The Wonders of Beeminder

Screenshot 2015-12-16 10.02.00As a person with addiction problems also diagnosed with ADHD, well, my natural thought process is all about short-term gain and blowing off long-term pain, if I even notice long-term anything. I’ve not been making much progress on getting a publishable manuscript together, losing weight, increasing exercise, avoiding non-Paleo foods (which exacerbate my rheumatoid arthritis) or getting more sleep (lack of which exacerbates my rheumatoid arthritis.) I cover several of these things in my GTD practice (still doing that, via Evernote (for collecting) and Trello (for managing.)) Sadly, having a thing in my GTD list and actually doing it are two very different things. I’ve been having some success with Habitica, but there are certain things in my life that have proven resistant to its gentle carrot waving — and frankly I’ve learned the game well enough to avoid incurring its not very intimidating stick.

I was considering life coaching in desperation, but finding a good coach, and finding where I could come up with the hundreds of dollars needed were mysteries I couldn’t solve.

Then I found Beeminder. You track your goals with them, and if you go off course, they charge you. An excerpt from their website:

What is Beeminder?
It’s reminders with a sting! Or, goal-tracking with teeth. Mind anything you can graph — weight, pushups, to-do tasks completed — by replying with data when Beeminder prompts you. Or connect with a service (like Fitbit or RescueTime) to report automatically. We plot your progress on a Yellow Brick Road to your goal. Keep all your datapoints on the road and Beeminder will always be free. Go off the road and you (literally) pay the price.

So far, I’ve paid them exactly $1 for ten “freebies,” which means my first deviation from the “yellow brick road” is free. In return for this, I’ve been able to

  1. Work steadily on my writing! This alone is beyond price.
  2. Stop eating foods that make my rheumatoid arthritis worse, thus improving my mobility.
  3. Take advantage of #2 by gradually increasing the number of steps I take daily, improving my overall health.
  4. Gradually move my bedtime earlier so that I can get more sleep, thus lowering my stress level, lowering arthritis pain, and improving mobility.
  5. Start doing some range-of-motion exercises that I’ve been neglecting, further improving my mobility.

All of these interact with each other — so, a typical day for me before Beeminder:

I am in pain, especially shoulder and knee pain. The pain makes it hard to sit and write. I feel bad for not writing and besides I’m in pain, so I comfort myself with food that I know will make my arthritis worse in a day or so. I take some Tylenol to help with the pain, but I can’t focus so I just fire up a video game, which of course requires questionable food. Then I feel worse for neglecting my writing and other chores, so I stay up late to try to get them done and write a word or three, and I probably eat more pain-inducing food and get very little sleep ensuring high stress levels and therefore high pain levels in the morning. The entire day, I have moved only from bed to couch to kitchen to bathroom to bed — not healthy.

A typical day after Beeminder:

I am in pain, especially shoulder and knee pain, but less than yesterday. I take some Tylenol and do my range-of-motion exercises (a Beeminder goal), which help somewhat with the pain. I pack up my electronics and get out of the house, making sure to take another dose of Tylenol with me. I find a coffeeshop with a comfortable chair, far from the siren call of video games. I get writing done!!! (a Beeminder goal.) I take breaks from writing and walk around the shop, to increase my daily step total (a Beeminder goal.) I do not eat the tempting but arthritis-worsening goodies at the shop (a Beeminder goal.) Having completed my word goal for the day, I return home, do my chores, maybe have a session with a video game, and get to bed earlier than I have been for quite some time (a Beeminder goal.)

Further, Beeminder gives me every opportunity to avoid paying them money. The two times I’ve “derailed” (gone off the path to my goal,) I’ve had a chance to correct data, or just beg Beeminder not to count the incident. But both those derailments were real derailments from which I didn’t beg off, so I’m now on the hook for $5 for the next derailment on each of those goals. The derailments gave me valuable feedback on just what happens to push me away from my goals.

Beeminder has noticeably improved my quality of life after a few short weeks. I have paid them a paltry $1 to crack the whip over me in areas of MY choice, and they have done a wizard job. Should I incur an occasional $5 or $10 or even (Heaven forbid) a $30 penalty, I will count it money well-spent.

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