Hammers and Chisels

Wednesday, June 20, 2012
By dreeves

Lift's launch page image -- an elevator (lift) with a rocket thing on it

We have a new competitor about to launch: Lift! [1] Their (meta) goal is the same as ours. They want to “eliminate willpower as a factor in achieving goals”.

Our approaches, however, are quite opposite. Or at least they have opposite sign. Lift emphasizes in their pre-announcement blog post today that they believe firmly in positive reinforcement. Beeminder, of course, is all about negative reinforcement. [2]

We’re not arguing that negative reinforcement is better, just that positive reinforcement is not really something you can use on yourself. If you’re shaping other people’s (or animals’) behavior then by all means, reward desired behavior. Why not on yourself as well? Because the positive reinforcement — the reward — has to come from somewhere. If you yourself have access to it then, well, it’s yours already. So you can pretend you’re giving it to yourself to reward your successes but really all you have the power to do is abdicate it if you fail. Which makes it, ultimately, negative reinforcement.

That’s not to say you can’t go a long way with myriad tricks and techniques, like environmental triggers and feedback loops and social support. Beeminder tries to encompass all of those — daily bot reminders, data visualization, encouraging you to make your goals public and even tweeting your failures.

But the real point of Beeminder, as with our biggest competitor, StickK, is that it’s a commitment device, which is where the negative reinforcement comes in. For some people that’s more of a sledgehammer when they just need a chisel but if you’re the type who tries a menagerie of chisels only to eventually fall off the wagon — and, come on, you’re reading a blog post arguing with another blog post about principles of behavior change, so probably you’re exactly that type — then maybe the idea of just breaking out a sledgehammer is appealing. [3]

So, Beeminder users, by all means, use Lift to help you stay on your yellow brick roads. And Lift users, try Beeminder if you find yourself falling off the Lift wagon. Or as insurance to make sure you don’t!

There’s one way in which Beeminder and Lift are very much on the same page: our attitudes toward gamification. Lift originally was all about gamification, “making you as addicted to living a good life as you might be to playing video games or slot machines.” They’ve now dropped all the points and levels and badges to focus on the core psychology. Hear hear! We also love Lift’s emphasis on Quantified Self.

Regardless of our similarities and differences, we’re excited to see Lift’s lift-off. This town is very much big enough for the both of us.

UPDATE 2015-Jan: Lift has changed its name to Coach.me.


[1] We’ve blogged previously about our competitors, both those that offer self-tracking without commitment devices and those that offer commitment devices without self-tracking.

[2] Or “positive punishment” if you want to get technical, which we usually do. We apply an aversive stimulus in order to decrease undesired behavior.

[3] I first made this point on the Productivity Stack Exchange where it was probably especially apt.

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  • David Pennock

    Interesting. Good point. I never thought about whether the value of positive reinforcement versus negative reinforcement differs whether you are applying it to yourself or someone else.

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  • milton

    By the way, negative reinforcement is not punishment, it is removal of pain. According to wikipedia: “Negative reinforcement occurs when the rate of a behavior increases because an aversive event or stimulus is removed or prevented from happening”.

  • http://beeminder.com Daniel Reeves

    Already got you covered in footnote 2 :) … “if you want to get technical, which we usually do”

  • Ryan King

    Any chance you’ll integrate lift into beeminder?

  • http://beeminder.com Daniel Reeves
  • tmp

    Then you meant “Or, rather,” rather than “Or” in the footnote.

  • http://beeminder.com Daniel Reeves

    I see you don’t kid around with technicalities. :) But I think it’s kosher. “Negative reinforcement” if you want to be colloquial OR “positive punishment” if you want to be technical. A true statement!