Akrasia (ancient Greek άκρασία, “lacking command over oneself”) is the state of acting against one’s better judgment, not doing what one genuinely wants to do. It encompasses procrastination, lack of self-control, lack of follow-through, and any kind of addictive behavior.
Akrasia is making a choice that you regret, even while choosing it. It’s the tendency to say “I’ll get serious tomorrow” every day forever.
Beeminder is an anti-akrasia tool that works by turning a long-term commitment into a daily commitment. Read more on the Beeminder philosophy in “How To Do What You Want: Akrasia and Self-Binding.”
I, _____, will stay on my Yellow Brick Road every day until I reach my goal or forfeit $___. The width of the road is constructed so that if I’m in the correct lane today then I’m guaranteed not to lose tomorrow (see more in the fine print about this). If I’m in the wrong lane I’m risking going off the road tomorrow and losing. In this way my long-term goal is broken down into something I’m forced to work towards gradually every day. In general, I promise to abide by the spirit of this commitment and not weasel or abuse loopholes.
Enter your own fine print in advanced settings for your goal. For things like “number of workouts”, define what constitutes a workout. For example, “30 continuous minutes with elevated heart rate” or just “have to touch the front door of the gym at least 30 minutes before it closes”. Whatever’s easiest and clearest cut to define. Obviously “touch the door of the gym” has a loophole you could drive an ice cream truck through but if your problem is not the workouts but making the time to get to the gym in the first place then it doesn’t matter — you won’t exploit the loophole. So pick the simplest criterion you won’t be tempted to abuse.
The point of this fine print is certainly not to trick you. Quite the opposite: the rules and provisions have evolved to iron out the ambiguities and address special cases that have come up in previous commitment contracts. The (meta)goal is to have unambiguous daily guidance without ever letting anyone lose on a technicality.
We guarantee that you won’t lose tomorrow if you were in the right lane today. For weight loss goals, the road automatically widens to maintain that guarantee. And the road will never shrink except when you’re safely below the centerline. If yesterday you were in the wrong lane — or didn’t report a weight — then today the top edge of the road is just a fixed line: you cross it, you lose. When you’re in the right lane the road’s width is a magic formula based on how much your weight fluctuates, reflecting a reasonable margin of error around the centerline. But thanks to the “can’t lose tomorrow” guarantee, you don’t need to know that formula. If you cross the centerline then you’ll at worst be on the top edge of the road. You’ll then have to lose weight at a rate equal to or faster than the prescribed daily rate of the road until you’re back below the centerline.
In short, being in the wrong lane means a danger of a random fluctuation tomorrow throwing you off the road. In the right lane that is not possible. And, critically, not reporting a weight today is the same as being in the wrong lane: in both cases you’ve lost the “can’t lose tomorrow” guarantee. (For more on the rationale for this clause, see “The Magical Widening Yellow Brick Road”.)
For non-weight-loss goals, the width of each lane of the Yellow Brick Road is equal to the daily rate of increase/decrease of the road. Just like for weight loss, this has the property that as long as you are in the correct lane today, then you won’t lose even if you do nothing tomorrow. It also means that if you reach the top edge (or bottom edge, depending on whether the goal is to go up or down) of the road then you can do nothing for the next two days and not lose. For example, if you reach the top edge by Friday night then you can do nothing on Saturday and Sunday. Monday morning you would then start out below your road and would have till Monday night to reach at least the bottom edge.
If you don’t report a number to Beeminder it assumes your number is the same as yesterday. (In the case of Set-A-Limit goals, it assumes (or will — we’re rolling this out slowly!) your number is twice the current rate of the yellow brick road.) If that ever causes you to go off your road, you lose. Your road tells you your current safety buffer: the number of days you can get away with doing nothing / not reporting. If your road is flat, of course, your safety buffer will be infinite (except with Set-A-Limit goals). So you can pause your road for a vacation for any length of time. But note that any change to your road steepness, such as making it flat, has a one-week delay before it takes effect.
If something truly unexpected happens, such as physical injury, that prevents you from staying on your yellow brick road you can make your road immediately become flat. To mitigate this otherwise abusable loophole, there are two conditions on invoking the force majeure clause (also known as the SOS clause).
First, you have to notify Beeminder before you officially lose. Preferably send an email to email@example.com but if you’re in the hospital or something and that’s not possible, text or, if really necessary, call 646-535-BEEM. You can also tweet to @bmndr. Or if the emergency is so severe that it’s not reasonable to notify Beeminder before you lose, you can provide a doctor’s note or death certificate or similar within 14 days.
The second condition is that you explain in 140 characters what happened that warrants the exemption. A panel of disinterested judges will determine whether your excuse is legitimate, i.e., whether it really couldn’t have been anticipated and whether an exemption is within the spirit of this contract. The point of the 140-character limit is both to make it simple for the judges and because the excuse has to be something stark and obvious like “I broke my leg”, not some kind of convoluted confluence of craziness at work and bad luck. An excuse at all resembling “I got really busy” won’t fly.
The litmus test for whether an excuse is legitimate is “Had I considered the possibility of the Unexpected Thing happening, would I have specified an exemption in the original contract?”
UPDATE: See Weasel-Proofing and the Definition of Legitimacy for our latest thinking on the SOS clause.
If your graph lies to you, you can claim an exemption, even after the fact. We’ll amend this clause to spell this out further if it ever happens but in the meantime the spirit of it is probably clear: you can trust what Beeminder is telling you. If there is some bug or server error that violates that, it’s a legitimate exemption. We will reset your Yellow Brick Road when the problem is fixed. Similarly if the Beeminder server is down for more than 6 hours you can, if you choose, claim an exemption. It’s unlikely that even a whole day of downtime would throw a monkey wrench in your ability to stay on track but, again, we want you to be able to fully trust and rely on Beeminder.
Violation of medical advice is not allowed. For example, if you’re diabetic it is against the rules to risk a diabetic coma from fasting. Same with using any of the dangerous tricks that wrestlers are said to use to eke into a lower weight class. In other words, if you’ve backed yourself into a corner where you’d have to do something stupid to avoid losing, you have to accept defeat. More generally, you’re agreeing that everything you do towards your fitness or weight loss goals is with the approval of your doctor.
This is important so let us re-emphasize it: Breaking the Safety First rule to stay on your yellow brick road is cheating, more so than breaking any other rule. If you’re inclined to go to this extreme you might as well just lie about your number or, say, hold on to the towel rack so the scale registers a lower number.