The magic of whittle-down goals: reframing do-more goals as whittling down the stuff you still have to do

So I discovered that whittle-down goals are especially motivating for me!

Rather than set up a do-more goal to work a certain number of units every day, I set up my goal so it started at the number of units I wanted to get done over the next two weeks and counts down how many units are left.

I just find it so much more motivating to get rid of things I have to do, as opposed to adding on to a list or chart of what I have already done. This way, every time I work 15 minutes I get to cross something off my list by lowering my number by 1. Does anyone know if there’s behavioral economics or loss-aversion-type research on this?

I’m curious if anyone else found that reframing a do-more goal as a whittle-down goal in this way was helpful.

Related: An experiment to beemind "keeping on top of grading"


I haven’t tried it yet, but yes, whittling down a goal does sound less intimidating and more motivating! I’ll have to give it a shot.

I have already made the breakthrough that I don’t have to improve continually, until the end of time on some goal/habit. I’ve had success lately in just picking a goal for e.g. the next month (“average of 5 new anki notes a day”), without putting myself on the hook for any what comes after that. When the month is up, maybe it’ll be time for a break, or time to focus on a different goal, etc. Lifelong habits are allowed to come and go in waves.

Anyway, maybe next time I’ll try a whittle-down goal to see if it feels any different. :slight_smile:


I don’t reframe do-mores as whittle down, but I often set milestones as my end values on my do-more goals (which I extend as soon as I hit my milestone) and usually make my statistics tab my default tab for my goals, so that I can see that I’m approaching my next milestone on a goal, which I find motivating. For example:

Screen Shot 2020-06-09 at 11.45.21 AM


Screen Shot 2020-06-09 at 11.48.32 AM

I think it’s psychologically similar to seeing the whittle down, though not as obvious as doing it right on the graph.

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Ooh cool! Wait how do those bars work again?

Don’t you have to then restart the goal and readjust all the settings every time you hit an end-date? Is there any way to make that easier?

The top bar is how many days have gone by since you started the goal and how many days you’ve still got to go until you reach the next milestone.
The bottom one is how many units you’ve done and how many you have left to do.

As for restarting, you can just extend the goal to the next milestone in the commitment tab before it ends. So, when it says “ending in 2h…” or whatever, just head to the commitment tab, plunk in the next milestone, and the goal will keep on truckin’. You can either celebrate with a bit of a break the length of the akrasia horizon or ratchet it to get rid of the buffer that gets created, and then just keep going. They sort to the top when they’re ending, so they won’t just disappear without me noticing on the last day. Doing that lets me take a minute to notice that I’ve hit another milestone on another goal and sometime in the past I’ve allowed rewards for hitting the next milestone, so it’s let me realize it’s time to collect those, too. (I should probably also make use of the hastag feature to note the milestone on the graph, but right now I use that for something else.)

I need a feeling of progress towards something in particular or I feel like I’m on a treadmill to nowhere, and I really don’t like that feeling, so these make it easier for me to get a more visceral sense of the large hunks of progress made over time by the smaller daily pieces of progress.

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