Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life with Nir Eyal – The Kevin Rose Show

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Key Takeaways

  • All addiction has the same root cause: the desire to escape an uncomfortable reality
  • Use technology on YOUR schedule, not the app maker’s
  • The 4 Steps of the Indistractable Model | To better control your attention:
    • Master the internal triggers (this is where the vast majority of distractions originates from)
      • All human behavior is motivated by one thing: the avoidance of pain/escaping discomfort – understand the uncomfortable emotional states you seek to escape from
    • Make time for traction
      • Plan your day with a calendar – “If you don’t plan your day, someone else will”
    • Hack back the external triggers
      • Modify technology so it serves us as opposed to us serving it
    • Prevent distractions with pacts
      • Effort pacts (making unwanted behaviors more difficult to perform)
      • Price pacts (inflicting a cost if you do something you say you’re not going to do)
      • Identity pacts (by calling ourselves a specific identity, it makes it easier to change a behavior)
  • All distractions are the result of either: An internal trigger, an external trigger, or a planning problem
    • “By understanding the source of the distraction, we can do something about it the next time around”
  • With to-do lists, instead of listing the outputs (finish taxes) list the inputs (work on my taxes for 1 hour)


Want the good or the bad news first?

  • The Bad News:
    • “It has become easier than ever to become distracted”
      • “If you’re a curious human being, this is a tough time to be alive because there are so many things to explore out there”
    • And to make it worse – “The world is going to become a MORE distracting place, not less”
      • “We’re going to laugh about these days when distraction was just social media, email accounts, and Slack channels. Just wait until virtual reality gets adopted by the mainstream…”
    • Parents are missing out on precious moments with their children because they’re glued to their phones
  • The Good News:
    • “We’re way more than powerful than I thought we were”
      • “We have the ability to put these things [addicting technologies] in their place”

Nir’s Books

  • Hooked dove deep into how to build habit-forming tech products
    • In 2012-2014, the big question wasn’t about tech overuse, it was all about how to get people to care in the first place 
  • Indistractable is about how to break unhealthy tech habits
    • “Unhooked” was the original title Nir planned to use was 
      • He initially suspected that tech addiction came from the tech products themselves (AKA the problem was with technology)
      • But, the more Nir read into what was really going on and, most importantly, tried some of the common tech separation tactics (separating yourself from your devices, doing a social media fast, etc.), the more he realized they didn’t work!
        • It’s like treating obesity with a fad diet – you’ll just rebound
          • You need to address the root cause 

Addictions vs. Habits

  • “Addictions are not the same thing as habits”
    • An addiction is a compulsive dependency on a behavior or substance that harms the user (and they’re always bad)
      • “There’s a big difference between a company that depends upon addicts and one that creates addicts as an unfortunate side product”
        • Anything that stops pain WILL cause someone to get addicted to it 
          • Examples – Facebook, alcohol, and sex 
    • A habit is a behavior done with little or no conscious thought (we can have both good and bad habits)

Technology is Like Cannabis, Not Cigarettes

  • “I used to tell crowds that technology is the cigarette of this century. That is a TERRIBLE metaphor. Technology is not like a cigarette at all; there’s no substance… If anything, technology is like cannabis.”
    • Cannabis has no addictive properties (unlike nicotine), but ~9% of people who use marijuana get addicted to it
      • How can this be? – “Addiction is never about the substance. Addiction is about the confluence of the person, the product, and their inability to cope with pain in a healthier manner.”
    • Just like addiction isn’t about the drug, addiction isn’t about the technology – there’s something else going on
      • Women who have c-sections are given fentanyl, yet the VAST majority don’t become addicted

The Root of Addiction

  • “All addiction has the same root cause: the desire to escape an uncomfortable reality”

Tech Companies Should Protect Us From Addiction

  • There are 2 groups of people tech companies have the responsibly to protect:
    • Children
    • People who are prone to pathological addiction
  • Companies need a “use and abuse policy” – they should provide users with some kind of metric, like time on site, that, once surpassed, dictates they’ll reach out to check in to see if you’re struggling with an addiction
    • They might reach out to people in the top 1-2% of usage saying: “We see that you are using this product in a way that indicates you may be struggling with an addiction; can we help?”
      • This IS currently possible with the data tech companies collect

“Simple minds look for simple answers”

  • All tech isn’t evil
    • For many people, social media sites are their only source of human interaction
      • In this way, spending 5 hours/day on Facebook is better than spending 5 hours/day watching Fox News
  • It’s all about using tech with INTENT
    • “Using all of these technologies is wonderful as long as we use them on our schedule, not the app maker’s schedule”

The 4 Steps of the Indistractable Model

Step #1 – Master the Internal Triggers

  • Imagine a number line that goes from left to right
    • On the right side = traction (actions that move you to where you want to be/things you do with intent)
    • On the left side = distraction (actions we do without intent/things that take us off track)
  • 2 elements influence all human behavior:
    • External triggers (all the things in our environment that prompt us to action, either towards traction or distraction)
      • Examples: A calendar reminder to workout (traction) or a Facebook notification (distraction)
    • Internal triggers (cues that originate from within us that prompt us to action)
      • Ex. – An uncomfortable emotional state (this is where the majority of our distractions originate from)
  • All human behavior is motivated by one thing: the avoidance of pain/escaping discomfort
    • When you’re lonely, you check Facebook
    • When you’re hungry, you eat
    • When you’re bored, you browse Twitter/Instagram
  • So…
    • “If all human behavior is motivated by the desire to escape discomfort, that means time management is pain management”
      • “If we want to do the things we say we’re going to do, we have to understand the uncomfortable emotional states we seek to escape from with distractions”

Step #2 – Make Time for Traction

  • 2 out of 3 people don’t keep a calendar of any sort
    • This means their entire day is largely predicated based on external triggers (AKA what other people want)
      • “If you don’t plan your day, someone else will”
      • To add – “You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it distracted you from”
  • Action item – plan out your day
    • Put anything that takes more than 15 minutes in your calendar (even having breakfast!)
  • AND – Turn your values into time
    • Value = the attributes of the person you wish to become
    • Don’t make time for what you value when it’s convenient – it MUST be planned
  • More advice:
    • Make a weekly recurring schedule and allot 15 minutes every Sunday to adjust as needed
  • “It’s not that being indistractable means you never get distracted; being indistractable means you strive to do what it is you say you’ll do”

Step #3 – Hack Back the External Triggers

  • Modify technology so it serves us as opposed to us serving it
    • With every external trigger you’re faced with, ask: “Is this external trigger servicing me, or am I serving it?”
  • A few examples:
    • Nir uses the Facebook News Feed Eradicator Google Chrome extension 
    • Remove notifications on your phone
      • Studies show 2/3 people never change their notification settings
      • Kevin only allows incoming phone call notifications on his Apple Watch
    • Don’t forget about the non-tech external triggers (like disruptions in the office)
    • Keep your phone on “Do Not Disturb” mode

Step #4 – Prevent Distraction with Pacts (Or Pre-Commitment Devices)

  • A pact is anything that prevents you from doing what you don’t want to do
  • A simple example: Retirement accounts apply a financial penalty if you withdraw funds before a certain age
  • There are 3 types of pacts:
    • Effort (making the behavior you don’t want to do more difficult)
      • Ex. – When Nir’s writing, he uses the Forest app on his phone to discourages him from using it
    • Price (inflicting a cost if you do something you say you’re not going to do)
      • Ex. – Joining a betting pool with friends to quit a bad habit
    • Identity (by calling ourselves a specific identity, it makes it easier to change a behavior)
      • Ex. – Calling yourself a vegetarian makes it easier not to eat meat
      • An even better example – identifying as INDISTRACTABLE makes you less likely to become distracted

Email Tips

  • Nir schedules 4 hours every Monday to clear out his inbox
    • Every other day of the week he allots 1.5 hours for answering only urgent emails
  • Only touch each email twice – once when you open it to sort and once to answer
    • This is key: sort your emails by when they need a response, NOT by topic
      • Nir uses color-coded labels in Gmail – a red label indicates he’ll answer the email that day, yellow indicates he’ll answer the email within the next week
  • Delete emails that don’t need a reply

The Root of Every Distraction

  • All distractions are the result of either:
    • An internal trigger
    • An external trigger
    • A planning problem
  • “By understanding the source of the distraction, we can do something about it the next time around”
  • As an example, say you skip out on going to the gym:
    • Perhaps it was because you simply didn’t feel like it (internal trigger)
    • Maybe it was because it wasn’t on your calendar (planning problem)
    • Or perhaps it’s because you received a long phone call (external trigger)

Innovating the To-Do List

  • Study after study has found that people are HORRIBLE at estimating how long a task takes to perform
  • With to-do lists, instead of listing an output (finish taxes) record the input (work on my taxes for 1 hour)
    • Then – put that time in your calendar
      • “If it’s not on your calendar it doesn’t happen”

Worry About the Inputs, Not the Outputs

  • The #1 cause of insomnia is worrying about not getting enough sleep (output)
  • Instead, worry about what you CAN control – the inputs:
    • Getting to bed on time
    • Mitigating blue light exposure in the evening
    • Not eating too late into the night
  • At the end of the day – “The body gets what the body needs”
    • If you set the parameters for success by taking care of the inputs, the outputs take care of themselves

Let it Sit

  • With every impulse to check your phone, browse Facebook, eat a cookie, or do whatever – wait 10 minutes
    • Then, if you’re still feeling the urge, proceed (the idea is that waiting 10 minutes dramatically reduces the urge to perform the bad habit)
  • Same thing with Amazon:
    • If you think you want to buy something, add it to your cart and wait a day or two to complete the purchase
      • If you still want to buy it 48 hours later, go ahead – this prevents impulse purchases

Additional Notes

  • The average American watches 5 hours of TV/day
  • “The time you plan to waste is not wasted time”
  • Science shows that if you’re the type of person who believes that willpower is a limited daily resource, then it becomes a limited resource
    • The opposite of this: viewing willpower as an emotion 
      • Just like you can consistently be happy, you can always have high willpower
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