When I’ve pitched Beeminder to friends almost everyone has had the reaction that it seems crazy. Specifically the idea of setting up tasks that are due tomorrow and if you don’t do them you pay. “I’m not going to give that women my money”. Also the idea that you are just setting yourself up to cheat or fail and feel bad about yourself. The odd thing is that I mostly agree with them, yet still really like Beeminder. It seemed to me that there is a disconnect between the initial pitch and how it works for me, so I read several of the blog posts to try to get a better handle on it.
It’s absolutely not the case that I would be happier without Beeminder and just use other tracking sites. First of all, using individual tracking sites is a lot more work than the more simpler and often integrated Beeminder goals. More importantly tracking sites that try to “trick” me into participating lose their power over me. At some point I realize that the points in Fitocracy are mostly made up, and it doesn’t mean anything if I gain another level. Even if there’s no gimmick, the nature of just tracking is that if I skip a few days it’s quite likely I never come back.
The idea that Beeminder makes far consequences more immediate captures the problems more than the benefit. I and most people I talk to don’t like the idea of daily commitments that you force yourself into doing. It also fails the above test that it feels artificial to me. Sure I want to lose weight and exercising is important, but it’s not a matter of life and death that I go to the gym today. I know paying $10 is a far cry from life and death, but that’s a surprisingly hard mental leap to make.
The “Nine Greens” post resonated with me the most, and bring forward what I consider to be Beeminder’s strengths. The financial commitment is needed to some extent, but at the level of “I will pay them money if I make commitments and then walk away without tracking or changing them” which seems very reasonable. Having several tasks that you are keeping ahead of is so much better than just tracking. It puts the tracking in a perspective that forces you to try to come up with realistic goals and gives you feedback on how your are doing. When things are going fine, it’s very motivating to see all the green graphs and the cumulative effort. If many of them start requiring action soon, then it’s a sign that you are slacking off and need to refocus, or that you have set out to do too much. The process is also very resilient to missing a day here and there.
So I think of Beeminder as much less of a commitment contract device, and much more of a very useful life planning aid. Causing you to formulate goals in chunks that can be measured on the day or week time scale is actually a very useful step. When goals get down to less than a week left a variation of making far consequences immediate kicks in. I am reminded that there’s this thing that I thought was kind of important and while it’s not necessary to get to it today, it does need progress soon, and if I keep postponing it then it will never get done. This kind of gentle reminder with increasing urgency works very well for me, while being mostly guilt and stress free.