Should Beeminder support cancelling bad goals?

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Jan 14, 2014, 3:52:27 PM1/14/14

I am a very happy user of Beeminder and have already reached some goals I would not have managed otherwise. But today something happened I am not too happy about. One of my goals was to read a programming book (and apply the relevant things to my work). The first pages already left some bad taste but I tried to force me to work through it by setting up a beeminder goal. Now, at page 255 of 618, I cannot longer stand it. I could not even do it if I got paid 150$ to do so.

I have already paid money to Beeminder and did not weasel out once, but this time it's different: I found out the goal isn't worthwile and I am better off investing my effort elsewhere. Therefore I submitted one week's worth of pages read and archived the goal to close it off, which does not feel nice after all.

I know it may be a dangerous thing but wouldn't it make sense to allow cancelling goal immediately in exceptional cases? What's your opinion?


Braden Shepherdson

Jan 14, 2014, 3:57:47 PM1/14/14
I've run into a similar problem before. I've found that my general "productive on personal (ie. non-work) things" goal is good, but it's too broad. I can easily find enough productive things to do in order to avoid something particularly horrible (immigration paperwork, taxes, you get the idea). So I set up specific goals for those side projects, demanding a smaller amount of progress on them each week, and Beeminder ensures they keep moving forward.

That works well until the point when the goal is finished: the project is done, immigration package is sent off, etc. Then the goal is complete and no longer relevant, but there's no real way to capture it in Beeminder. I've done a different solution than you describe, though. I added a massive data point, enough to finish the full year's worth of the goal. Then it automatically archives itself.

There should be a better way to cancel the goal, but I agree it is exposing "weasel attack surface", so to speak.

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Adam Mesha

Jan 14, 2014, 4:56:59 PM1/14/14
Nick Winter touched on this in "The Motivation Hacker". He wrote: "If you find yourself where I was, wondering whether it’s okay to abandon a goal, then think thoroughly. The pain of having to finish a bad goal is often a fair price for the lesson on picking your goals. It’s better to strengthen the habit of finishing goals, good and bad, than to cultivate the habit of quitting when it gets hard." This ties into the idea of success spirals. (Although he did abandon the goal he was writing about.)



Jan 14, 2014, 5:05:12 PM1/14/14
"The pain of having to finish a bad goal is often a fair price for the
lesson on picking your goals."
That works well with Beeminder's one-week akrasia horizon. When you
realise that your goal is no longer good for you, adjust the finish
date to be one week in the future. You keep working on that goal for a
week and then it's over. It provides a short lesson about picking
goals carefully, doesn't allow you to learn the habit of abandoning
goals quickly, and it also gives you a few days to reconsider - a new
end date will give you a change in perspective and you might find that
you're feeling regret or disappointment, which means the goal perhaps
needs to be adjusted rather than abandoned.


Jan 14, 2014, 5:50:56 PM1/14/14
The way I feel is exactly the opposite from the OP. I often wish I were able to disable the archive+delete that's available in the first week. I like that it's there while I'm creating and setting up my goal (cause I sometimes tweak my goals into brokenness when I'm first setting them up, so deleting them is necessary), but once I'm sure that's done, I wish I could click an "okay, now don't let me rage-quit from here forward" button to stop me from giving up on the goal on day 6 if I get lazy.

Though, for goals that really get screwed up for some reason or another, or in the OP's case, I would probably go crying to support. I wonder if they should help, though. It's not like we're forced to keep the goals forever, just for another week. I wouldn't go as far as Nick Winter's "finish the goal" thing, but the week forced by the akrasia horizon seems like lesson enough. (But at the time, begging support would still be my go-to hehe).

I've also had the "uh-oh, this project is done but beeminder still wants me to do more hours" problem. We talked about it a little here:!searchin/akratics/projects/akratics/Q_zG0xjQnWU/R00pAPAeLmgJ


Jan 14, 2014, 6:18:04 PM1/14/14
Thank you all for your very considerate comments! 

I also liked "The Motivation Hacker" a lot and in general I think Nick Winter is right about finishing even bad goals. It's just that after punishing myself already for a week by sticking to the goal, I can say that I am not casually dropping it and I think I have learned a lesson, i.e. to at least skim a book next time before committing to set a goal for reading it, no matter what everybody else is saying about the book or how much I am interested in its subject.

Michael J.J. Tiffany

Jan 14, 2014, 7:16:50 PM1/14/14
Braden, I <3 the "weasel attack surface" concept

Jose, a hack you might find worthwhile:

1. Adjust the goal date to just a week out, as Alys suggested, for all the reasons Alys outlined
2. Mentally rewrite the goal to "maximize the value extracted from this book in this last week" (much easier if its a time-per-day goal, not a pages-per-day goal)

When I was a kid and too poor to buy the technical books I wanted, it occurred to me that I only retain about 20% of a book's specifics after a few months, so it would be much more efficient to replace "reading" with the functionally equivalent "process that uploads to my long-term memory approximately the same knowledge I would retain if I read every word of a book in order". Then I would go to the bookstore and do that in the store. Now I read all books starting with the preface, ToC, and index (which leaks, with maximum efficiency, what the book considers most important, as well as how concepts map against the structure of the chapters... ymmv but being able to map conceptual relationships lowers the mental encoding energy for the concepts, so if you're like me you can vacuum up knowledge faster by building the map of concept blobs and only THEN mastering the concepts... weird but true, though maybe dependent on high working memory (thus distraction-free focus)).

Then the last week then becomes a game, which might make it less of a punishment.

Jose Diaz Seng

Jan 15, 2014, 9:40:34 AM1/15/14

Michael, this sounds like a good approach, I will give it a try next time or even better do it before(!) creating a beeminder task of working through a book in depth.

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