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A grid of faces with all sorts of crazy reactions

Did you just hear about Beeminder (“get charged money if you go off track on your goals, what?”) and have one of the Four Canonical Dismissive Reactions, prompting the person you heard about Beeminder from to point you to this post?

Great! Pick your reaction and let’s dive in.

1. “That’s (evil) genius, I would lose so much money lol”

We figure this is knee-jerk dismissal because the concept is so bizarre at first blush. Or you may be saying it’s just too hard core for your tastes, which of course is fine. Beeminder is not for everyone! (Mostly it’s for nerds.)

2. “Why wouldn’t I just lie?”

Because you’re not a liar? Ok, if this is you then possibly Beeminder is not for you but we do have a lot to say about combatting cheating. To recap, here are seven reasons people don’t lie to Beeminder, if any of these are compelling:

  1. You have a scientific, quantified-self mindset and don’t want to falsify your data
  2. You’re using an autodata integration and aren’t the one reporting your data to Beeminder
  3. Your graph is public and you’ve pointed friends and family to it and you don’t lie to your friends and family
  4. You wouldn’t have signed up in the first place if you were the type to weasel out of a commitment
  5. You feel like Beeminder has earned the money (see also reaction #4 below)
  6. You don’t want to set a precedent that ruins Beeminder’s power as a motivational tool
  7. Think of the children?

We also have a good help doc with a collection of anti-cheating strategies.

My favorite answers to the “wouldn’t you just lie?” reaction are the inherent incentive to not ruin Beeminder’s efficacy, plus autodata. Beeminder has dozens of integrations with other apps and gadgets and we keep adding more.

3. “Beeminder profits from your failure. Perverse incentives!”

Maybe you figure we’ll end up sending you Twinkies to sabotage you? People don’t seem to have specifics in mind when they raise this objection but it sometimes feels very bad to them on principle.

Maybe the simplest counterargument we can make is that we couldn’t have survived well over a decade (!) without our incentives being aligned with the success of our users. Starting from the early days (before we had that elegant counterargument!) we’ve written a lot of things addressing the question of perverse incentives.

Most recently we wrote “Derailing It Is Nailing It” which I think is the most fundamental counterargument. Namely, that the whole notion of “paying money when you fail” is wrong. As in, it is not in fact what happens on Beeminder. You pay money when you go off track but that is emphatically not failing. If you have an ambitious goal then of course you will sometimes go off track. If you never do then it wasn’t an ambitious goal. It’s something you probably could’ve done without Beeminder and Beeminder isn’t really helping you. The people whom Beeminder helps a life-changing amount, they definitely go off track sometimes. [1] So they pay Beeminder sometimes and that is massively worth it to them. It’s quite win-win.

4. “Isn’t positive reinforcement better?”

We have yet another blog post laying out the reasons we think positive reinforcement isn’t all that: “Contra Positive Reinforcement: Why Beeminder Is A Glutton For Punishment”. But that makes us sound more pro-punishment than we are. Most of our arguments are pragmatic. Beeminder is not a charity and can’t literally reward you with money for staying on track towards your goals. [2] But if you prefer, you can reframe it that way. Imagine depositing money with Beeminder to pay for:

  • the graphs and data
  • the reminders
  • the smartphone apps
  • all the integrations
  • the process of quantifying (in dollars) the value of your goals
  • the charming community of over-achievers
  • these scintillating blog posts?

Then if you stay on track you’re rewarded by getting most of that money back — or not paying it in the first place. Same thing.


PS: I tried running these reactions by GPT-4. In case you haven’t played with GPT-4 yet, I imagine you’ll be pretty surprised by how well it fields them. Thanks also to Bren Jones and the anonymous reviewers on the App Store for helpful discussion that led to this post.



[1] There are rare exceptions. Nick Winter (of The Motivation Hacker fame, plus now CodeCombat) has a classic guest post on the Beeminder blog, “Spiraling Into Control”, making the case for a never-ever-derail philosophy.

[2] Some of our competitors have tried this. See especially the case of Pact, whose scheme of paying successful users we’ve written about separately: “Beeminder: Like Pact Except All We Do Is Take Your Money”.