Episode 185 | September 10, 2019

Become In-distract-able with Nir Eyal

A Personal Note From Orion

Let’s talk about being present.

Technology has probably improved your life in so many ways, while simultaneously causing you to be constantly distracted by “shiny things”. Facebook, Instagram, youtube, are all black holes which are easy to fall into, in place of doing what is meaningful to you. If you think about it, everytime you get sucked into one of these black holes, you block yourself from working on the things that will help you achieve your dreams.

Yet it’s not easy to stay focused on what is meaningful in your life when you live in an era of constant distraction that goes beyond technology but even life itself, with things constantly happening that are beyond our control: illness, work, relationships.

What’s important is to realize that while we can’t control what happens, we can control what we do, with the goal of affecting the way things turn out. For women especially, we seem to have hundreds of things to do and relationships to juggle. It’s important to learn how to be present and maintain focus to allocate time and energy for our dreams, and ourselves. Nir Eyal joins me today on Stellar Life to discuss the research that he’s done on behavior and the age of distraction we currently live in, and he shares life-changing advice on how you can take back control of your life and become indistractable.



About Today’s Show

Hooked by Nir Eyal

Do you ever get distracted by the million things that take your attention, especially online and social media? And it takes you away from your goals? Well, don’t worry, because today’s guest is going to help you with that. His name is Nir Eyal. His first book, Hooked, is all about how to build habit-forming products. He wrote a book about how to get you hooked and how to get you to become distracted. 

But, his second book, Indistractable, is all about how to control your attention and choose your life relevant to the Achilles’ heel of distraction. We talked about all kinds of ways for you to stay focused on your goals and your dreams because everybody that builds a product or social platform knows how to get your attention. They just get better and better at how to get your attention, how to get you hooked, and how to suck you into their platform. 

Indistractable by Nir Eyal

Though social media is wonderful and you can use it for good, it can also be your Achilles’ heel and take you away from your dreams. If you want to pursue your goals and dreams, one of the best things that you can do is be present at the moment. 

Deepak Chopra says that being in the moment means not being distracted by the melodrama and hysteria around you. Present moment and awareness allow solutions to emerge because, if you are caught up in the chaos, it’s hard for you to see the bigger picture. This talk is all about how to be focused and how to block that outside noise so you can have your voice heard in the world. 

Now, without further ado, onto the show. Hello, Nir, and welcome to Stellar Life Podcast.

Thanks, Orion. It’s great to be here.

It’s nice to have you here and I am excited to be talking to you. Before we begin, can you tell me a little bit about yourself, your passion, and what brought you to do what you’re doing today?

Sure. Let’s see. My passion is to understand how behavior can be designed. I call myself a behavioral designer, which means that I specialize in using technology to facilitate behavior that people want to do. We call it persuasive technology. The idea is that we can use technology to help people live better lives. How can we help them exercise more, save money, be more productive at work, and be more connected with friends and loved ones?

That’s really the idea behind the persuasive design and habit-forming technology. I’m also fascinated by the other side of that. How do we design our own behaviors, specifically, how do we detach and make sure that we don’t become distracted by too much behavioral design as well?

That’s awesome. Was there a time in your life where it was a burning question that made you go for it?

Yeah. The experience that sparked my fascination with this field was when I used to be an obese child. Up until high school, I was clinically obese. I remember my mom taking me to the doctor’s office and the doctor saying, “Okay. Here’s the chart of weight. Here’s you and here’s the obese category. You are squarely in it.” I always struggled with weight. My entire life, I’ve struggled with what I put my mouth in. Thankfully, now I’m no longer in that obese category.

You’re pretty skinny from your photos.

Thanks. That started my fascination with behavioral design because, at one point of my life, I struggled with food and came to this realization, one of the most important realizations I ever made in my life, was that it wasn’t about the food. When I could tell myself and realize that I wasn’t eating because I was hungry, I was eating for other reasons. This is a hallmark of behaviors that go out of control when we are eating for emotional reasons. If you think about it, in your day, how often do we actually eat because we’re hungry? We eat for so many reasons that are not about hunger. We eat because we’re lonely. We eat because we fear to be hungry in the future. We eat when we’re bored.

Living the life you want isn’t just about doing the right things. It’s also about avoiding the wrong things, the things that you will later regret. Click To Tweet

That was a big revelation for me. That was actually my internal triggers. We can get to that a little bit later-about these internal triggers and how they drive distraction because we see some very similar properties. That’s where I got interested in this field. I also got interested in the business side of it. I remember learning about the interesting marketing tactics that companies will use to persuade us. I remember that being quite fascinating at an early age.

That’s awesome. How did you get yourself motivated to lose weight?

It really was about the agency. Once I understood how what I did made a difference in some kind of output, creating that frequent feedback. The problem with behaviors that take a long time to change is that you want immediate gratification. That immediate gratification sometimes can lead us down a potentially dangerous road. This is called hyperbolic discounting in psychology, that we will always value the immediate reward over the longer-term rewards.

At least you’re an Aries like me. I want everything yesterday.

Yeah. This gets into the key message of my book, the idea behind Indistractable. This book about distraction is around why don’t we do what we say we’re going to do? That’s the primary question of this book. I thought I’d write a book about technology distraction, but actually the book is much bigger than just technology distraction. It answers this question, if we know the right answer, we know we should eat right. We don’t. We know we should exercise. We don’t. We know when we get to work, we should sit down on our desk and do that hard project that we’ve been putting off, but we’ll check Slack channels, and email, and procrastinate, and don’t do the things we know we should do.

We should take some comfort in knowing this is not a new problem. People have been literally discussing this problem for all of recorded history. We have literally records of Socrates and Aristotle debating the nature of akrasia, the tendency to do things against our better judgment because this isn’t a new problem. I was particularly fascinated with what’s the answer. Why don’t we do what we say we’re going to do? With all the self-help books out there, with all the gurus, all the courses, we basically know the right answer, but I was fascinated with this understanding that I had. Living the life we want isn’t just about the right things. It’s also about avoiding doing the wrong things, the things that will later regret. That was the jumping-off point for Indistractable.

What was your answer? Why do we not do these things that we need to do?

It comes down to a few things. One, we are not built evolutionarily to properly assess long-term behavior. There’s hyperbolic discounting that makes us value the present moment more than the long-term. We have a hedonic adaptation. Hedonic adaptation is this bias that says that when we get something we like, that we think is going to make us happy, that makes us feel good, it does for a little while. Then, we very quickly adjust to a baseline of happiness. So, that keeps us wanting more and more. There’s also negativity bias. Negativity bias says that we tend to see things in a negative fashion. We tend to fear the negative outcomes more than the potential positive outcomes which mean most of us go through life scared and in a protectionary stance. We think of the world in a scarcity mindset.

All of these quirks, the way our brains function, this cognitive manner, they served us when our species first evolved 2000 years ago on the Serengeti. It was very helpful to have these cognitive biases to help us think quickly and act out of a habitual manner. The problem is in the modern world, many of these tendencies backfire.

We are designed—this is something that was quite a revelation for me—to be dissatisfied. This idea that we’re supposed to be always happy, it’s totally wrong. We’re supposed to have small bursts of happiness, but we are not designed to be satisfied. The reason we’re not designed to be satisfied is that satisfaction is not evolutionarily beneficial. Imagine you had two groups of homo sapiens. One was like us, constantly wanting more and another group of homo sapiens that was like, “Nope. We’re good. We’re all right. I have everything I need.”

Aim for results that invoke delayed gratification rather than instant rewards.

I know some homo sapiens like that.

I bet that they had to work on it. It turns out that these tendencies I described, hedonic adaptation, negativity bias, all of these are actually traits that we see even in infants, some of these traits. It turns out that, that helped our species survive. Being perpetually perturbed is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s what helped our species progress, create medicines, overturn despots, shoot rockets up into the heavens to explore the cosmos.

This tendency to want more and strive farther is not a bad thing. It’s great if we can control it, if we can manage it. If we don’t, then it can control us. That’s the long answer to your question of “Why do we get distracted? Why don’t we do what we say we’re going to do?” It’s because we are not designed for satisfaction.

Do we have control over that?

What’s the answer? The answer is that the antidote to impulsiveness is forethought. What’s so amazing about our species is that we are the only ones who can envision a far-off future. We can imagine. Imagination is one of our defining human traits. The closest thing is very short-term things. Monkeys can do very rudimentary problem-solving. It turns out elephants can do something similar. Squirrels can hide their nuts instinctually for next spring, but nobody or no animal can envision the future and imagine like we can. That is our advantage. That is our killer trait that can help us overcome impulsiveness, is to take action today to prevent us from doing something we don’t want to do, that we’ll later regret tomorrow.

This has always been what the human race has done whenever a distraction has threatened mankind. Scholars have bemoaned all sorts of technological distraction. Facebook and YouTube did not create distraction. Before the latest crop of distractions on our technologies, it was the television, and before that, the radio, and a pinball machine, and the novel. Even Socrates talked about this terrible new technology that is going to enfeeble men’s brains called the written word. This was a terrible technology, to write things down.

This is not a new fear. Every generation thinks it’s special and that there’s somehow this new, unique threat. Each technology change, for sure they’re different. Each age has its own particular distraction to cope with, but how we cope is always the same. The way we cope is by adapting and adopting. We adapt our behavior and we adopt new techniques and new technologies to fix these problems that are caused by technological distraction.

Does it take willpower for us to change it? What’s your take on willpower?

Hopefully, it doesn’t take much willpower. In fact, there’s a lot of evidence that there is a lot of misinformation out there around willpower. One of the most pervasive myths about willpower is that it’s a diminishing resource. It’s called ego depletion, is the clinical name for this. This was studied over a decade ago by a psychologist named Roy Baumeister at Florida State University. He did these studies that basically showed that when people are given a difficult task, their willpower diminished like gas in a tank.

He also showed in some of his studies that there was this remarkable way to replenish willpower which he claimed was giving people sugar. In his case, he gave people lemonade sweetened with sugar and ta-dah, their willpower was restored. A lot of people believed this. I certainly did. For many years, I would come home after a hard day at work, and I would sit on the couch, and I would turn on Netflix, and I would grab a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

I’m spent. I deserve this. I have no more willpower left. I’ll give in to my temptations. Problem is, ego depletion is a myth that more recent studies, that challenged Baumeister’s conclusions, found that ego depletion doesn’t replicate. Particularly, these more magical aspects of sugar replenishing our willpower are just not true. Studies have not replicated that particular study.

I know. I completely disagree with the sugar part. I don’t know about willpower, but you’ll get a sugar spike for a short duration then you will crash and your willpower will be even worse.

The way the brain gets you to do what it wants is by creating an uncomfortable emotional state to get you to act. Click To Tweet

Here’s the interesting thing. The idea that our willpower diminishes like fuel in a tank, it did hold true. There was one study on a particular group of people who did actually exemplify this trait of having ego depletion. That group of people were people who believed in ego depletion. If you were the kind of people who believes, “Uh, I’m spent. I have no more willpower.” It was true. It became true for you.

What happens if it’s been a long day, you’re exhausted, and you want to spark that willpower?

It turns out that the right way to look at willpower is not to say, “I’m spent. I deserve to give in. I’ve got no more willpower left so I’m going to open my freezer and have some Ben & Jerry’s.” The right thing to do is to not look at willpower as a fuel in a tank that you exhaust. Michael Inzlicht is a researcher in Toronto. He says that actually, willpower is an emotion. Just like we wouldn’t say, “Oh, you know I was happy and then I ran out of happy.” That doesn’t make any sense.

I was willpower-y. 

Yeah, exactly. I was out of willpower. It doesn’t make any sense. We don’t say we’re out of happy, or we’re out of anger, or we’re out of sad. You don’t just run out. It’s an emotion like any other emotion. Part of what I talk about in the book, Indistractable, is part of being indistractable is learning to manage these uncomfortable emotional states. This is the key to doing what we say we’re going to do.

Why is it the key? We have to understand and start with first principles here, what is the motivation? Why do we do everything? Not only why we get distracted, but why do we do anything? Most people think that the answer is that we do things because we seek pleasure and we avoid pain. This is called Freud’s pleasure principle, but it turns out that it’s not true. We don’t do things to seek pleasure and avoid the pain that in fact, neurologically speaking, it’s all pain.

Everything we do is a desire to escape discomfort. Even seeking a pleasurable response like doing something that feels good. We do because of desire, wanting, and craving. There’s a reason we say love hurts and that feeling is uncomfortable. The way the brain gets us to do what it wants is by creating an uncomfortable emotional state to get us to act.

We see this in the body. Of course, it’s quite obvious with the physiological response. For example, if you feel cold, that doesn’t feel comfortable. You put on a coat. If it’s hot, you take it off. If you’re hungry, you feel hunger pangs. You eat. If you’re full, that doesn’t feel good, you’re stuffed. You stop eating. Those are physiological responses. That’s called the homeostatic response.

The same exact thing holds true when it comes to our psychological responses. When we’re lonely, we check Facebook. When we’re uncertain, we Google. When we’re bored, we check YouTube, or reddit, or stock prices, or the news, or whatever.

All of these things are spurred by uncomfortable emotional states. What that means is, if all of our behaviors are a desire to escape discomfort, then that means that time management is pain management. In order to what we want to do and the reason we don’t do the things we know we should is because we don’t know how to manage discomfort. There are only really two solutions. We can either fix the source of the discomfort, do something about it, or learn to cope with the discomfort in circumstances that we can’t change.

Wow. I love what you said, that time management is pain management. I’ve never heard that before. You were talking about those uncomfortable emotional states. What are some ways to manage those states?

There are two things that I recommend. One is to fix the problem. In the book, I talk about, “Where is the source of our discomfort?” We live in the most peaceful, prosperous, well-educated, most democratic time in human history. What are we so pissed off about? Our ancestors would have dreamed of living in this day and age where we relatively have things really good compared to how people have survived for all of human history. Not for everyone, of course. I’m not naive. There are definitely people who are suffering in the world. There’s no doubt about it, but I’m guessing most of your listeners are in a country and enjoy a lifestyle that frankly, kings would have dreamed about. What are we missing? Why are we so perturbed all the time?

The idea is to either fix the source of the problem, from wherever it’s coming from. There’s a whole section of the book in the workplace. It turns out that a lot of our discomfort in this day and age comes from where people spend most of their time—at work. That work actually creates a condition that has been shown to not only be correlated with depression and anxiety disorder, but a certain type of workplace actually causes depression and anxiety disorder. These are workplaces that have been identified as having these two traits at the same time, places where there are high expectations coupled with low control.

You can have one or the other, but you can’t have both. What I found in my research, that a huge source of why we are so distractible is that we are searching for an escape from these uncomfortable sensations caused by dysfunctional workplace cultures. That’s a big, big part of how we can fix these internal triggers. Do something about it. It’s not good enough just to meditate all day. We actually have to fix the problem and fix these dysfunctional workplace cultures.

Evaluate internal and external triggers that mess with productivity.

Many things in life, we can’t fix. We can’t always change the circumstances which cause pain. Some things in life, we just have to learn how to cope with. With that, there are really three techniques. There’s a learning to reimagine the trigger, reimagining the task, the thing that we’re getting distracted from, or another technique is to reimagine our temperament, reimagine our capabilities. All of that fits into one step of becoming indistractable. Becoming indistractable requires these four major steps. The first step of which is mastering these internal triggers.

It sounds too good to be true.

I didn’t say it was easy.

The way you say it is like, “Yay. You just manage those and that’s it.” On top of those, there are a lot of external things that can affect us like relationship problems, money stress, sickness, and things like that. Let’s go deeper. How do we manage those states and in relation to our motivation? Because work is not an isolated thing. I work in a work-life balance, they say, but they’re intertwined, they’re connected. When you are not happy at home, your work life can be suffering and vice versa, so how do you manage that?

That leads me to the next step of becoming indistractable which makes time for traction. What’s the opposite of distraction? The opposite of distraction is traction. Traction is defined by me as actions that pull you towards what you want in life. Traction and distraction actually come from the same Latin root, meaning to pull. Traction and distraction come from the same root. Traction pulls you towards what you want in life. These are actions you take that are in accordance with what you want to do. You do them with intent. Distraction is the opposite, Things that move you away from what you really want to do.

Now, how do you manage these worst place stressors? After you figured out ways to master the internal triggers which we talked about first, the next thing you want to do is to turn your values into time because part of making time for traction in your day, the things you want to do in your life, is about assessing your values. Why do we have to assess our values? What are values? What’s the definition of values?

Values are attributes of the person we want to become. You never achieve values any more than you might achieve becoming creative. It doesn’t work that way. We constantly strive to have these attributes of the person we want to become. Day after day, we wake up and we want to be a certain type of person. Those values are attributes of that person. I’m not going to tell you what your values are. Only you can decide what they are for you. What one person finds as a valuable use of their time and is consistent with their values might not be for somebody else, but these values all fall in these three domains: of things that we do for ourselves, the me domain; things that we do for our relationships, what I call the relationship domain; and finally the work domain.

What you have to do to make sure that you are consistent with your values and turn your values into time is to look at those three domains of your life and allocate time on your schedule in a way that you can physically see, whether it’s on paper or on a screen, for how you want to spend your time. Because the fact is, in this day and age, if you don’t plan your day, somebody’s going to plan it for you. We have no right to call things distracting unless we know what they distracted us from.

We can’t say, “Oh my gosh. Everything’s so distracting. I can’t get anything done. I’m going from one thing to the other to the next.” You can’t say that unless you know what you got distracted from. The only way to know that is by writing down what it is you intended to do.

Again, I’m not going to tell you morally why doing one thing is any better than the other. If you find a lot of satisfaction, if it’s consistent with your values to watch YouTube videos, or read romance novels, or spend time on Facebook, or watching videos on Netflix, go for it. If that’s consistent with your values, great. Do it. There’s nothing wrong with it as long as you plan that time in your day.

The problem we have today, most people, two-thirds of the population turns out, don’t plan their day so everything is a potential distraction. That’s the second step. We have to make time for traction by turning our values into time. I built this tool where anybody can go to this website and actually create a template for what their ideal week looks like. It’s totally free.

I want to go back to the question that I asked you before. This is all good and it’s a very left brain. It’s very structured. It looks great on paper, but when people experience emotional things, again like sickness, money, stress, relationship, what are some other things other than a structure or looking at, “Okay, let me see it. What am I distracted from? I am distracted from sickness,” for example. My value is to take care of my business, but it’s in the way, so how do I bridge the gap?

Your job is to not worry about outputs. Your job is to worry about inputs because we can’t control the outcomes of our efforts unless we control the inputs, but so many of our outputs are out of our control. Think about how messed up the average productivity advice is. The average productivity advice says, “Keep a to-do list. Write down all the things you want to do and then they’ll magically get done.” You see, you’re laughing because you know it doesn’t work.

If all of our behaviors are a desire to escape discomfort, then that means that time management is pain management. Click To Tweet

How many times do we keep a list of things to do and it gets passed over to the next day, and the next day, and the next day, and the next day? Forever and ever. It doesn’t work because that’s a list of output. Where is the list of the inputs? The one input that we do have control over is our time. There’s nothing wrong with a to-do list, but it’s only half of the solution. The other half of the solution is putting the time on your calendar to do those things. Nothing goes on my to-do list unless it’s also in my calendar.

I’ll give you a very personal problem that I had around sleep. Every night, I started making time for sleep, but I couldn’t fall asleep. I would wake up consistently at [3:00] AM, and I’d toss and turn, and then I’d start stressing out on how I couldn’t get back to sleep. I did some research and found out that the number one cause of insomnia is fear and rumination about insomnia, like, “I can’t fall asleep. I’ve got a big presentation tomorrow.” You ruminate about the problem and it makes it worse. Now, we can’t sleep.

The output of getting to sleep is not my job. My job was to make sure that I was in bed at [10:00] PM every night so that I could allow my body the opportunity to get the rest it needed. Then, I started to repeat this mantra so that I could diffuse this rumination cycle. What I told myself was this, every night when I wake up at [3:00] AM and I couldn’t fall back asleep, I would repeat to myself, “The body gets what the body needs.” By repeating that mantra and telling myself, “The body gets what the body needs. Stop ruminating. Stop stressing out about this. It’s going to be fine. You went to bed on time. You put in the input.” Guess what happened? I relaxed and I could start falling asleep.

That’s good. That’s great.

As opposed to stressing about it, I could fall asleep naturally by letting myself off the hook for the output. The same exact thing happens when I write everyday. I can’t guarantee that I’m going to come up with a brilliant idea that’s going to save the world when I sit down every day to write. But if I waited for that brilliant idea, it would never come. Instead, what I have to do is to make sure that I put in the input. The input gets my butt in this chair, in front of this screen, and the keyboard ready to start writing, and don’t get distracted by anything else. Then if I start writing, there’s a chance, at least, that the outcome will happen.

We have to control the inputs, not the output. No matter what our circumstances are, no matter what our limitations are, we always have something we can control and that input is our time. We have to show up. It turns out, much more often, when we don’t accomplish our goals and when we don’t get what we want in life, it’s not because of the fact that we showed up and things didn’t happen in our favor. It’s because we didn’t even show up. We didn’t go to the gym. We didn’t sit down to write that novel. We didn’t focus on the work we knew we needed to do. We weren’t fully present with the people in our lives. The most important thing is to show up. The inputs matter more than the outputs.

Nice. You talked about reframing your thoughts. You reframed the whole idea of sleep and then you had a part of it that had something to do with letting go, trusting your body, and trusting yourself. The moment you let go of the attachment to sleep, sleep happened. What are some technologies you use to get yourself motivated?

It’s interesting. I wear this ring called the Oura Ring.

I have it, too. I love it.

I’ll tell you why I love the Oura Ring so much. I love it because it has a wonderful placebo effect. This is super interesting. Part of the problem with not sleeping is that we only remember the parts when we were awake. We don’t realize how much we were awake for. What was happening in my case, I would wake up in the morning, my wife saying, “Hey, how did you sleep?” this was before I got the Oura Ring. I would say, “I had a terrible night sleep.” I was tossing and turning all night long.

Then, when I’ve got the Oura Ring before I would check how well I slept, my wife would ask me, “How did you sleep?” I would say, “I slept really, really, poorly. I was up all night.” It turns out the Oura Ring would tell me, “Actually, you only tossed and turned for 10 minutes.” It was 10 minutes, the only 10 minutes you remember. We actually know that there is a real placebo effect on the way people believe that they slept to how they function throughout the day. 

There have been studies where they take groups of people and they tell them, “You had a terrible night’s sleep. We monitored your sleep.” They put electrodes in their heads, etc. They act like they’re monitoring their sleep. They say they had horrible sleep, it was terrible. Then, they ask them how they function throughout the day. Of course, people report, “I was groggy. I was tired.” It’s called a nocebo effect. It’s the opposite of the placebo. 

Plan out your day and leave no room for distractions.

Then they did the study in reverse where they made sure that people have a terrible night’s sleep. They played loud music. They interrupted them throughout the night to make them wake up. Then they told them when they woke up, “Guess what? You had a wonderful night’s sleep,” and they functioned perfectly fine. That’s probably the thing I liked most about this Oura Ring. Even in the night that I think I slept horribly, I look at the data from the ring, and it says I actually had a great night sleep.

These data can backfire because I experienced some bronchitis for a while. It was horrible. I couldn’t really function. Then, I checked the Oura Ring and every day my sleep score is 30. You see the 30 and you’re off. For me, a good night’s sleep is between 80 and up. Seeing that 30 for seven or eight days in a row was very difficult.

For you, you had to fix the problem. There was no coping. You had to actually fix the source of the problem.

I had to get better.

Yeah. To all our problems, there is usually a physiological response. In your case, it was bronchitis. There’s also the psychological element. Many times even without the physiological element, the psychological elements remain. As the case with most insomnia sufferers, it’s not that there’s anything physically wrong with you most of the time as it was in my case. There wasn’t actually wrong with me. It was that I was psyching myself up. I was ruminating as opposed to saying, “You know what? I made time to get the output. As long as I’m here in bed, the body gets what the body needs.” 

Nice. Do you have any other technology that you like?

I use all kinds of habit-forming technology to help change my behaviors. When I go to the gym, I use this app called Fitbod that I really like. They actually built the app with my hook model from my first book. It’s really great to see it. I love the product. It works really, well. There’s so many.

I use this technique called Temptation Bundling that I described in the book. Temptation Bundling is when you use a reward from something you like to help incentivize you to do something you don’t really like. My rule is that I never read articles online. I love reading stuff that’s on the internet. I just don’t want to read on my browser. What do I do? My rule is I never read anything online. I save it to an app called Pocket. When I save it to Pocket, there’s this other app called Voice Dream that will read my Pocket articles to me in this great voice. It sounds a little bit like a robot, but it’s not terrible. You can definitely understand every word. I love reading articles. I’m a writer so that to me is fun. I love listening to good literature and good writing.

My rule is that I can listen to that content when I’m in the gym or when I’m taking a walk or doing something physical. I take my little AirPods when I’m listening to these articles. That’s another technology. Using this what’s called Temptation Bundling or what I call Multichannel Multitasking. There’s this idea that you can’t multitask. That’s not exactly true. We actually can multitask as long as the input is on different channels. You can’t listen to two podcast at the same time. You can’t do math problems at the same time, but you can walk while listening to a podcast. You can exercise while listening or while watching TV, for example. That’s another technology that I used to form these healthy habits.

That’s great. You got motivated. You got willpower. You have healthy habits.

You don’t need willpower. That’s the nice part. Or you don’t need too much of it. Everybody has enough. 

But we’re still making bad decisions many times. Why is that? How can we fix that?

Again, the antidote to impulsiveness to making these bad decisions is forethought. What else can we do? Let’s see. The first step was we master these internal triggers. We figure out how to either change a circumstance or learn better techniques for coping with discomfort. There’s a whole big section in the book on how to do that. Then we have to make time for traction which we talked about, turning our values into time. We have a calendar, a schedule, for what is traction versus what is a distraction. Anything that’s not on that calendar is a distraction. 

It is only by actively reflecting on the principles you learn and putting them into practice, that you can expect them to change your life. Click To Tweet

The next step is to hack back external triggers. External triggers are these pings, dings, rings, all of these things that prompt us to either traction or distraction. Let’s say I get a notification on my phone that says, “Hey, it’s time to exercise,” or “It’s time for lunch with that friend,” that’s traction. That’s moving me towards what I want to do. If it’s a notification I get while I’m in the middle of hanging out with friends or my daughter or whatever, that is something that is now a distraction. It’s moving me away from what I wanted to do. 

The idea is, how can we hack back these external triggers? I give people very concrete tactics to remove these external triggers that don’t serve us on our phones or laptops. That, of course, is the easy stuff. Then, there are all these external triggers people don’t think about. For example, the open floor plan office. One of the greatest sources of distraction we see at work is the fact that we are constantly interrupted by our colleagues. Not that there’s anything wrong with socializing, it’s great to socialize with our colleagues, but not when we’re in the middle of doing focused work. How do we hack back distractions in these external triggers inside meetings? In the workplace? In group chat? All these circumstances where we have to hack back external triggers.

The cool thing is that we can actually use technology to fight technology distraction. For example, when I use Facebook or YouTube, I use Chrome extensions to hack back these products in the way I want as opposed to the way the app maker wants me to use them. For example, when I use Facebook, I use the Facebook News Feed Eradicator that literally scrubs away the Facebook Newsfeed, so I don’t have to see it. If I want to check all of my friends, I could still do that. I can go to individual friends and see what they’re up to, but I don’t want to see the newsfeed because it’s distracting.

Oh my God, the news feed. It’s not only distracting, but it’s also sometimes depressing. There are so many bad articles. You’ll see two or three posts that are happy and positive. Then, all of a sudden, one that is just heartwrenching, terrible, and can give you nightmares.

Right. Guess what? You don’t have to look at it anymore. All you have to do is install this free Chrome extension, it doesn’t cost a dime. You can hack back the technologies so that it serves you as opposed to you serving it. The nice thing is, there ain’t nothing Mark Zuckerberg can do about it. He can’t change it. We can do this with all sorts of applications. I give many techniques that you can use to hack back these triggers in various environments.

Tell me more.

Okay. Just a review, we’ve mastered internal triggers. We’ve made time for traction. We hack back external triggers. The last step is to prevent distraction with packs. Preventing distraction with packs using these very ancient technique called the pre-commitment device. The first example of a pre-commitment device in recorded history was used by Ulysses in the Odyssey written by Homer 2500 years ago. Ulysses is this hero that has to sail his ship back home. On his way back home, he knows that he will encounter the Island of the Sirens. The Sirens sing these magical songs that anybody who hears it becomes enchanted, under the spell, and crashes their ship on to the shores of the Siren’s Island. 

Ulysses knows it’s going to happen. He prevents the distraction by planning ahead. The antidote to impulsiveness is forethought. Here’s what he does, he tells his crew to put beeswax in their ears. He tells them to bind him to the mast of the ship. He tells them, “No matter what I do, no matter what I say, don’t let me go.” You know what? It works. He sails the ship right pass the Island of the Sirens. He doesn’t do something he doesn’t want to do. He doesn’t get distracted. 

What do we learn from this? We can use these pre-commitments to avoid doing something we don’t want to do by considering it in advance. We see this in day-to-day life. For example, a savings account that we want to access when we retire as opposed to right now. What do we do? We have penalties for early withdrawal. For example, if you take money out of your 401(k) or your IRA, you incur stiff penalties if you take out that money before its time. 

If you think about what is a marriage for? Why do people get married? Why do they take this vow in front of their community? In front of their God making this promise? Because that promise prevents them from doing something they don’t want to do, hopefully, such as infidelity because they made a statement to the community. This is something they promised to uphold forever and ever. It’s a binding device. 

How can we use these to fight distraction? There are three types of packs: price packs, effort packs, and identity packs. Effort packs are about putting some bit of friction, some bit of effort, to doing something we don’t want to do. For example, in my house, every night, the internet router shuts off at 10 PM. Now, I could find a way around it.

The reason why a behavior takes a long time to change is that people want immediate gratification. Click To Tweet

Can you make my husband do that?

Sure, I’ll tell him all about it. It’s a great technique. By the way, I’ve got to warn you, you have to do these pre-commitment devices, last. Don’t skip the order. The fact is if you haven’t dealt with the internal triggers that drive you to distraction, you inflict one of these pre-commitment devices, and you haven’t dealt with the internal triggers, you’re always going to get distracted by something. You’ll find a way around it. This is what you do last, 4th, or it’s going to backfire.

Once you decide, “I mastered the internal triggers. I made time for traction. I put the sleep time in my schedule,” it literally says, “when my bedtime is in my schedule. I remove the external triggers.” For example, you don’t have any technology, no television in the bedroom, because we don’t want those external triggers where they don’t serve us. Then, the final step was to make this effort pack that every night the internet shuts off at [10:00] PM, that’s an effort pack.

A price pack might be some cost, some fee associated with getting distracted. Finally, an identity pack is probably the most powerful of the three. An identity pack is where the way we see ourselves helps us stay true to our values. It helps us stay true to what we decided what we want to do. This revelation, I observed, when I look at religion, and when you think about how every religion has this idea of proselytizing. Every major religion has this idea of bringing new adherence to the fold. Every Judaism, religious Jews want to convert the non-religious Jews. The Christians want to convert non-Christians. The Muslims want to bring in new adherence.

They want to convert the whole world. 

Exactly. Why is that? One aspect is bringing new people into the fold. I actually think that’s the lesser reason. The more important reason from a physiological standpoint is that when we teach others, we reinforce our own identity. There’s an old joke that says, “How do you know someone’s a vegetarian?” “Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.” I was a vegetarian for five years. When I told people I was a vegetarian, it’s not only about, “Oh, you should be a vegetarian, too.”

It’s about identity and pride.

Identity, exactly. This is the reason why my book is entitled Indistractable. I want to create this new moniker that we can use to describe to other people why we do these things. Why is it that we don’t respond to every text message immediately? Why is it that we have carved out sacred time on our nights and weekends to be with our family and friends? Why is it that we’re not constantly in our Slack channels and group chats? These rules around, “Oh, I’m sorry. I have certain restrictions around my time because I am indistractable.” That identity is incredibly empowering. That’s it. That’s the basics of the model.

Now, I gave you the model, the strategy. There are lots and lots of tactics. Essentially, the tactics are how do we do this? How do we master the internal triggers? How do we make time for traction? How do we hack back external triggers? How do we use pre-commitments to prevent distraction packs?

Nice. How do you increase your creativity?

I don’t try to increase creativity directly. I increase creativity by making sure I have the time to be creative. 

I thought you would say something like that. Just bring your ass on the chair and write.

Exactly, even if it’s crap. The thing is, when you see someone who does creative work, I don’t care what field it is. You are not seeing all the bad stuff they produce. You’re not seeing the first draft. You’re only seeing the final product. We have this perception that being creative means that soon as I start writing, it’ll be perfect. It’ll be beautiful. It never works out that way. The best authors you can think of, I promise you, their first draft is horrible. It’s abysmal. The reason they’re able to produce something that we admire is that they keep doing it consistently. Always remember, it’s consistency over intensity.

Nice. I’m writing a book right now. It’s all about embracing a new identity. It’s all about embracing and creating an alter ego. I was taking a speaking course, a very long one, eight-month-long one. It was like an undergrad program. I shared my material with somebody else. Somebody said, “This reminds me of that new alter ego book that is really famous lately.” My ideas are mine. I feel like they’re genuine. There is somebody else that is talking about alter ego which is like a concept that was talked about thousands and thousands of years ago. I probably have a completely different take about it. What do you do when your idea and somebody else’s idea sounds similar?

This is a great question. It’s such a creativity killer. It’s a terrific question. Here’s the thing, there’s nothing new under the sun. Even the people who you think are super creative, they’re adapting all the ideas. All of us do this. We all live in the context of our environment. This comes to mind because my daughter’s super into Harry Potter

How old is she?

She’s 10 years old.

Oh, how cute.

When you’re into Harry Potter, she didn’t create these ideas of broomsticks, ghosts, and wizards. These are almost trites and cliches. What she did was remixed and reformulate with her own special genius, these old existing ideas. I like to call it making jazz. Jazz was the confluence of European instruments, the trombone, the trumpet, the bass guitar, all of these European instruments mixed with African inspired beats and rhythms. That integration of these two worlds made something new and beautiful. Each of us has that capability. Each of us has the capability to make jazz. We take what exists out there and we give it our own unique spin.

It’s also important to understand why we do these things. If your metric of success is a New York Times Bestseller, you’re baking on output. Again, as we talked about earlier, you’re baking on the output. But again, you can’t control the output. There are too many exogenous factors that have to do with the output. You have to align why you’re doing these things and make sure that you’re putting in the input. 

For example, when I write, believe it or not, I don’t write for the reader, I write for me. I write the kind of book that I want to read. Meaning, some authors will write a book after they know something. I write a book because I want to know something. If other people also want to know the answer to that problem that I’m struggling with, well then, terrific. We’ll both benefit from it.

I felt like my process is a mix of both, like lessons I learned and things I’m discovering. As I write, I discover more and more ways to discover more and more ways.

Yeah. Even at that methodology, you can’t lose. You can’t fail. Why? Even if nobody buys your book, the worst-case scenario is you wrote something you wanted. You answered your question. If you want to become an author because you want to get rich, you’re just bad at math. You can apply this to startups. You can apply this to all kinds of fields. It’s very difficult to bake on becoming a new success. That’s the wrong reason to start writing.

But for me, it’s a part of my legacy. Yes, everybody wants to write a book because it’s a status symbol. It’s something that can get you speaking gigs and have people will talk about you. I think, for me, I do write because I’m passionate about the topic. I’m excited when I’m sharing it with people.

And that’s terrific. I would encourage you to consider whether that’s even too high of a standard. In the long run, we’re all dead. In the long run, people will remember Mozart and Einstein. That’s the reality. In a thousand years, the most famous people you know alive today will have been forgotten, even this idea of legacy.

Okay, maybe not legacy. I want to leave something for my children. 

That’s legacy.

But my children. I’m not talking about a thousand years in the future.

That’s output driven.


Love the work. Write to answer your questions even if nobody reads it, follow your curiosity, that’s pure. That’s the right reason. I hope it’s helpful.

It’s really helpful.

Good. It’s the only way I know to not fail. 

What are your three top tips on how to living a Stellar Life?

Top three tips, I’ll only do one at a time here. I don’t know if I can come up with three. 

Is that a limiting belief?

Okay, I’ll give you one. One is this mantra I have of, “It’s just prom.” What does that mean? “It’s just a prom.” Did you go to high school in the United States? I can’t remember.

No. I’ve never been into a prom. I only saw it on TV. I saw a lot of clingy teenagers with broken hearts.

Okay, you get the idea. It’s this really big deal, senior year of high school, everybody gets so excited and stressed out. It becomes a big thing. There’s an invariable, people cry about it, and fight about it. It’s the biggest deal ever. You’re laughing because, in retrospect, it’s stupid. Who cares? 

Whenever I get worked up about something and about some problems in my life, I try to put things in perspective. Somebody just gave me this advice one time when I was raising money for my last startup. I was asking for millions of dollars from these super high profile investors. I was really super nervous. He told me, “Look, it’s just prom. You’ll look back on this someday. It’s no big deal.” That exactly what happened. Now, I try to remind myself, “It’s just prom.”

A second rule for living, this is a William James quote that I really like. He said, “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” That wisdom comes from what you choose not to attend to. Again, it’s not about the things you do necessarily. It’s not just about doing the right things. It’s about not doing the wrong things. I think that’s very profound.

The last rule for living that I have is that real success is being happy for the success of others. It’s so easy for us to compare ourselves to others and to let jealousy creep into our lives. My metrics for success when I ask myself, “Am I successful?” it’s not how many people bought my books. It’s not how I’m doing financially. It’s, can I be truly happy for people when they succeed? When I love somebody or appreciate somebody, am I truly happy for their success? It’s easy to do when it’s your kid or your spouse or your family member, but can I be truly happy for another author who writes a book that’s very similar to mine? Because I like them personally because I know them. Can I be happy for them? Can I be happy for my friends when they are more successful than I am? That to me is a real success, sincere success.

That’s wonderful. You have so many tools on your website. You have two books that are extraordinary. You have a lot of wisdom that people can learn from. Where can people find you? Get your products and connect with you?

Thank you. Let’s see. Indistractable, the book comes out on September 10th. That’s available wherever books are sold. If you are listening to this podcast before September 10, 2019, then you can actually start reading the book immediately if you go to indistractable.com. If you buy the book somewhere else whether it’s an audiobook or an ebook, whatever you preorder somewhere else, you can actually get the entire manuscript emailed to you immediately, and start reading it before everyone else does. If you’re listening to this after September 10, you can get the book wherever books are sold. You can get all kinds of goodies, freebies, and tools that I provided at indistractable.com. If you just want to read more of my work, it’s at nirandfar.com.

Thank you so much, Nir. This is was a pleasure.

My pleasure. This was a lot of fun. Thank you, Orion.

Thank you. Thank you, listeners. Remember, it’s just prom. Wisdom comes from what you choose not to attend to and be happy about the success of others. Have a Stellar Life. This is Orion, until next time.

Your Checklist of Actions to Take

{✓} Take advantage of technology to make your life better. Some apps and gadgets can help optimize different life activities such as working out, sleeping, meditating, and more. 
{✓} Aim for results that invoke delayed gratification rather than instant rewards. Happiness on a whim usually dissipates quicker, which leads to a never-ending cycle of bad habits.
{✓} Find the source of discomfort and fix it. Internalize why you’re doing what you’re doing, and make a list if necessary. Understanding your feelings will help you deal with underlying issues and get results quicker. 
{✓} Evaluate internal and external triggers for behaviors that affect your productivity. If you can understand your triggers, it will be easier to create a plan to counteract them.
{✓} Learn to cope in circumstances that you cannot control. Sometimes the best thing to do is to embrace the situation as it is.
{✓} Track your development after you implement strategies and tools to help you become more productive. If a method doesn’t work, don’t hesitate to find another that is better for you. 
{✓} Plan out your day and stick to it with the help of Nir’s schedule maker so that there is little to no room left for distraction.
{✓} Create a mantra to help motivate you internally. This type of meditation can help you find your balance and develop a healthy mindset to get things done.
{✓} Be consistent and always be open to learning new things. According to Nir Eyal, consistency is better than intensity.
{✓} Grab a copy of Nir Eyal’s book, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.

Links and Resources

About Nir Eyal

Nir Eyal ‘s first book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, is an international bestseller and taught Silicon Valley how to design behavior. His next book, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, reveals the Achilles’ heel of distraction and provides a guidebook for getting the best of technology without letting it get the best of us. Nir blogs at: NirAndFar.com

Disclaimer: The medical, fitness, psychological, mindset, lifestyle, and nutritional information provided on this website and through any materials, downloads, videos, webinars, podcasts, or emails are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical/fitness/nutritional advice, diagnoses, or treatment. Always seek the help of your physician, psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, certified trainer, or dietitian with any questions regarding starting any new programs or treatments or stopping any current programs or treatments. This website is for information purposes only, and the creators and editors, including Orion Talmay, accept no liability for any injury or illness arising out of the use of the material contained herein, and make no warranty, express or implied, with respect to the contents of this website and affiliated materials.

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