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DIY Beeminder, involving a lot of shoestring

Some people don’t need Beeminder, and our hats are off to them. Some people are psychologically incompatible with Beeminder, which is fine, there are other techniques they can use. And then there are the people who create DIY Beeminders.

For example, you can share a spreadsheet with a friend and send them money when you don’t stick to what you committed to. It works perfectly well in theory and seems to work horribly in practice. (This is based on quite a pile of anecdotal evidence, though it’s all a bit biased: we and most people we talk to about this are Beeminder users.)

What goes wrong? Roughly speaking: entropy. Your friend stops paying attention and you find yourself all alone in your spreadsheet. “Redundancy is your friend,” you hopefully suggest? No, adding more friends just yields diffusion of responsibility and it’s even worse. Sob-emoji. Even committing publicly, say on social media, and even if you have an army of followers, doesn’t seem to work. I mean, it helps — social accountability is great — just not enough to be sufficient on its own. Because entropy gradually wins. The threat of the shame of not following through gradually fades as you infer that everyone’s attention has moved on to your new posts about recreating the Starship Enterprise in Minecraft.

Of course, some superhuman people can set up a commitment contract with a friend and persist in sending them money even when the friend’s checked out. But mere mortals suffer cranial silicosis and find ourselves gradually abandoning the spreadsheet or sliding down a slippery slope of procrastinating indefinitely on sending the money we owe.

Beeminder solves this by automatically charging you and never flaking out on you. As long as the path of least resistance is to keep doing the thing you committed to and getting charged when you don’t, entropy is staved off.

Don’t take our word for it

We’ve been hearing stories like this forever and it all certainly matches our own personal experience. Here’s Beeminder superstar Robert Perce backing us up:

I am doing a “yoga every day for January” challenge and I convinced one of my friends to do it too. I sent him texts every day for like a week and then he stopped responding. My other friend who I also convinced to join and I are still going strong.

My response: Chef’s kiss. Unless that continues to work indefinitely with the other friend, in which case our whole point is ruined!

Robert then added, “I have been going strong because I have a Beeminder goal, obviously.”

There it is.

The punchline here is that you can make a DIY Beeminder just fine, as long as you use actual Beeminder to prevent it from petering out. (See also Beeminder’s Achilles Heel.)

In a future post, I plan to talk about the general case, how all systems need anti-entropy measures and how Beeminder is an elegant and general anti-entropy tool in that sense. (But I might never get around to doing that, because all of us, realistically, are going to gradually forget I ever formed this intention.)