One suggestion for using Beeminder well

TLDR: Use Beeminder, or don’t use it, in a way that best improves your overall energy level.

After the jump, this post reviews some lessons from my experience with the “Beeminder” app. If you already are familiar with Beeminder, jump away.

To get you up to speed, dear reader who isn’t familiar with Beeminder, but wants to be… Beeminder is an app for your browser/phone/etc. The main use of Beeminder is to tell Beeminder what counts as messing up, and have Beeminder take your money if you mess up, so you mess up less.

In more flowery language, the point of Beeminder is to experience the joy of the power trip you can experience toward your future self, who becomes like clay in your hands when you unlock the power of pre-commitment. Or, if you have a past-self who used Beeminder that way, then Beeminder is the app that steadily nurtures you on a golden road toward prosperity and happiness. All you have to do is make a totally realistic promise to–for an example–spend an average of 30 minutes practicing a foreign language every day, enter that promise into Beeminder, along with your credit card. Now laugh, and sit back and wait for your future self to hail your boldness/curse your name because every time future-you falls short on that promise, Beeminder charges that credit card $10 or so (it’s customizable, and if it stings too much, just cancel anytime), until the sting of it all forces your future self to admit that he or she is a weaseling weasel who weasels too easily.

I think that’s the main reason people sign up for Beeminder: forcing yourself to really notice that you’re a weaseling weasle who weasels too easily is the first, hardest step toward weaseling less. A little bit of sting makes it real that you are your own worst enemy. Plus, because Beeminder makes several other good steps toward less weaseling either automatic, or very easy. (For example, Beeminder allows you to set your goals publicly, which probably helps somewhat with not weaseling, because y’know, peer pressure. Likewise, Beeminder defaults to daily accountability, which is probably a much better approach for procrastinators than big intermittent deadlines. Plus there’s features and customizations and suchlike.)

There are many generally better places to read about Beeminder than here, such as Beeminder’s own “Start here” introduction for new users. For third-party reviews, out of the many online user reviews out there, I particularly recommend these three: 12, and 3. I think these three span the gamut of user experiences, and especially if you read them together, will nicely demonstrate that your mileage may vary because the main thing that will determine whether / what benefit you might get from Beeminder are factors specific to you.

Okay, you’re up to speed on what Beeminder is… now for some comments from my own experience.

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The Greatest Salesman in the World

“The Greatest Salesman in the World” (TGSitW) is a self-help book whose simple set-up–a fabulously wealthy man, of some unspecified but vaguely distant ethnicity, at some exotic locale, at the center of whose trade empire is a lush palace with ferns, priceless vases, and lush carpets, all of which rich scenery serves to underscore the beguiling promise of the book: master these ten “scrolls” and you too can be fabulously wealthy and so wise and happy you give your money away freely. What a promise!

The book reads like an Aesop’s just-so story telling how an impossibly wealthy sheik came to be that way from humble origins as the lowest of lowly camel herders. It’s very archaic-seeming, with a lot of ‘Henceforth,” and other resolute language, but it’s also extremely easy to read, with very short sentences, and a complete absence of counter-argument or gray area. It also sounds much more like an old-timey preacher’s sermon, with a lot of biblical themes and even quotes (this too shall pass) and a heavy reliance on imagery and metaphor. For all that, it’s strangely readable and even enjoyable.

I found the style seemed familiar, which after finishing I realized may be because Og Mandino also wrote “The Twelfth Angel” which I read a couple decades ago. (Thinking about it now, I suspect The Twelfth Angel was probably pretty influential on my writing style, and was an important source for my young-life toolset for inspiring and motivating myself and others. It probably also allowed me to pass for more biblically literate than I really was.)

Anyway, as I say, it was an enjoyable read.  First TGSitW recognizes and seizes on the way thoughts can be enjoyable, and people who are offered enjoyable trains of thought will often (not everyone, and not all of the time) find it really easy and pleasant to let go of control of their thoughts. That’s why being hypnotized is pleasant–if it weren’t, it wouldn’t work. (And generally once a hypnotist asks a hypnotized person to do something they don’t want to do, they’ll shake off the hypnosis because it won’t be pleasant to imagine themselves doing something they don’t want to do.) This kind of fun is also a big part of the fun of surrendering to the story arc woven by a good novelist. The novelist earns our trust by building good characters and worlds, and we reward the novelist by letting them transport us somewhere interesting. For self-help books, the chief way this works is by instructing readers to contemplate themselves enjoying being successful. It’s nice to imagine getting promotions, being well-liked, buying what one wants, living in luxury, being generous with one’s friends and family, and so on. It’s pleasant, and in moderation, harmless.

The book situates its advice as a set of mantras found on scrolls and used by, who else, the greatest salesman in the world. Consequently we are invited to imagine ourselves and him, situated somewhere far back in time, amid silks in his palace, as we hear the story of how he coached himself to greatness, from the humblest of humble beginnings in some desert marketplace with a few rags. Each “scroll” elaborates on and fleshes out the idea, but these are the ten basic mantras.

  • I will form good habits and become their slave.
  • I will greet this day with love in my heart.
  • I will persist until I succeed.
  • I am nature’s greatest miracle.
  • I will live this day as if it is my last.
  • Today I will be master of my emotions.
  • I will laugh at the world.
  • Today I will multiply my value a hundredfold.
  • I will act now.
  • I will pray for guidance.

It’s a good read. For anyone feeling like they could stand to borrow another person’s mindset for a tough stretch, this might be a decent shot-in-the-arm, if you have a good ability to tolerate preachiness.