YAPClassic: Nir Eyal on How to Become Indistractable

YAPClassic: Nir Eyal on How to Become Indistractable

YAPClassic: Nir Eyal on How to Become Indistractable

During their special bonding time, Nir Eyal asked his only daughter what superpower she wanted. But he didn’t hear her response because he was too distracted by his phone. By the time he looked up, she was gone. Disappointed in himself, Nir realized that if a behavioral design expert like him could struggle with distractions, there must be others struggling too. So, he set out to understand the psychology of distraction. In this episode, Hala and Nir discuss building habit-forming products that keep customers hooked, why habits are good for business, and how to cultivate the superpower of indistractability.

Nir Eyal is an expert in behavioral engineering and the bestselling author of Indistractable and Hooked. He writes, consults, and teaches about the intersection of psychology, technology, and business.


In this episode, Hala and Nir will discuss:

– What is behavioral design?

– The goal behind Nir’s book Hooked

– Defining what a habit is

– Why are habits good for business?

– Four-step hook model

– How is the hook model different from traditional feedback loops?

– Defining paid and earned triggers

– Lewin’s Equation and why it’s important that a product is easy to use

– The three different types of rewards

– The five fundamental questions to build habit-forming products

– Why did Nir write Indistractable?

– Nir on why indistractability is the ultimate secret weapon

– Four parts of the indistractable model

– And other topics…


Nir Eyal is an author, public speaker, consultant, and investor. Nir is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.


Nir is an expert in behavioral engineering and has lectured at Stanford Graduate School of Business and Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. Nir also works as a consultant helping companies build engaging products and services. His writing appears in publications including The Atlantic, Harvard Business Review, TechCrunch, and Psychology Today. Nir received his BA from Emory University and his MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.


Resources Mentioned:

Nir’s Website: https://www.nirandfar.com/

Nir’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/nireyal

Nir’s Books:

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products: https://www.amazon.com/Hooked-How-Build-Habit-Forming-Products/dp

Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life: https://www.amazon.com/Indistractable-Nir-Eyal/dp


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[00:00:00] Hala Taha: Young end profiters, today we are going to be discussing how to master our habits and become indistractable. I am replaying my classic conversation with Nir Eyal. If we want to talk about habit forming and being focused and limiting distractions, Nir is our guy. He spent years working in the video gaming and advertising industries So his understanding of how to motivate and manipulate human behavior is next level.

And so I'm super excited to share this conversation with you all. If you're not familiar with Nir, he's a leading expert in behavioral design and he's also the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Hooked and Indistractable. He's wrote for Harvard Business Review, Tech Crunch, The Atlantic, Psychology Today and many more publications.

And he's also taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. So, like I said, in this episode, we're going to talk about why habits are good for business. We're going to go deep into Nir's four step hook model to build habit forming products. We're also going to chat about why Nir believes that indistractability is the ultimate secret weapon, and we'll learn all his strategies to become indistractable and lead a more productive life.

If you want to master your habits and become indistractable, then keep on listening to my classic conversation with Nir Eyal.


[00:01:38] Hala Taha: So from my understanding, you really invented this field.

You're the father of behavioral design. Can you provide more context into what this exactly is? 

[00:01:47] Nir Eyal: Yeah. Well, I don't know if I can say I'm the father of behavioral design, but I appreciate that 

[00:01:51] Hala Taha: you're the father of behavioral design. 

[00:01:52] Nir Eyal: Okay. I've been dubbed. Yeah. There's a lot of people who have influenced the field.

And so I appreciate that, but yeah, there's a lot of folks in the book that I credit their research as well. I think what I've done is to take a lot of, you know, very old consumer psychology research that's, you know, 50, 60, 70 years old and applied it to a new field because what we've seen is now possible through these devices that we carry around with us every day in our pockets is that technology has become a So persuasive in the same time that has become so pervasive.

And so that means that, you know, this formula has resulted in the opportunity to change people's behavior and to change our own behavior. And so behavioral design is really understanding how to shape our behavior through our technology. How can technology facilitate behavior? Now I wrote. Hooked for two reasons.

I wrote Hooked, number one, because I wanted to help entrepreneurs. I've been a two time entrepreneur. I'm not some academic that only does research studies. Like, I've been in the field, started two companies. I know how hard it is to get people to change their behavior and use a product like the ones that I'm sure many of your listeners are making that would truly benefit them if they only used it.

That's such a big problem. that's really what fascinates me so much about this field is, you know, what if we could use technology to help people do the things they want to do, but for lack of good product design, don't do, wouldn't it be great if we could design the kind of products that didn't depend upon, you know, Spammy advertising and expensive marketing.

What if people use the products because they wanted to, not because they had to, and they use them on their own, not because you were sending them more spammy messages. So that's really the goal of behavioral design is to help people do things they want to do, but for lack of good product design, they don't do.

[00:03:33] Hala Taha: Got it. And so just to recap for my listeners or to, you know, define it, it's really the intersection of technology, psychology and business, 

[00:03:41] Nir Eyal: right? 

[00:03:41] Hala Taha: Very interesting, 

[00:03:42] Nir Eyal: right? And it's important. You mentioned a word that I just want to clarify. You know, the book I wrote hooked how to build habit forming products is not called how to build addictive products.

And so we never want to create addiction. Addiction is not the same thing as a habit. Addiction is a persistent, compulsive dependency on a behavior or substance. All that causes harm to the user. So we would never want to addict people. Addiction is unethical. Now, it is also sometimes the unfortunate consequence, the unfortunate byproduct of any product that is an analgesic, any product that solves pain will be addictive to somebody if it's used by a sufficiently large number of people, but that should never be our intent to addict people.

That's an unfortunate byproduct. Our goal as product designers, as behavioral designers. is really about helping people form healthy habits in their lives. 

[00:04:29] Hala Taha: Got it. Okay, so let's start off with your Hooked model. I think, in order to provide some context to my listeners, can you first define what a habit exactly is?

[00:04:39] Nir Eyal: Yeah, so a habit is a behavior done with little or no conscious thought. That's about half of what you do every single day, day in and day out, is motivated through these habits. And this is, Very evolutionarily beneficial, right? The fact that our brain can switch onto autopilot and help us do so many things at the same time or with little or no conscious thought helps our brain think about other things and solve other problems while we're, you know, driving in traffic or walking to work or, you know, washing the dishes.

We do these things habitually with little or no conscious thought. And so if we can use that power, right, if you can use the power of habit to help people shape their lives in ways that improve their lives and improve your bottom line, that's very good. 

[00:05:17] Hala Taha: Okay, so speaking of bottom line, why are habits good for business?

[00:05:21] Nir Eyal: Yeah, that's a great question. So there are many reasons that habits are good for business. So one of them is that habits increase customer lifetime value. The longer someone uses a product, the more frequently they use a product, the more valuable each and every customer becomes to the company. Another reason is that habits It's supercharged growth that when you think about, you know, what makes a product go viral, it's not good enough that a product is just spread from one person to the next.

Because if that doesn't happen quickly, if you don't have what's called a short viral cycle time, meaning the amount of time that elapses between the transmission of one person telling another about the product, if that doesn't happen frequently. Then you're never going to have viral growth because you're constantly churning customers as well, right?

People are also stopping the use of your product. And so in order to get that escape velocity and get exponential growth, you need the product to be transmitted frequently enough, which means that only the kind of products that are used habitually, these kind of daily use type products, those are the kind of products that ever have a hope of spreading and growing virally.

And then third, and perhaps most importantly, habits are a barrier to competition. That it's a huge competitive advantage to have a habit around a product. Now, your business needs to have some kind of barrier, some kind of moat. Because if you don't, what happens is you're constantly competing on price and features, and price and features, and you're beating up the competition on these two factors.

But when a product has some kind of sustainable competitive advantage, in this case a habit, That's no longer the case because people will use a product or service out of habit and they won't even consider the competition. I'll give you an example. Many times when I give a presentation in front of a large audience, I will ask the crowd to raise their hands if they search with Google.

in the past 24 hours. And, you know, 99 percent of the rooms, hands will go up. raise your hand for me if you search with Bing, the number two search engine. Who searched with Bing in the past 24 hours? And maybe one hand will go up, typically a Microsoft employee's hand if they happen to be in the room.

And so why is that? It's because those geniuses at Mountain View have such better technology. The algorithm is so much better. Nobody can replicate it. No, it's purely a habit  because when we Google something, we don't sit and ask ourselves, Hmm, I wonder if Google makes the best search engine. No, we don't even give the competition a chance.

We just use the product with little or no conscious thoughts. So if you form a habit with a product, it's very difficult to get you to switch because you don't even consider the alternatives. You don't consider the competitors. And so that becomes a huge, huge competitive advantage. 

[00:07:48] Hala Taha: Thank you. That was so well broken down and so interesting.

previously mentioned in your book, you describe a four step hook model. The components are trigger action, variable reward and investment. Can you describe the hook model at a super high level? And maybe we can dig deeper into each step after that. 

[00:08:09] Nir Eyal: Absolutely. Yeah. So the four steps I'll walk through it.

Really quick at a high level here. So, and this is basically the outline of hooked is working through these four steps of the hook model for any business, frankly, any business that's used with sufficient frequency, that is a prerequisite that I should mention. 

So if you sell some kind of server software that nobody knows exists, unless you know, servers on fire or something, then you don't need to have it. That's a one time, the customer doesn't need to use it to benefit from it. 

[00:08:35] Hala Taha: Or like a fancy vacation, right? 

[00:08:37] Nir Eyal: Right. So yeah, exactly. So shopping for a vacation when you're in market can become a habit.

Lots of people will, you know, check travel deals every day habitually when they're in market, but yeah, going on the vacation doesn't occur with sufficient frequency. So assuming you have a product that is used with sufficient frequency. Now, by the way, we can also talk about what do you do if your product is not used with sufficient frequency?

What do you do then? Well, you can bolt on habit forming experiences. You can bolt on a content consumption habit, right? You can bolt on a community. Habit into a product that is not used with sufficient frequency, but we can get more into that later on, but just to outline the four steps of the hook model, the first step is a trigger.

A trigger is some kind of cue that tells us what to do next. And these triggers come in two forms, external triggers and internal triggers. External triggers are things in our environment. that tell us what to do next. The pings, the dings, the rings, anything in your environment that tells you what to do.

The next type of trigger is called an internal trigger. An internal trigger is where the information is stored as a memory or an association inside the user's head. And this typically takes the form of an uncomfortable emotional state. So all human behavior is motivated by the desire to escape discomfort.

all human behavior. We used to think that it's about pleasure and pain. It's actually not. It's just pain all the way down that all behavior, whether it's using your product, whether it's getting a snack, whether it's putting on a coat, whatever it might be, is motivated by the desire to escape discomfort.

It's called the homeostatic response. So that means that all products and services in order to be used habitually, they have to attach themselves to that uncomfortable sensation. So when you're lonely, you check Facebook when you're uncertain. You Google when you're bored, you check YouTube stock prices, sports scores, Reddit, lots of different products and services cater to boredom.

So that's probably one of the most important things that you can do. If you're building a habit forming products, probably the very first step is to understand what internal trigger you're going to attach your products used to. The next step of the hook is the action phase. And the action phase is defined as the simplest behavior done in anticipation of a reward.

So it's the simplest thing the user can do to get relief from that psychological discomfort. A scroll on Pinterest. Pushing the play button on YouTube. A quick search on Google, right? All of these things are very simple actions done in anticipation of an immediate reward. So your goal as a product designer is to figure out how to reduce the friction, reduce the steps to get the reward.

Which leads us to the third step of the hook, which is the reward phase. The reward phase is where the itch is scratched, where the user gets what they came for. And not only is this a reward where we give the user what they came for, the reward tends to take the form of a variable. So some type of mystery, some type of uncertainty, some type of variability keeps us checking, keeps us engaged, keeps us wanting more.

So some products want to insert variability, right? If you think about why people use a product that caters to boredom, well, it's because it introduces uncertainty. When you watch a good movie, you read a good book, see a good video on YouTube, scroll your feed, there's uncertainty around that experience.

And it's really good at catering to the internal trigger of boredom. Other products want to. Take inherently variable situations and give the user agency and control. So for example, with Uber or Lyft, the fact that you can check the interface while you're waiting for your cab, and it tells you how far away that Uber cab is, gives you greater agency and control over something that's already variable.

There's already uncertainty around. You know, can you get to where you're going on time? Are you going to make your flight at the airport based on when your Uber driver arrives? So some products want to insert variability, other products operating conditions of uncertainty and want to give the user greater agency and control.

But all of these products have at their core, the engine is this variable reward, this uncertainty that scratches the user's itch. more. And finally, the last step of the hook, and maybe the most overlooked, is the investment phase. The investment phase is where the user puts something into the product in anticipation of some kind of future benefit, some kind of future reward.

It can take the form of data, content, the acquisition of a skill, reputation, followers, and so on. Anything I put into the product that makes it better and better with use. And this is really an amazing property because what this means is that for the first time in the history of business, a product, the more it is used, the more it appreciates and value.

That's a really big deal. If you think about it, Everything in the physical world depreciates with wear and tear, right? The more you use it, right? Your desk, your clothing, your car, the more you use it, the less valuable it becomes. But habit forming products do the opposite, right? The more data, the more content, the more followers, the more reputation, the more we use a product, the more we accrue these elements, and the product becomes more and more valuable.

The more we use it, that's revolutionary. So that's the point of the investment phase is that it improves the product with use through stored value. The other thing it does, the investment phase increases the likelihood of the next pass through the hook by loading the next trigger. So something that the user does to bring themselves back.

So for example, when I send someone a message on Slack or WhatsApp or any number of other messaging platforms, when I send someone that message, There's no immediate reward, right? Nothing really happens that second. What I'm doing is I'm investing in the platform because I'm likely to get a reply and that reply comes coupled with an external trigger in the form of a notification that brings me through the hook once again, trigger action, reward investment.

So that's why there's this loop that through these four steps, this is how customer preferences are formed, how our tastes are shaped and how these habits take hold. 

 how is this hook model different than traditional feedback loops or habit loops, such as the model that was popularized by the book power of habit by Charles Duhigg?

[00:14:52] Nir Eyal: Yeah. So the biggest difference is that the traditional three part. Habit loop is really about behavioral habits in our day to day lives. But there's a great deal of difference between a habit loop that's applied to your life versus one that's applied to your user's life. So the Hooked model is really made for product design.

It's not about personal behavior changes for product designers. And so there's a lot of aspects that you have to consider in terms of how would you design a habit for someone else, as opposed to for yourself, for example, considering people's internal triggers. And that's nowhere in Charles's book, by the way, you know, Charles is a journalist, both he and I have to get.

credit to the academics who actually did this research. So, you know, neither of us came up with these steps. We're reporting and popularizing the hard work of many, many academics. so, external triggers, you know, how do you send a notification, for example, that will be acted upon? Well, there's some real insights there about how do you appropriately send a notification to make sure it's acted upon and it feels like it's magic versus something that feels like spam.

And so that takes an understanding of The internal triggers in order to send the external triggers, the minute the user feels their pain point, their itch, their internal trigger. When it comes to the action phase, you know, the insights around making the action as easy as possible, designing your user interface in a way that saves the user as much friction and effort as possible will increase the likelihood of them doing the behavior.

Variable rewards are nowhere in anybody else's habit loop. But of course, when we see products that we use every day, Like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Slack. They're full of these slot machine like variable rewards. I mean, every single one of them has this element of mystery, variability, this Scenarion mechanic of bringing us back through operant conditioning.

And then finally, the investment phase. Also, that doesn't appear in anybody else's habit model, that is. This idea of putting something into the product to make it better and better with use, you know, this is where big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning really becomes very valuable for this exact reason.

Because for the first time, products of all sorts can get better with use, right? Even companies that were traditionally not thought of as tech companies today are. Every company is a tech company today. Because if you're collecting user information, if you're customizing the experience, which you should be, everybody should be doing this.

If you're customizing the experience in some way, then you are using this piece of the hook model to improve the product with use. 

[00:17:17] Hala Taha: Got it. And so in addition to internal and external triggers, I know you also talk about, you know, paid and earned triggers. Could you just break that down for our listeners?

[00:17:28] Nir Eyal: Sure. 

So there's many different types of external triggers. Remember, external triggers are these things that tell us what to do next, some piece of information that prompts the next action. And so when you think about Earned triggers versus paid triggers. An earned trigger is something that you yourself own.

So if you have earned the customer's trust in a way that they want to hear from you in the future, for example, if you make an app that reminds people to exercise or meditate or save money or learn a new language, and the user welcomes that notification, that ping, that ding, that ring that tells them what to do next, well, you have earned that right.

Right. And so you essentially own that trigger in the customer's mind. Now, as opposed to a paid trigger, if you buy the notification from somebody else, right, if you have to go through Facebook or Google or an advertiser platform to send an external trigger, well, you're basically renting that user's attention.

You don't. own the user's attention. You haven't earned the right to message them. You're basically renting it from someone else. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It just happens to be really great when you don't have to pay someone else to access your customer. So the idea is that we want to take those paid triggers and quickly convert them into no longer requiring us to send these external triggers by creating our own habit, by creating a product that people want to use on their own without needing these notifications, certainly not the ones that we have to buy from someone else.

[00:18:56] Hala Taha: And in regards to the action step, why is it important to make sure that the product is really easy to use? 

[00:19:03] Nir Eyal: Right. So one principle that we've known for decades now, it's called Lewin's equation is that behavior is a function of a person in their environment. And so this goes back over a hundred years and it's pretty much common sense, right?

That what you do is a function of the environment around you. If you see a donut, On the kitchen counter when you go into your kitchen for breakfast, whereas if you have, you know, the healthier option, the eggs in the fridge, but the donut's right there ready for you, and it's easy to go ahead and eat the donut, and you're in a rush, so you're super motivated to eat the donut quickly, as opposed to having to fry up an egg.

You're going to eat the donut because it's easier to do that behavior. So the environment shapes our behavior. And we see this all over the place, right? That the environment is a huge, huge factor in people's behavior. We like to think that we are fully in control of our behavior. And it's not that we can't take steps to control our behavior, but without forethought, we are very much at the whim of our environment.

So that means that if you are designing a product that is helping people do something that they themselves want to do, but they're not doing it, Then it's only because of one of three reasons, and this comes out of the work of B. J. Fogg at Stanford, who says that behavior is a function of motivation, ability, and a trigger.

So we talked about those triggers earlier. Motivation is the energy for action, how much we want to do something. And ability is how easy it is to do that behavior. Right? The capacity to do that behavior. Because the easier something is to do, the more likely we are to do it. So whether it's because something is easy because it is physically easier to do, or because it's mentally easier to do, or because it's less costly, any of these factors of ability make a behavior more or less likely to occur based on how easy or difficult the behavior is.

And so even minute changes, right, seconds of load time in your app, a website that's too crowded with people, Too many triggers and confuses the user. Not building enough trust and causing the user to have to think and second guess whether they want to do business with you. All of these factors decrease the user's ability and therefore make it less likely that the user will do what they and you want them to do.

[00:21:08] Hala Taha: And when you were talking about rewards, you mentioned the fact that they really need an element of mystery or a degree of novelty. And in your book, you also talk about how rewards come in three different types, tribe, hunt, and self, I believe. 

[00:21:24] Nir Eyal: That's right. 

[00:21:24] Hala Taha: Can you 

[00:21:25] Nir Eyal: Very good. 

[00:21:26] Hala Taha: Thank you. 

[00:21:26] Nir Eyal: You're an apt pupil there. That's great. 

[00:21:29] Hala Taha: Can you unpack that and just describe these different types of rewards? Cause I thought this was one of the most fascinating parts of your book. 

[00:21:35] Nir Eyal: Sure. Sure. So I talk about variable rewards as this engine of the hook model. I'll tell you the story of how this was kind of discovered, so to speak.

So B. F. Skinner was a psychologist, the father of behaviorism. He was the father of operant conditioning, and he did some really fascinating experiments back in the 1950s and 60s where he took these pigeons and he put them in a little box and he gave them a disc to peck at. And every time they pecked at the disc, they would get a little food reward, a little food pellet.

And so very quickly, he could train these pigeons to peck at the disc whenever they were hungry. Now, mind you, he wasn't creating automatons, right? He wasn't creating little puppets. He could only get the pigeons to peck at the disc if they were hungry. Meaning, there had to be an internal trigger of hunger in order for the pigeon to be motivated to peck at the disc.

Just like with us, people aren't pecking We can't make people do something they don't want to do. They have to have some kind of internal trigger, some kind of need, some kind of itch, in order to do that behavior, okay? But then Skinner found something very interesting happened when he ran out of the food pellets.

So one day he literally ran out of them. He didn't have enough food pellets. And so he couldn't afford to give the food pellet every time the pigeon pecked at the disc. He could only afford to give it to the pigeon once in a while. And that meant that if the pigeon pecked at the disc, sometimes they would get a reward.

Okay. But then if the pigeon pecked at the disc again, they wouldn't receive a reward. And to Skinner's amazement, he saw the pigeons increase the rate of response. They would peck at the disc more often when the reward was given on a variable schedule of reinforcement. And so it turns out that in all sorts of experiences that you find most habit forming, most engaging, the things that capture our attention and won't let go, you will find this element of mystery, this variable reward.

And these variable rewards come in three types. Rewards of the tribe, rewards of the hunt, and rewards of the self. Rewards of the hunt are things that feel good, that have this element of mystery, and come from other people. So, cooperation, partnership, competition, all of these things feel good, come from other people, and have this element of mystery.

It's what makes social media so engaging. Stack Overflow, if you've ever used that for any engineers listening, right? It's this social Q& A site, Quora, a lot of companies use this social reward. You see that all over the place. The next type of variable reward is called Rewards of the Hunt. And this is about the search for material possessions or information.

So when you think about what makes the news so habit forming, right? Why do people read the news every day? Nobody wants yesterday's news, right? That's old news. That's not fun. The first three letters of news is N E W, new. It has to be what we don't know, the uncertainty, the search for information. That's what the rewards of the hunt is all about.

It can also be, of course, the search for money. When you think about variable rewards, you think of gambling, slot machines, right? What makes a slot machine so engaging? Why can nobody stop watching a spinning roulette wheel? Because there's uncertainty around what's going to happen. And so that same psychology is what keeps us scrolling and scrolling on the internet as well.

And then finally, rewards of the self. Rewards of the self are about the search for these variable rewards that feel good, but don't come from other people and aren't about these material or information rewards. These things feel good in and of themselves. They're what's called intrinsically pleasurable.

The search for mastery, consistency, competency, control. Best example online is gameplay. When you play Candy Crush or Angry Birds or any number of these other games, you're not winning anything, in terms of material possessions at least. You're not even playing with other people, many of these games. But there's something fun about getting to the next level, the next accomplishment, the next achievement.

So when you think about checking email, Email is probably the mother of habit forming technology. It uses all three types of variable rewards. It comes from other people, so you have rewards of the tribe. It's about rewards of the hunt, right? What's in each email? Is it good news? Is it bad news? And then there's this element of finishing checking your inbox, right?

So, looking at each one of those unread messages, opening it, clearing them away. These are examples of rewards of the self. That sense of mastery, control, competency. 

[00:25:38] Hala Taha: That's very interesting. So to recap this section of the interview, can you just describe some of the questions that we should use when we're thinking about developing a product that forms habits?

[00:25:50] Nir Eyal: Absolutely. 

So there's, if you're building the kind of product that needs to build a habit, if your business model depends upon bringing people back on their own, then you have to ask yourself these five fundamental questions of number one, what's the internal trigger? What's the user's itch that your product is addressing and does it occur with sufficient frequency?

To bring them back and form a habit. Second, what's your external trigger? What's the information in their environment that prompts them to action? The third question is in the action phase of the hook, what's the simplest thing the user can do to get relief from their psychological discomfort with your product?

Fourth, what's the variable reward? Does the product scratch the user's itch and yet leave them wanting more? And then finally the investment phase. What's the bit of work the user does to increase the likelihood of the next pass through the hook? 

[00:26:41] Hala Taha: Awesome. Let's ship. Gears to your new book. This is Namely on Distraction.

It's called Indestructible. So first, help us understand the breadth of this distraction problem. Why are people so distracted? Why did you decide to write this book? 

[00:26:57] Nir Eyal: Yeah, so you know, this book kind of came out of my own personal struggle with distraction. You know, I noticed that after I had written Hooked, I was finding myself with some bad habits that I didn't like.

I remember one particular occasion I was with my daughter. And she's an only child. And so, you know, she's the love of our life. And we had this book of activities that daddies and daughters could do together. And one of the activities was to ask each other this question. If you could have any superpower, what superpower would you want?

And I wish I could tell you what she said, but I can't because I was busy on my phone when she was answering that question. And the next thing I knew, I looked up and she was gone. She had gotten the message that she was less important than whatever I was looking at on my phone. And so I'm embarrassed to tell you that, but that's what happened.

And I decided to look, you know, I need to figure this out because if I understand how these products hook us, right, I wrote the book on it and I'm struggling. Well, then I'm guessing lots of people out there are struggling. And so at first I wanted to write a book about technology distraction, right? Why technology is the problem.

And I originally thought I was going to call the book unhooked, but then the more I dove into the problem, I realized that it wasn't. technology that was the real problem. That technology is what's called the proximate cause. It's the surface level cause. The real cause, the root cause, was much more complex and much more fascinating.

That it turns out I intended to write a book about technology distraction and it turns out I ended up writing about the psychology of distraction is really the topic of the book. What I learned was is that It's not just about the technology. Technology is the tool. But it turns out there's so much more going on in terms of the deeper psychology.

And so with, when it comes to Indistractable, I have another four part model. I'm very fond of four part models. And it kind of uses many of the same psychology that I learned writing Hooked to try and help us put technology in its place. And so the idea here, You know, every book I read on the topic when I did research about this problem of why don't we do what we say we're going to do.

Every book basically said the same thing, like, just get rid of the technology. The technology is the problem. So, you know, go on a digital detox or 30 day plan or whatever, and it doesn't work. And I'll tell you why it doesn't work. I did all this stuff, but, you know, I should have known it wouldn't work, because my So I used to be clinically obese at one point in my life, and I remember when I was obese, I would go on all these fad diets, right?

No fast food for a whole month. well, guess what happened on day 31, right? I'd eat like crazy. I'd make up for lost time because I wasn't getting to the root of why I was overeating. And as anybody who's struggled with overeating knows, it's not about hunger. Right? It's not about the food itself, it's about the emotional need.

And it's an icky sticky truth we don't like to talk about. We like to blame the tech companies for addicting us. And I wanted to do that too, and I wanted to warn people about, like, look, I know from the inside that this stuff is addictive. And it turns out, I can't say that. Because the science doesn't support it.

The science tells us that we use and overuse and sometimes abuse these products because we're filling emotional needs. It's back to these internal triggers that we talked about earlier that let me tell you, if you can't sit with your daughter without looking at your phone, it's not the phone. That's the problem.

There was stuff going on inside me that I didn't want to face, that I didn't want to look at, that I was trying to escape. And I didn't have the tools to deal with those uncomfortable sensations in a healthier manner. 

[00:30:24] Hala Taha: 

[00:30:32] Hala Taha: you talk about how this is not a new problem and how like, you know, 2, 500 years ago, Socrates and Plato were talking about this concept.

Can you just explain the history behind some of this? 

[00:30:45] Nir Eyal: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this is one of the things that fascinated me. You know, we think that Facebook invented distraction and it is not a new problem. I mean, literally 2, 500 years ago, Socrates and Plato are talking about acracia, this tendency that we have to do things against our better interest.

I mean, it is part of the human condition. And it's part of being an adult is that, you know, we live in a world today that has so many good, interesting, fascinating things vying for our attention. And that's a good thing, right? Do, do we want Netflix to make more boring shows, right? Should we call up Netflix and say, Hey, can you stop making your show so entertaining?

That would be great because they're distracting me. No, I mean, part of being a grownup is learning how to put this stuff in its place. And I think what disturbed me about the popular narrative that I bought into at one point is that. We slough off responsibility and we expect it to be fixed for us. Well, I got news for you.

This stuff ain't going away. It's always been a part of the human condition and it always will be part of the human condition. If anything, technology is only going to make things more distracting, not less. And so if we don't learn how to become indistractable now, if we don't teach our kids how to become indistractable, then I really do think the world is going to bifurcate into people who know how to manage their behavior, who know how to manage their attention and do what they say they're going to do and people who just get.

Tugged around by other interests because the fact is, you know, I can tell you from the inside if you don't take steps to become indistractable These companies are going to get you. They're too sophisticated. They're too good that if you don't take steps to put this stuff in its place Not only, you know, the frivolous social media or gaming companies.

I'm talking about the workplace technology slack and email your phone It's going to get you unless you understand how to put it into place. And so half the book is about things that you yourself can do, right? This four part indistractable model. The other half of the book realizes that you operate in an environment, right?

That your behavior is dictated in many parts by other people. So the second half of the book is about how do we have an indistractable workplace? Right? How do we create a culture that doesn't make people desperate for distraction? It turns out that what I learned in this, and we can talk about this more, but you know, I learned that distraction at work is not about the technology.

It's about a dysfunctional company culture. Then I also talk about how to raise indistractable kids. And finally, I talk about how to have an indistractable relationship. What do you do when you sit around the table and some of your friends decide it's a good time to take out their phone when you were hoping you would have?

you know, quality time together, or what do you do if your spouse or your significant other is on their device instead of, you know, coming to bed? What do you do in those circumstances? So I really try and look at these many different facets of this problem of distraction and give a holistic and yet tech positive and empowering solution.

I'm not one of these chicken little alarmists that tells you technology is melting your brain. I love technology. It's great. I mean, I, I couldn't have written my books. I couldn't have benefited so many ways in my life had it not been for the amazing power of technology. I mean, look at us. talking right now for with these amazing technologies.

Let us do all these things we do. And so it's a tech positive book. And it's also an empowering book that helps people get the best out of technology without letting it get the best of us. 

[00:33:48] Hala Taha: Yeah. And I think it's a perfect time for something like this, because as you said, Companies are only getting more sophisticated.

I don't think people realize how complex it is behind the scenes and how much they're targeted. 

[00:34:01] Nir Eyal: Yeah, and we can use it for good. I still believe that, you know, by and large, you know, I don't want to live in a world without what you're building. I think it's great that you have the option to have great products that engage us.

I mean, we want the products we use to be engaging. That's not a problem. We want awesome products that help us. I think it's going to be up to us though. Unless you are a child, I think children deserve special protection. I think the people who are pathologically addicted deserve special protection. But for the rest of us, It's up to us.

It's going to be our responsibility to learn how to deal with these things healthfully. 

[00:34:35] Hala Taha: You have called indistractability a superpower. Why do you think that that is the ultimate secret weapon of today? Because one could argue that creativity or emotional intelligence or being able to adapt is more important today.

[00:34:51] Nir Eyal: I would argue that all the creativity in the world All the adaptability, all the leadership skills don't get you very far if you don't execute on your dreams. And so you can't execute on your dreams unless you do the work. And so it's not good enough just to have desire and aspirations. If you want to make a difference in the world, you have to get your butt in the chair and do the work.

And that's hard. It's hard and it's not comfortable. And we haven't been taught. How to focus, how to stay on task and do what we say we're going to do. Not only that, it's so much more difficult these days when we have so many good things to distract us, right? Like, oh, I just want to watch YouTube for a minute, or let me just Google something, or even the most insidious things are, you know, those tasks that feel like work?

We call it pseudo work, right? Like, I'll just check email for a minute because that's It's kind of something I need to be doing, right? It kind of feels productive. And this is why we have this explosion of messaging today, not because people need to send these messages. But the Harvard Business Review found that 25 percent of the emails that the average office worker receives, they should not have received, and about 25 percent of the emails they send, they should not have sent.

The reason we have this deluge of emails is because people are using technology to fulfill their voids. To fulfill these uncomfortable emotional sensations of having to do the work, the solution is, uh, it's two big solutions. The solution is do pseudo work or call a meeting. That's what we do. When at the end of the day, to really move our life and the world forward, We have to do focused work.

We have to come up with novel solutions to hard problems. Well, guess what? You can't do that unless you have focused time. But we don't have any focused time in our days anymore. We're constantly reacting, and we have no time to reflect. And so that's what I want to change, is I want to give us the skill set to put our ideas into action.

The reason I call it a superpower is imagine for a second what your life would be like if everything you said you would do was true. you did. Imagine in the domain of your life, right? When it comes to taking care of your body, your health, getting enough sleep, reading books that can improve your life.

Think about in the domain of your relationships, how much closer would you be with your significant other, your kids, your friends, if you were there for them and you were fully present, you made time for these people in your work. How much more effective would you be at work if you actually finished everything on your to do list every day, every day, instead of moving it to the next day and the next day and the next day?

Right? How Unbelievably different would our life be if everything we said we would do, we actually did. That's why I think it's a superpower. 

[00:37:38] Hala Taha: Yeah, that is powerful. How can we stop being distracted? What are your top tips for that? 

[00:37:45] Nir Eyal: Yeah. So it's not so much tips and tactics as it is a strategy. I mean, I do give a lot of tactics, a lot of things that you can do today, like, you know, very quick hit tips, but That's not the most important aspect of the book.

The thing I want you to remember are these four parts of the Indistractable Model. Because if I give you the strategy and that is seared into your brain, you'll come up with the tactics for yourself. The strategy here is to understand that all action is either traction or distraction. Right? You notice both those words end in the same word.

They both end in the word action. Traction is any action that you do that moves you towards what you want in life. Okay? It's things that you do with intent. The opposite of that, the opposite of traction, is distraction. Traction is any action that you do that moves you off track. So think about a number line.

To the right is traction, to the left is distraction. Okay? Now, what spurs action? What makes us do something that is either traction or distraction? Think about two arrows pointing towards the center of that number line. Those two arrows represent either internal triggers, Or external triggers. And of course we talked all about this when we talked about Hooked.

How all our behaviors are spurred by either internal triggers or external triggers. So, now we have four parts. We have internal triggers, external triggers, traction, and distraction. So all we have to do to become indistractable is work on these four basic elements. First, we have to master these internal triggers, understand the discomfort that drives us to seek escape through distraction as opposed to traction.

And so there's really only two things we can do about mastering our internal triggers. We can either fix the source of the problems, figure out why we feel bad, why we are looking for escape in this manner. Or, if we can't fix the source of the problem, we have to learn ways to cope with that discomfort.

And so I give many different ways to do exactly those two things. How do you either fix the problem or learn tactics to cope with that discomfort? There's a lot of myths out there in folk psychology that need to be overturned, like the ego depletion myth, this horrible myth that people run out of willpower, that it's like a gas tank.

Turns out that's totally not true, unless you believe it's true. And so it's really harmful. I do a lot of turning over of apple carts in this book because there's a lot of untruths out there that people need to know are not true because these untruths are really hurting them like this idea that you run out of willpower.

It's not true at all unless you believe it is. So, that's the first step. We have to master these internal triggers. Next, we have to make time for traction. Right, we talked about traction versus distraction. We have to make time for traction. And that means we have to make time on our calendars for the things that we need to do.

So, many people, they don't even know the difference between traction and distraction because they didn't plan what they wanted to do. So, here's the thing I want your listeners to remember. is that you cannot call something a distraction unless you know what it distracted you from. You can't complain about all these things distracting you, the television, the radio, the YouTube, whatever, Facebook, unless you know what it is you wanted to do in that time.

So this comes down to putting on our calendars what we want to do, and then more importantly, so that's kind of basic, you've heard that advice before, what people don't do is that they don't synchronize their schedules with the various stakeholders in their life. You know, a lot of us, we talk a good game.

We say we value certain things, but if I can't see your values on your schedule in terms of how you spend your time, it's just, it's just vaporware, right? It's just talk. So to walk the walk, we need to actually make time for our values on our calendars, turn our values into time. The third thing we do is that we need to hack back these external triggers.

So external triggers are these things in our environment that either lead to traction or distraction. So we have to ask ourselves this critical question. This is kind of my version of the Marie Kondo, you know, doesn't bring you joy question. The question that I want people to ask is for every external trigger in your life, is this trigger serving you?

Or are you serving it? If it's serving you terrific, that's great. Like if you have a notification that tells you, Hey, it's time to go to the gym or, you know, it's time for this meeting and that's what you plan to do with your time. Terrific. But if that external trigger is leading you to distraction, you have to figure out how to hack back, how to remove it from your life.

Not just in your technology, but I also give you insights on how to do this during meetings, how to do this in the workplace as well. You know, one of the greatest sources of workplace distraction, more than our technology, is other people! Right? In open floor plan offices, you have people stopping by your desk and say, Hey, how's it going?

Want to chit chat? Well, yeah, I do, but not right now. So actually, I have in the center of Indistractable, there's a cardstock insert that you can rip out and fold to put on your screen. That's a big red sign that says, I'm Indistractable right now. Please come back later. That tells your co workers that you are indistractable.

Please don't bother me right now. Right? In a polite way. So there's all these tactics that you can use. But what I really want you to understand is this large strategy of is the trigger serving me or am I serving it? And then finally, the last step of the indistractable model is to prevent distraction with Pacts.

And Pacts are these ancient techniques. I mean, we have the Ulysses Pact. It's probably the oldest example of Ulysses and the Odyssey. Written by Homer 2500 years ago, he uses this pre commitment. He binds himself to the mast of his ship to make sure that he's not tempted to do something he doesn't want to do.

And so we can use these same type of packs. We have three types, price packs, effort packs, and identity packs to help us prevent. Us from doing something we don't want to do something will later regret. And so I give you all kinds of techniques for how to do that as well. And so those are the four steps to becoming a distractible master, internal triggers, make time for traction, hack back external triggers, and finally prevent distraction with packs.

And so that's, this is kind of the tip of the iceberg. There's a lot more to say about it, but I want to kind of give you at least the four parts. 

[00:43:43] Hala Taha: Fabulous. And where can our listeners go to find out more about you and everything that 

you do?

[00:43:48] Nir Eyal: Yeah. Thank you. So my website is called near and far. com and near is spelt like my first name. So it's N I R and far. com. My first book is hooked how to build habit forming products. And for the second book, you can go to indistractable. com. 

[00:44:01] Hala Taha: Great. Well, Nir, you have a brilliant mind and I really enjoyed this conversation. Thank you. 

[00:44:07] Nir Eyal: Thank you. 

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