Indistractable (2019) provides a framework which readers can use to improve their attention and eliminate distractions. A key insight from the book is that much of the distractions that we encounter arise from within and that the distraction itself isn’t the problem, but rather -how we choose to respond to it.
A former lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, the author Nir Eyal is a writer and blogger covering topics in the field of technology, psychology, and business.
Read this book summary in 8 Minutes
Nir Eyal Indistractable Summary
- “Attention and focus are the raw materials of human creativity and flourishing.”
- “…distraction is just another way our brains attempt to deal with pain. If we accept this fact, then it makes sense that the only way to handle distraction is by learning to handle discomfort.”
- “…time management is pain management.”
- We don’t run out of willpower, believing we do makes us less likely to accomplish our goals by providing a rationale to quit when we could have otherwise persisted.
- Our self image matters; the way we view ourselves profoundly impacts how we deal with distractions and unintended behaviors.
- “We can cope with uncomfortable triggers by reflecting on rather than reacting to our discomfort.”
- “Distractions will always exist, managing them is our responsibility.”
Nir Eyal Indistractable Summary
THE 10-MINUTE RULE
- “If I find myself wanting to check my phone as a pacification device when I can’t think of anything better to do, I tell myself it’s fine to give in but not right now. I have to wait just 10 minutes. This technique is effective at helping me deal with all sorts of distractions.”
- “This rule allows time for what some behavioral psychologists call ‘surfing the urge.’ When an urge takes hold, noticing these sensations and riding them like a wave -neither pushing them away nor acting on them, helps us cope until the feelings subside.”
- “If we still want to perform the action after 10 minutes of urge-surfing,” says Eyal, “we’re free to do it! But that’s rarely still the case. The liminal moment has passed, and we’re able to do the thing we really wanted to do.” [ch6; Nir Eyal, Indistractable]
WHAT MOTIVATES US, REALLY?
- “For hundreds of years, we believed that motivation is driven by reward and punishment. The reality, however, is that motivation has much less to do with pleasure than we once thought. Even when we think we are seeking pleasure, we’re actually driven by the desire to free ourselves from the pain of wanting.”
- The drive to relieve discomfort is the root cause of all our behavior, everything else, Eyal says, is a proximate cause.
- When we complain about our smartphones as a source of distraction, we fail to acknowledge the root cause. The smartphone is merely a proximate cause. Similarly, when we blame our political opponents for the world’s troubles, we choose to overlook the deeper systemic reasons behind the problems.
- Proximate causes have something in common –they help us deflect responsibility onto something or someone else.
- “Distraction is about more than our devices. Separate proximate causes from the root cause.”
TIME MANAGEMENT = PAIN MANAGEMENT
- “…the motivation for diversion originates within us. As is the case with all human behavior, distraction is just another way our brains attempt to deal with pain. If we accept this fact, it makes sense that the only way to handle distraction is by learning to handle discomfort. If distraction costs us time, then time management is pain management.” [ch4; Nir Eyal Indistractable]
- Dissatisfaction and discomfort dominate our brain’s default state, but we can use it to motivate us rather than to defeat us.
- Four Psychological Factors which explain why satisfaction is temporary:
1-BOREDOM: People prefer doing to thinking.
2-NEGATIVITY BIAS: Good things are nice, but bad things can kill you, which is why we pay attention to and remember the bad stuff first.
3-RUMINATION: Our tendency to keep thinking about bad experiences.
4-HEDONIC ADAPTATION: the tendency to quickly return to a baseline level of satisfaction, no matter what happens to us in life. All sorts of life events we think would make us happier actually don’t, or at least they don’t for very long.
- The human proclivity towards boredom, negativity bias, rumination, and hedonic adaption conspire to make sure we never stay satisfied for too long.
- “If we want to master distraction, we must learn to deal with discomfort.”
- “When the body is starved it elicits hunger pangs. When the psyche is undernourished it produces anxiety, restlessness and other symptoms that something is missing.”
- “Just as the human body requires 3 macro-nutrients -protein, carbohydrates and fat to run properly… Ryan and Deci proposed the human psyche needs three things to flourish: Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness.”
Autonomy: Volition and freedom of control over choices.
Competence: Mastery, progression, achievement, and growth. Competence feels good, and it grows alongside your ability.
Relatedness: The extent to which one feels that they are important to others and that others are important to them.
- “Distractions satisfy deficiencies. When our kid’s psychological needs are not met in the real world, they go looking for satisfaction often in virtual environments.”
DEAL WITH DISTRACTION FROM WITHIN
- Dostoyevsky, who wrote in 1863:
“Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.”
- In 1984, psychologist Daniel Wegner put Dostoyevsky’s claim to the test. In the study, the participants who were told not to think of a white bear -did so once per minute.
When the same group was told to try and conjure the white bear, they did so much more often compared to a group that hadn’t been asked to suppress the thought.
“The results suggest that suppressing a thought for the first 5 minutes caused it to rebound even more prominently in the participant’s minds later.”
Wegner describes this phenomenon in ‘Ironic Process Theory’ –a psychological process whereby deliberate attempts to suppress certain thoughts make them more likely to surface.
- Eyal summarizes: “Without techniques for disarming temptation, mental abstinence can backfire. Furthermore, resisting an urge can trigger rumination, and make the desire grow stronger. We can manage distractions that originate from within by changing how we think about them.”
- “We can re-imagine the trigger, the task, and our temperament.”
RE-IMAGINE THE INTERNAL TRIGGER
- 1-Look for the discomfort that precedes the distraction, focusing on the internal trigger. Most often, these urges will try to divert your attention away from difficult work.
- 2-Write down the trigger; the time of the day, how you felt…
- 3- Explore your sensations; get curious! Notice how it feels like and stay with the feeling before acting on the impulse.
- 4-Beware of liminal moments (when you transition from one thing to another throughout your day. For example: when you’re annoyed by the time it’s taking for a website to load, you open another tab or when you’re scrolling through social media whilst going back to your desk, only to continue scrolling after you’ve sat down).
- “When similar techniques were applied in a smoking cessation study, the participants who learned to acknowledge and explore their cravings, managed to quit at double the rate…”
RE-IMAGINE THE TASK
- “People find fun in a wide range of activities that you might not find particularly interesting. Consider my local coffee-obsessed barista who spends a ridiculous amount of time refining the perfect brew. The car buff who toils for countless hour’s fine-tuning his ride or the crafter who painstakingly produces intriquette sweaters and quilts for everyone she knows. If people can have fun doing these activities by choice, what’s so crazy about bringing the same kind of mindset to other tasks?”
- We can master internal triggers by re-imagining an otherwise dreary task.
- Play doesn’t have to be pleasurable; it just has to hold our attention.
- One can add deliberateness and novelty to any task to make it fun.
RE-IMAGINE YOUR TEMPERAMENT
- [WILLPOWER] In a study conducted by the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues… Dweck observed that signs of Ego Depletion were evident only in those test subjects who believed willpower was a limited resource. It wasn’t the sugar and the lemonade but the belief in its impact that gave participants an extra boost.
- “People who did not see willpower as a finite resource did not show signs of ego depletion.”
- “If mental energy is more like an emotion than fuel in a tank, it can be managed and utilized as such.”
- “We don’t run out of willpower. Believing we do makes us less likely to accomplish our goals by providing a rationale to quit when we could otherwise persist. What we say to ourselves matters. Labeling yourself as having poor self-control is self-defeating. Practice self-compassion; talk to yourself the way you talk to a friend. People who are more self-compassionate are more resilient.” [ch8; Nir Eyal Indistractable Summary]
“We actually prefer better under constraints. This is because limitations give us structure, whilst a blank schedule and a mile-long to-do list torment us with too many choices. The most effective way to make time for traction is through time boxing.” [ch9; Nir Eyal, Indistractable]
How to create a time box schedule:
- Decide how much time you are going to spend in the three major domains of your life: Self, Relationships & Work.
- Decide what you are going to do during those times
- Enter it in a digital calendar template or write it down on your calendar!
- Then, book 15 minutes in your schedule every week, to reflect and refine your calendar by asking the following questions:
- Question 1: Reflect; When in my schedule did I do what I said I would do and when did I get distracted?
- Question: Refine; Are there changes I can make to my calendar that will give me the time I need to better live out my values?
- Eyal tells us: “Instead of starting with what we are going to do, we should begin with why we’re going to do it. And to do that we must begin with our values. Values are like a compass which points us towards the direction that we want to go. We never achieve our value any more than finishing a painting would achieve us being creative.
- Does your calendar reflect your values? To be the person you want to be you have to make time to live your values.”
PREVENT DISTRACTION WITH IDENTITY PACTS
In chapter 25 of the book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, Eyal stresses the importance of the ‘self image.’ He tells us that the way we think of ourselves has a profound impact on how we deal with distractions and unintended behaviors.
- In 2011, a group of psychologists from Stanford University designed a study to test the effects of priming individuals to think of themselves in slightly different ways.
- First, the researchers asked 2 groups of registered voters to complete questions related to an upcoming election.
- One groups’ survey questions included the verb ‘to vote,’ for example: How important is it to you, to vote?
- The second group answered similar questions which included the noun ‘voter,’ such as: How important is it to you, to be a voter?
- To measure the effects of the small wording change (to vote / be a voter) the researchers then asked participants of their intentions to vote. In addition, the researchers cross-referenced public voting records to confirm whether they had actually followed through.
- The results were ‘among the largest experimental effects ever observed on objectively measured voter turn-out.’
- The researchers found that those who were shown the survey of being a ‘voter’ were much more likely to vote than those who were asked how likely they were ‘to vote.’
- The ‘voter’ group dramatically outperformed the ‘to vote’ group.
- One of the researchers wrote: People may be more likely to vote when voting etiquette as an expression of self, as symbolic of a person’s fundamental character rather than as simply a behavior.”