There are many distractions in the world today, which will continue to rise in the coming years. Being able to manage your time efficiently and effectively is key. Every minute counts! Author, lecturer and investor, Nir Eyal, shares his tips on how to control your attention and make the most out of the hours in your day. Learn the 4 steps to becoming indistractable and how to pave the way for younger generations as well.
- 2:46 – Keeping the consumer ‘hooked’
- 5:16 – The ultimate macro skill: being indistractable
- 5:56 – How technology can serve us
- 7:53 – The internal trigger distractors
- 10:07 – Schedule syncing and saying ‘No’
- 11:22 – The biggest distractions are other people
- 15:20 – Why children are hypocrisy detection devices
- 16:50 – Teaching behavior regulation
- 19:07 – Turning values into time
- 20:18 – The loneliness epidemic
- 23:53 – Manipulating behaviors
- 26:43 – Deciphering the root of the problem
Indistractable – Nir Eyal
Hooked – Nir Eyal
Full Episode Transcription :
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Nir, thanks for joining us on learn to win.
My pleasure. Thank you.
And hosting us in your home. And we were just talking about direct sighting and we were just talking about education. Why don’t we just start there. It’s kind of an interesting spot, right? So how, you know, in the concept of your books, right? And the concept of, of hooked and distractions. How have you seen this apply to the way that you’re educating your own family, right? And the way that you’re offering opportunities to grow and find your purpose?
Yeah. So education is an interesting field. So I’ve made investments in the education industry. Whenever I see people using the hook model for my first book for good to help people form healthy habits, I’m inherently interested in. Then if it makes for good business sense, well then I’m really interested. So company I invested in a few years ago, Kahoot is today the world’s largest educational software. They just went public recently. That turned out to be my best investment that I’ve made as an angel and a, it’s amazing. I mean, they’re getting kids hooked on to in-classroom learning and so it’s a great example of how we can use habit forming products for good, right? When people haven’t read hooked, if they just judge a book by its cover, they’ll say, Oh, is it ethical to hook people? Right? I mean, that’s what Facebook and these video games are doing to us. Right? But no, no, no. We can grab these same secrets. We can use the same consumer psychology that Facebook and the video kind of companies are using to keep us hooked, to make all sorts of products more habit forming that we can help people get hooked to exercising in the gym. Just like Fitbod does. They use the hook model for that reason. As I mentioned, getting kids hooked on to in-classroom learning. I worked with the New York times one of my clients to get people hooked to reading the newspaper. So we can use these same principles from consumer psychology to build healthy habits.
I totally agree. It actually is something, couple things you said in there. So we talked about devices before and mobility. I mean we talked about personal responsibility. Like how can we create using technology to amplify, improve the experience of our lives, improve our human connection? How do we, how do we as, as parents, as, as you know, or who are senior people in society help these kids bring that balance of using pods for good habits and developing their, their human element, their emotional intelligence, their, their empathy, their connection. This is, I think, a big theme that we’re hearing now around education and 21st century skills. What are your thoughts on that?
Yeah, so this is a big reason why I wrote my second book. Yeah. Indistractible, indistractible is, is being indistracted, I think is what we, what I would call the skill of a century. That it is imperative that all of us learn how to control our attention and choose our life. That if you do not decide for yourself how you want to spend your time, how you want to focus your attention, somebody will decide for you, right? It will be some media company, it’ll be some app, it’ll be your kids, your boss. Somebody is going to decide how you’re going to spend your time and attention unless you decide for yourself. And so being indistractible is about striving to do what you say you are going to do. It’s about living with personal integrity. And I think this skill set, this is a macro skill.
This is something that helps you in every facet of your life. You know, I used to, before I wrote this book, I would constantly lie to myself. I would say I was going to go to the gym. I wouldn’t, I would say I was going to be fully present with my kids and yet I’d be on my phone. I would say I was going to work on a big project and finally get to work on that thing. I’ve been putting off at work and somehow I’d check email or a Slack channel instead. And so being indistractible is really about harnessing this macro skill, the super power of being able to do whatever it is you say you’re going to do. When it comes to our kids, it’s even more important because if you think the world is distracting now, just wait a few years, it’s only going to become more distracting.
It’s not going to get better and better. Exactly as we want them to. You know, it’s, it’s ridiculous. I hear a lot of people criticizing the technology companies and saying, you know, how dare you make products that are so habit forming and, and, and I quote unquote addictive. But you know, what they’re really saying is you’ve made products that are good, that are engaging, right? Hey Netflix, can you please stop making interesting shows? Apple, your iPhone is too user-friendly. Can you please make it not, no, that’s not going to happen. And so, you know, products getting better isn’t a problem. It’s progress. We want that. But what we need to do is to find ways to use these technologies in a way that serves us as opposed to us feeling like we are serving them. So we want them to be as good as it can possibly be when we choose to use them.
So on that point, so what, I know we’ve all heard about some of your habits, but talk about that to the audience about what you do to personally provide that path, that discipline, that, that spaciousness in your own life to have your own choices, be so authentic and blend that path.
I might be able to give you a little spark to the conversation from a reader rather than the author. So when I read your book, you had some just perfect examples of the fact that you’re not actually to the normal understanding of the word indistractible, right? Like I don’t think you would define yourself as indistractible, but you’ve set up conditions and structures in your life to punish yourself if you do get distracted, right? Or to avoid those things all together. But it’s not like you’re some superhuman who’s just zen and you don’t notice these distractions.
No, no, I wrote this book because I struggled with this problem. I do not have self good self control. I do not have good willpower. That’s why I needed this book. I wrote it for myself more than anyone else. And I think the biggest revelation that I had in writing this book is that the source of our distractions are much more much deeper than just whatever is in our hand and whatever we’re watching on some screen, that distraction does not tend to start from outside of us.
It’s not the outside environment, not the pings and dings and rings. Most distractions starts from within. It’s not the external triggers it’s the internal triggers. So there’s four steps to becoming indistractible. The first step and the most important step is understanding how to master the internal triggers. Everything we do, all of our actions are about a desire to escape discomfort. So when we’re feeling lonely, we check Facebook. When we’re uncertain, we Google. When we’re anxious about work, we email. When we’re bored, we check the news, ESPN stock prices. Reddit sports was, all of these things are catering to uncomfortable emotional States. And so the first step to overcoming distraction becoming indistractable is to understand what those internal triggers are. Because if it’s not the cell phone today and the video game tomorrow, it’ll be something else, right? That fundamentally people have been complaining about how distracting the world is forever.
Plato talked about how distracting the world was 2,500 years before the iPhone. Distraction is nothing new. So what we have to start with is understanding inside of us what’s going on. Then after we’ve done that, after we’ve mastered the internal triggers, and I tell you all kinds of techniques to do that, the second step is to make time for traction. That the rule is you cannot call something a distraction unless you know what it distracted you from. So if you go through life with a bunch of white space on your calendar, thinking that you’re going to do all these things that you’ve planned for yourself, yeah, I’ll work out sometimes a day. Oh yeah, I’ll, I’ll write that novel today. Or yeah, I’ll spend quality time with my wife or my husband or my kids. Sometime. It’s not going to happen. You know what you’re gonna do.
You’re gonna flip on the television. You’re going to check some app, you’re going to look at email. You’re not going to do it what you really want to do with your time. And so it’s imperative and this is a thousands of studies have shown that one of the best things you can do to get more out of your day is to plan ahead. It’s not rocket science. Very few people do it. What’s really new and innovative is this idea of time boxing and schedule sinking. And so that’s something that very few people have heard about where if you plan out every minute of your day, it’s amazing. When I talked to some level executives across the board, they all do it. Everybody who has a C in their title, they’re already doing this. It’s the rest of us who haven’t picked up on how genius this technique is.
And here’s where you take it to another level. You do what’s called a schedule sync. So even if you’re not a C level, if you sit down with your manager once a week and you say, look Boss, here’s my week ahead. Here’s how I plan my week, right at time box every minute of my day. Here’s all this stuff I have time for that I’m going to do this week. Now here’s this other list of stuff that you’ve asked for that I’m not going to get to because you see my calendar is full. Now, if there’s any changes you’d like me to make, please let me know. What should I switch out? And this works for a very important reason. You know we’ve all heard this trope that if you want to stay focused, you have to learn how to say, no, my God, shoot me. Really, I’m going to look at the person who cuts my check and say no, that’s terrible advice.
So instead of you telling your boss no, have your boss be the one who says no right.
Flip the script.
Exactly. Flip the script. This is called managing your manager and this will change your life. I mean your, your boss will worship the ground you walk on.
Here’s the beauty of it. Everyone acknowledges time. It’s an objective standard, right? We all say we have the same amount of time.
We can’t squeeze in some extra time. Exactly. It’s not squeezable, right?
The managers are desperate to know what the heck their employees are doing, but they’re afraid to ask because they don’t want to feel like they’re micromanaging.
So it’s busy and they just delegate, delegate, delegate. They don’t realize if given 80 hours of work in a week.
So that schedule sync is really important. It’s new. It’s not something that many people have heard of and it’s, it’s revolutionary. You can not only do it in your work life, I do it in my whole life as well. I do a schedule, sync with my wife every week. It takes 15 minutes. It has changed our marriage completely. So that’s the second step is about making time for traction. The third step is to hack back your external triggers. Now we’re talking about the pains, the dings, the rings, all of these things in our outside environment, not just our digital devices. It turns out the number one source of distraction in modern American workplace, 80% of people say the number one distraction is other people, other people. It’s the open floor plan office. People come by your desk and say, Hey, did you hear that bit of office gossip? Or let me just talk to you for a quick sec. That turns out to be the greatest effect.
A quick sec.
Yeah, a quick sec never a quick sec. So I tell you exactly how to hack back all of those external triggers. How to hack back email, how to hack back meetings. Oh my God, how much time did I spend in stupid meetings that don’t need to be called. I tell you how to hack back all of those environments. And then finally, the last step, and this gets back to what you were mentioning before, is to prevent distraction with pact. Now a pact is a promise you make to yourself or to somebody else that prevents you from getting distracted. Now, the important thing you hear is this is the last resort. This is the fail safe. You do not do this first. You only, you only do this after you’ve done the other three. But making certain types of promises, there’s what’s called a price pact, an effort pact and an identity pact. These three types of packs are wonderful as a last resort to make sure you stay on track.
I love it. Yeah, I mean that’s perfect advice for learning to win anybody can benefit from
And I just love the, it’s counterintuitive to like place a bet against yourself. So what you did with, with this book, right? You told your friend you’d give him $10,000 if you didn’t finish by a certain day.
So that’s an example of price pact. And again, do not do this if you haven’t done the other three things first because then it will backfire because if you haven’t, for example, if you make a bet with somebody and you fall off the wagon, you fail because you haven’t built the strength to deal with the internal triggers, the tools in your toolkit, exactly you have plan the time, you have to do the other things first, but as a last resort, it’s really effective that if you have a, and this is actually, this isn’t a technique I made up, I actually uncover this technique.
This was used as the most successful smoking cessation study in history, and I talk about in the book a lot about addiction and smoking because the idea here is look, if, if people can stop these addictions for substances like nicotine and heroin, and of course it’s going to work with Facebook and Instagram or email, right? So in this smoking cessation study, they found that the most most effective smoking cessation study in history, they had three groups. One group, they said, here’s all the nicotine patches and nicotine gum and all the conventional techniques you want free. Okay? Group two. They said, if you do not smoke for six months as tested by a urine test, we will give you $800 okay, we’ll give you a monetary reward. Now, group B did way better than group a, but check out what happened with group C. Group C, they said, if you do not smoke for six months, you will win $650 but to participate in this program, you have to put up $150 now, if you don’t smoke, you get the $150 back.
If you do smoke, we keep your hundred $150 so you would think, Hey, if the prize, exactly, but the prize was greater for the $800 and the $650 right? But group C did five times better. The most successful smoking cessation study in history, all it took was $150 bet that you made with yourself.
It’s also, it’s an integrity thing. I didn’t want to break the word to yourself that that’s right. That’d be penalized or you know. Exactly right.
So putting something in the game. But again, last resort, do not do that first.
Very cool. Yeah. All right, cool. So how, personal question, how are you applying these lessons? Cause I, I’m starting to evaluate this. How are you applying this to your, to your children? How do you apply it? Yeah.
So the first and most important thing to do is to be indistractible yourself. That children are hypocrisy detection devices, they watch everything you do. And they are, they love to see you screw up. And so the most important thing you can do is to become indestructible yourself. You cannot tell your kid to get off Fortnite and while you’re checking Facebook, it doesn’t work that way. You have to set a good example, which also includes being vulnerable. There’s nothing wrong. Many parents are scared of being vulnerable with their kids. It’s okay to tell your kids, you know what, I’m struggling this too. We can do this together. And then we work through, through those four basic steps, we figure out what their internal triggers are. And there’s a very interesting discussion around why children today are deficient in what we call psychological nutrients, that it’s called the needs displacement hypothesis. It’s not my theory, it’s a 40 year old theory.
It’s been around for a very long time. And it says basically that when we’re not getting our psychological needs met in one area of our life, we fulfill them in other ways. And that’s exactly what kids are doing with technology. But their overuse of technology is the symptoms, not the disease. So the first step is to understand.
So it’s our fault.
There’s a lot of things that play out, right? A lot of things at play. But I would argue that the modern American childhood is not giving kids what they fundamentally need. And so they’re looking for those needs elsewhere. They’re looking for them online. So we have to understand those internal triggers. Then we can make time for traction, just like we would for ourselves. We plan our day so that we can live out our values. We teach our kids how to do the same thing, including making time for social media or video games.
Many times kids are ruminating about when am I going to play, when am I going to play, when am I going to play? As opposed to if you make time for it, there’s nothing wrong with it. Because remember where we have to teach kids how to regulate themselves. We’re not raising kids. We’re raising future adults. Right? And so if you come down with a heavy hand and say you will not be using Facebook anymore, you will not be playing fortnight and rebel, you’re going to train little cheats. Right? Right. They’re going to do it when they go over to their friend’s house, they’re going to do it after they go off to college. They will figure out ways to do it. What you want to do is to teach them ways to regulate their own behavior. So by making time for traction.
That’s very similar to having a cheat day on your diet. Right? Like you scheduled the cheating when you schedule the like the distractible time. You take your multitasking where you just need to do a thousand things. You know you’re not efficient, but it kind of makes you feel like you’re getting things done. Right. Schedule an hour for that, just so you can feel like I had my little cheat spazz time.
Yeah, but don’t, but don’t call it cheat, I think a lot of, I think part of the problem is that is that we, we put a moral hierarchy on this stuff. There’s nothing wrong with watching a video on YouTube. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying Netflix. These technologies are wonderful. There’s nothing wrong with it. If you do it on your schedule according to your values.
Authentic choices relative to your identity.
With intent, go for it. Enjoy that. As opposed to, I think a lot of people do. There’s what I call the tyranny of the to do list that made people think that okay, to get things done, you put stuff on it to do lists, but then you know what happens half the to do list gets recycled from day after day after day. You get to the end of your day and you still feel like I didn’t do enough. As opposed to when you use time boxing, your only job is to work on a task without distraction. That’s it. That’s all you have to do. It’s not about getting it done, it’s about working on a task without distraction. And of course if you do that consistently, you will get it done. The beauty of that technique is when you get to the end of your day as opposed to feeling guilty. Now that’s exactly what you plan to do, right? I want to check Facebook for one hour.
It’s in my calendar.
And I earned it.
Yeah. There’s nothing wrong with it because I’m doing exactly what I said I would do. So when you turn a distraction into traction.
Yeah, I love that. So you mentioned values and that’s an interesting topic and very relevant to maybe share your thoughts on how this all ties back to your identity and your values and how that informs your, you know, these different components of indistractions and Hooked.
Yeah. So, so values are defined as the attributes of the person you want to become and what you know, what’s important here is to turn your values into time. That we can talk a good game about our values and say, Oh yeah, I value my physical health, I value my relationships, I value learning and I value all this stuff. But how do you make time for it?
Does your behavior show that you’ve have values.
And more than that, does your forethought show that those are your values? Right? And so what I want people to do, instead of having a five year plan or a vision board or regrets of the dying, how about we just start with next week, right? Turn your values into time for next week by showing me on your calendar where you plan to live out those values. So if physical health is important too, I’m not saying it should be your values need to be your own, but if that’s important to you, do you have time to take a walk to go to the gym? Do you have time on your calendar that says, I have to brush my teeth because I know you need to be in bed on time so that I can get my, my sleep. That stuff needs to be planned for it. Same goes for relationships, right? If, if a having close personal relationships is important to you, is it something you just talk about or is it something you have time in your schedule for?
You know, we are going through a loneliness epidemic in this country and it didn’t start with technology, you know, with personal devices. Robert Putnam wrote about this in the 1990s in his book bowling alone. What’s happened is there’s been a decimation of the time that we have spent doing group activities, right? The bowling league, the Kiwanis club, going to the bar with your buddies. It doesn’t happen as frequently. Those regular events don’t occur. And so we are missing those personal connections. We have to make time for it on our schedule or it’s not going to happen. And then finally, when it comes to our work life, right, are we living out our values in the work domain? Everybody’s work has two types of tasks. We have reactive work and we have reflective work. Now, most people have some mix of those two things. Now, some jobs are a hundred percent one or the other.
For example, if you’re a call center worker, your job is to pick up the phone and answer or deal with the customer and put it together 100% reactive. Most people listening to me right now have some mix of reactive and reflective work. Now, here’s the problem. Very few of us make time for that reflective work. You, if your job requires you to think, to process, to plan, to strategize, that time has to be on your schedule or else you’re going to be caught up in this reactive responsiveness loop of constantly checking email, checking your phone, checking Slack channels, going to meetings, and you never have time to actually think so that time has to be planned for in your schedule as well.
That one thing right there, I think is a game changer because that it’s that treadmill. You’re like, I’m just, I’m almost there. I’m almost, I’m almost caught up. I’m almost kind of, it just goes and goes and goes and goes. And the way I’ve heard that phrase before who was, I think it might’ve been Gary Keller in the one thing he talks about time blocking your time blocking, right? And like it’s the meta, it’s the step beforehand because you don’t realize it does take a lot of time to reflect enough and analyze what’s happening in your life to even figure out what you should time block.
And it’s a, it’s a huge competitive advantage because nobody’s doing it right. Nobody has time planned out in their day to think. And if you’re the kind of person who sits down and thinks for a little bit who plans, not only can you solve your own problem, you can solve your company’s problem, you can solve your customer’s promise. So what you can do, you know, look, I’ll be very honest with you, people pay me thousands of dollars an hour to talk to them about their situations, about their problems. Let me be honest with you. Most of the time all I’m doing is listening. I’m just listening, right? And if those folks would take the time to listen to themselves, to write it down, to talk through their issues. The reason they don’t do it is because they, when they pay me thousands of dollars, they keep the appointment.
It’s like the smoking test. They put the investment too.
They can put time in their calendar and I’m going to keep my appointment with the most important person in the world, ME! Right. Keep the time that you sit with yourself. That is the most important person in the world, in your life.
Can I go? Okay, so you, you talked a lot about in both books about the users, right? The users of the application, like when it comes the actual app. What about the layer above that? What about the people building or distributed or managing an app? Maybe it’s an internal app like Kahoot, right? Is there, are there hooks in specific strategies to get those people also at the second level up to be avid users and fans and want to share and become brand ambassadors.
Of the product itself?
Of the application. Like Kahoot, that’s the example.
In hooked, there’s a section in the book where I talk about the morality of manipulation, that these techniques can be used to manipulate our behaviors. And manipulation doesn’t necessarily, I, it has a negative connotation, but it doesn’t necessarily mean manipulate, just means to alter. It comes from, from the, you know, changing something with your hands. And so the idea here is that manipulation has two forms. We have persuasion and we have coercion. That persuasion is helping eople do things they want to do, which is perfectly ethical, right? If you help people it’s good for you. If it’s something you want to do and you build the product to help them do that, that’s perfectly ethical. And then you have coercion, which is getting people to do things they don’t want to do. That is unethical. We should never do that. Not only is that bad ethically people, you know, people aren’t stupid. They’re not puppets on a string. If they use, if they use a product that they didn’t, they regret, they’re not going to use your product. They’re going to tell everybody on social media not to use your product as well. So we would never want to do that.
So in my book, I talked about this two part test that if you are going to use these techniques to build persuasive products, you have to pass this two part test. And the two part test goes like this. Number one, you have to look at yourself in the mirror and ask whether what you’re working on materially improves people’s lives. Okay? But that’s not good enough. It’s not good enough just to say, Oh, I want to make the world better. That’s the first test. Is this materially improving people’s lives? The second question is to ask yourself, am I the user? And now why do I want you to ask this question? Because I want you to break the first rule of drug dealing. You know the first rule of drug dealing, don’t use one supply, never get high on your own supply, right? I want you to break that rule.So then if there are any deleterious effects you already know that, you’re going to get it. Exactly. So if you answer in the affirmative to those two questions, you fall into this bucket that I call facilitators. So if you believe in material improves people’s lives and you’re the user, you’re a facilitator. And I say go for it. Use these persuasive tactics, help people live better lives by building healthy habits because I think that’s where you are in a good ethical and a really good business footing by being a facilitator.
So last question i’m going to throw I need to throw in here. Perfect the purpose. Where do you see, how do you see this bigger, better for you? I know we talked before the interview. How would you see this evolving? What did you see? How are you going to apply these lessons in your life to impact the truth that you’re presented to the masses?
No, just beyond, beyond the books. Even just like we were talking about a bigger, bigger purpose in life and some of the things we talked about before. I think it’d be helpful for you to articulate.
Yeah. So we were talking earlier, I have these daily mantras that are repeated and one of my daily mantras is that my purpose in life is to explain the world so that it can be made better. So that’s just something I repeat every day. That that’s kind of my mission. That’s my purpose. That’s my goal in life is to find interesting questions that I’m struggling with that I haven’t quite figured out. Spend a lot of time going really, really deep.
Because other people are also struggling with that.
That’s right. That’s right. And so with both my books, you know, with indistractible my last book, I went down so many wrong paths and dead ends. You know, I, at first I thought that the problem really was the technology. So I got rid of all my technology. I got a flip phone, I got my stuff up, a word processor with no internet connection. And I thought, okay, I’ve, I’ve gotten rid of all the modern technologies, right? I’m not using apps anymore. I’m not using the internet. And I still got distracted. Right. I would, I would rearrange my desk. I would take out the trash, I would see a book on the shelves. They, I probably should read that. And so all these books that say, Oh, go on a digital detox, do a 30 day plan. It didn’t work. It didn’t work cause I hadn’t gotten to the root of the problem. And so that’s really what guides me.
Do you meditate now?
I don’t. I don’t. I did for a year. I did for 365 days. I meditated and then I decided to stop. I didn’t do it. Not that it’s bad. I’m not, if it works for you. Keep doing it. I actually talk about in indistractible. I mentioned the word meditation one time. When I say I will not be talking about meditation for the rest of the book because it’s a great technique. It’s just been, people have heard of it and we’ve already, it’s great if you can do it. A lot of people find either it’s they, it’s not for them. It’s hard. They want more because you know, I’ll be a little bit critical of meditation. I think it’s a little bit oversold that it’s, I think some people hope that it solves all their problems and it solves some problems but we need more than just meditation. Some problems you can’t meditate away.
Well I appreciate this, the lens of a psychologist, philosopher, behaviorist or technologists all in one, like I just, it’s been a lot of fun.
Way too short and I just want to wrap up too for people listening and watching your like post a reader followup material, like the 80 page workbook and everything that you give someone if they buy the book or the audio book is some of the best I’ve ever seen. It is actionable. I mean it’s literally the 80 page workbook of exercises and it’s not just fluff in scientific theory. It’s really really good.
I appreciate it. I was going to be in the final draft but then the book got too long so we decided to take it out and make it available if somebody wants it. It’s, it’s a guide to help you go step by step and there’s also a video course that’s also complimentary, totally free. You know, people like to see things from different angles at different multimedia settings. So you can get, you get the book, you get the the, the workbook. You also get the video course if it makes sure you keep your order number, that that’s very important that you put your order number in in the website and distractable.com and then you get access to all of it. But thank you.
Yeah, we’ll put all that stuff in the, in the show notes. So this was great.
It’s been a pleasure.
Thank you so much.