nir eyal indistractable
Growth Interviews

Nir Eyal interview: The power to become “indistractable”

In this week’s episode of Growth Interviews, we invite you to join our conversation with Nir Eyal, Wall Street Journal bestselling author of “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” and “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life“. He is also a renowned public speaker and consultant.

Nir has taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. His writing on technology, psychology and business appears in the Harvard Business Review, The Atlantic, TechCrunch and Psychology Today. He has sold two technology companies since 2003 and now helps teams design more engaging products.

Nir blogs regularly at nirandfar.com, a blog about the intersection of psychology, technology, and business, which he refers to as “behavioral design.” His blog covers topics such as user experience, behavioral economics and even neuroscience.

He is also an active investor in habit-forming technologies. Some of his past investments include Eventbrite, Anchor.fm (acquired by Spotify) Product Hunt, Pantry, Kahoot!, Refresh.io (acquired by LinkedIn), Happy Bits, Presence Learning, 7 Cups of Tea and Pana.

Welcome to Growth Interviews!

Welcome to Growth Interviews, the fun, stimulating and engaging series of conversations driven by digital business growth. Our mission is to provide valuable insights from the eCommerce arena, and each episode is a fascinating quest into the best-kept business secrets and money-making strategies of an insightful world-class expert.

In today’s episode, Nir Eyal has presented us with some highly appreciated insights from his most recent book, “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life“. A pure delight for entrepreneurs who are constantly on the run, always busy and permanently distracted by their phone, email, meetings, tasks and so on. What better way to check up on the present moment, the current task you want to fulfill, than get the best tips from an expert?

Here’s how Nir himself presents his book:

“You sit down at your desk to work on an important project, but a notification on your phone interrupts your morning. Later, as you’re about to get back to work, a colleague taps you on the shoulder to chat. At home, screens get in the way of quality time with your family. Another day goes by, and once again, your most important personal and professional goals are put on hold.

What would be possible if you followed through on your best intentions? What could you accomplish if you could stay focused and overcome distractions? What if you had the power to become ‘indistractable?'”

Here are the biggest takeaways:

  • How to start working on a new book – 0:50
  • What to do when you cannot be “indistractable” – 3:38
  • The concept of “identity pacts” – 8:30
  • Time management is pain management – 11:12
  • How to deal with self-criticism – 13:50
  • Is technology your enemy? – 15:36

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How to start working on a new book

For Nir Eyal, the creation of his most recent book came out as a result of personal integrity. Before publishing the book, he suffered from obesity, he was struggling with self-discipline and self-control, things that have negatively impacted his personal and professional life. Learning how to become “indistractable” has given him the courage to move forward and improve his life an all plans exponentially. Writing this particular book has turned the tables for both him and all his readership seeking guidance in their daily schedule chaos.

“I found that I was struggling with distraction and it was impacting various areas of my life. It was impacting my personal life it was impacting my relationships. It was impacting my health even; I wasn’t exercising and I wasn’t eating right. I was constantly saying I would do something and wasn’t following through, in particular when it came to work in that I would say I would work on a big project and just procrastinate on it. So, I really wanted to figure out just this antidote to distraction. How could I do what I said I was going to do? How could I live with personal integrity?” 

Let’s walk further down the road of “Indistractable”.

What to do when you cannot be “indistractable”

Supposing there is a time during your employment or leadership of a company when it is not normal to put a “do not disturb” sign around you, what is the best approach?

First of all, technology, in this case, is not to blame. You should shift your attention to the corporate culture. Is it normal to be disturbed by a call late at night from your boss or is it known to be acceptable from your company’s internal policy point of view? Nir is of the opinion that every employee has the right to work as much as they want and if they embark on this journey, they should be prepared to act as such. “If you have allergies, you probably shouldn’t be a forest ranger, right?” jokes Nir.

“The problem of distraction is that we can’t talk about the problem.”

On the other hand, the real problem is with companies that “bait and switch” their employees, promising a certain number of hours, but they actually work much more. “This is why you see burnout. This is why you see employee retention problems. This is why you see high employee turnover because employers are lying to people. So, I’m fine with being clear about the expectations of how much somebody works as long as we all know what we’re getting ourselves into.” concludes Nir Eyal.

What is important to notice is that companies like Slack or Boston Consulting Group have developed their company cultures so that distraction is not perceived as an issue. They show three traits of a company that is “indistractable”:

  1. They give people psychological safety, where the employees can talk about the problem without getting fired.
  2. They give people a forum to talk about the problem.
  3. Management illustrates what it means to become “indistractable”.

Therefore, what is the solution to become “indistractable” even when you feel it’s not normal in your company? Nir Eyal suggests changing the company culture. Begin from within, so you can set an example for those around you. Make it clear for your colleagues that during a certain time you are focusing on something particular, book some time in your calendar, remove all objects of distraction around you and spend your time more productively. As long as your colleagues understand this behavior, it should never prove to be a problem.

The concept of “identity pacts”

In his book, Nir mentions the interesting concept of “identity pacts”. He gives two examples to allow us to picture this.

One example originates from the psychology of religion. He relates that religion uses this identity to help people become more consistent with what they say they are going to do. Being a devout Muslim or an observant Christian makes it easier for you to stay true to your beliefs and actions, “taking off some of the decision making load”. Making a parallel to this, Nir states that vegetarians do not suddenly decide to start eating bacon in the morning, because it is easy for them to stay on track. They are “indistractable” and so can happen to people when they identify with this idea.

Another example comes from Nir’s personal history. During his childhood in the early ‘80s, it was typical for people to smoke in their living room. However, as his family’s customs, norms and manners changed over time, they started telling people to smoke outdoors. They lost friends over this new behavior, but the stood firm in defense of their belief. Nowadays, it is customary to smoke outside of a non-smoker person’s house. They had to claim that identity in order to change a certain behavior and become “indistractable”.

“I don’t let technology and distractions control my life. I’m “indistractable”. Is that any different from someone wearing an unusual religious garb or having an unusual diet? No, it’s our choice to say ‘this is who I am. I do not let other people decide my attention in my life. I decide for myself.’”

Time management is pain management

Nir Eyal discloses the fact that “many people believe they do things to feel good but actually even the pursuit of pleasurable sensations is an escape from discomfort”. How is this possible? When people truly desire something, this fact is itself psychologically destabilizing.

After discussing this idea with a professional football player who was injured at all times as part of his job, the player himself came to the interesting conclusion that he went on the field every time because not doing so felt more painful than choosing to do it.

“The idea here is that we should understand that when we don’t do the things we want to do, it’s for one reason: our brain has figured out an easier way with less effort to remove the discomfort.”

The root cause of distraction comes from the moment when people start feeling stressed, anxious or fatigued, thus reaching out to take their mind off the problem. Ask yourself a crucial question in this case: what are you escaping from? The answer lies in the fact that you believe there is no other solution, method, technique or tool to help deal with a certain discomfort in a healthier manner. Therefore, Nir mentions in his book that time management is perceived as pain management.

How to deal with self-criticism

Nir points out that self-criticism is a different concept than self-compassion. Quoting from Brené Brown, “you can feel guilty, you can learn about an experience, but guilt is what you did.” Being ashamed is not a healthy emotion. Looking back on past mistakes, however, and learning from them, is an element of being compassionate. Self-compassionate people have a higher chance of reaching their long-term goals. Accept that you can enhance your knowledge and grow, understand what you could have done better and talk to yourself as if you would with a good friend. Be honest with yourself!

“I’ve changed the conversation with myself to acknowledge that when I mess up, it’s a growth opportunity, as opposed to trying to say that I’m bad which doesn’t help us grow because you can’t escape yourself! You are the individual but if you say that “I am bad”, you can’t escape that. When you say “What I did is bad and learned from that”, that is something you don’t have to encounter time and time again because you can change your behavior for the future.”

Is technology your enemy?

Nir Eyal hopes that “people will someday proudly say I am ‘indistractable’ which means that you don’t think that technology is the devil and is trying to hijack your brain.”  He believes that people possess a rather negative, cynical look on technology and media does not help too much in this matter. Technology “hijacking” people’s brain is not only not scientifically true, but it also leads to learned helplessness, making people believe that it is futile to try anything else.

Therefore, Nir vowed to spread an empowering tech positive approach to completing what people say they want to do.

Conclusion

Indistractable” written by Nir Eyal is all about helping you achieve your long-term goals, change your distractible behavior and help others do the same in the process. Learn everything there is to know about “identity pacts”, pain management and how to be self-compassionate, crucial elements that will guide you through your life, both personally and professionally. Nir has tested these techniques himself and has surely succeeded.

We hope you enjoyed our interview with Nir Eyal!
For more valuable insights, make sure you come back to check out our next Growth Interviews as well.

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