Nine Greens

Friday, August 7, 2015
By Mirabai Knight

Screenshot of Mirabai Knight's goal gallery with 9 green goals.

This is a guest post by Mirabai Knight, who beeminds many aspects of her life, in many creative ways. She’s been a proponent of Beeminder in the popular press as well as writing about it on her blog. Here she discusses — along with her latest Beeminder goals — an unanticipated (at least by us!) source of motivation that she derives from Beeminder. (Well-deserved plugs: If you’re a stenography nerd you’ll be very excited about Mirabai’s work. She’s the cofounder of the Open Steno Project. If you want to hire her, head to White Coat Captioning.)

I’ve had a Beeminder account since 2012, and in that time I’ve used it for everything from practicing Baroque recorder to learning Cued Speech to finally passing a 260 WPM stenography test on the fourth try. When I’m trying for a particularly high stakes goal, I find the escalating pledge system invaluable; even though my steno test goal got up to $90 at one point, passing it kept me from spending another $160 in registration fees, so it was definitely worthwhile from a financial perspective. These days, though, my life is in more of a maintenance phase. My wife and I are currently trying for a kid, I’m trying to move more of my business online so that I can work mostly from home, and all in all, we’re both sort of treading water while waiting for the next big thing to come along. I don’t need the knuckle-biting stress of waking up in the red every day; making sure my good habits don’t atrophy is enough for me right now. To that end, I’ve narrowed down my goals so that they fit into three major categories: Staying healthy, keeping up my household, and looking after my business.

Most of my work this summer has involved hanging out at my desk on standby, waiting for a client to text me. I keep my cell phone in a little dock with its screen perpetually on, and this is what sits in my peripheral vision throughout the workday:

Screenshot of Mirabai's homescreen on her phone, with her nine green Beeminder goals

See those nine squares up in the left hand corner? Those are my nine active Beeminder goals, and for the first time ever, I’ve managed to keep them in the green for more than a few days in a row. Nine is the perfect number for me. It’s symmetrical, it’s compact, I can take it in at a glance, and most importantly, whenever any one of those nine squares is out of the green, it drives me absolutely bananas. None of these goals is high stakes enough to have a top dollar pledge. They’re all about the long term. So color has become a bigger motivator for me than money. I love green, like blue, hate orange, and despise red. Before I had the widget grid on my phone, I let most of my goals drift into the blue or orange as a matter of course, because I didn’t usually look at my Beeminder dash unless I was on an emergency day. Now, though, it’s the first thing I see when I get up in the morning, and waking up in the red is enough to throw off my whole day, so I’m forced to plan ahead and stay far more disciplined than before.

These are my current goals:


Reply Zero
Answer all emails tagged with a @reply label. Beeminder has cured me of Inbox Sprawl by training me to achieve Inbox Zero several times a day, so my only remaining challenge is to reply to everything requiring an answer in a timely manner.
I get a point every time I make an entry on one of my two work blogs. Though guest blogging counts too! Totally getting a point for this post.


Food Money
I’ve been using You Need A Budget to keep track of my expenses, and it’s become increasingly clear that I spend way too much money on food. This is a reverse odometer custom goal that keeps me under a set amount spent on groceries + restaurants + delivery.
Cheaper Groceries
I love expensive grocery stores. It’s a terrible habit. This goal gives me a point whenever I go to an affordable grocery store, and takes away a point whenever I go to one of the absurdly pricey fancypants stores that abound in New York City.

“[Habitica] is a perfect complement to Beeminder”

Beeminder only tracks to-dos, which I reserve for apartment cleaning tasks, but I’ve been using HabitRPG [1] to track other small domestic activities as well, like reconciling my budget and making dinner and updating our fridge inventory. It’s a perfect complement to Beeminder.


Swim or Gym
I get a point every time I go swimming at the pool downtown or to the cardio room at the gym across the street.
Straightforward mile-based cycling goal. Just bought my own bike last month, so I don’t always have to use Citibike anymore! Instead of only biking on my daily commute, I can actually do it for fun, in my own neighborhood. Beeminder’s RunKeeper integration makes it simple.
Every day I give myself three points. If I choose to consume red meat, crunchy fried things, sugary stuff, caffeine, or alcohol, I have to give back a point. I need 16 points a week to stay in the green.
Sleep as Android
Another great automatic integration. Every night I press the little moon widget to start sleep tracking, and every morning when I turn my alarm off, my sleep duration gets sent to Beeminder. I’ve been getting to bed way earlier and sleeping way more since I started tracking it!

There are no words to describe how happy it makes me to see those nine green squares every day, and how annoyed with myself I get when one or more of them is another color. Even though the difficulty is cranked pretty far down right now, it’s been having a considerable influence on my life. I’ve found myself eating fewer cookies, bringing lunch to work, tidying up barely messy rooms, and dragging myself off the couch just so I can keep all my greens for another day. Someday soon I’ll crank up the difficulty on my goals a bit, or add another goal that I need to start pledging big money on, but for now I’m just exulting in the green.



[1] Breaking News: While writing this blog post, HabitRPG renamed itself to Habitica!


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  • Dollar Flipper

    Hah! I wish I could keep everything green. I’m glad with yellow most times. On a side note, your steno stuff is so interesting. I love the idea of it and am debating about learning it. I just wish I didn’t have to be at work all day. :-/ I’ll add it to my “when I early retire” list.

  • Gandalf

    Great post.

    I’d like to point out to the developers how painful the widget situation is on iOS right now, see attached screenshot.

    Perhaps even some dynamic homescreen icons similar to safari shortcuts are possible? Perhaps more, I don’t now. But it’s clear that the notification center widget really needs some color and goal status emphasizing. All I know is that I’ve made a lot more illegitimate derailing since switching from Android to iOS ;)

  • sharan kaur

    YES. Beeminder’s been the most frustrating thing about my switch to iOS. The app is so much less functional than the Android app – I can’t edit datapoints or zoom in on the graphs.

  • Joshua Plicque

    I’m gonna chime in here too. The Google login on iOS doesn’t work.

    I actually archived all my goals today, since I keep derailing because I can’t use Beemidner on my phone anymore

  • Daniel Reeves

    Highly valuable in-chiming! And sorry we’re so slow on the next iOS update. In the meantime, what about the workaround of creating a password and logging in the old-fashioned way? (It should remember you so you only have to do it once.)

  • peterhurford

    Congrats on creating good goals and sticking with them! Very inspiring.

    Quick question —

    “Every day I give myself three points. If I choose to consume red meat, crunchy fried things, sugary stuff, caffeine, or alcohol, I have to give back a point. I need 16 points a week to stay in the green.”

    Would this be easier to understand as a “Do less” goal with the goal of staying below 5 / week?

  • MKK

    You’d think that, but, for me at least, they’re very different psychologically. I originally tried a do less junk food goal, but I found that having to stay under an arbitrary limit made me feel constrained and resentful. Getting those three points every day, on the other hand, makes me feel like I’m getting a prize just for waking up every day, and it turns out that I’m much more reluctant to eat junk food when it means I have to give one of them back. It’s all about balancing the gobbling reflex with the hoarding reflex.

  • Bonbienn

    Great post. I’m Intrigued by the idea of a positive reward we can introduce in a goal. I’m trying it with weight loss: my unit is a ‘Star.’ I set the goal at 3 daily. My stars are virtual, but bight and shiny in my mind. I award 3 of them to myself in the morning, as a gift, to celebrate the trust I put in myself that I can keep my stars and accumulate them. But I also allow myself to trade them for a pastry, or a desert, or a nice piece of cheese, or sweets, or a glass of wine… the cost is 1 star for each serving. It works like a charm for me. I now prefer to just sample a desert, for example, enjoying a single small bite, which is free in my system. So far, I’m very impressed with the results. I find to my surprise that I prefer to keep my virtual stars, skipping desert or just sampling it! And my weight is dropping fast.

  • Daniel Reeves

    Very cool! You enter your stars manually in Beeminder then?

  • Bonbienn

    Yes. I set the goals with ‘Star’ as the unit, 3 as the daily goal. In the verbose section, I set the cost to trade a star.

  • Bonbienn

    I reconcile manually at my earliest opportunity. If I trade a star for a glass of champagne or chablis (my tastes are simple), I add a new data point of -1 with a comment to explain the trade. Or I edit the original data point, from 3 down to 2 in this example.

  • Bonbienn

    In theory my ‘stars’ could get me so far into the green, that I could gain the weight back by suddenly trading all my accumulated stars for rich food. However I plan to retroratchet to a safety buffer of just 1 or 2 days in this case.