This Weeks' Guest
Nir Eyal - Author & Habit Expert
Nir Eyal - New York Times Best Selling Author (and habit expert, obviously)
This week's guest has written now one but TWO New York Times bestsellers. Nir Eyal is the author of "Hooked" and "Indistractable". Nir's book "Hooked" revealed how big tech (and also not so big tech) companies use our tendency for habitual behaviour to get us hooked to their apps/devices, and teaches you how to do that too (ethically, of course). Nir's second book is about how to break habits of distraction. It's a really interesting look and take on how you can live a more focussed life using the power of habit.
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Quotes of the Cast
At the end of the day, most people out there have no idea how they want to spend their time. If you looked at their calendar, it'd be blank. And you cannot call something a distraction unless you know what it distracted you from that if you have blank time, white space on your calendar, everything is a distraction.
Author Of Hooked and Indistractable
There's a wonderful quote by Paulo Coelho who says "a mistake repeated more than once is a decision", I think it's a wonderful illustration of this principle. If you were to summarize my entire book it's with this mantra that you just recited, which was the antidote to impulsiveness is forethought, that there is no distraction that we cannot overcome if we do not plan ahead.
Author Of Hooked and Indistractable
And so that's why we have to start with this deeper truth that, that, all human behavior is spurred by a desire to escape discomfort. So that must therefore mean that time management requires pain management. And that is a crucial skill that all the tips and tricks, all the gurus, productivity, hacks, and all that, none of that works if we don't fundamentally address this truth, that time management requires pain management.
Author Of Hooked and Indistractable
What You Will Learn
Here's some of the key insights from the podcast with author Nir Eyal on how he sees the world
We didn't have time to get into it in any great detail in the chat, but Nir's blog and his book are full of really useful and practical advice on how to become indistractable. In particular, the sections (of his blog and book) that point towards Google Chrome extensions and other things to help block out the noise of the world around us and distract us.
It's been a bit of a struggle for me to come around to the concept of all behaviour having an underlying motivation of avoiding discomfort. I've always been brought up on the concept that some people are motivated "towards pleasure" but others are "away from pain". But I'm keeping an open mind on it and trying to ask myself about what discomfort my behaviours are trying to help me avoid.
The one line that stood out to me more than any other, in podcast and book, was that something can't be a distraction if you don't know what it's distracting you from. As a long time "to do" list slave (more on that another day) finding out Nir's view that this is the 'wrong' way to do this was interesting. I see the attraction of time blocking, and I have certainly heard of it before (and have a colleague who does it) but I haven't been able to bring myself to doing it yet. And I guess to be fair to Nir and to the process, I have to now try and understand what discomfort I'm trying to avoid by not trying time blocking and giving it a chance.
Transcript of the Full Interview with Nir Eyal
The Habits Habit
The Habits Habit (Brian): one of the things I'm always interested in. when I'm talking to people like yourself who get interviewed lots and lots, is trying to ask questions that maybe you haven't been asked before, and not just for the sake of being cookie or weird or different, but genuinely to try and maybe get answers that. I've never heard before, or that maybe you've never given before. when I was trying to think about that for you, the question that came to me, and I know this is a little bit odd and left of center, but if you were interviewing you, what would be the first question you would ask you?
Nir Eyal: that is a good question.
I've never been asked that before, you chucked one up for yourself right there. that's a good question. it's when you spend so much time thinking about a question it's not necessarily a bad thing to reiterate, I think I have a great deal of respect for people who.
Find the continual curiosity in an important question. And what I find it with my research is that these types of questions peel like onions, there's more and more to them. So I'm certainly not bored of talking about this topic. I think it's a really important topic because it's something that I struggle with.
I have struggled with for many years. And finally I found the answer for, I cracked the code for finally being able to do what it is I say I'm going to do. And so that's what becoming indistractable is all about. so yeah, so I don't mind reiterating some of the things I've said before.
That's a, that's no problem.
The Habits Habit (Brian): I'll tell you actually, there's a kind of dual purpose to the first question, which is, I genuinely think, just like an interview or anything else you're going to do in life. The question of where to start and how to start is a really tricky one. So reading your book, what I was interested in the book is in distractible, head control your attention and choose your life.
And we're going to go into it in a ton more detail for anyone who's just joining us. I will ask them normal questions and you will learn a lot from Nir as well. But you do say you don't have to read the book sequentially and that interested me. for a couple of reasons, but again, it's that question of how and where to start. If you were starting your book, would you start at the start and I'll tell you where I think I would start having read this twice now.
Nir Eyal: Yeah, first of all, thank you so much for diving into it. That always makes for a much better interview. So thank you for taking the time to do that. I think where I would start is by understanding what distraction really is, because I don't think I properly understood, stood what that term really means.
a lot of people will think that the, that they understand what distraction is. But then when you say, what is the opposite of distraction? They tell you the wrong answer. Most people think the opposite of distraction is focus, but that's not true that the opposite of distraction is not focused.
The opposite of distraction. If you look at the origin of the word, Is traction that both words come from the same Latin root to try , which means to pull and they both end in the same six letters, ACTION, that spells action. So traction by definition is any action. That pulls you towards what you say.
You're going to do things that you do with intent, things that move you towards your values and help you become the kind of person you want to become. The opposite of traction is of course, distraction distraction is any action that pulls you further away from what you plan to do further away from your goal is further away from the values, of the person you want to become.
So this is, I think, really important, an important place to start. Because this isn't just semantics. This really matters because what this means is that any action can be a distraction or an act of traction. What do I mean by that? That, my daily routine before I wrote this book used to be waking up.
Going to work, sitting down at my job and saying, okay, now I'm going to work on that big project. I'm going to work on that thing that I've been procrastinating on. I'm not going to get distracted. I'm I'm not going to procrastinate anymore. Here I go. I'm going to get started on that big report, that big project right now.
But first let me just check email. Right first. Let me just do that one quick thing on my to-do list to get that done first. And when I didn't realize is that I was succumbing to the most dangerous form of distraction, which is the kind of distraction that tricks you into prioritizing the urgent at the expense of the important.
So anything can be a distraction just because something feels work-related. If it's not what you plan to do with your time, it is by definition, a distraction. And I think conversely, anything can be traction. So I do not agree with this these chicken little tech critics that we hear today that tell us a sky is falling and technology is hijacking your brain and it's addicting everyone.
It's rubbish. It is so false and dangerous of a narrative because it disempowers people. And look, the fact of the matter is there's nothing wrong with going on social media. There's nothing wrong with playing a video game, if that's what you intend to do with your time, because the time you plan to waste is not wasted time.
So as long as you use these things on your schedule and according to your values, There's nothing wrong with it. We don't need to go on digital detox as we just need to know how we want to spend our time in advance. That's the difference between traction and distraction is one word. And that one word is forethought.
But if you plan ahead, if you understand what it is you want to do with your time, that you can enjoy these technologies and get the best of them without letting them get the best of you.
The Habits Habit (Brian): That it's a very neat summary and as I said, you can tell that you've danced this dance before. You are very well versed on this topic, but you've said a couple of things there that really stood out to me.
And I don't know whether it's a skill of an author. I presume it is to just be able to distill something. And maybe it's not, maybe I'm giving you too much credit Nirand it could be your editor, but to distill something down into one sentence, that's just. You just get us, for me, one of those sentences, yours was, it can't be a distraction if you don't know what it's distracting you from.
So it's this idea of focusing on the right thing,
Nir Eyal: Can I tell you, I appreciated you in the past now. I even love you more. this honestly was the hardest part of this book was summarizing down. The countless of research studies, the reams of papers that I read the academic. Papers that I had to go through the journals, that are, not meant to be read, they're meant to get someone, a PhD thesis.
They're not meant to actually be digested and to boil all that down into something very practical that people could take away. That was the hardest part. And when I w th the idea here was, if people can't. understand these concepts and they can't apply them into their daily life.
And so a lot of the book is not new research. It's very old research, 20, 30, 40 year old research. That's been stuck up in some ivory tower somewhere that most people don't understand or haven't had the time to research, and to look into, I should say. And so what I really wanted to do was to make this kind of advice.
That is one. Research backed. I hate the type of self-help books that, you know, follow my personal recipe because it worked for me therefore, it's gonna work for me for you. No. I really need to see the studies. I want to see the peer reviewed studies that show me that this is real, this isn't just somebody, crackpot theory, and two that it needs to be practical.
It needs to be something that we can all do in our own lives. And so I think this point, I think also hit me like a ton of bricks was. This concept of you can't call something a distraction unless you know what it is distracting you from. That as much as we complain about, Oh my goodness. The world is so distracting these days.
And Donald Trump did this. And did you see this in the news? And did you see this on Twitter and your boss wants this and your kids want that. At the end of the day, most people out there have no idea how they want to spend their time. If you looked at their calendar, it'd be blank. And you cannot call something a distraction unless you know what it distracted you from that if you have blank time, white space on your calendar, everything is a distraction.
And so it's absolutely critical that we define what is traction for us in our life. And this is a very old methodology. This is called making an implementation intention, which has been studied in thousands of peer review journals, have verified that this very simple technique of simply detailing, what it is you want to do with your time is way better than the conventional, behavior, which has keeping it to do list. I rally against to do list, or I should say more specifically running your life on it to do list because it's one of the worst things you can do for your productivity.
If you wake up in the morning and you look at your to-do list before you look at your calendar, You've already, basically lost That is such bad advice that I think people are taking these days. and I didn't know that I was a to do list, devotee every day. That's how I ran my life is looking at my to-do list now to be very clear.
I'm not saying that, getting things out of your head and writing them down is a bad idea that quite the opposite, you should absolutely do that. But where you do that and what you do with it is paramount. So if you start your day by looking at your to-do list, that's the wrong approach. Your best to do list is your calendar.
The Habits Habit (Brian): So that brings me neatly onto what I was going to suggest. So I asked you, where would you start for me? I think that's the place to start because I was just thinking about this and I was like, okay, all the things I need to do in terms of figuring out, what I'm motivated away from, what I'm, all the stuff of the earlier chapters, it in distractible is stuff that you need to devote some time and energy and thought to, And if I don't have that in the calendar, then I'm probably not going to do it.
Nir Eyal: That is A place to start. and I think that's where most productivity books start. I think what it glosses over is the root cause of distraction that we talked about traction versus distraction. But what we didn't talk about is why we are prompted to traction or distraught attraction. why is it that we do things that we know we shouldn't.
And why is it that despite knowing what to do, we don't just do what it is we say. How many times have we said, Oh, I'm definitely going to exercise today. I'm definitely gonna eat. I'm definitely gonna finish that big project, whatever this might be. Why don't we just do what we know we should.
And by the way, this isn't not a new question. Plato pondered this very same question. 2,500 years ago, he called it a classier in the Greek, the tendency to do things against our better interest. This is not a new problem. It's certainly not a problem that technology created. It's not Facebook or the iPhone's fault.
This has been around for a very long time. And so part of what drives us to traction and distraction is what we call external triggers. These are the usual suspects, the pings, the dings, the rings, anything in our outside environment that leads us to traction or distraction. Now. That's what most people blame.
They blame the external triggers for distracting them. And there's a lot we can do to hack back what I call hack back these external triggers, but they are not the root cause of distraction that the leading cause of distraction, the number one reason we go off track is not because of things in our outside environment.
It's about what is going on inside of us. Excuse me. external triggers are about things in our outside environment. Internal triggers is about how we feel. internal triggers are defined as uncomfortable emotional sensations that we seek to escape from, because most distraction starts from within it's the desire to escape discomfort.
Boredom loneliness, uncertainty, fatigue, anxiety. This is why we seek escape. And so the reason I started the book by understanding these internal triggers, and I say the first step to becoming indistractible is mastering. Those internal triggers is because at the end of the day, that is the most powerful pull.
Because it doesn't matter if it's too much news, too much food, too much booze, too much football, too much Facebook, you will always find something to distract you to take you off track. Even I have to admit with you, if you put it in your calendar, If you haven't figured out what's going on inside your own head, if you are looking to escape discomfort in an unhealthy maladaptive manner, it will always lead you to distraction because distraction procrastination, a lack of productivity, a lack of following through.
It's not a character flaw, right? For the vast majority of people, there's nothing wrong with them. It's simply that we, haven't learned to deal with discomfort. That's the source of the problem.
The Habits Habit (Brian): But okay. And I, yeah, your right, I do get that, but I just wonder, it feels uncomfortable. It's hard, I guess is what I'm saying.
And we are naturally as people, some of us, at least, Tend to shy away from things that are hard. So maybe that's why I gravitated towards the calendar. Cause I'm like, Oh, okay. Sitting down with the calendar. I can do that. And I'll pencil it in time to figure out my head in my calendar.
Nir Eyal: Yeah. and that's fine. There's and there's nothing wrong with that. That's why I say, you can't hop around the book. It's interesting. I've heard from different people about which part of the four steps of the infrastructure model. They find most challenging versus the ones that find, which steps are easiest.
And it's interesting. People have a different. A different viewpoint based on their predilection. So for some people dealing with their emotions is easy. if someone is, is someone who, is used to that is comfortable with dealing with, Hey, what are these sources of discomfort? How do I deal with, with w with emotional pain in a way that's healthy and adaptive and leads me to traction rather than distraction versus, you ask that same person.
How about, we take a few steps to plan your day? No, I can't do that. I have to be spontaneous. I can't plan. I don't want to be held down. I, and so it's interesting. I think that might be something that depends on the individual.
One thing I do agree with you. This isn't work free.
Okay. I don't sell people. Snake oil solutions that say, Oh, in five easy steps, 30 seconds you can have the life you want with no work, no everything in life that's worth having is worth fighting for. And so this does require a little bit of effort. I don't mean to do, give the impression it doesn't, it does take some work, but here's the thing we have to do this work.
Because the world is bifurcating into two types of people who let their time and their attention and their lives be controlled and manipulated by others. And then they wake up at the end of life saying, Oh, why didn't I live the life I could have and should have. And people who say, no. I control my attention.
I control my life. I am indistractible. And I think if we don't take that step, if we don't do something today to prevent getting distracted tomorrow, we'll live a life full of regret.
The Habits Habit (Brian): And you don't really get into it in the book. And maybe it's because it's none of our business. if that's the case, tell me it's none of your business, but when you did this exercise for yourself, and tried to look into what pain your distraction was trying to take you away from, or, what was causing that? Did you find answers that you were looking for and are you happy to, or willing to share them? Was there, you know what I suppose what I'm trying to understand is. And I know it be different across the full range of human emotions and experience, was wonton thing is a 10 things is it like, I met I'm 40. I have a bang of, which is Irish for eh, Sense of a bang of a midlife crisis off me where I'm what's life all about what am I doing? do I want to focus all my energy here? I'm at this, I'm a dad, I'm a dad, I'm a lawyer, I'm a podcast or I'm or whatever. and I'm wondering, am I being distracted because I can't quite figure out what it is I want to do with my life, for example. and how was that experience for you?
Nir Eyal: Yeah. So for most people, not for everyone, but for most people, it's not just one big thing. it's a myriad of different questions and pain points. For me, it was specific to the distraction. So at one point in my life, I was clinically obese.
And I think that's that, there's a lot of, there are many parallels between overindulging in food and overindulging in all sorts of other distractions. whether that's too much social media, too much television, too much news. there's a lot of parallels. And as much as I wanted to blame. McDonald's for making me fat. That's not true.
The Habits Habit (Brian): They do make pretty tasty food now Nir. I think we could get them. Some of the blame.
Nir Eyal: They're not bad. They're not bad. I will say this chicken nuggets get me every time, but let me tell you, that, wasn't why I was overeating. I was overeating because I was eating my feelings and many people who struggle with, with being overweight in my case, obese, not just overweight.
That's the real source of the problem. I was eating when I was bored. I was eating when I was lonely. I was eating when I felt ashamed for overeating. And that was the real source of the discomfort. And it wasn't until I understood that I was using food as emotional relief, that I could start really doing something about the problem.
And it wasn't for me, again, it wasn't a big thing in my life. It wasn't an unresolved issue. It was that I was using. Certain pain relievers in an unhealthy way. and so the same goes for distraction. That, for example, I talk about in the book, how there was this seminal moment in my life that really made me reconsider my own relationship with distraction.
When I was with my daughter one afternoon and we had this beautiful day planned and we had this book of activities that daddies and daughters could do together and, it contained different games. There was a Sudoku puzzle and you could make some origami paper airplanes. And one of the activities was to ask each other this question that if you could have any superpower, what superpower would you want?
And I remember that question verbatim, but I can't tell you my daughter's answer because I wasn't listening. I was paying attention to something on my phone. And, I told my daughter to just wait a quick sec, because I had to do this one thing on my phone. And by the time I looked up for my screen, she was gone.
She left the room because she got the message that whatever was on my phone was more important than she was. And she went to go play with some toy outside and it didn't just happen with her. It would happen throughout my life in many different areas. Like for example, when I would get to work, I would say I was going to work on that big project and I do everything.
But, I would say I was going to exercise, but I wouldn't, I would do all these. I would say I was gonna do all these things and then I didn't follow through, I didn't do what I said I was going to do. And so in that instance, it was really about understanding what was the source of the discomfort.
I'd love to blame, my work or Facebook or the iPhone for distracting me when I was with my daughter. But come on that wasn't really the reason, the real reason was that. I was bored, That there's only so much toddler time that a grown man can take before you need a break.
The Habits Habit (Brian): I was going to call your daughter boring. And then I thought I better not do that. He might take offense, but yeah, as the father of three small children.
Nir Eyal: yeah. We don't like to talk about this. it's not that she's boring. It's that I was boring. I didn't find anything that was interesting for the two of us to do together. And by the, whatever hour of playing together, I needed a break.
And that's fine. There's nothing wrong with that. But instead of taking it out on her and blaming it falsely on my phone, I should have said, you know what? Daddy needs a little break. Give me a few minutes. I'm going to go to another room and I'm going to do what I need to do. And then I will tell her I'll be back at a certain time.
Okay. 15, 20 minutes later. So it's really about intent. It's about understanding. Wait a minute. This is what I'm looking to escape from being honest with ourselves, as opposed to blaming and shaming ourselves, we can be honest with look, sometimes we need, to deal with those uncomfortable sensations.
The question is, it's not about. Not having those uncomfortable sensations, we all will have them. And it's not about feeling guilty about having them, right now we are. So I would say happiness, obsessed, right? Every self-help book, professors to teach us the secret to happiness. How many books have happiness in the title?
And it's a little bit of a con because. You are not evolved to be perpetually happy. the human species did not evolve to always be happy all the time. That is not what we evolved to do. if you think about it from an evolutionary basis, if there was ever a tribe of homo sapiens that were contented and happy all the time.
Our ancestors would have killed and eaten them, right? That would not be a beneficial evolutionary trait. You want a species to be perpetually puttered. It's exactly that type of dissatisfaction that helps us achieve in the world. It helps us invent and create and overturn despots, and that drive to achieve only comes from being dissatisfied.
Now, the question is. Do you escape from that DISA dissatisfaction with distraction, or do you harness it like rocket fuel to move you towards traction? So it's not about escaping these uncomfortable sensation. It's about harnessing it. It's about understanding. This is part of being a human being. And instead of always looking for something to take our mind off of the discomfort, we lean into the discomfort and use it as leverage in our life.
The Habits Habit (Brian): I think that absolutely anybody who has children, frankly, we'll be able to relate to that story. And it really resonated with me. One thing, I wonder if we can just explore a little bit, is the habitual reaction to, the boredom or the trigger or so, when you got boards and I know how harsh that board of playing with your daughter.
And as I said, I complete together and. Why was the phone, what you went for. So I suppose, there's a huge overlap, obviously between your first book hooked and this book too, to an extent that's, habits are really central to both, in different ways where, it's coming at the problem from different angles,
Nir Eyal: Yeah, absolutely. I, that, the indestructible was a continuation of hooked. So if hooked is about how do we build healthy habits in people's lives? Using technology indistractible is about how do we break the bad habits that don't serve us. And so it's because I am an industry insider because I understand all the way is that these technology companies get you hooked? I wrote the book Hooked. I know exactly all the techniques they use. I can separate the fact from fiction. I can, I know the difference between what is hyperbole, what is fear tactics and what is real? And one of the things that is most real that I don't think I properly appreciated when I first started, along this field of research is how all of our behavior is driven by the desire to escape, discomfort, Everything you do, every app you use, every action you take, every product you interact with is fundamentally driven by your behavior too that is driven by your desire to escape discomfort. So it's not about carrots and sticks.
We used to believe in carrots and sticks and the desire for pleasure and the avoidance of pain. But that is. Neurologically not true. That the way the reward system in the brain works is by constantly giving us the motivation to escape discomfort. This is called the homeostatic response.
If you go outside and it's too cold, the brain says, Oh, this is uncomfortable. You should put on a coat. And if you walk back in your brain says, Oh, this is too hot. Now the body's too hot. You should take it off. If you are hungry, you feel hunger, pangs. If, and so you eat and if you eat too much, now you feel stuff that doesn't feel good.
So you stop eating. So these are physiological responses to these uncomfortable. States and the same goes for our psychological responses that when we feel. Bored. We check the news or stock prices or sports scores. If we feel lonely, we check Facebook. If we feel uncertain before we even scan our brains, we Google it.
And so that is a fundamental truth that I think carries across both books, that if we want to build healthy habits and people's lives using technology. We have to understand what is that internal trigger? What is that itch that occurs frequently enough to form a habit around. And hopefully that can become a healthy habit of people's lives.
Teaching them a new language, like Duolingo uses the hook model to what my work to help people learn a new language or, a company like Fitbit that helps people get into the habit of exercise. All use these same techniques. And then on the other side as users, if we find that we are overdoing something, not just a tech product, like Facebook or Twitter, Instagram, but watching too much television, reading the news too much, working too much, whatever the case might be with too much of anything, it's still the same source.
It's all about this inability to deal with discomfort, which is why that's such a crucial step to becoming a distractible as well.
The Habits Habit (Brian): I'm just going to stick with this just for one second, because I think it, because I think it's something particularly that any parent will be able to relate to then maybe talking around it a little more, might help explain some of the nuances of this too. So for example, and I had a, such a laugh when I first read distractible, because I just bought myself a flip phone and you start your book by saying, I bought myself a flip phone. That didn't work. That's not the problem.
I was like, okay, I can send that back. And incidentally, my flip phone has WhatsApp and a couple of other features. So it's a kind of smart, dumb phone. And I think it might've worked better than yours, but anyway, and. I suppose people will think if you take the example of your child, right? The solution here is to put down the phone or to put the phone somewhere else.
But if you did that, you would still get bored and you would have done something else, like turn on the news or something like that is not the kind of point that you need to look at it a little deep, more at deeper and less superficial than, okay. I'll just remove the phone from the equation, problemsolved.
Nir Eyal: This is why these digital detox es don't work, for the same reason that fad diets don't work. When I was obese, I would constantly try these fat diets. Let's do 30 days, no carbs, 30 days, no fast food, 30 days, whatever. And, you know what happened on day 31, right back with a vengeance and make up for lost time because I wasn't learning the skill associated with what do I do with the discomfort that leads me off track in the first place.
And so that's why we have to start with this deeper truth that, that, all human behavior is spurred by a desire to escape discomfort. So that must therefore mean that time management requires pain management. And that is a crucial skill that all the tips and tricks, all the gurus, productivity, hacks, and all that, none of that works if we don't fundamentally address this truth, that time management requires pain management.
The Habits Habit (Brian): there's a couple of them then in terms of, I'll just for, if anyone hasn't read the book and I'll just re go through the parts of it. So part one is master your internal triggers, and that's what we're talking about here in terms of, the underlying root cause if you like. Part two is make time for traction. Which we'll come back to in a little bit, but that's time blocking and other things like that. Part three is hack back external triggers, which is a really useful, eh, practical guide to look here's some tools that you can use to make this stuff easier.
So you've gone through the pain of trial and error with, various bits of technology that can help. Lock other bits of technology effectively, and then part four, prevent distraction with pacts. definitely want to talk a little bit more about that and pre-commitment which we've talked about.
And then five, six and seven, are, more relationship-based how to make your workplace and distractable head raising distractable children, and how to have indestructible relationships. so when we talk the base, Time management and pain management. And what
you say is at the very start at the antidote to impulsiveness is forethought planning ahead insurers you will follow through.
Okay. So with the aim of the book being, you'll be able to control your attention and choose your life. So there's going to be, there's still going to be people who are listening to this going, but I do plan, I do say I'm going to go for a run tomorrow morning and then tomorrow morning comes and it's raining or I'm tired or something comes up and I don't do it.
So for that person who says I'm going to go running tomorrow and then doesn't, what do you say to them?
Nir Eyal: this is why the industrial model has these four parts that no one technique is going to work in isolation. It has to be in concert. let's take the example that you just gave here of someone who says I'm going to run.
and then they don't and then you said, a few things came up. Okay. the first thing that came up was I didn't feel like it, is that what you said?
The Habits Habit (Brian): Yeah, I think I said it was raining actually.
Nir Eyal: Cause it was raining.
The Habits Habit (Brian): I really don't like running in the rain. So maybe that's a personal reflection.
Nir Eyal: Okay. Perfect. Perfect. So There's a wonderful quote by Paulo Coelho who says "a mistake repeated more than once is a decision", a mistake repeated more than once as a decision. I think it's a wonderful illustration of this principle. If you were to summarize my entire book it's with this mantra that you just recited, which was the antidote to impulsiveness is forethought, that there is no distraction that we cannot overcome if we do not plan ahead.
So for example, it doesn't rain once in a lifetime. That is not that unexpected. So if we say, oops, it rained shoot. And we go back to our room and do nothing. And then we say, I can't exercise because it rained. Yeah. But we could have predicted that it rains from time to time. So can we use forethought to say, look, what's my goal here.
My goal is only to run. then that's a very narrow goal, but if my goal is, or sorry, if my goal is to only run in the sunshine, that's a very narrow goal. And that, has problems with it because it's factors outside of my control. I would like to say my goal is I would like $10 million, but that's not all in it's control.
I would like to say, I want, long flowing blonde hair, but that's not really in my control. I don't control my genetics. So controlling the weather is outside of my control. So that might not be a very good. Goal in the first place to say, I only will run when it's say I will only exercise when they're sunny weather outside.
If the real goal is look, what I really want is some physical activity. are there conditions where even if it rains outside, I can make sure I ha I get some physical activity in my day. Of course there is you can work out at home. You can, you can do a million different things to get some physical activity in your day, even if it's raining outside, because we plan ahead.
So do we have a backup plan and say, look, I, my goal is to run. If it rains, I know that makes it for an uncomfortable run. Here's what I'm going to do instead. Right forethought. Now I know what I will do instead. Then you said, okay, I don't feel like it. And this is the number one reason we get distracted.
This is the number one reason we don't follow through. What is that? When I say, when someone says, I don't feel like it, you know what I'm going to say? It's an internal trigger. It's an uncomfortable emotional state. It's emotional discomfort that I don't know how to deal with in a healthy manner. That is the number one reason that we don't follow through.
I don't feel like it, but if we knew how to manage our emotions, and this is something that I talk about, I give over a dozen different techniques that we can use to help us overcome these uncomfortable and emotional States we can follow through because most people they say when I don't feel like it's uncomfortable.
I quit. Or I distract myself right. With something else. That's what they typically do as opposed to doing what they said they're going to do. So that's back to these internal triggers. Now we don't stop there. We have hacking back the external triggers where we know that these pings dings and rings, these things in our outside environment can lead us off track.
Hey, if you got distracted one time, because your phone buzzed or beeped or booked a while, you were with someone you love. Okay. Shoot. It happened once, but does it happen a second time? A third time, a fourth time. How many times can we complain about these technology companies addicting us and hijacking our brain.
We haven't taken five minutes to turn off those goddamn notification settings already. We can do something about this. Use some forethought here to do something today to prevent a distracting us for tomorrow. But sometimes even that's not good enough. So the fourth and final step to becoming in distractible is to prevent distraction with pacts.
Pacts are an ancient technique. There are at least 2,500 years old, and we know this because they appear in the story of the Odyssey written by Homer. Now in the Odyssey. There's this Greek hero. Ulysses who has to sail his ship past the Island of the sirens. And the sirens are these mythical creatures that sing this magical song and any sailor who hears the siren song, crashes his ship onto the shore of the sirens Island.
Now you listen, she's knows that this might happen. He knows he might get tired, tempted into distraction. So what does he do? He uses forethought. He tells his crew. To put bees wax in their ears. So they cannot hear the siren song and he makes a pact. He tells them to bind him to the mast of the ship and tells them no matter what I do, no matter what I say, do not.
Let me go. And this pre-commitment, this pact works. He's able to sail his ship right past the sirens Island and return his crew and ship safely home. So we can use what we call Ulysses pact in our own life to make sure as a last line of defense. As the firewall against distraction that when all the other three steps fail, if they fail, this is the last line of defense.
So if you say to yourself, no, you know what? Physical exercise every day in some shape or form is something that I must do. It is consistent with my values. I want it in my life. I am going to do it. Make a pact. How can you make a pact? there's three types of packs. We have effort packs, price packs, and identity packs.
An effort pack is when you put some bit of friction in between you and the distraction. So for example, my problem. For years was that I would go online past my bedtime. I would say, Oh, you know what? Proper rest is so important. Everybody knows we need to get enough sleep, but come 10 o'clock I would just check one more email or I just need one more thing to do on social media.
Let me just watch just a little bit more of that episode. 10, 10 30, 11 o'clock. And I still wouldn't. Start getting to bed and it had an impact on my, on my, mental wellbeing. I wasn't getting enough sleep. It had an impact on my sex life with my wife. We weren't we'd have time to be intimate with each other.
And so what do we do? We made an effort packed. How did I do that? I went to the hardware store and I bought us a $10 outlet timer. And this outlet timer. Turns anything you plug into it on or off at a certain time of day or night. So every night in my household, my internet router shuts off just like that.
Now, what did that do? Could I turn my internet back on? Of course I could. I could go under my desk and I could fiddle with this, with this router thing, I could unplug it and replug it. But that takes effort. So by putting in a bit of friction in between something that I said, I do not want to do. I'm making a pact, I'm making this effort Pak to make it more difficult as a line of last defense.
And of course, even though I know I could do it gives me that moment of pause to say, wait a minute, is this really important? So I really need to check that email right now, or is it more important to do what I said I was going to do, which is to get some rest and maybe snuggle with my wife. So that's an effort packed.
Next comes a price pack, the price pack. Is when there's some kind of, of monetary disincentive to not doing what you said you were going to do. So let me give you my example here, and this pertains to the running example. For many years, I mentioned I used to be clinically obese and so I never liked exercise.
I hated exercise. In fact, my friends would tell me, Oh, I just ran a marathon and I got a runner's high. He was so great. Yeah. I had no idea what they're talking about. Like exercise has always been a, just recently have I been able to tolerate it, but for most of my life, I absolutely hated physical exercise, but I knew that was part of my values.
I want to be the kind of person who takes care of their body and taking care of your body also entails some degree of physical exercise. So I read this amazing research around how people use pre-commitments, and price packs. It has been shown to be the number one most effective smoking cessation study in history, this using a price pact.
And so I, I morphed the study components into something that's served me in my life to help me exercise. What did I do? I got myself a calendar that hangs inside my closet and I can see it every morning. Now, when I see that calendar, what I see is today's date. And then I see onto today's date taped a crisp $100 bill and above the calendar.
There's a little shelf. And on that shelf is a BIC lighter. And I know that every day I have a choice to make this is called the burn or burn method. The burner burn methods is that I can either burn some calories, Go for a jog. do some pushups, walk around the block, do something physical because that's part of my values.
That's what I said I would do. Or I have to burn the money. Like physically set it ablaze. That's a, pre-commitment, that's a pact I made with myself and I know people are saying, how could you do that? You can't burn the money. That's terrible. I can never do that. That's the point. I've never burned the money.
I've done this for three years now and I've never burned the money. You know why? Because I do the thing I said I was going to do, even if I don't feel like it. I, you know what, I really don't feel like doing burning a hundred dollar bill. And so that prep, that pack that pre-commitment I made with myself.
And now I, of course I tell everybody about it because that helps me hold me accountable has allowed me to lose the weight. I'm in the best shape of my life at 42 years old, I've never been in this good of physical shape. Not because I do anything special it's because I just do the thing I said, I'm going to do day in and day out for years and years.
Right. Consistency is much more important than intensity. So that's a price packed. And then finally the last type of pack. Is called an identity packed. And this comes out of the psychology of religion that we know that when someone. Has an identity, a moniker they use to describe themselves. They become much more likely to follow through with their longterm goals without expending willpower.
So for example, a religious Muslim, an observant Jew does not say. Oh, I wonder if I should have that bacon sandwich? No, because bacon is forbidden, right? Pork is forbidden in those religions, a vegetarian doesn't say, Ooh, I wonder if I should have a hamburger today. No, a vegetarian doesn't eat meat.
It is who they are. It is part of their identity. And there is no reason just like people might choose an identity based on their religious affiliation or because of an ethical concern, like being a vegetarian, we can adopt all sorts of monikers that help us make an identity packed with ourselves. This is why the book is titled in distractible.
Because when you call yourself in distractible and you don't even have to read the book to do this, when you call yourself in distractible, there are certain things that you do or will not do you are the kind of person who strives to do what they say they are going to do. So the difference between a distractible person and an indestructible person, Is that a distractable person keeps getting distracted by the same things again and again, day in and day out an indestructible person knows why they got distracted and they do something about it.
So they utilize these four tactics of mastering, the internal triggers, making time for traction hacking back the external triggers and preventing distraction with pacts, they say to themselves, okay, I got distracted once. It happens, but I'm not going to get distracted by the same thing.
Again, I'm going to use these four techniques in concert. That's how we become indestructible
The Habits Habit (Brian): Nir there's a couple of things you said that I want to pick up on if that's okay. And w first of all, the concept of an identity pact. Ties in with another chapter in the book, which is reimagine your temperament, or at least it does to me.
which is, how you think about yourself. and the quote that came to my mind when I read that chapter was the attributed that drive driving around lead to Henry Ford, which is whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're probably right.
Nir Eyal: And so
The Habits Habit (Brian): there's a similar element of that.
So one of the things that jumped out at me, like jump screaming at me. I dunno if someone has said this to you before, or if it's been raised before, or even if you knew it at the time, but there's a line in that chapter about, temperament saying addicts, beliefs regarding their powerlessness was just as significant in determining whether they would relapse after treatment as their level of physical dependence.
Has it been said to you before how that plays in with the first step of the alcoholics anonymous, 12 steps routine.
Nir Eyal: Tell me more
The Habits Habit (Brian): well that the first step in alcoholics anonymous, as far as I understand this, I should say this isn't actually from personal experience, although some would suggest it should be. But, the first step says we admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable. and there's a really good book. The name of which escapes me, I don't know. And, as a female author wrote this really good book about, basically giving up drink, and what she said was she just, she couldn't. Exce pt that first step that she was powerless against alcoholics, she thought it was defeated. She thought, when I read your thing, I was like, that is not a good place to start. If you're trying to get control over alcohol to say that you're powerless against us.
Nir Eyal: Yeah. Yeah. I think that alcoholics anonymous works despite that, not because of it.
I think what makes alcoholics anonymous really works, is the sponsorship model. and in fact, by the way, the alcoholics anonymous, success rate is about 12%, as much as we. Think it's the only way to go. It's certainly not, that there are many ways that people recover, from the terrible disease of alcoholism.
alcoholics anonymous is not the only way. And in fact, it's, it doesn't have the highest success rate out there at only 12% from what I understand. so I, what the studies find is that, you're absolutely right to reiterate that. It's the degree of powerlessness that you believe in terms of, I think maybe in the alcoholics anonymous context is a little bit different.
It's not that we are powerless, in our lives or that we're powerless to do anything. it's it's that we're powerless with this disease. Itself. I think that's
The Habits Habit (Brian): maybe but I still think maybe even, yeah, in terms of terminology, it sets you up to be in a weak position. I that's just personally how it feels to me, but as I say, I don't, yeah. I don't want to get too bogged down in the alcoholics anonymous thing. It was just that powerlessness word was important. And in terms of how you see yourself.
Nir Eyal: yeah, and that chapter is super important because it, as I talked about with identity packs, how they can help us, our identity is can absolutely hurt us as well.
and so I talk about the example of ego depletion. Is a big part of that chapter where I talk about how, For many years, the psychology community believed that willpower was a depletable resource. We talked to, we call this ego depletion that, the more willpower you expend, it's like a muscle, right?
And many people still believe this and espouse this. I see it all the time in pop psychology articles. That willpower is like gas in a gas tank, you're just out of it. And of course, many of us, even if we don't know the term ego depletion, we live this way.
I used to live this way. I would come home from work and I would say, wow, what a tough day today. I can't make any more decisions. I don't have any more willpower left I'm quote spent. And so that means that I deserve a pint of ice cream and I'm going to sit on the couch and watch Netflix. And it turns out that this whole idea of ego depletion was challenged by several psychologists. We do, in a social sciences, what we do if a study sounds too good to be true, we run the study again, we see it if will replicate, and it turns out it looks like ego depletion does not replicate. It's not real. Except in one group of people. That there was a study done by Carol Dweck.
Who's a fantastic researcher at Stanford. She wrote a wonderful book called mindset, and she did this great study where she found that. There is in fact, one group of people who really do suffer from ego depletion. They really do act as if their willpower has run out like gas in a gas tank and those people.
And only those people are people who believe that willpower is a depletable resource. if you believe you are spent, you will act accordingly, but the phenomenon doesn't really exist. It's only true if you believe it is And so that's why I think it's so dangerous these days when people tell us that, Oh, technology is addictive, it's hijacking your brain.
There's nothing we can do. The algorithms are controlling our behavior. It is. Really dangerous because it leads to this sense of learned helplessness. It tells people exactly what the tech companies want them to believe. There's nothing you can do. So don't even try. And so that's what I'm fighting against.
I want to empower people to understand it's not okay to have a lost generation here. Because we're going to wait for the politicians to fix this problem or the tech companies to fix this problem. They're not going to fix the problem. We have to do something about it right now. Why would we wait? And so that's why I'm on this mission to help people understand that we can do something about this problem right now for the sake of our own lives.
For the sake of our children's lives, we need to become indestructible.
The Habits Habit (Brian): we're going to start running out of time and I'm nowhere near running out of questions. So I'm just try and focus my own mind a little bit here. the, one of the practices of, bad adding friction, I, had the pleasure of speaking to professor Wendy wood who wrote, good habits, bad habits, last week. and. I think, it, that is one of the most important aspects of her research it's about, whether you want to call it environmental design or whatever else it is, but it is interrupting this, eh, what do you want to call it a habit loop or whatever you want to call us. We haven't even got into really the hookah bottle and hooked, and I don't think we're going to have time to, but this concept of making your bad habits, harder, making your good habits easier. The same question I asked her, I'll ask you if that's okay, which is why do we rail against that? So I find that, uncom an uncomfortable truth that, eh,
I can't rely on my own willpower that I can rely on my motivation or my values. If I'm not doing something about the triggers and I'm not changing my, whether it's environment or life or routine to avoid the triggers that are going to, result in the habits.
Nir Eyal: Yeah. it's a very interesting question. a great example of that is, when I talk about the, the burn or burn technique, that here's a technique that. Let's see you have your cake and eat it too. So to speak that, if I told you whatever goal, you're not doing your goal, right?
Not someone else's goal, whatever your goal is, I'm going to write that novel. I'm going to lose 20 pounds. I am going to, what, whatever it is that you want to do in your life, if someone paid you enough money, Or someone threatened you deeply enough, right? They're going to put a gun to your head. You would most certainly do those things.
And yet, somehow. It w we won't do this for ourselves, even though we know we're capable, and that's why the burner burn technique works. If you do it, because I really don't want to burn that a hundred dollar bill. But when I tell people, Hey, look, I got into the best shape of my life. I didn't have to pay for liposuction.
I kept my money because I never had to burn it. And I got it. All right. I did what I wanted and I kept my money because I followed through. So there was no cost. I didn't have to sign up for weight Watchers. I didn't have to go do all this stuff. I simply did what I said I was going to do under this pact that I made with myself with this pre-commitment and it's amazing how many people say, I would never do that.
The Habits Habit (Brian): Hang on. Can I ask a question Nir? When you say they say I would never do that? Which part are they saying? They would never do.
Nir Eyal: that's exactly the point, the actually doing part, because as soon as you make it, so concrete of wait a minute. If I did actually have a pact with myself, if I really did have a price that would be that I would have to pay for not doing the thing that I myself said, I want to do.
What's really going on is people are realizing I ain't going to do the hard work well,
The Habits Habit (Brian): Now again, this could just be me. And I'm curious to know again, if this has come up in conversation, you mentioned this as well in terms of, getting this book finished and that you said you, if you didn't get it done on time, you would pay your friends $10,000, right?
In both circumstances, the a hundred dollar bail on the wall or the 10,000 Euro. My pre-commitment would have to go further to be effective. This is just personal nature because I wouldn't burn the note like that. Say I didn't do the exercise, I wouldn't burn it. So I would have to give us to someone and say, you have to burn that if I don't do the exercise, or in your friend's example, I would have to pre transfer the 10,000 to him and say, if I don't get it in, don't give it back to me because I don't think if I would give it to him, do you follow my, what I'm getting at?
Nir Eyal: Sure. Yeah. and the most important thing here is the principle and not the execution, right? So if you understand how these pacts work, you can tailor them and adjust them to any way that works for you.
The point is it has to hurt in order to become a pact. Now it's incredibly important. I want to emphasize this double underline asterix, this okay. This is what you do last. Okay. The reason that the fourth step is to prevent distraction with pacts is that if you do it in the wrong order, it will backfire.
If you listen to this podcast and you say, Oh great. Now I know how I'm going to get in shape. I'm going to promise somebody that I'm going to pay them. If I don't. But you haven't mastered the internal triggers. You haven't made time for traction. You haven't hacked back the external trigger. You will fail.
It will not work. You have to do the other things. First. This is only the last line of defense. This is the firewall against distraction.
The Habits Habit (Brian): Yeah. It's it's I w I wonder, I've talked to a lot of people on this podcast so far who probably have never when I say probably have never read your book. I know they haven't because I asked them, and these are people who, for example, George Crawford, who is a cancet and a kind of health and wellbeing and ambassador in Ireland name. and I asked, she has developed a whole load of healthy habits, having cancer and surviving it, and, to get herself to a certain place in her life where she is now.
and she did that without reading any of these books or without knowing stuff. So there's a level of. I won't say common sense, but like some people will have done some of the stuff in the book already. For example, I've done a lot of the hacking back before I read the book. I done certain bits and pieces of it, but I guess I feel like it's a bit of a jigsaw. And so you I'm sure like me and like you, before you did the research, wrote the book you're missing pieces.
Nir Eyal: Yeah. Yeah. So th the biggest contribution I think I can make to reader's life is the mental picture. And it's hard to describe over a podcast, through audio, but, the arrow to the right that's traction, the arrow to the left, that is distraction.
And then the two influencers of our actions, internal triggers and external triggers. If you understand these four parts. This is the basis. This is how we prevent distraction with forethought. We understand these four parts of the hook model, and we follow our I'm sorry, I have that indestructible model and we follow our way around these four points by mastering the internal triggers, making time for traction hacking back external triggers and preventing distraction with pacts and believe it or not.
That actually was the most time consuming part of the book because of a few reasons, one validating what really works and what really should be in the book. The stuff that's really backed by decades, old signs and the reason some of these techniques for, for example, I'll be honest with you.
Yeah, removing a notifications from your phone. 'cause they keep pinging and dinging you for, to check Facebook. this is kindergarten stuff. seriously, who, how can we complain that technology is, is distracting us and addicting as if we haven't even taken five minutes to change our notification settings.
You don't need to buy a whole book to tell you that's common sense. I totally agree. And some of these techniques are out there because they really do work, so implementation intentions, making a calendar timeboxing they've been out there when people don't realize is how much of the common wisdom is flat out wrong or harmful.
So the book is full of me, overturning Apple carts. Not many people know willpower is not a depletable resource, unless you believe it is not many people know that keeping a to-do list, running your life off that to-do list. Is destroying your productivity. Not many people know that labeling yourself as having short attention span or whatever other labels can harm you and keep you from a 10 year goals.
So as much as there's common sense out there, much of the common sense turns out to be flat out wrong and harmful to folks.
The Habits Habit (Brian): it's like the whole thing is just so fascinating that it. As I said a couple of times in this podcast, one of the things that I'm delighted, I've discovered us now, but disappointed I've only discovered it.
Now, if you follow me, it's I feel like I'm late to the party and I'm chasing my tail catching up to very far. I'm going to try and respect your time as much as I can with everyone else. I go over time and just wing us first. I'm conscious that there'll be no another time blocks.
So I won't do very quick questions. One of which is just a quirky observation, perhaps nothing more bolus. I just did the maths. And the average chapter in your book is 5.2 pages long, which is very short. And I'm just wondering is that by design, because we're distractable that you wanted to make us chunkable, bite-size that, you get three chapters, you feel like you're making progress or
Nir Eyal: abs absolutely. You nailed it. That's exactly right. It just,
The Habits Habit (Brian): yeah, it's just, it's something that I spotted. And then I guess the final, final two questions, one for you, which is what's next, you said it took five years research to do indistractable. if that was released in 2019, probably finished, or oversee editors in 2018, are you two years into researching the next one or are you taking some time out or what's happening?
Nir Eyal: I don't really know what the next thing I have. I have many projects that I'm interested in exploring deeper, there's been so much interest indistractible. and so many things have happened since I wrote the book. I wrote the book in late 20, 19. before Corona, before this crazy political year, and now the world has become so much more distracting than I thought.
I thought the world was distracting back before 2020. And now with everything that's happened in 2020, it's only become more distracting. And so there's been a confluence of a greater need for this material. And also I think, again, a lot of. Misinformation out there. primarily what I'm fighting against is this misinformation around, this hopelessness, this, this idea that it's addicting, everyone, there's nothing you can do about it.
I'm really fighting that. So that's the mission I'm on right now is to empower people to do something about this problem, rather than just giving into this victimization, culture that I think. Pervades this, this problem right now. So that's really what I'm working on. I don't, I wish I could tell you, I know what the next project is, but for right now, I'm so interested and, engaged with fighting this battle right now that I'm pretty happy to continue on this path.
So I'll see. Maybe someday I'll start working another, book, but right now, the way I write books, I don't sit down and say, Oh, I'm going to write a book. I blog about it. So right now, I blog every two weeks. I write something on my blog. I write on medium every week. and so I just crank out interesting thoughts that, occupy my brain and, interesting research I come across, at near and far.com.
And eventually that will probably turn into a path that I can follow for an another book. Hopefully.
The Habits Habit (Brian): Listen, Nir it's been an absolute pleasure and a joy talking to you. I've learned so much and I hope everyone listening has to have a great day. I did go a minute over, so I apologize for that.
Nir Eyal: No, from thank you so much for having me as a real pleasure.
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