📓 How to Become Indistractable - Notes & Key Takeaways
📓 Notes & Key Takeaways
Why focus on distraction? Why does "abstinence" from technology not work?
"Research is me-search" → Nir wanted to develop this skillset to be a better writer and father; tried getting rid of his phone and internet but still found himself distracted and decided to dig into the topic more deeply.
Wanted to find a "tech-positive" approach to dealing with distraction
People have been complaining about distraction for over 2,500 years (e.g., Plato talked about the tendency to do things against our better interest)
We must differentiate between the proximal cause and root cause; Technology is not the "root cause" of distraction.
90% of the time we are distracted, the root cause is inside of us → call these internal triggers (which are often uncomfortable)
Emotions we seek to escape lead to distraction.
What is the indistractable model?
The opposite of distraction is not focus. It's traction. (Both end with the same six letters).
Distraction is not something that happens to us - it's an action we take.
Traction is an action that pulls you toward what you said you were going to do. It comes from intent and includes things that move you closer to your values and help you become the kind of person you want to become.
Distraction (the opposite) pulls you further away from goals and becoming the person you want to become.
Moralizing and medicalizing distraction is not productive. The time you plan to waste is not wasted time. Enjoy those things without guilt.
The majority of distraction is not the things we think of (e.g., video games) but rather other forms of procrastination (e.g., cleaning up your desk or doing email).
Work-related tasks can be the most dangerous kind of distractions (e.g., slack, email)
Indistractable model: (1) must start with mastering the internal triggers; (2) make time for traction (can't call something a distraction if you don't know what it distracted you from); (3) hack back external triggers (many tips & tricks for this); (4) prevent distraction with pacts (pre-commitments)
Try to approach the model as a scientist (e.g., experimental) vs. drill sergeant (e.g., blame & shame) → the goal is to do all this for yourself, not for others or their judgment.
Blamers & shamers: blamers blame things outside of themselves (e.g., Facebook); shamers take it on the inside (e.g., "something is wrong with me, I have undiagnosed ADHD") → shame spiral is uncomfortable internal trigger → leads to more distraction
Better to be a claimer → claimers claim responsibility not for how they feel (you cannot control urges b/c by the time you feel them, it's too late, you already felt it) → you claim responsibility for how you respond to the urge (hence the term "responsibility")
On motivation & the desire to escape discomfort:
Motivation: everything we do, even the pursuit of pleasurable sensations, is psychologically destabilizing → wanting, craving, desire – makes you feel uncomfortable, which drives you to get that thing that will make you feel good.
All human behavior is spurred by a desire to escape discomfort → time management = pain management.
To become indistractable, we have to start with our feelings (not our phones)
Tips & tricks to manage uncomfortable emotions:
Feelings are like waves - they crest and subside → can help to wait for them to pass.
10-minute rule/" surf the urge": wait 10 minutes before indulging in desired distraction (e.g., going for a walk, cleaning the desk)
If you slip up, don't beat up on yourself; be kind to yourself (e.g., "this is what it feels like to get better at something")
Abstinence can backfire - we have a desire to rebel, even against ourselves; the 10-min rule can help with many things (e.g., weight management, smoking cessation)
Over time you prove to yourself that you are not beholden to distractions, you can control your attention, and you are training yourself to do just that.
"A mistake repeated more than once is a decision" - Paulo Coelho → Distracted people do the same thing again and again, are choosing to be distracted
The antidote to impulsiveness is forethought - we simply have to plan ahead.
"Ego depletion" – a theory that people run out of willpower → turns out that this issue doesn't exist - it's not real. You do not run out of willpower. The only people who "run out" of willpower are the people who *think* that their willpower is limited.
Learned helplessness is the enemy of impulse control. We need to believe in our agency.
"People are frugal in guarding their personal property, but as soon as it comes to squandering their time, they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy." - Seneca (Roman stoic philosopher)
The average American spends ~ five hrs/day watching screens.
You can always make more money. You can't make more time.
Very important to plan ahead, aka have an implementation intention → planning what you are going to do and when you will do it.
If you have a big open blank calendar, you can't say you got distracted because what did you get distracted from?
To do list isn't enough. If you don't plan what you will do and when you will do it, you will always have items undone, which leads to guilt and feeling like you are failing → reinforces a self-image as someone who doesn't do what they say they're going to do—very negative impact on the psyche.
Don't measure yourself on how many boxes you check.
A better strategy: plan what you will do and then measure yourself if you did what you said you would, for as long as you planned, without distraction.
Helpful to take some time (e.g., 10 minutes) once per week (e.g., Sunday night or Friday afternoon) and plan out the following week. You can also use the time to review the past week and evaluate how much you adhered to your plan. Then make changes as desired (e.g., I prefer workouts in the afternoon vs. morning)
The only rule - cannot change your schedule on the day. Once you make the schedule, you must stick to it.
"Limitations give us structure while nothingness torments us with the tyranny of choice."
"If I know how you spend your time, then I know what might become of you." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The schedule must align with your values - highly personal.
Reactive work vs. reflective work → easy to get stuck in reactive (e.g., emails, meetings, notifications); essential to carve out some portion of time for reflective work (e.g., time to think & be creative, plan ahead, move career forward)
Indistractable workplaces, teams & cultures:
The most common distraction at work is other people, not technology.
Essential to have the psychological safety to talk about the problem of distraction at work – the ability to speak about issues earnestly without fear of being fired.
Must have a forum for discussing problems (e.g., slack channel, weekly meetings).
Management must show that they are paying attention and that employees are heard.
Management must set an example - culture flows downhill. If bosses use devices in meetings and are distracted, so will their reports.
"Work hard & go home" - Neon sign at Slack cafeteria
Important to "manage up" - sit down with your boss for schedule syncing. Show a plan for the week, list things that don't fit well into the week, and work together to prioritize.
Much more than "just say no" – that is an unrealistic way to handle your manager. Better to align on priorities.
Managers want to know how their direct reports are spending their time. Aligning the schedule can help.
📇 Key Terms:
Traction: doing something that you said you would do in advance
Distraction: doing something different than what you said you were going to do
Internal triggers: desires to avoid discomfort
External triggers: distractions that come from outside (e.g., phone ringing, kids shouting)
Pacts: a freely made decision that is designed and intended to bind oneself in the future
Indistractable model: Nir's framework for showing the relationship between internal/external triggers and distraction/traction
Implementation intention: planning what you will do and when you will do it.
Psychological safety: the belief that you won't be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes
Managing up: when a direct report, through a positive relationship, can make the job of their supervisor easier
Learned helplessness: belief that one is unable to control or change the situation, so they do not try — even when opportunities for change become available.
📚Referenced & Further Study:
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal 📗
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. 📗
🗣️ Discussion Questions:
What are your most significant sources of distraction? What internal triggers drive you towards them?
Do you schedule your days ahead of time? If not, why not? If yes, what could you do better?
If you could have greater traction towards any three things in your life, what would they be? How can you plan to ensure you are making progress and living up to your commitments?
How does your calendar align with your values? Are there any priorities not getting sufficient time or attention? If so, how come?
Is your company culture one of distraction? If yes, how so? What could be done to change that?
Do you sync your schedule with your manager or direct reports? If not, why not? Do you think it could help to align priorities?
Having listened to this session, what changes do you feel inspired to make, if any?