How To Become Indistractable & Control Your Attention | Nir Eyal on The Reader’s Journey

Check out The Reader’s Journey Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Distraction is not a new occurrence, it’s been around for thousands of years
    • “It’s certainly not a new problem. Plato called it akrasia in Greek–the tendency to do things against our better interests.” – Nir Eyal
  • The opposite of distraction is not focus, it’s traction:
    • Distraction is any action that pulls you away from what you said you’d do
    • Traction is any action that pulls you towards what you said you’d do
  • The most dangerous form of distraction is anything that tricks you into prioritizing the urgent at the expense of the important
  • Distractions tend to come from 2 things:
    • Internal Triggers
      • Any uncomfortable emotional state (anxiety, stress, fatigue, boredom) that makes you want to shift your attention to escape the pain at hand
    • External Triggers
      • Any outside source (like a text message or boss) that shifts your attention 
  • The first step to mastering your internal triggers is to become aware of the sensation of being uncomfortable. Simply naming or writing down the feeling (boredom, fatigue, loneliness, etc.) is a huge step.
    • Then explore that feeling with curiosity rather than contempt. Don’t blame or shame yourself for feeling bad or getting distracted.
      • Instead of blaming or shaming, try claiming. Claim responsibility for your reaction to your feelings. You can’t control your feelings, but you can control how you respond to those feelings. 
  • If you have no plans on your calendar, everything is a distraction. You have to plan your day or someone or something is going to plan it for you.
    • “You cannot call something a distraction unless you know what it distracted you from” – Nir Eyal

Intro

Books Mentioned

Becoming Indistractable

  • What does it mean to be Indistractable?
    • An indistractable person understands the deeper mechanics of what leads to distractions and ultimately controls their attention and time
  • There are 4 steps to becoming Indistractable:
    • Identify the internal triggers
    • Make time for traction
    • Hack back external triggers
    • Make identity pacts to decrease distraction
  • People need to stop blaming technology for all of their distractions because we’re in control of our attention  
    • “How long can we complain about Facebook distracting us without doing something about it?” – Nir Eyal
  • Distraction is not a new occurrence, it’s been around for thousands of years
    • “It’s certainly not a new problem. Plato called it akrasia in Greek–the tendency to do things against our better interests.” – Nir Eyal
  • The opposite of distraction is not focus, it’s traction:
    • Distraction is any action that pulls you away from what you said you’d do
    • Traction is any action that pulls you towards what you said you’d do
  • The most dangerous form of distraction is anything that tricks you into prioritizing the urgent at the expense of the important

Why Do We Get Distracted?

  • Distractions tend to come from 2 things:
    • Internal Triggers
      • Any uncomfortable emotional state (anxiety, stress, fatigue, boredom) that makes you want to shift your attention to escape the pain at hand
    • External Triggers
      • Any outside source (like a text message or boss) that shifts your attention 
  • “The leading cause of distraction, what I discovered in my 5 years of research, is not the external triggers, but rather the internal triggers.” – Nir Eyal
  • You can turn distraction into traction simply by planning how you want to spent your time ahead of time
    • “If you want to play video games, enjoy video games. If you want to watch Netflix, watch Netflix. If you want to connect with friends on social media, great do it. But do it on your schedule, not the tech companies. And that’s the big difference.” – Nir Eyal

Mastering Internal Triggers

  • The first step to mastering your internal triggers is to become aware of the sensation of being uncomfortable. Simply naming or writing down the feeling (boredom, fatigue, loneliness, etc.) is a huge step.
    • Then explore that feeling with curiosity rather than contempt. Don’t blame or shame yourself for feeling bad or getting distracted.
      • Instead of blaming or shaming, try claiming. Claim responsibility for your reaction to your feelings. You can’t control your feelings, but you can control how you respond to those feelings. 
  • Next time you feel uncomfortable, try surfing the urge:
    • Wait 10-minutes before giving in to a distraction
      • If you sit with that urge for 10-minutes and surf it like surfer, 9 times out of 10, that urge will have crested and then subsided like a wave
        • “Once you develop that skill, nine times out of ten, you don’t even want that thing at the end of the ten minutes” – Nir Eyal

How To Make Time For Traction

  • If you have no plans on your calendar, everything is a distraction. You have to plan your day or someone or something is going to plan it for you.
    • “You cannot call something a distraction unless you know what it distracted you from” – Nir Eyal
  • Just like you’re conscious of how you spend your money, you want to be aware of how you spend your time and attention
  • The first step is to know your values and become aware of what you want to accomplish. There are 3 life domains you want to consider:
    • You: Before you can help others, you must first make time to take care of yourself
      • Make time for sleep, exercise, etc.
    • Relationships: Make time for important relationships such as friends and family
      • Schedule meetings for the people close to you 
    • Work: Don’t just do reactive work (responding to emails) but make time to do reflective work (identify what projects are important and focus on those)

How To Hack Back Email

  • Here’s the T.N.T. equation for email: Total time spent on email = time we spend per message * number of messages  
  • Most time is wasted on email because people are rechecking messages mutliple times. Nir’s rule is that you can only touch each email twice.
    • If it never needs a reply, delete or archive it
    • If it needs an immediate response, reply right away
    • Most emails fall into two categories: needs a reply today OR needs a reply sometime this week
      • Nir’s advice is to label those emails by one of those two tags. Then timebox your email responses and reply to only the messages that need a response today.
        • By giving time for the non-urgent emails to rest, about half of them will decompose and they won’t need a response 

How To Hack Back Your Smartphone

  • Remove all the apps that are slot machines (any app with an infinite scroll)
    • If you want to use Facebook or Twitter, use it only on your desktop and not on your smartphone
  • Rearrange the apps on your home screen so that only essential apps on your home screen
  • Have a home phone and an away phone
    • Your away phone is one you carry with you that has only essential functions (calls, text, GPS, etc.)
  • Use the Forest app. It encourages you to not check your phone by growing a virtual tree when you set a timer to not check your device.

How To Teach Your Kids To Be Indistractable

  • Technology isn’t going away anytime soon, it’s better to teach kids how to use technology now rather than later:
    • “If you want to give your kids the skill of the century, teach them how to be indistractable” – Nir Eyal
  • If you want your kids to be indistractable, you must lead by example 
  • There are a ton of free tools, like screentime, that help moderate and restrict access to certain apps and help limit the time usage on each
    • Empower your kids to set their own time limits and restrictions on their technology usage so that they learn the skill of self-moderating instead of you having to always watch over them
  • Teach kids how to use the silent and do-not-distrub feature on their smartphones

Additional Notes

  • Behavior change requires identity change
    • The only people who have limited willpower, or experience ego depletion, are those that believe they have a limited resource of willpower
  • Top workplace distractions:
    • 1) Email
    • 2) Group chats
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Notes By Alex Wiec

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