Jill's Beeminder Contract for Gym Workouts


“Taking a long-term view I know I shouldn’t eat that. Still, the damage from eating it this particular time is miniscule and the benefit of eating it, here and now, is huge (it’s delicious). So I eat it. Unfortunately I apply that reasoning every time. It’s like a procrastinator who says ‘one more minute can’t hurt’. Technically and literally true but if you say that every minute forever, you have a problem. I have that kind of problem.”    — Anonymous

Beeminder solves that kind of problem. Being bound by a Beeminder contract brings the long-term consequences near. It turns a long-term commitment into a daily commitment.


http://beeminder.com/jill/gym — Average 1.8 gym workouts per week.


I promise not to weasel.

I, Jill Renaud, will stay on this Yellow Brick Road every day until I reach my goal or forfeit $1,125. 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 facing a real risk of going off the road the following day and losing the money. In this way my long-term goal is broken down into something I’m forced to work towards gradually every day. The point is to replace the long-term negative consequences with immediate negative consequences for not staying on track towards the goal each day. In general, I promise to abide by the spirit of this commitment and not weasel or abuse loopholes.


The following people are the official owners of this contract, meaning they collect any forfeited money. By adding their names here they’re promising to actually take the money in the unlikely event it’s forfeited:

Fine Print Specific to This Goal

Boilerplate Fine Print

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 point is to have unambiguous daily guidance without ever letting anyone lose on a technicality.

1. Road Width

Just like for weight loss, you can’t lose tomorrow if you’re in the right lane today.

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 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.

2. Vacation Clause

For non-weight-loss goals, any day you don’t report it’s assumed you didn’t do anything and you lose if that causes you to go off your road.

3. SOS Clause

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 SOS clause.

First, you have to notify Beeminder before you officially lose. Preferably send an email to bot@beeminder.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?”

4. Beeminder Mea Culpa 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.

5. Safety First

You should never feel like you need to compromise your health to avoid a financial loss. Therefore it is an explicit rule that 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. 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.