Episode 200: Nir Eyal on how to become Indistractable
September 9, 2019
Our guest today Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, which has been a huge bestseller and is considered a must-read book in Silicon Valley.
Nir’s latest book is Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, which is being released on September 10. I’ve read a review copy, begun putting his recommendations into effect, and I highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever been distracted.
In today’s episode, Nir shares highlights from the book, and gives a summary of his four-part approach to becoming indistractable.
Nir has a bunch of free downloads that go along with the book on his website at: www.NirAndFar.com/Indistractable
While you are on his site, definitely sign up for Nir’s weekly email – I love it.
The schedule maker tool that Nir mentions in our discussion is at: https://nirandfar.com/schedule-maker/
And distraction guide here: https://www.nirandfar.com/distractions/
Will Bachman: Hello Nir, welcome to the show.
Nir Eyal: Thanks Will, it’s great to be here.
Will Bachman: Nir, you contend that it’s not about our devices, but distraction is all about us and there’s something that we can do about it. Give me a quick overview of that point of view.
Nir Eyal: Sure. So I don’t know if I would say it’s all about us. I would say that these distractions, most people when I talk about distractions, they think about technology. They think about social media, they think about what’s going on in the news. And I don’t think this stuff is our fault. Clearly you didn’t make Facebook, you didn’t make YouTube, you didn’t make Slack, you didn’t make the boss that calls you at 9:00 PM when you’d rather be preparing for bed. Those things aren’t your fault, but they are your responsibility.
And so my book Indistractable is all about how do we make sure we do what we say we’re going to do in business and in life. How do we control our attention and choose our life? That’s what Indistractable is all about.
Will Bachman: And this book we should also mention I think most listeners will know that you are the author of Hooked, which a massive bestseller. You find it in every airport bookstore in the world, and highly touted by CEO of Microsoft and lots of tech players. Tell us a little bit about your journey of, you first wrote the book on Hooked on how to get devices to really capture our attention, and tell us a little bit about the history of that book and its reception.
Nir Eyal: Yeah, so Hooked was really about how do we build habit forming products. That’s the subtitle. By the way, it’s not about how do we build addictive products. I can always tell if somebody hasn’t read my book because they said, “Oh, you wrote the book on addiction,” and that’s clearly, I mean I even have a whole section in the book talking about why you should not addict people. There’s a big difference between the two. But the idea behind Hooked was to help people who are building the kind of products and services that would improve people’s lives if people only used those products. A very common challenge in business is that people don’t use products that would benefit them were it not for how poorly designed so many products out there are. So products like local business websites, or apps that are supposed to make us more productive at work. I mean, so many. How we interact with local government, right?
There’s all of these products and services. They don’t suck us in the way Facebook and YouTube and Twitter might. No, they just suck. And so that was my first goal in writing Hooked was to help product makers build the kind of products and services that people want to use, as opposed to feeling like they have to use. So that was the reason why I wrote Hooked.
Will Bachman: And so it got really, really well received. Before we get into talking about Indistractable in some depth, and I’ve read the preview book, love it, started implementing some of the tips in my own life. Tell us a little about the reception of Hooked and what happened to you after that in terms of your own independent practice and your teaching, and if you’ve been doing consulting or speaking. Interesting to hear what life’s been for you since that book came out.
Nir Eyal: Yeah. So Hooked has been a great journey. We’re just about reaching the five year anniversary mark for Hooked, and it’s been fantastic. I mean the book has been very, very well received. The goal that I had for the book, I never wrote the book for Facebook and YouTube and the gaming companies. They’ve known these techniques for years and years and years. What makes me most proud about the book is that it’s been used by companies to help people form healthy habits. Companies like Kahoot is an exercise app that helps people form a habit of working out in a gym. It’s companies, oh I’m sorry. I said Kahoot. I meant Fitbod. Fitbod is the exercise app. Kahoot is the world’s largest educational software, and that’s another app that uses the Hook model to make education in classroom learning more engaging, more habit forming. Companies like Paga that have brought millions of previously un-banked people online for the first time in Africa.
These are the kind of products that, this was the reason why I wrote Hooked. Now I always recognize that there’s this power in habit forming products that some people go too far with some of these products, right? They overuse. And at one point in my life I was one of those people. One of the stories I tell in the book is how, when I had this revelation that I needed to search for some answers was when I found myself checking my device when I was with my daughter. I clearly had set aside time to be with my daughter, and I kept finding myself checking just one quick email or one thing on Facebook or whatever it might be, instead of being present with her, with someone I loved. And I wish I could tell you it just happened once, but it didn’t. It happened a lot.
And I wanted to figure out how do I get to the bottom of this. Because I’m the guy who understands the psychology of how these products get you hooked. And here I was, unhealthfully hooked into some of these products as well. And what I originally did was read every book on the topic. I’d buy every book out there about how to manage addiction and technology over use. And there’s all these books that say technology is basically melting your brain. And I bought all of them to see what they had to say. And they basically all said the same thing, right? Go on a digital detox or get rid of your technology for 30 days, or whatever it might be. It’s the technology that was the problem. But I found that there was this discontinuity between what the books in the popular media said versus what the academics were saying.
That when it comes to the research around distraction, it’s never just about the object. It’s never just about the tool that we are using to get distracted. That what the academic literature was saying was that there are root causes to why we do things against our better interests. By the way, this is a question that Socrates and Plato talked about 2,500 years ago. They talked about the nature of akrasia, this tendency that we have to do things against our better interests. It’s not a new problem, but it turns out that the knee jerk reaction, the low fidelity thinking that a lot of people have is, well, it’s clearly the tool that’s doing it to me. Technology is hijacking our brain. It’s addicting us. But that’s not really what the literature says. And so the deeper I dove into what academics are finding is that it’s never that simple.
We would like it to be that simple. It’s really fun and easy to just blame something that does it to us, but it turns out it’s not accurate. And so I really wanted to write a book to correct these misperceptions and give myself a practical guide to managing distraction, not just tech distraction, but all distraction. So it turns out anything can be a distraction if it takes us off the track, it takes us away from what we really wanted to do. So I just got really into this question of why do we do things against our better interests? The same question that Socrates and Plato had 2,500 years ago. It’s a really interesting question, and I was looking for the answer. And what I found was that the problem isn’t a lack of knowledge. In the self-help and personal development industry, it’s always sold as a lack of knowledge.
You just don’t know how. So let me tell you what to do to have the life you want. Well, it turns out it’s not just about knowing what to do, it’s about making sure we don’t do the wrong things we’re not supposed to do. Because basically we all know what to do, right? If you want to have a healthy body, you have to eat right, you have to move your body. If you want to have good relationships, you have to be fully present with the people you love. You have to make time for them. If you want to be really good at your job, you have to actually do the work at your job. And so we know basically what to do, but why don’t we do these things? And so that’s really the deeper question behind Indistractable.
Will Bachman: Yeah. You lay out a four-part model, and it’s always helpful to have a framework around it. So let’s go through each one. So part one, master internal triggers. Share some of the practical tips from that section. And I’ll just share one that I liked, which was re-imagine your temperament. So that’s the idea of saying that you can actually giving yourself a different identity. Where you say, instead of saying like, oh, I’m trying not to eat sweets. You’re saying, I’m a person that doesn’t eat sweets. So just reframing it as part of your identity or part of your temperament. I thought that was a pretty cool tip. But talk a little bit about what you mean by master internal triggers and what are some of the key tips in that section?
Nir Eyal: Yeah, so there’s four parts of this model. So let me just paint a picture for your listeners.
Will Bachman: Yeah, do that.
Nir Eyal: So that we all have this picture that not only can we use in our own lives, we can also teach others. So when it comes to our colleagues, when it comes to our kids, when it comes to our significant others, we want to be able to spread this point of view so that can help us become Indistractable ourselves. So I want you to picture a plus sign, like a cross, a plus sign in your mind. And on the horizontal axis, on the horizontal line, two arrows pointing out. So one pointing right, one pointing left. To the right, this is traction. That arrow is pointing towards traction. Traction is any action that you take that moves you towards what you want to do, the life you want to live, the actions you planned to do with intent.
The opposite of traction is dis-traction. So dis-traction is anything you do that moves you away from what you really want to do. Anything that you were doing not with intent. So we’ve got traction on one side, we’ve got dis-traction on the other side. That’s the horizontal axis. On the other line, the vertical line that bisects the horizontal line, we have two arrows pointing in, into the center of where these lines bisect. And these two arrows represent the two things that prompt either traction or dis-traction. These are called internal triggers or external triggers. So external triggers, let me start there. You’ll be familiar with external triggers. These are things in our life, the pings, dings, and rings, all of these things in our environment that tell us what to do next. So those are one source of these triggers that can prompt us to either traction to do things we plan to do or can lead us to dis-traction.
So if I get a notification on my phone and it says, hey, it’s time to exercise and that’s what I planned to do, well great, that’s moving me towards traction. But if I get a notification on my phone when I planned to be with my daughter, that’s a dis-traction. Now it’s moving me off track. So those are external triggers and I give many techniques of what to do with those as well. But the most important place to start, and this is why we have to look at this model holistically, because if you jump around, as many people do, and they, oh, I use this technique this week and that technique next week, not only does it not work, even if you have the right technique in the wrong order, not only does it not work, it can often backfire. So it’s critically important that we do these steps in order.
So the first step, the most important step, is to master internal triggers. These internal triggers, the arrow on the top that’s pointing towards the center of the plus mark. These are things that prompt us to action, either traction or dis-traction, but the reason we do these things is not because of something in our environment, it’s because of something inside us. It’s an internal trigger. And one of the revelations I made in this book that I think has really changed my perspective was this understanding that most distractions starts from within. Why? Well, why do we do anything? What’s the source of all human motivation? The source of all human motivation, if we really break it down to first principles, why do we do anything we do? Most people think it’s about pain and pleasure, right? Carrots and sticks, Freud’s pleasure principle. It turns out that’s not true, that neurologically speaking, we do not do things in the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Neurologically speaking, it’s pain all the way down.
The reason we do anything is to escape discomfort. So if we feel cold, we put on a jacket. If we feel hot, we take it off. If we’re hungry, we feel hunger pangs, we eat. When we’re stuffed, oh, that doesn’t feel good, we stop eating. So those are physiological responses to restore homeostasis. The same rule applies to psychological conditions. So when we are feeling lonely, we check Facebook. When we are uncertain, we Google something. And when we’re, let’s say bored, we will go on YouTube, look at the news, stock prices, sports scores. All of these products and services cater to this uncomfortable sensation, that bruise within us that we are looking for escape. So what that means is that if all human behavior is spurred by a desire to escape discomfort, what that means is that time management is pain management. That we have to learn how to deal with discomfort or change the source of that discomfort.
Those are the only two options we have. And so I give many, many techniques on how to do that. But it’s critical that we understand the strategy before we dive into the tactics, right? Because the tactics are meant to, I give many, many tactics in the book, hundreds of tactics of what you can do. But I also want to empower people with the strategy so they can come up with their own solutions. So every time they get off track, after every time they become distracted by something, they’re striving to do what they say they will do by looking at this model and say, ah, I see, I see what happened here. I didn’t master my internal trigger. I didn’t make time for traction, or I didn’t hack back that external trigger appropriately, or I didn’t prevent a distraction with pact. Those are the four steps for those four parts of that plus mark that we talked about, that image in your head.
Those are the four big pillars. You master internal triggers, make time for traction, hack back external triggers, and prevent distraction with pacts in that order. You got to do it in that order, or it can backfire. But again, the most important has to do with mastering these internal triggers. So one technique you talked about, you mentioned this idea of re-imagining your temperament. So there’s three things that we can reimagine. We can reimagine the internal trigger. We can reimagine the task, and we can reimagine our temperament. Now, our temperament is these innate traits we think we have, and it turns out that most people have self-defeating beliefs about themselves. I have a short attention span. I have an addictive personality. I have something wrong with me. They’re blamers. They blame themselves all the time and shame themselves into thinking there’s something broken with them when there really isn’t.
Now, little disclaimer. Some people actually do have a pathological dysfunction of some sort, right? But that’s single digit percentages. If there is something that actually is a pathology, this is a different story, but for the vast majority of us, we’re talking the overwhelming majority, in the high 90 percentages of people out there, there is no pathology there. We are making up these excuses around our temperament, around why we’re somehow broken. One of the most popular myths that I really wanted to dispel with this book is this idea of ego depletion. Ego depletion says that willpower is a depletable resource. So you’ve probably heard somewhere somebody say that when you use up all your willpower. It’s like a gas tank. This would happen to me all the time.
I’d come home from work, I’d have a tough day, and I’d sit down on the couch and I’d say, oh, I’m spent, I’ve got nothing left. So that would be my excuse for watching Netflix and eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. I’ve run out of willpower. Turns out-
Will Bachman: Yeah, that was one of the things that surprised me in the book, Nir, was I’ve seen that research before. It’s sort of part of the literature for, it’s been popularized, and it kind of intuitively makes sense. You start the day, you’re full of energy, you go out for a run, you get some stuff done, and by eight o’clock at night, you’re wiped out. Or after making some major decisions, you’re kind of spent, at least intuitively. But your book says no, that’s actually the most recent research says that that research is not so good.
Nir Eyal: Right. Right. That when it … So you can be physically tired, that’s for sure something. That’s real. But when it comes to your willpower being spent like a gas tank, turns out that’s not true, that these studies don’t replicate. But they do replicate. There actually is a certain condition. There is a certain type of person who does experience ego depletion, and studies have found that these studies do in fact replicate the type of person who does experience ego depletion is the kind of person who believes in ego depletion. So this is really important. This is why we have to stop believing these self-defeating myths, because it turns out that how you think about your temperament, about your capacity, really affects how effective you are at doing what it is you say you’re going to do. So as opposed to thinking that willpower is this gas tank resource.
And we know that people who think that way tend to run out of willpower because they believe it is a limited resource. More recent research actually shows that willpower is not like a gas tank. It is more precisely, it is an emotion. And so we wouldn’t say, oh I was having a great time, but then I ran out of happy. That doesn’t make any sense. I was really upset at you and then I ran out of mad. Yeah, that doesn’t work that way. Our emotions don’t work that way. Our emotions crest and then they subside. And that’s exactly how willpower works as well. So I give several techniques about how to reimagine your temperament, stop believing these harmful, self-defeating thoughts about how we are somehow built and shaming ourselves that we’re deficient, and learning how to overcome this negative self-talk to make sure we can get the best out of our days.
Will Bachman: Yeah, I love it. So you walked us through, you gave the high level overview, master internal triggers. Talk about part two.
Nir Eyal: Yeah, so master internal trigger. By the way, there’s a lot more tactics there about re-imagining the trigger, re-imagining your temperament, re-imagining the task, a lot more we can do. A big part of this as well, I don’t want folks to think that becoming indistractable is all on them. There’s a lot of evidence that shows that part of the reason we have so many internal triggers, part of the reason we are so perpetually perturbed has to do with crappy workplace environments. Crappy workplace cultures perpetuate distractions. So if you’re constantly distracted at work, it’s a symptom of a larger dysfunction. There’s a whole section in the book about that, about things that you can do within the context of an organization, not just on your own.
So we’ll leave that for later. But that’s a big part of this first step of mastering internal triggers, is either finding the source of the discomfort, whether it’s something occurring in your life, or coping with that discomfort if you can’t change the source of the problem. So that’s the first step. Master internal triggers. The second step is to make time for traction. Making time for traction is all about turning your values into time. So a lot of us talk a good game, me included. I used to constantly say, “Oh, if you asked me, what’s most important in life? Oh, my family, my health, that’s what’s really important in life.” But if you looked at my calendar, you wouldn’t see those things reflected. So the idea here is to decide what values are important to you. And this isn’t about some moral judgment.
I’m not going to tell you what you should do with your time. What I am going to ask you to do is if you value those things, if you say you value them, make time for those values on your schedule. I can’t tell you how many people, when I was researching my book, they would tell me how horribly distracting the world is, how technology is melting our brains, how these companies are addicting us. And when I asked them, “What did you get distracted from today? Let me see your calendar. What’s on it today?” And they’d show me their calendar, and it was blank. There was nothing on it. It was maybe a dentist appointment or something. So here’s the thing, if you don’t plan your day, somebody else will. If you look across the board, high power people, C level executives, they are always carrying around their schedule with them, and it has where they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to do down to the minute. We need to adopt this practice as well.
Because the fact is, these tech companies, they’re not blameless. If you are susceptible, they’re going to get you. They will take up that time unless you set aside what it is you want to do. Remember the antidote for impulsiveness, no matter how sophisticated their algorithms get, the antidote for impulsiveness is forethought. Simply planning ahead what it is you’re going to do and when you are going to do it. So I actually have these tools available on my website. I’ll give you the link for the show notes where you can actually make a template for what your ideal week should look like.
And the idea here is to have some kind of ideal structure to your day so that you can decide what is traction and what is dis-traction. And the only way to know that is based on what you plan ahead for. And so that’s absolutely critical, is to make time in your day to live out your values in the various domains of your life. And so I show you exactly how to do that, how to synchronize your schedule with the stakeholders in your life, with your family, with your coworkers, with your boss. Absolutely critical and life changing in terms of your satisfaction with your day to day life.
Will Bachman: Yeah. And so one thing I took away from that chapter, Nir, is the concept of time boxing. So in my own life, I’d say I’ve made some advances on these fronts in that I now do some bullet journal in the morning where I will take about 15 minutes before I start my day and write down all the stuff that I have going on that I want to get done and prioritize it. But I have not yet started. And then my calendar have meetings on it, like this call with you, but for the other parts, the free parts, I haven’t actually taken my tasks and gone and then scheduled those in the calendar. Okay, so from two o’clock to three o’clock I’m going to write this document, and from three o’clock to four o’clock I’m going to respond to all these people. And from seven o’clock to eight o’clock at night I’m going to read to my daughter. So tell us a little bit more about the time boxing and why you found that so effective.
Nir Eyal: Yeah. So everything in my book, it’s not anecdotes. It’s not, oh, this worked for me, so it’s going to work for everybody. Everything in my book is backed by a lot of research. I mean you saw in the galley I sent you, there are page after page after page of citations. And one of the most well-studied, well-documented ways to help us do what we say we’re going to do is called making an implementation intention, which is just a fancy way of saying, deciding what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it. And so that’s what a time box calendar is all about, having a template for where you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to do. Because remember, I mean, write this down somewhere and tack it onto your wall. The antidote for impulsiveness is forethought.
That’s an absolutely critical notion that we can defend against getting distracted by planning ahead. So the idea is, you go to this website, I’ll give you the link in the show notes. You make a schedule, you have this little PDF, or you can keep it in your calendar tool, whatever calendar tool you use, and now you know where you’re supposed to be. And I want you to schedule time for what would otherwise be a distraction. So in my case, I used to check Facebook and social media and YouTube all the time, and I would check it when I didn’t want to. Or even email. We think email is, oh that’s productive. That’s something that I’m doing for work. But look, if you plan to be with your kid, or you plan to work on a big project, or you’re a meeting and you’re checking email when you planned to be fully present with the people you’re with, that is also a distraction.
So the idea is to make time for those things. And by turning them into something that’s on your calendar, you make them traction. They move from dis-traction to traction. So in my calendar it says every night social media time. And that’s when I check these things. There’s time on my calendar to check email. That’s my email time. So I took something that was a dis-traction and turned it into traction. And so that’s really what we want to do in all the domains of our life. If it is important to spend time with our family, if it is important to spend time with members of our community, if it’s important to spend time with our friends, where is that time on your calendar? Because the fact is, it ain’t just going to happen. Something will take your attention, something will take that time if you don’t decide in advance how you want to spend it.
Will Bachman: Now, there was a section in your book where it talked about creating rituals. And one that I particularly liked was you mentioned that you have a set of readings that you do every morning right before you start your day. I forget which part that was in, but I thought that was a cool idea. Could you tell us a little bit about that, and share what is included in your daily readings?
Nir Eyal: Yeah. So we’re kind of jumping around. So that has to do with the fourth step of making these pacts, these pre-commitments. And one of the pre-commitments I describe in the book is called an identity pact. An identity pact has to do with the fact that when we have an identity, if we have a way we see ourselves, we are more likely to do what we say we’re going to do and not do the things that are distractions.
And this lesson really comes from, if you look at organized religion. The fact is that when people are devout to their religion, it’s much easier for them to do what they say they’re going to do. An Orthodox Jew doesn’t say, “Hm, I wonder if I’m going to have some bacon today.” No, it’s just something they don’t do. They are a religious Jew. A devout Muslim doesn’t say, “Hm, I wonder if I’m going to have some alcohol today.” No, no, no. They are a devout Muslim. They don’t drink alcohol. There’s a joke that says, how do you know someone’s a vegan? Don’t worry. They’ll tell you. And you can put in any moniker there. You can put in CrossFit or keto or whatever you want, you can put in there.
People solidify their identity because it helps them do what they say they’re going to do. So I was a vegetarian for five years, and it was no big deal to give up meat. Now, I loved meat. I love meat now. I’m no longer a vegetarian. I eventually gave it up for deeper reasons, but while I was a vegetarian, something that was hard to do that required a lot of willpower, was suddenly very easy to do because I called myself a vegetarian. And so repeating these mantras are one technique that you can use to solidify your identity. Telling others about your identity is another fantastic way to solidify your identity. There’s a reason that every major religion has this idea of proselytizing to others. It’s not just about spreading the faith, it’s also about solidifying your identity as an adherent to that faith. So that’s why my book is titled Indistractable, because-
Will Bachman: Yeah. I always thought that when big consulting firms require even the most junior associates to get involved in recruiting efforts, that part of the reason is that …
Nir Eyal: That’s a great example. That’s a terrific example. When we go out to tell the world how great our company is, that solidifies our bond with that company because we don’t want to be inconsistent. This is called cognitive dissonance. If I tell people that my company is super great, they should join my company, I become less likely to leave because I don’t want to be a liar and leave the company that I told other people was so fantastic. So of course this isn’t a superpower. This isn’t kryptonite, that once you say it once, you’re never going to leave.
But it does. It has been shown to actually solidify the teacher’s adherence. So this is what I want people to call themselves. We need a new moniker to explain why we do these things. Why? Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t answer every text message all day long. Why? I’m indistractable. Oh, I put this sign on my screen at work that says I’m indistractable so that people won’t bother me in the middle of my focused work time because I’m indistractable. I keep this crazy calendar where I account for every minute of my day. Why? I’m indistractable. This is almost, this needs to be a new religion. Because here’s the thing. This might seem extreme, it might seem harsh, but here’s the thing. There are two kinds of people in the world, and increasingly this bifurcation will only widen. People who let their attention and their time and their lives be manipulated by others, and people who see how this works and become indistractable and control their attention and control their lives.
And so I think it behooves all of us to adopt this skill of the century, to adopt these four techniques so that we are not this group that is manipulated by others. And it’s not just sinister tech companies, although they will certainly do it to you if you’re not careful, it’s being manipulated by our boss, being manipulated by our kids, being manipulated by our significant other, whatever it might be. All of these things can take us off track and get us distracted if we’re not careful with how we spend our attention and our time.
Will Bachman: Yeah. In the 21st century, just being able to focus or being indistractable is the superpower, I’m convinced as well. One of the things that you talked about is you created a bit of a mantra or a series of readings that you do, that you read out loud every morning or that you read to yourself. Could you tell us about that and what’s included in that, and how you came up with that selection?
Nir Eyal: Yeah, so I just kind of accrued over the years these mantras that I repeat every day. Sometimes I’ll read two or three. Sometimes I’ll read all of them. I always open this every single day, but there’s a few quotes from other people. Like there’s a quote from William James that I really like that says, “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” There’s also things that I said that I want to remember. For example, real success is being happy for the success of others. That’s just something I want top of mind. I want to remember those things. So I have, it’s about 15 different mantras that I want to repeat every day to myself to remind myself of this identity of someone who is indistractable.
Will Bachman: Yeah, and in the book Religion for Atheists [foreign language 00:00:30:14] and the School of Life talks about the value and the importance of rituals and how there’s a lot of wisdom built into all of the major religions of how they incorporate rituals. It’s not enough to just know something intellectually, but to have a manner to act it out or to remind yourself on a regular basis about it. It sounds like you’re using that wisdom, tapping into that.
Nir Eyal: Right, exactly. It helps us secure this identity that we’re trying to [inaudible 00:30:42] for ourselves.
Will Bachman: Yeah. Let’s complete the horn. Let’s go. We talked about number one and number two. Talk to us about part three and part four of your four-part model.
Nir Eyal: Sure. So we talked about number one is about mastering the internal triggers. We talked about part two, about making time for traction. Step number three is about hacking back the external triggers. So these are all the pings, dings, and rings in our environment that tell us what to do next. And so we can get control over those external triggers by hacking back. So these tech companies hack our attention, but we can hack back. Again, the antidote for impulsiveness is forethought. So there’s no reason we can’t do things to make sure that we turn off those external triggers that don’t serve us.
Now, there are lots of external triggers in our life, and I talk about how to hack back your cell phone, your computer. That’s kind of obvious stuff. But there’s chapter after chapter of all these external triggers that people don’t necessarily realize are taking them off track. So group chat meetings. How many times are we in pointless meetings? Our workplace environment. I talk about how disruptive open floor plan offices can be for people’s concentration. What do we do about that?
So I give techniques for what you can do for physical environments as well. So that’s the third step, hack back external triggers. And the fourth step is to prevent distraction with pacts, which we talked about a little bit. We have three types of pacts. We can take an effort pact, a price pact, or an identity pacts. So these are things we do in advance that prevent us from getting distracted at some future points. So it can be some kind of effort we put it in the way. It can be some kind of cost, a monetary cost, a price pact, or it can be something we do to cement an identity. So an identity pact.
Will Bachman: Nir, let’s turn now, I’m curious to hear about your broad portfolio of activities in addition to the writing that you’ve been doing. Could you talk to us about, beyond the book itself, what came out of Hooked? Are you doing a lot of speaking now? Are you advising companies as a consultant or a senior advisor, doing investing? I would love to hear about your portfolio of activities that have come out of Hooked and what you see coming forward with Indistractable.
Nir Eyal: Yeah, so let’s see. So the journey is that I wrote Hooked, and Hooked was really about helping companies build the kind of products that people want to use. And so I’ve been doing quite a bit of speaking and teaching around that book. In between there, and by the way, before I wrote the book, I also taught at Stanford for many years. So that informed the methodology in the book as well as in my consulting practice. And then I do a lot of public speaking and teaching for companies who are building the kind of products that I believe are forming healthy habits. By the way, there are many industries I won’t work with. Anybody who relies upon addicts are industries I won’t work with. Like machine gambling, firearms, alcohol, these are companies I won’t work with.
But not that I think there’s necessarily anything morally wrong with firearms and alcohol, I just choose not to build habits or addictions around those products. But so yeah, I do consulting around products that form healthy habits. And I continue to write. That’s my real passion and what I really enjoy doing is this process of discovery to frankly answer my own problems. I don’t write books when I know the answers. I write books when I am looking for the answer, when I’m curious and I haven’t found the answer that works for me. That’s when I choose to write a book. So that’s my real passion.
Will Bachman: And how do you typically engage as a consultant with companies that wanted to get your thoughts on how to make more habit forming, healthy products? Will it typically take the form of a one day workshop, or would you engage companies over time as a senior advisor to their CEO and board? Or how do you typically get engaged?
Nir Eyal: Yeah, so these days I really just focus on teaching. I don’t do that much consulting anymore just because it’s not very scalable. So these days, I will invest in companies from time to time if I see a company I really like. I invested most recently in a company called Anchor.fm that sold to Spotify for $140 million. So once in a while I’ll get a company that calls me for some help. I do these office hours, by the way, that anybody can sign up for. It’s free in 15 minute increments. You can call me and then if you’ve read one of my books and you just want to ask some questions, I do those office hours. Anybody can call me. And once a year, maybe twice a year I’ll find a company and I say, “Wow, you’re really using my work in a really interesting, innovative way. I’d like to invest.” And so that’s where I get my deal flow from as an angel investor.
Will Bachman: And tell us about your teaching. Where are you teaching now, and what are the courses? And tell us about that a little bit.
Nir Eyal: Yep. So I moved to New York. My wife desperately wanted to move back to Manhattan. So we moved here. And so right now I’m not teaching in any academic institutions. I might start that again in the future. But for right now with the launch of Indistractable, I’m staying focused on the promotion of my book and more writing and associated with that. And then I might start teaching again. Right now I mostly do private sector teaching.
Will Bachman: And private sector teaching would be like going to do a workshop or a training session for private companies?
Nir Eyal: Exactly.
Will Bachman: I’ve been subscribing to your blog for now at least over a year. Love your blog. Tell us a little bit more about your blog and where folks can go to find out more about what you’re thinking each week.
Nir Eyal: Sure. Thanks, Will. So my blog is called NirandFar.com. Nir is spelled like my first name, N-I-R. So it’s N-I-R andfar.com, NirandFar.com. My first book is Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. That’s available wherever books are sold. And my second book, Indistractable: How to Choose Your Attention and, I’m sorry, How to Control your Attention and Choose Your Life.
That will be published on September 10th, 2019. And if you go to Indistractable.com, there are all sorts of tools that I couldn’t put in the book that I want to make sure that everyone who reads the book also has access to. I have an 80 page workbook. I have some video, some supplementary video content there. Lots of stuff that you can get at Indistractable.com will be very, very helpful. And I’ll give you some links to some tools I built to help people make time for traction and various techniques we discussed here for the show notes as well.
Will Bachman: And Nir, you told, at least on LinkedIn I saw, that folks that pre-order the book now can actually get a review copy from you if they want to get started right away.
Nir Eyal: That’s right, that’s right. So if you are listening to this before September 10th, 2019 and you want to start reading the book immediately, before it’s published, you can actually go to Indistractable.com. If you pre-order it in any format, audiobook, Kindle, wherever, your local book seller. If you enter in that order number on my website at Indistractable.com, I will email you the entire PDF of the book so you can actually read it before anyone else, before it’s actually published in bookstores, you can read it through that PDF. Of course, if you’re listening to this after September 10, 2019, you can just get it right away online.
Will Bachman: All right. Nir, thank you so much for joining.
Nir Eyal: My pleasure. Thank you so much, Will.