Beeminder on The Future of Life Institute Podcast

20m38s to 23m59s

Gaia Dempsey: For me, my favorite types of tools are the kind that I think are very rare: the kind that support us developing the capacity for longterm thinking, and for being true to the longterm intentions and goals that I set for myself.

Ariel Conn: Can you give some examples of those?

Gaia Dempsey: Yeah, I’ll give you a couple of examples. So one example that’s probably familiar to a lot of people listening to this comes from the book Ready Player One. In this book the main character is interacting with his VR system that he lives and breathes in every single day. And at a certain point the system asks him, “Do you want to activate your health module?” I forget exactly what it’s called. [It’s the “Fitness Lockout protocol”.] And without giving it too much thought, he says, “Sure, yeah, I’d like to be healthier.” And it instantiates a process whereby he’s not allowed to log in to the OASIS without going through his exercise routine every morning.

So to me what’s happening there is that there’s a choice — and an interesting system design, because he didn’t actually do that much deep thinking about “oh yeah, this is a choice I really want to commit to”. But the system’s sort of saying, we’re thinking through the way that your decision-making process works, and we think that this is something that you really do want to consider. And we think you’re going to need about three months before you make a final decision as to whether this is something you want to continue with.

So that three month period — or whatever, I believe it was three months in the book — is what’s known as an akrasia horizon. Which is a term that I learned through a different tool that is sort of a real-life version of that, which is called Beeminder. The akrasia horizon is a time period that’s long enough that it will circumvent a cognitive bias that we have to really prioritise the near-term, at the expense of the future. In the case of the Ready Player One example, the near-term desire that would circumvent his longterm health is, “I don’t feel like working out today, I just want to get into my email, or I just want to play a video game right now.” And a very similar setup is created in this tool, Beeminder, which I love to use to support some goals that I’m very motivated to meet. So it’s a tool where you can put in your goals and you can track them, either yourself by entering the data manually, or you can connect to a number of other tracking capabilities like RescueTime and others. And if you don’t stay on track with your goals, they charge your credit card. It’s a very effective motivating force.

I have a nickname I call these systems: “time bridges”. Which are really choices made by your long-term thinking self that in some way supercede the gravitational pull toward mediocrity inherent in your short-term impulses. It’s about experimenting, too. This is one particular system that creates consequences and accountability, and I love systems. For me, if I don’t have systems in my life that help me organise the work that I want to do, I’m hopeless. So that’s why I like to collect and am an avid taster of different systems. And I’ll try anything to see what works. I think that’s important. It’s a process of experimentation to see what works for you.

PS: Turns the entire podcast has been transcribed.