Monkeys Are Afraid of Bees

Thursday, April 9, 2015
By chipmanaged

Adaptation of an image from Wait But Why

This is a guest post by chipmanaged. We often describe guest post authors as “avid Beeminder users” but @chipmanaged takes the cake. Not only does she have 67 active Beeminder graphs, she’s written a custom dashboard for them, along with various tools using the Beeminder API that implement new features. She’s done a lot to shape the evolution of Beeminder and we’re very grateful. Today she’s here to explain how to banish the Panic Monster in your head. Or at least replace it. With bees. But that’s totally better, we promise.

Tim Urban’s recent post on Wait But Why about “The Procrastination Matrix” (and its earlier counterparts: “Why Procrastinators Procrastinate” and “How to Beat Procrastination”) depict the different pieces of our personalities that contribute to procrastination in a charming, relatable, and all-too-familiar way.

There’s the Rational Decision Maker trying to keep all of our long-term goals in mind and steer us accordingly, in a balanced way. There’s the Instant Gratification Monkey who takes control of the helm from time to time. Then there’s the Panic Monster who comes out and scares the pants off of the monkey when a deadline gets dangerously close, causing it to give control back to the Rational Decision Maker.

Luckily for me, I have a vigilant and trigger-happy Panic Monster, a relatively phobic Instant Gratification Monkey, and a life structured such that I never get the opportunity to fall into the range of the “disastinator” or “impostinator” types of procrastinators (who can’t ever motivate themselves to do anything important to them). Still, I’ve spent more than my fair share of time in the Dark Playground, a place where we find that wasteful mix of doing things we might otherwise find pleasurable, but that are sullied by the anxiety and guilt that come with putting off something we should be doing. And I’ve spent much less time than I would like to with the want-to-do-but-don’t-have-to-do tasks.

Even more fortunate for me, though, is the fact that a couple of years ago I discovered something that my Instant Gratification Monkey finds almost as frightful as the Panic Monster, most of the time, but that my Rational Decision Maker doesn’t really mind all that much: bees.

“The monkey just doesn’t care about next week”

In January of 2013, I stumbled onto Beeminder. The idea is that you set a goal and you have to stick to whatever you’ve set for yourself or you pay money (i.e. get stung by the bee). It’s amazingly simple, but surprisingly terrifying to the Instant Gratification Monkey. What’s even better is that you can change your goal as you go (in case you discover that your goal wasn’t realistic over the long haul) but changes only take effect a week after they’re made. This gives the Instant Gratification Monkey little incentive to convince the Rational Decision Maker to change plans when that isn’t genuinely useful, because the monkey just doesn’t care about next week.

At first, I had just one little beehive that I would drag out and set beside the steering wheel to keep the monkey at bay for a goal type that is particularly high-risk for procrastination: writing a Master’s thesis. Now, I have beehives peppered throughout the Dark Playground, too. The monkey isn’t actually all that unhappy, either, because spending more time doing things I need to do and find important allows me to let it loose in the Happy Playground, where genuine relaxation and rejuvenation can happen after the day’s share of other important things have been done. Many of the non-crucial goals have been set up to require only minimal effort as I get my feet wet with them, to keep from overdoing it or changing too much too quickly. (I’ll say more about that in a future post.)

All in all, my beekeeping Rational Decision Maker is happy more of the time; the monkey is surprisingly fine with it (so long as I keep the balance reasonable… which I’ve had to work on); and the Panic Monster has had to find a part-time job scaring children in the haunted house at a local theme park, as it’s spending a lot less time chasing the monkey away.


Illustration by Tim Urban, with beekeeping theme added (with permission) by Bee Soule

Tags: , , , , , ,

  • Dollar Flipper

    I wish I had an overactive Panic Monster. I’m relaxed most of the time, but then get that “oh shit!” moment where I can’t sleep (this happens about twice a year). I can’t decide if this is a bad thing or not as I look at where I’m at in life and I’m relatively successful.

    Either way, Beeminder is making me re-evaluate some of the decisions I’m making and helping me focus a bit better on what needs to get done at work.

  • Daniel Reeves

    I just summarized this post in a daily beemail and kind of liked the way I put it:

    It’s a nice recap of the hilarious What But Why articles on procrastination and of course describes how Beeminder fits in. Roughly: Beeminder is a way to create mini Panic Monsters, ones that scare your short-term self straight but don’t bother your rational self.

    Thanks again to @chipmanaged for the guest post, not to mention all the other ways she’s been helping make Beeminder more awesome lately!

  • David Ernst

    Love the metaphor

  • Dan

    I feel the same way. Have you heard of the Five Factor Model for personality? You likely rank very low on the trait “Neuroticisim.” Understanding this about yourself may be useful – it certainly helped me. Some people just have a chilled-out panic monster, dude.

  • Clark Wilson

    Here for amusement rather than instruction is a link to an absolutely unrelated conceptual scheme I encountered that also uses monkeys and bees as its prime actors. The person being interviewed is Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist.


    I mean it as a metaphor, of course. We’re primates, and the great majority of our sociality is clearly traceable to the evolutionary forces that shaped the behavior of other primates. Those forces worked entirely at the level of the individual.

    Chimpanzees in particular are very good at competing with each other, but not so good at working together as a team. They can be kind, they can show sympathy, but scientists can always explain those traits in terms of how the behavior benefits the individual chimp or its kin. Like chimps, we humans were shaped by individual-level forces.

    But I argue that human nature was also shaped by group selection, which began to kick in only in the last half-million years, once we became cultural creatures. It could only get started once we began dividing labor, using language to create symbol systems and eventually living in tribes that were not composed mostly of close kin. Once intergroup competition heated up and group selection kicked in, human nature became subject to some of the same forces that have shaped bees and ants for 150 million years. We have a kind of “groupish overlay,” an ability to be good team players on top of our older primate nature.