Author Nir Eyal brought us Hooked, a look at how to design digital products that keep us coming back. Now he’s written Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. He’s been paying attention (no pun intended) to the ways we give in to tech and make excuses for it. This book gives us a practical plan for getting back to the real world.
Transcript by Otter.ai
Adam Pierno 0:22
Alright, welcome back to another episode of The Strategy Inside Everything. We are taking a break from talking about marketing and strategy, but we’re taking a new look at it with someone who has a very interesting point of view. I am joined today by Nir Eyal who is an author, you’ve probably read his work. Most of you know him from the book Hooked, which is how I was introduced to him here. Thank you very much for joining us.
Nir Eyal 0:50
My pleasure. Thanks for having me on.
Adam Pierno 0:52
And as great as Hooked is and I have some questions about both books. I know that I was lucky enough to read your new book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. I was able to preview it. So thank you so much for giving me a sneak peek.
Nir Eyal 1:08
Oh, thank you for reading. I can’t wait to hear what you think of it, too.
Adam Pierno 1:11
Well, we did chit chat a little bit about it before, but I liked it quite a bit. But before before we dive into both of your fantastic works, would you give the audience a little sense of who you are and and where you’ve been and what you’ve done?
Nir Eyal 1:26
So yeah, so I started out in the gaming and advertising space back in 2007, we started a company that was putting ads inside the apps. But back in the day apps didn’t mean iPhone apps, apps meant Facebook apps, because the Apple App Store didn’t exist back in 2007. And so that’s where I had this bird’s eye view of these apps that were being created on the Facebook platform. And within a very short period of time, they were able to spread to millions of people very, very quickly. And I became fascinated what by how many of my clients, you know, these these companies would kind of, you know, reach millions of people and some of them would continue and do very well. And then some of them would just die. And so I became fascinated by the consumer psychology behind how these apps and products are made and distributed and, and what makes them so sticky. And so I dove into that psychology of consumer behavior after my last company was acquired. I spent several years studying the psychology of what makes habit forming products and I, I was lucky enough to go to Stanford for Business School, and then I, I connected with an old professor of mine there. And we taught a class together for many years about behavioral design. Then later on, I started teaching a class of my own at the design school at Stanford around habit formation, that became my book Hooked, which is all about how to build habit forming products. And so the idea behind Hooked was to help people building products and services out there, use some of the best techniques available, the kind of techniques that keeps us hooked to Facebook and Instagram and WhatsApp and Slack and Snapchat. How can we use those very same techniques for good. How can we build healthy habits using the same techniques? So Hooked was published in 2014. So far, it’s sold about a quarter million copies. It exceeded my expectations for sure. But then the question I constantly heard of the past five years was, what about the fact that we’re all getting to be too Hooked? Yeah, that’s where that’s where I want to I want to ask you some questions about it.
Adam Pierno 3:25
So I was internet, look, it must have just come out, maybe 2015, I was given a copy of it. And I’ve since given out a bunch of copies myself. And it’s, it’s a fascinating book, because for a couple of reasons, one, your writing style is just very accessible. So it’s, it’s it’s technical, but it doesn’t feel technical. It feels very easy to read, and I think I breeze through it and in a couple of days, maybe a couple of flights. So because of your style, the subject matter that you’re covering, on one hand, it feels like a how to book and this is a way too, then people’s will or to capture people’s attention. But because of the because of your voice, there’s almost like a peeking beside the peeking inside that curtain aspect to it that’s like, hey, look, come here, I’m going to let you in on this secret. And it’s like your buddy telling you like pay attention. This is how you’re getting trapped. So I want to talk to you about it, because I’ve noticed on social to you play the role of both the expert in this behavior from a follow this path to build products like this, but also you walk the line of like, hey, they’re taking advantage of you in this way. And it’s it for me if I feel both sides of that, continue.
Nir Eyal 4:40
Yeah, well, it’s you know, it’s interesting. So the nice part is that I’m kind of an objective source here, you know, there’s a there and I felt the problem acutely, right. So I remember after Hooked was published, I sat down with my daughter, we were playing together, we had some some daddy daughter time together, and I remember that I became distracted by myself, I don’t even know what I was looking at the time but I kind of, you know, flub this perfect, beautiful daddy daughter moment, because I had gotten hooked. And that’s when I decided, you know what, I really need to figure this out, I need to figure out why is it that despite the fact that I know how these companies designed these products to get us, why is it that I myself am struggling? And so I went on this kind of quest to figure out how to put technology in its place. And, and I discovered that there’s a lot more to distraction than I originally thought, you know, I bought every book I could find, you can see most of them, you know, on the bookcase behind me here, we’re doing a video chat. So you can see those, those books. And they all basically said the same thing. They all said, Get rid of the technology, right? The technology is the problem. Just get rid of it. Yeah, finally, it was that easy, right? Yeah. And I tried it frankly, I did the digital detox I did to the digital Sabbath and the digital minimalism and it didn’t work. And the reason it didn’t work was for several reasons. Number one is that, you know, this stuff is such an important part of our lives these days. It’s really nice if you’re some you know, professor that doesn’t have a social media account, it doesn’t need these tools, but I rely on this stuff for my livelihood. And I love it, you know, the, the number of friends that I would not be able to keep in touch with were not for these technologies, it would really be a detriment to my life to not connect with these folks. Number two, is that you know, these companies are not going away. So just willing these technologies to no no longer exist is, is trying to, you know, close Pandora’s box, it’s too late, they’re out there. And if anything, technology is just going to become more habit forming and potentially more distracting. So it behooves us to learn how to deal with it. So and then many Most importantly, out of these three reasons that the third reason was that I realized that I didn’t figure out the source of these distractions. I didn’t figure out the underlying psychology of distraction because you know, I got myself a flip phone, many of these books tell you, you know, technology is the problem.
Adam Pierno 6:53
So get rid of Facebook in order to go to go to monochrome or black and white on your own.
Nir Eyal 6:58
Yeah, yeah. And I tried all that stuff. I live. I tried every single technique I could find. And it didn’t work because you know, I’d get out my my flip phone and I get out my I bought this here I could I could show it to you. I got this. I got this word processor, you can see I got this 1990s word processor and it has no internet connection. And this is what I used to write on. But here’s the thing I would sit down to write and say, okay, no Facebook, no internet, no, nothing. I’m just gonna do what I’m going to get rid of all these technologies. And then I look behind me I say, Oh, you know what? There’s that book on the bookcase I’ve been meaning to read. And that’s where the trash to probably taken out. And you know the laundry, I should probably go fold some laundry. And I kept getting distracted because I didn’t understand the deeper psychology behind why we get distracted in the first place. So I started to write a book with this idea of like, I’m going to tell people how to put technology away how to get unhooked. And then I realized that actually, the problem isn’t the technology The problem is also us. That’s fashion starts from within. That’s where I wanted to go because I know when your best
Adam Pierno 8:00
background, I when I started reading the book, I was all like, okay, it’s going to be about technology, it’s going to be about how to break out of that. But it’s very quick, a smart thing that you do is you set up, you use the anecdote of that quality time with your daughter, where you get distracted by your phone, and you forget what the make believe game you’re playing was. But you set up at the very outset, hey, this is what I thought was happening. But that’s not correct. And what we need to do is go a little bit deeper. And so how far into the writing process were you when you realized, Hey, this is no, no, this is a human behavioral trait and challenge. And it’s not because Steve Jobs had a vision for making a really smooth piece of glass. It took me a long time. So the book took me
Nir Eyal 8:45
a long time, it took me five years to write this book. And the reason it took me that long is because I basically wrote it like three or four times. And then I threw out a bunch of this stuff that I didn’t work, you know, I thought I would recommend, you know, grey screen your phone and, you know, delete Facebook and do all that stuff. And that stuff didn’t work. Because like I said, I would get distracted by something. Because I hadn’t dealt with what was really going on in my life. And that was a big insight for me that you know, it distraction is nothing new. I mean, Plato and Aristotle talked about the nature of a cross. Yeah, this tendency, this word, this Greek word, that means the tendency to do things against our better interests. They talked about it 2500 years ago, YouTube and Facebook did not invent distraction, people have been getting distracted for a very, very long time. And what it takes is us understanding why we get distracted in the first place. And we’re not just talking about technological distraction. We’re talking about distraction in the workplace, we’re talking about distraction with our friends, our family. The idea behind the book is how do we get ourselves to do what we know we should do? We know we should exercise? We don’t we know we should eat healthy, we don’t we know we should sit down on our desk and do that big project, that big assignment. But we’ll check slack for a few minutes. And we’ll check email for just a few minutes. We don’t do what we know we should, right not. And that’s the big question in the book.
Adam Pierno 10:04
No, and it’s a downward cycle or downward spiral. When you when you’re at your desk, and you’re well, I’ll just take a quick break. And I’ll check Twitter for two seconds. And then next thing you know, you don’t even know where those 40 minutes went, what you were doing, and it’s not all technology, you might have gotten up, walk around and got a cup of coffee or whatever having a co
Nir Eyal 10:21
worker, there’s a million things you can do to distract yourself, if that’s what you’re looking for. So just you know that the point is that it’s not that these technology companies are not making very attractive products? Of course they are and frankly, we want them to right, are we going to say hey, Netflix, can you please make your shows less interesting, that would be great, because I know that’s not going to happen. So you know that that’s not a problem. That’s progress. We want products to be engaging. So it behooves us to understand how to put them in their place. I like to say how to get the best of technology without letting it get the best of us.
Adam Pierno 10:56
Oh, I love that. I love that. But let’s let’s go past technology, though. Let’s talk about behavior. So you don’t feeling I got from reading the book. And I think you just confirmed this was you started writing the book and thought you were going to test drive some of these lessons or how tos and cut technology before you realized around version three of the book rewrite three? And that, hey, no, no, this is a bigger behavioral challenge. So how how far did you get? And what was the Did you have a signal in your life that said, Oh, no, like, what was the light bulb moment that made you realize it wasn’t technology?
Nir Eyal 11:33
Well as when I experimented with some of these techniques, I thought, well, if these techniques, if all these books are saying the same thing, that technology is the problem that technology is melting our brain? Well, if I get rid of the technology, then the problem should go away. And that’s not what happens.
Adam Pierno 11:45
Right? And so what was the first thing then that you just treat it as a as a beta or as a test to test some of the methodology that you walked her? Yeah, so
Nir Eyal 11:55
it took me a long time to figure out what were the most important techniques to try. And so I looked into the science of procrastination, I looked into the science and the psychology of this underlying urge for why we do things against our better interests. And it really was a really fascinating journey around, you know, understanding how to unwind some of these self defeating behaviors, I spent a lot of time researching addiction. You know, I take issue, a lot of people think that we’re getting addicted to our technologies. Actually, I think that’s an overused term. But I looked into addiction, because I thought, you know, if we could figure out the most effective techniques to break addiction to chemicals, right to nicotine, to heroin, to these substances that we ingest into our bodies, which, you know, let’s face it, we’re not free basing Facebook, we’re not injecting Instagram here, these are behavioral habits. So but if we could use those same techniques to, to to break these bad habits, and they’re effective in those very serious addictions, well, then that would be terrific. That’d be wonderful. So I looked at things like acceptance and Commitment Therapy, I looked at different techniques that we can use, such as sending an implementation intention, which is a technique I talked about in the book. So I basically distill down, you know, thousands of academic studies into these four basic steps to become indestructible.
Adam Pierno 13:18
And wait, before we before we go into the four steps, how much did you practice what you preach? And then how much so you I know that you read a lot, I know, you’re a voracious reader, and I know that you thought through it from a logical standpoint. But again, you just strike me as someone that is alive tester like, Oh, yeah, you got that guinea pig gene going. So absolutely. And everything in the book that I recommend I actually use. So for example, pretty much every book out there on this topic will tell you, you should be mindful, and you should meditate. I can’t do that shit. Now I can. I brain is not quiet.
Nir Eyal 13:53
I try for a full year to meditate. And it’s not that meditation. It definitely works. There’s lots of scientific research about meditation. But in the very well, I think it’s in chapter one or chapter two. In the book, I talked about how I will not talk about meditation anywhere else in this book was written about it, and it didn’t work for me now. Now, I want to give people solace out there, if it works for you, if meditation is great, great, do it wonderful if it works for you. But there are many people out there like me, who never heard anybody say meditation doesn’t work for me. And so I wanted to go beyond that. I want to give you other techniques. I mean, other than the same thing that we see in the press every single day, get rid of your technology and be mindful and meditate. Well, there’s doesn’t always work for everybody. What else can you do?
Adam Pierno 14:35
Ya know, I was very grateful that you moved past that because my brain is the same way. It’s it’s just hard wired to chatter and it does not quiet. There’s no no getting around it.
Nir Eyal 14:43
But that’s fine. There’s good news. There’s a lot you can do to make sure you don’t get distracted.
Adam Pierno 14:48
Yeah. So let’s talk about the the, this the ideas that you tested and what you kind of how you stumbled into each one, because it’s a very linear and logical path and reading the book, it’s like, oh, this is idiot proof. I even I can follow this.
Nir Eyal 15:03
Yeah, me so. So I’ll give you I’ll give you kind of a nutshell, the 30,000 view of the indestructible model. And there are basically three easy steps and one not so easy step. So let me do the three easy steps. First, the three easy steps are number one, to make time for traction. Now, traction is the opposite of distraction. Right? distraction is any action that you do that moves you away from what you really want to be doing. Now, the opposite of distraction is traction, doing something that moves you forward moves you towards what you want in life. Now, in this book, I don’t tell you to delete your Facebook account, I don’t tell you to quit your job and go live on some yoga meditation retreat thing. I tell you, you can do any of these things. As long as you do them with intent. If you want to do nothing, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with it. If you want to watch YouTube, if you want to watch ESPN, that’s fine, fine. There’s nothing wrong with these things. As long as you make time in your day to do them. The idea is to not let these distractions take you off track, right? So if you plan for them, the time you plan to waste is not wasted time. Okay? So as long as you have it in your calendar, and this kills me, you know, when I when I started the research around overcoming distraction, I would hear from so many people who say, Oh my god, the world is so distracting these days, with everything that’s happening in the news. And you know, Twitter and Facebook and all this stuff is happening. So distracted, my boss wants this. My wife wants that my kids want that. And then I said, well, that’s that’s really tough. I’m really sorry. Can I see your calendar? Can I see what it is that you are getting distracted from? And they would you know, they would take out their their phone? And they would show me their calendar. And they would show it to me? And they’d be nothing on it. Right? Yeah, exactly.
Adam Pierno 16:52
Oh, this was this was a huge aha for me is, oh, shit, I’m letting people dominate and disruptor me by whatever calendar invite I get is what friends? Yeah, and I’m not blocking anytime we’re making a list for myself. I don’t do it nearly enough to say I need to accomplish these three things before lunch. And then this is my big thing for the day and prioritizing myself, which is such a dumb seems like, yeah,
Nir Eyal 17:18
you’re not alone, you’re not alone, it turns out, only 10% of people keep a daily calendar. Okay, so that means that 90% of people just let anybody take up their time throughout their day, they get an alert on Facebook, your boss stops by and says he wants to chat for a little bit, you know, your kids, they’re letting their day be consumed and their time stolen their attention stolen throughout their day, if you don’t plan your day, somebody else will.
Adam Pierno 17:43
Yeah, or even worse, you know, near the people listening to the show or our marketing strategy people. So they are typically very, very highly curious. And what I what I think of is combustible curiosity. So wherever they get a spark of interest, you can get down a rabbit hole that is maybe related to work, or maybe you’re just like, oh, now I’m going to read, you know, I’m going to lose three and a half hours about this black metal blog that I just suddenly found myself, I want to learn more and more about it. So you kind of have to rein yourself in here with you know, tasks,
Nir Eyal 18:16
it’s super dangerous, because particularly for the kind of, you know, the high performer type of person who wants to get a lot done. Many times you can trick yourself into thinking that you’re being productive, right, I’ll just check this email for 10 minutes, or I’ll just, you know, do this other thing for just a minute, even though you want it to do some big heavy project. That’s still distraction. Right? Even though you checking email might be a work related task, or googling something might be a work related tasks. If that’s not what you plan to do with your time, it’s just as much of a pernicious distraction.
Adam Pierno 18:49
Absolutely. So we’re talking, we’re talking about planning, and now what’s step to them once we watch and traction and kind of setting ourselves up?
Nir Eyal 18:59
Exactly. So we want gonna make a template for every week. And we want to talk about how we want to review that template with the different stakeholders in our life, in our work life, in our family life, with our relationships. for ourselves, we have to make sure we plan this time. And then we have to sync our schedules with the various stakeholders in our life, I tell you exactly how to do it,
Adam Pierno 19:18
you go into a lot of detail about this the negotiation that you and your wife went through to. And I actually read this bit because I was like, I cannot imagine this having this conversation with my wife. It’s just not how we communicate. So how much how much back and forth was there and how much? Because reading it, it seems like oh, yeah, we sat down, we had a couple, two, three conversations, and we figured this out. But I could imagine this opening myself up to this conversation would be a lot of
Nir Eyal 19:47
time. Okay, so So first of all, I didn’t make it sound, I didn’t mean to make it sound like this was an easy conversation, just just to fill in all the listeners. So there’s a part in the book where I talk about how you need to turn your values into time, meaning if you you don’t put on your schedule, on your on your schedule, on your calendar, the things that you value in life, then you won’t be the person that you desire to be. So one of my values was to have an equal partnership with my wife, right, this value of of equality within my marriage. And I noticed when we compared schedules that my wife was doing way more than I was, I didn’t want to admit it. And I’m still embarrassed to say it publicly here.
Adam Pierno 20:28
That’s it. But that’s it like that you You brought this issue up and said, hey, you’re doing way more of these kinds of tasks, and I’m absent from a lot of these tasks. That’s a that is a tricky conversation to have. But it you know, the way it’s covered in length in the book, it just feels like and then I said that, and then we figured it out over a couple of days? Well, it’s because we used to fight about it non stop.
Nir Eyal 20:50
Like this, this became up, it was something that we wanted to figure out. And by the way, we’ve been married for almost 20 years now. It’s so it took many, many years for us to figure this out. But the key problem was like many women out there, I mean, there’s there’s a lot of data that I some of that I share in the book as well, that even in in in to income households, somehow, yeah, still get stuck with way more work way more admin tasks than men do, even when it’s a two income household. And that’s not fair. And we can complain about it, we can moan about it. But the fact is, if you don’t schedule your tasks, and by the way, like in, in the defense of us guys, part of the problem is that we don’t even know what we don’t know. Right, stuff gets done. And we didn’t know that it was our responsibility to do that. So this was a big part of the discussion I had with my wife was, you know, as opposed to her yelling at me for will Couldn’t you see that all this stuff needed to get done? But no, it I did see it, cross my mind and do it?
Adam Pierno 21:51
Well, not to see it right.
Nir Eyal 21:52
Or that’s even worse, right? That’s a little bit more sinister.
Adam Pierno 21:57
I think part of it is kind of sweeping under the rug and be like, well, that’s not here. I know.
Nir Eyal 22:01
But let me tell you, my life is so much better now. So for example, you know, we prepare my kids lunches, and we prepare food for the week. And my wife would just do it in this, you know, frantic pace at the at the end of the weekend. And she would be in a really bad mood because I wasn’t stepping up or even worse, I planned something else. So I wouldn’t even be around. And so it wasn’t till we sat down. And she said, Look, I have to do all this stuff. And you know, you’re off somewhere else. So I said, You know what, let’s just figure out what those domestic responsibilities are. And we’re going to put it on our calendars. And now I know exactly what I need to do, and what I need to do it. And so now it gets done. And let me tell you, it has transformed my marriage. That’s I would expect that it would look Can we talk you sound hesitant to have this conversation with your wife? And I’m super curious why? because I’m lazy.
Adam Pierno 22:48
I don’t want to do more things. I do a lot. I do a lot. I don’t we don’t have it split 5050 That’s for sure.
Nir Eyal 22:53
Well, at least at least you would know like if you if you say hey, look, I do a lot. And you showed her on your calendar. Look, keep a time box calendar, I keep track of how I spend my time look at it, right? It’s right there in front of you. Now we can compare maybe she doesn’t appreciate how many things you actually do. So it’s not necessarily that you have to do 5050 everything. It’s that, you know, people are lifting their proper load.
Adam Pierno 23:15
Everybody’s contributing. Yeah, I’ve I’ve long had this thought about happy people that they don’t keep score. So if it’s in their marriage, they don’t do kind of tit for tat type things like well, you got to go out with your friends last week. So I get to go out this week or and when people when I see that kind of tit for tat at someone at their job or in their relationship. I can always say like, that’s not long term. You know, what’s interesting about that, the tit for tat happens.
Nir Eyal 23:44
Yeah. And people feel like they’re getting screwed.
Adam Pierno 23:46
Oh, yeah. I mean, yeah,
Nir Eyal 23:48
absolutely. Here, if you if your if your significant other feels like you are always there, right? You, you you, you show up, you deliver what you say you’re going to deliver, if you follow track once a while I say oh my gosh, honey, you know what? I just didn’t get to it. I’m really sorry.
Adam Pierno 24:04
You get the benefit of the doubt. That’s right. That’s true. That’s true. So I don’t we haven’t gotten to making it a calendar thing. But
Nir Eyal 24:12
I have your wife read the book. And we’ll talk
Adam Pierno 24:15
I’ll do it. I’ll do it. I don’t want to open this can of worms. Like Dude, what do you do to me? sandwiches again, it’s for the better believe me.
Nir Eyal 24:25
I know a lot of that I talked about in the book to about leverage, you know, some of it might be, look, it might not be worth either of your time to make sandwiches, right? Maybe it’s something that you outsource, maybe it’s a problem that a little bit of money could solve. Or maybe it’s a problem where you could actually talk about multi channel multitasking, that there’s this myth that people think, you know, we can’t multitask. And that turns out to not exactly be true. You can actually multitask lots of tasks, as long as they’re on different channels. So it might be something that you do, you know, you get a bunch of friends together. And now you have time with your friends, as well as doing these household responsibilities. Maybe it’s something you do as a family together. Yeah, maybe it’s something you do while you’re listening to a podcast or listening or watching something on TV. There’s lots of ways to get this stuff done that don’t sound so horrible. No, that’s true. That’s true. That’s a good point. And the social aspects of it that you talked about in the book, like getting groups together to do things, it’s really smart. Let’s move on to so once we once we get our calendar set, and once we get our priorities and our values aligned, what’s next. Next thing is to hack back our external triggers. So in Hooked, I talked about these external triggers these pings these things, these rings, these things in our environment that oftentimes lead to distraction. And again, distraction is when you do something against your better interest, something that you knew you didn’t want to do. So an external trigger that wakes you up in the morning and helps you get going to the gym in the morning. Well, that’s great. That’s a good external trigger. But we have to ask ourselves, is the external trigger serving me? Or am I serving it? So when I was with my daughter, and my phone, you know, buzzed, and there was some news alert, some, you know, internet garbage that distracted me, when I meant to be with my daughter that was not serving me that was not helping me. And so the idea here is to hack back these external triggers, not just on your phone, but also on your desktop. And also in the workplace. I you know, as I mentioned, the book is not just about technological distraction. It’s about all sorts of distraction. One of the worst sources of distraction these days is the open a floor plan office, okay? Your source of distraction. And so I give actually, every copy of the book comes with years done, because you’ve got an advanced copy. But every copy of the book is it when it’s published, will come with a screen sign that you can fold. It’s this bright red screen sign that you can put on your computer screen. So let your colleagues know that you’re doing focus work. And you don’t want to be distracted at that time in a polite way. so that people know that you’re doing focused work. So there’s, we talked about all these different ways to hack back external triggers.
Adam Pierno 26:57
Yeah, I like that idea. And I’ve worked at where we’ve tried implementing red light green light, or different colored blocks and things like that. And it helps, there’s always going to be someone that feels like what they need to tell you is an emergency and they kind of stumble through it anyway. But
Nir Eyal 27:11
yeah, and it really is a bona fide emergency, then yeah, by all means. But the fact is, you need that little bit of a stopping cue to say, Well, why is this really super urgent right now? You know, do you really need to talk about the game last night right this minute, as I get this other stuff, I want to prioritize?
Adam Pierno 27:25
Yeah, and a part of it is if the person if the people on a team are if some of them are distracted, or distractible, even if it’s not silliness, you know, talking about Game of Thrones from last Sunday, if they’re distracted, because well, this thing came into my inbox. And now I’m going to tap you on the shoulder to ask you about it. Right? Yeah, that’s a that’s a, it’s almost like people need to read this book together as units because one person can tear the whole thing down.
Nir Eyal 27:54
Well, it’s that that is a good point. And so about half the book is really about things that you as an individual can do. But let’s be realistic here, you know, you can you could follow everything I tell you to do to a tee. But if your boss insists on interrupting you, despite you doing focused work, and despite it being on your calendar, then you’re going to still respond. So part of the problem is culture change. And I talked about how in the book, that that if you work at a company where people are constantly distracted, have this crazy, always on culture, then the problem isn’t the technology, the technology, or the tech over use is a symptom of a cultural dysfunction.
Adam Pierno 28:30
Right. And I and I think most of the most of the behaviors you call out very quickly, or you can realize, as a reader, they’re proven that this really has nothing to do with your phone, your computer, it’s in your brain and you want the day or you want the attention or you want conversation, right?
Nir Eyal 28:45
Or in the workplace, you know, people have become so so I would say addicted to work in a way, right? So for many people, it’s become the workplace is something that they they are expected to always be on all the time. You know, the thing is, nobody in the organization actually likes it, right? Even the boss doesn’t like having, you know, his kids basketball game or her basketball game interrupted at 9pm, when they want to focus on their family. So the idea here is how can we deal with this, this this dysfunctional culture. And so I give a lot of ways that companies can take small steps, and individuals within these companies can take small steps to start transforming company culture.
Adam Pierno 29:28
Yeah, that’s funny. There’s so many times on the Saturday night where I catch myself refreshing my email or opening up my I only use slack here in the office. Why am I opening this? Nobody’s for some reason, I’m mentally like, well, I don’t want to miss anything. I want to be the guy that doesn’t respond, nobody.
Nir Eyal 29:44
I don’t think anybody cares. So that leads me to the, to the next step about packs and pre commitments. So part of the idea is, you know, I tell people how to keep themselves, I’m sorry, how to keep distractions out by removing those external triggers. And the last step, or the sorry, the second to last step is about how to keep yourself in. So when you feel like oh, you know, I’m going to check slack when I don’t need to, sometimes you do that stuff habitually. And so what you can do is to use what’s called a pre commitment or a pact. And so I talked about in the book, how we can actually use technology to make sure that we don’t over use technology, right, that there’s all these devices, there’s all these apps, many of them free that we can use to take these pre commitments to make sure we don’t do something we didn’t want to do.
Adam Pierno 30:29
Yeah, and I mean, you’re talking about screen time. And we’ve had Kevin Polish from moments as a guest on the show to talk about that, which was a precursor to Android and Apple, having your own built in pieces. But so you can easily set those controls. But even before we started recording, you and I were talking about using technology to minimize some of the dumb things that eat up clock like setting up this appointment for us to chat. We use it as a scheduler and it solves some of the hassle but I’m sure down the road. Did you What did you uncover any places where you’re like, Oh, yeah, now it’s like whack a mole. No, I have to fix this part of the of the process.
Nir Eyal 31:07
Well, the idea of becoming Indistractible is that it’s never it’s not something you’re done doing. Right? Well, I still struggle with distraction. But I’ll tell you that now at least I know why. Right, I can diagnose which part of these four steps is breaking down, I can do something about it by having a clear picture in my mind about these four steps that I could do something about. So you know, you never, you never finished becoming Indistractible, it’s about striving to do what you say you’re going to do. And so with that continual process with these continuous iterations, I have to say that, you know, since I’ve started implementing these techniques, and I implement every single one that I recommend, I am healthier than I’ve ever been, I’m more physically active first time in my life that I exercise regularly. I have a closer relationship with my daughter and my wife, and I’m more productive at work.
Adam Pierno 31:53
That’s great. which of the four areas have you found are the most challenging for you are the one that you have to kind of keep hammering down on?
Nir Eyal 32:00
Yeah, okay, so let me get to the the the one hard one, so we went through the three easy ones make time for traction, hack back external triggers, prevent distraction with packs, those are the three relatively easy ones. There’s a lot of detail there in the book on how to do that. But those are those are relatively easy to implement. The hard one has to do with what’s called an internal trigger. Remember, we talked about external trigger earlier, the pings, the dings, the rings, the things that are outside environment that prompt us to do things we may not want to do. But it turns out that the most common triggers are not the external triggers. But in fact, the internal triggers internal triggers are these negative emotions, these bad feelings that prompt us to do all kinds of actions. In fact, all human action is prompted all motivation is prompted through the desire to escape discomfort. So for example, when we’re feeling lonely, we check Facebook, when we’re feeling uncertain, we Google or feeling bored, maybe we check YouTube, or Reddit or stock prices, or the news. All of these products and services we always use because of an uncomfortable emotional state. And this was a really big aha for me that if we don’t deal with what’s going on inside us, we will always be slaves to distraction. If you can’t sit at dinner with your family, without taking out your goddamn phone. Let me tell you, the phone, right, it’s not the phone. There’s something going on inside you that you have to deal with. And I being dead serious here. And I know it’s icky sticky truth that we don’t want to deal with. Because it’s so much easier to blame the technology. There are two types of people out there. There are the bloomers. And there are the shapers, the bloomers, they say it’s Facebook, it’s iPhone, it’s all these companies doing it to me. And that ain’t right. And then the shame or say, No, no, there’s something wrong with me, I have a dysfunction, I have a short attention span, I have an addictive personality. And of course, when they tell themselves this, it becomes true, right. And so neither of those are true, the blame is are wrong. And the shapers are wrong, because they’re blaming things outside of themselves things that they can’t control. Whereas the truth is, is is something completely different. The truth is that the problem is a problem of behavior of habits, and habits can change.
Adam Pierno 34:17
And so you just get into a place where you recognize eventually that, oh, every time I do this, I feel this way. And I reach for the phone or I when I’m working I after this amount of time, I decided I need to stand up and walk around and get a cup of coffee, which is another distraction. And then it’s diagnosing those things or recognizing those things so that you can fix them.
Nir Eyal 34:38
That’s that’s a big part of it. So this is where I mentioned a lot of the research around acceptance and Commitment Therapy around how you some of the most effective ways to break addiction. And it fundamentally comes down to what are those internal triggers? Right, what is it that we are trying to escape, but there’s basically three strategies, we can reimagine the trigger, right, we can deal with that internal trigger in a different way, in a healthier manner. The next thing we can do is to reimagine the task, we can figure out, hey, you know, if I really hate doing a particular task, how can I see it differently? How can I make it not be so miserable, and I talked about how to do that. And it’s not in the Mary Poppins way of adding a spoonful of sugar that doesn’t work, I’ll tell you the real way in the book of how to do that. And then the third thing we can do is that we can reimagine our temperament. And this is the thing that is probably one of the most breakthrough realizations I had was how much junk science there are in junk. Folk psychology, there is around these myths around willpower. There’s this concept called ego depletion, which I got a lot of publicity, like 1015 years ago,
Adam Pierno 35:44
this is this is a really interesting,
Nir Eyal 35:46
yeah, this idea that willpower runs out like gas in a tank. And there was this, there’s a psychologist who did a lot of studies on this. And he found a miracle cure for diminishing diminishing willpower was to give people sugar, he gave them lemonade. And then at the end of the, you know, when they had the lemonade, now their willpower was restored. And this is this is a very powerful notion that a lot of people still still think that you know, that that willpower depletes over time. So they come home from work as Oh, I’m spent, I have no more energy left, I have no more willpower. Let me eat some ice cream and sit on the couch and watch Netflix. And that’s that was me, by the way. That was that was exactly what I did every day. And it turns out that it’s not true that that ego depletion is a myth that it doesn’t replicate in studies that have been done since by other by other scientists. It turns out the only time that ego depletion actually is true, the only people that do actually experienced ego depletion. Are those who believe is true.
Adam Pierno 36:49
Yeah, self fulfilling, right?
Nir Eyal 36:51
Exactly. Exactly. Because when you say, Oh, I’m spent, I’ve got no willpower left, you make it so
Adam Pierno 36:57
yeah, well, it’s perfect. You’re giving yourself permission, right? I mean, that’s exactly.
Nir Eyal 37:00
And this is exactly why the current discussion around technology being addictive, that it’s hijacking our brains, and it’s irresistible, there’s nothing we can do about it. This is what drives me crazy, because what we’re doing is we’re believing this crap. And we are making these companies more powerful by believing that we’re powerless. Yeah, learned helplessness. And so a big part of this is changing our view of our own temperament, not believing the self defeating myths.
Adam Pierno 37:28
I love it. I love it. I want to be respectful of your time. So I just have one or two more questions for you. But this has been fantastic so far. So in Hooked, you’re giving the case study and talking about how these products are built using behavior. And now an indestructible, you’re talking about how behavior can free you from these distractions and getting pulled into things like products, although it’s not all about products and digital. And like I said at the outset, you kind of walk both sides of the of the story. Do you do you get pulled in by brands and companies to talk about one side versus the other. I mean Indistractible is just out now. So maybe it’s too too fresh. But I kind of viewed your outward persona before I get to know you as an expert on product, and probably in demand by all these digital companies that are trying to build these addictive products. Are these these really engaging products? Have you been pulled in the other the other side about to discuss behavior and discuss kind of freedom from habit?
Nir Eyal 38:37
Yeah, well, I now speak on on both topics. And I really am in a very fortunate position having having sold two companies, I have freedom to do what I want. And I just love to write and I love to write about problems that I’m facing. So when I didn’t know how to build habit forming products, and I didn’t find any book on the topic, I wrote one, when I had a problem with, with over using different I was getting distracted, and I didn’t find a book that worked for me, I wrote one. And so my goal here is to really shed light on this topic is to kind of is to show folks that that you can do this, that this is not something that we are powerless to resist that there, you know, that that the antidote to impulsiveness is for thought that, you know, we, we give these companies so much credit and so much control over us by not learning how to empower ourselves. And we live in an age where this is going to become only more important. If you don’t teach your kids how to manage distraction. If you don’t learn how to manage distraction yourself, they’re going to get you, right, these companies are going to get you I know for a fact I’ve worked with them, I taught them how to do so. That being said, you know, Hooked uses Facebook and YouTube and Instagram as case studies. I don’t own any stock anymore companies, I’ve never been paid by these big big companies. I use them as case studies so that small businesses, all kinds of businesses can use these techniques for good. So let’s be very clear the year I I my goal is not to help Facebook in the game. They don’t they don’t need any more help. They know these techniques, and they have for years, my goal was to help companies like hoots, which is a company that just went public. That’s the largest educational software in the world. And and you know, how great would it be if we could make educational software engaging companies like Flipboard that gets people in shape by creating exercise habits. paga as a company that I’ve worked with that is bringing millions of previously unbanked Africans online. So these companies are using habits for good that’s why I wrote Hooked. And so you know, I’m in this really great position where I know how well these techniques you work and how we can use them for good and so I also happen to know that that distractions Achilles heel, and I can share from an insider’s perspective as opposed to somebody who you know doesn’t even have a social media account or or you know, think so you know, what’s big deal, just turn off your phone. I use these technologies and therefore I understand how we can how these products can hook us and also how we can manage distraction and make sure that these technologies don’t get the best of us
Adam Pierno 41:13
through those fantastic. It’s been great speaking to you. I really appreciate you making time on this wonderful evening. I know you have pleasure places to go is probably your calendars probably telling you where you’re going next in a few minutes.
Thank you. This is this is really been a pleasure. So I just want to remind people the book is called Indistractible, How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. It is available now. Hooked is a killer book. So I know I know you’re focused Nir on Indistractible but if you’re on the product side and you you have not heard of Hooked–I’d be surprised but that is a really smart presentation of information about how to do it. And Indistractible brings you the behavior on the other side but Nir where can people find you and where can they find Indistractible?
Nir Eyal 42:02
Yeah absolutely. Thank you so much. So Indistractible is available wherever books are sold as as Hooked has a five year edition coming out so so they’ll actually be updated and revised in some places and my website is near and far com nearest felt like my first name and I are near and far com. Yeah, I’ll definitely link to that and if you wish I will link to a place where people can find the book. And I believe you have an online kind of accompaniment for the book is that correct? Yeah, yeah, I have a courses for folks who prefer to have a more kind of online presentation format for for consuming this content. I go there’s a lot of original content for both Hooked and Indistractible have their own courses. Awesome. Yeah, we’ll link to all those things. And I think listeners here will find it pretty valuable. It’s it’s smart stuff shared in a very easy to consume way really easy to understand. So thank you for what you’re doing. I’ve appreciated it.
Thank you so much, Adam. All right, man, this was great. Thanks again. All right, my pleasure. And keep in touch and let me know if you need anything. And thank you so much. I really appreciate your interest in these great questions and reading the book. Thank you so much.
Adam Pierno 43:11
Yeah, thanks for giving me the access.
Nir Eyal 43:14
I love it.
Adam Pierno 43:22
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Transcribed by https://otter.ai