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A bee crashing on skis

Beeminder is very good at keeping you on the wagon but it’s still possible to fall off. When that happens, why does it? We’ve asked people that a lot over the years and thought we’d collect the reasons.

1. Bugs or other technical issues with Beeminder

From our perspective, there are still plenty of bugs and technical issues with Beeminder but this seems to be gratifyingly rare as a reason people have for leaving Beeminder. Not that we’re getting an unbiased sample when we ask this. In any case, we’re constantly fixing bugs and improving the robustness of fetching data from our integration partners and generally making Beeminder ever more reliable. As you can see from our now staggeringly large changelog.

2. Friction of beeminding turns out to be too high

Hopefully we’re mitigating this by adding more and more autodata integrations. If you’re beeminding a metric from a gadget or service we integrate with (see the gallery on our front page) then there’s kind of literally no friction. You just wear your Fitbit or do your Duolingo or read Pocket articles or whatever else you’re already doing and Beeminder yells at you if you’re not doing enough.

If you need to beemind something we don’t integrate with and need to enter your data manually, well, we try hard to make that as easy as possible. (The latest is Apple Shortcuts integration making it easy to add data with one tap on an iPhone.) But just thinking to do that is friction, of course. We hope the graph makes it worth it, or the dopamine hit from logging those +1’s, but that doesn’t work for everyone.

3. Weaselliness creeps in

This is also much less likely to be a problem with an automatic data source. And we have a lot of advice for combatting this and recovering from it and shaping norms around it. When it happens, users have told us the root cause is having chosen a bad goal or a bad metric. Which brings us to the next reason.

4. Genuine change of mind about one’s goal

Like it turns out dieting sucks too much and just isn’t worth it. Ironically this is something users often whole-heartedly praise us for. Beeminder can make crystal clear how much you actually value a goal you thought you had and that you previously just made yourself feel guilty about not sticking to. Getting that clarity and letting a goal go can be worth a lot, users tell us.

5. Failing to find a way to measure or quantify one’s most important goals

This is definitely a dealbreaker when it happens. We do think there’s almost always a way to find some proxy metric that may not be exactly your underlying goal but that moves you in the right direction nonetheless. You might need to get creative. Don’t you run into Goodhart’s Law, you ask? Where a metric used as a target ceases to be a good metric. Great question, but Beeminder is beautifully robust to that.

6. Burning out

This is another biggie and we have suggestions for preventing it. Mainly starting slow. Beeminder is powerful stuff. Don’t let the power go to your head! Beeminder is a long-term solution and it’s really important to use it sustainably.

7. Succeeding at one’s goal or successfully establishing a habit

I guess this one doesn’t count as falling off the wagon. We do it hear it sometimes, but it’s relatively rare to have a Beeminder goal with a fixed end date (and to have no other goals afterward!). Generally it’s things like “average 10k steps per day, forever” or “play a song a day on the guitar until music dies”. And once you have a graph of your progress, people tend to want to keep that graph going indefinitely, even if they’ve cultivated a habit and don’t need additional motivation from Beeminder anymore. Or just that Beeminder is part of that habit. (Does that mean Beeminder is a crutch? Of course we deny that too.)


Thanks to replies from the daily beemail subscribers, here are a few more, to round this out to a top-ten list:

8. Reactance

That’s the psychological phenomenon where you feel a compulsion to rebel or are otherwise demotivated by consequences. Apparently some people discover they suffer from this and I can see how that could be a dealbreaker for using Beeminder.

9. Self-delusion

Sometimes folks aren’t able to reconcile what they want and what they’re willing to do for it and prefer to stay self-deluded. See also the Want-Can-Will test which we recommend you consider every time you add a Beeminder goal. If everything you beemind passes that test, that’s good insurance against falling off the wagon.

10. Life throws you a curveball

I don’t doubt this last one but it actually doesn’t make sense to me. In theory you’d schedule long flat spots on everything with beeminder.com/breaks — perhaps after a slew of derailments if the curveball came out of left field, so to speak. But then you’d recover and the flat spots would end and you’d be back in business without ever having fallen off the wagon, right? I know I’m oversimplifying. See also our classic post about beeminding in the aftermath of a real-life emergency.