akrasia horizon for setting the Akrasia horizon.

Even if I had this feature, I think I would find that my akrasia also varies considerably from subject to subject. I’ve just found a lot of value recently in commiting myself to doing things from my backlog tomorrow or in 2 day with TaskRachet, since I don’t feel anxious when I’m making decisions that “far” out.

To be clear, I’m not sure I’d trust me if I said I knew it, either; e.g. in the spirit of honesty I have to admit that my akrasia horizon on stuff to do with exercise is long .

This tracks with my experience that I sometimes benefit from setting up a new goal with a couple of weeks of safety buffer. That would could lead me to set a very different horizon!

Although, I think I’d still rather have it than not. Maybe as like a very expensive add-on feature it could work?

I’m not entirely sure why now, because it’s really no different to user-defined breaks. I guess again it’s an issue of flagging it in the system so that a) we’re aware of it and b) we actually remember to re-set the correct weekend. That I’m more sanguine we could figure out and work with than I am about a configurable akrasia horizon, though.

I would really like to set my weekends to being Fri/Sat rather than Sat/Sun since

  • I’m a night owl and would really rather not be working at 10pm on Friday.
  • I’m a night owl and really do like to do some work at 10pm on Sunday

It’s Wednesday morning. I fly out of my home in Toronto to PEI on Friday morning, a trip that will throw off my goal adherence badly enough that I want to dial my goals down, or turn the penalties off, or something. Before I started trying to use the break function, this sort of trip would lead to a cascading failure, big penalties, and eventual beeminder disuse

But, I haven’t figured out what is on my to-do list before leaving. I haven’t figured out who I’m staying with Friday night. I haven’t figured out how I’m getting from the airport to wherever there is. I haven’t turned most of my goals back on from my last trip. And, since I want to play pool with my father-in-law (sort of) before I leave town, 7 hours ago I wrote to him and suggested that we could play tonight, Tuesday night, or Wednesday night. That’s right, 7 hours ago I thought it was Monday.

And this was neither because I’m so busy or a Johnny Depp sized drug user. I just have a hard time planning for the future.

I vote yes.

Failing that, one big red button “All break, ASAP!”

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I wrote about wanting a shorter akrasia horizon for work tasks in a recent thread:

However, the 7-day akrasia horizon is in conflict with the way vacation and sick days work. Whereas my boss is fine if I take time off with very little notice, Beeminder goals require me to plan 7 days ahead. I realized this mismatch when I took a day off last week and had to e-mail support to reset my goal for that day because there was no way to do it in the app.

(There’s already a lot of great discussion there. I just thought I’d add a pointer to it here since it’s relevant. I’d use this setting if we had it. :slight_smile:)

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