New World Order: Goals No Longer Freeze

Tuesday, August 13, 2013
By dreeves

An ostrich (with its head not in the sand)

We’ve been referring to this internally as Beeminder’s New World Order [1] but in fact it’s a natural consequence of The Third Great Beeminder Epiphany: Ever-increasing awesomeness should always be the path of least resistance. Namely, if you derail on a goal, the goal no longer freezes and waits around patiently while you decide whether or not to continue. Instead, you’re automatically recommitted at the next pledge level and given a week off — either a flat spot or a higher limit (for set-a-limit goals [UPDATE: now called Do Less goals]). In other words, we’re making precommit-to-recommit universal, along with some related changes to make that neither scary or limiting.

At first blush this may seem like you’re more committed to a goal than you were before. After all, before you could just let a goal derail and walk away — no more risk, no more reminder emails guilt-tripping you into flossing. In fact, these changes just mean that you have to tell Beeminder that you want to walk away from a goal. The path of least resistance is now to stick with a goal until you reach it. Letting goals sit in a derailed state runs counter to everything that Beeminder purports to help eliminate, namely, procrastinating on becoming more awesome. Crying uncle at any time is very easy (subject to the akrasia horizon). It’s right at the top [UPDATE: now a big red button in the sidebar; even more obvious than the original link at the top] of the goal page — so it’s easy in the sense that it’s obvious how to do it. It might not be so easy to unequivocally declare defeat on something your second-order self really wanted to achieve.

The Fine Print

We’ve made a number of subtle updates to the rules around archiving that make this even more palatable. For one, if an archive countdown is in progress on a goal when it derails, that goal will simply derail and not get recommitted. You’ll still pay the pledge (for that one derailment), but we honor your intention to end the goal.

Also, after you’re recommitted to a goal, by default you’re given a week off — either a flat spot or a higher limit (for set-a-limit [UPDATE: now called Do Less] goals). You can get rid of this week off by checking the “no mercy” option in goal settings. You can also use the Retroratchet button as a one-time tool to get rid of the flat spot.

Even if you have checked that no-mercy option, we still recommit you at a more lenient rate if that’s what you’ve requested — your road rate will immediately jump to whatever it is at the akrasia horizon. For example, if you’ve been doing 10 widgets/week, but recently decided to cut back to 5/week (because 10 was too much), and then you derail (…because 10 was too much), you’ll immediately be at 5 widgets/week, and you won’t keep derailing on the too-steep rate.

Lastly, if the notion of automatically climbing the pledge schedule is intimidating (we think it’s genius, but we’re biased), you can turn off automatic climbing in your goal settings. New goals will climb the pledge schedule by default since that’s the path to ever-increasing awesomeness, but we’re okay with the fact that some people will become more awesome if they stay on the hook at $30 rather than walk away because having $90 on the line was too daunting. [UPDATE: This is now done by setting pledge caps.]

Nudge Power

To summarize the reasons that this is not as scary as it sounds:

  1. Anytime archiving. If you’ve hit the Archive button, even one second before derailing, the recommit will not happen. Your graph will just freeze and you can safely walk away.
  2. Rerailing with flat spots. You’re rerailed with a week of flat spot so you can get yourself back off the hook even after the auto-rerail happens by flattening your road again the same day. In other words, even after the derailment there’s still 24 hours to cry uncle with no further commitment.
  3. Dropping the pledge back down. Although by default you’re bumped up to the next pledge level, you can always drop back down to your previous level. Yes, that takes a week, but you’re flat for that week so there isn’t much risk of paying the higher pledge.
  4. Legit check email. You still get the legitimacy check email when you derail and can cry foul if anything went wrong. The email just also informs you that you’re back on the hook already if you do nothing.
  5. Deadman switch. If you stop using Beeminder altogether for a month then we won’t keep putting you back on the hook. Instead your graphs will just freeze when you derail and you can choose to unfreeze them if/when you come back.
  6. Frictionless archiving. We’ve moved the Archive button to the top of the goal page [UPDATE: side of the page but big and red so you can’t miss it]. No friction for deciding to cry uncle at any time.
  7. Humans to the rescue. If anything didn’t go as you expected, reply to the legit check email (or email support@beeminder.com directly) and we (humans) will fix it.

Again, the only fundamental difference in this so-called new world order is that you have to make an explicit choice to give up on a goal instead of having that happen by default because you meant to restart a goal but didn’t get a round tuit. But, especially for the kind of people who need Beeminder, that makes all the difference in the world.


 

Addendum: FAQ

1. What happens to my goals that are currently hanging around in a frozen state?

We’re just letting you archive those. There’s still the one-week delay, mainly for consistency.

2. What if I derail because I’m on vacation or something?

Flatten your roads before you go on vacation. Even if you don’t flatten in time to prevent a derailment, you’ll rerail with a flat road so you won’t derail again until you unflatten. (In the case of Set-A-Limit [Do Less] goals you can both flatten the road and turn off pessimistic presumptive reports. Then the goal is in a state that you can safely ignore it as long as you want, dangerious as that is for an akratic person!)

3. So I have to be more careful about planning in advance with this new rule?

“We were careful to not make things any more onerous or less flexible”

No, note the part in the previous answer about “even if you don’t flatten in time”. We were careful to not make things any more onerous or less flexible or anything. The difference is that you have to explicitly give up instead of giving up implicitly by sticking your head in the sand. But no additional pre-planning is needed. Giving up even the day after the derailment ensures you won’t derail again (unless you opt-in to the no-mercy version, of course).

4. What exactly does it mean for a goal to be archived?

It’s like being frozen. You can see all your archived goals (link under your avatar picture) and unarchive them at will. (Possibly we’ll change the terminology to “freeze” once the old world order, where freezing meant derailing, is a faded memory! [UPDATE: We’re keeping the distinction because goals can still freeze, if you derail but haven’t added a credit card. Archived means both frozen and stashed away out of sight.])

5. I tend to ramp up until I hit my failure point and then scale back; that’s a problem with an auto-recommit at the same rate, right?

No, you’ll just want to stick with the default of merciful recommits (don’t check “no mercy”) which gives you plenty of time to adjust the rate after a derailment. And with Retroratchet now smarter, you can get rid of the mercy flat spot after the fact, too. In fact, that’s why we made sure to smarten up Retroratchet before deploying this, so you have no less control over what your yellow brick road does immediately after derailing than you had with manual unfreezes.

And even if you want no-mercy recommits for other reasons, note how we rerail you at the akrasia horizon rate, not your current rate. So as long as you can anticipate the derailment even one second before it happens, you have control over what the new rate will be when you rerail.

6. What if I literally die? Will my credit card keep getting charged?

No, currently we use a month as the threshold (same as auto-canceling subscriptions) for the dead-man switch. We definitely won’t keep charging you indefinitely if you’re not actively engaged with Beeminder. And, if you haven’t actually died, you can always reply to the legit check email to tell us what happened and we’ll gladly stop any errant charges.


 

UPDATE: Probably anyone who reads this whole blog post will be fully sold on universal precommit-to-recommit but, shockingly, not everyone does. So we finally caved and added an “auto-quit” option to advanced settings. If you don’t want to be auto-rerailed just check that box and your graph will freeze when you derail, just like in the olden days.


 

Footnotes

[1] This post is actually only about phase one of the New World Order. We also intend to make it impossible to create indefinitely flat roads, but a prerequisite for that is a generalized road dial. Which will also take care of the top-requested feature in our feedback forum. [UPDATE: The Take-A-Break feature is now live.]


 

Image credit: National Geographic

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