Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, by Nir Eyal, has become a national best-seller because so many people are finding it difficult to focus and be indistractable in today’s hectic, electronic, pandemic world. Eyal provides techniques and solutions anyone can use.
Eyal writes, consults, and teaches about the intersection of psychology, technology, and business. His first best-selling book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products , had a huge impact on tech companies worldwide seeking to make their apps habit-forming. He previously taught as a Lecturer in Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford.
His second best-seller, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, is summarized below by the Good Book News team.
‘Indistractable’ Involves Managing Two Types of ‘Traction’
Distraction is “actions that move us away from what we really want.”
Traction is “Actions that move us toward what we really want.”
Both internal and external triggers are cues that can pull us in either direction.
Being Indistractable Means Striving to Do What You Say You Will Do
“Being indistractable means striving to do what you say you will do. Indistractable people are as honest with themselves as they are with others,” Eyal writes.
“Simply put, the drive to relieve discomfort is the root cause of all our behavior, while everything else is a proximate cause…. The distractions in our lives are the result of the same forces – they are proximate causes that we think are to blame, while the root causes stay hidden…. Only by understanding our pain can we begin to control it and find better ways to deal with negative urges.”
“All motivation is a desire to escape discomfort. If a behavior was previously effective at providing relief, we are likely to continue using it as a tool to escape discomfort…. If you know the drivers of your behavior, you can take steps to manage them.”
“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.”
“Sorry to say, but odds are you and I are never going to be fully happy with our lives. Sporadic bouts of joy, sure. But the sustained ‘happily ever after’ sort of satisfaction you see in the movies? Forget it. It’s a myth. Eons of evolution gave you and me a brain in a near constant state of discontentment. We’re wired this way for a simple reason. As a study published in the Review of General Psychology notes, ‘If your satisfaction and pleasure were permanent, there might be little incentive to continue seeking further benefits or advances.’ In other words, feeling contented wasn’t good for the species. Our ancestors worked harder and strove further because they evolved to be perpetually perturbed, and so we remain today. Unfortunately, the same evolutionary traits that helped our kin survive by driving them to constantly do more can conspire against us today.”
Four Psychological Factors Make It Hard To Be Indistractable
“Four psychological factors make satisfaction temporary:”
- Boredom – “the length people will go to avoid boredom is shocking…People prefer doing to thinking, even if what they are doing is so unpleasant that they would normally pay to avoid it…. Most of the top 25 websites in America sell escape from daily drudgery, whether through shopping, celebrity gossip or bite-sized doses of social interaction.”
- Negativity bias – “a phenomenon in which negative events are more salient and demand attention more powerfully than neutral or positive events…. Negativity bias almost certainly gave us an evolutionary edge. Good things are nice, but bad things can kill you, which is why we pay attention to and remember the bad stuff first.”
- Rumination – “our tendency to keep thinking about bad experiences…. This “passive comparison of one’s current situation with some unachieved standard can manifest in self-critical thoughts such as, ‘Why can’t I handle things better?’ This can lead to “not repeating mistakes and possibly doing better in the future… but, boy, can it make us miserable.”
- 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 long.”
“Dissatisfaction and discomfort dominate our brain’s default state, but we can use them to motivate us instead of defeat us. Without our species’ perpetual disquietude, we would be much worse off – and possibly extinct. It is our dissatisfaction that propels us to do everything we do, including to hunt, seek, create, and adapt. Even selfless acts, like helping someone, are motivated by our need to escape feelings of guilt and injustice.”
“Dissatisfaction is responsible for our species’ advancements and its faults. To harness its power, we must disavow the misguided idea that if we’re not happy, we’re not normal – exactly the opposite is true. While this shift in mindset can be jarring, it can also be incredibly liberating.”
“Certain desires can be modulated, if not completely mitigated, by how we think about our urges. Without techniques for disarming temptation, mental abstinence can backfire. 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 reimagine the trigger, the task, and our temperament.”
“By reimagining an uncomfortable internal trigger, we can disarm it.
Step 1. Look for the emotion preceding distraction.
Step 2. Write down the internal trigger.
Step 3. Explore the negative sensation with curiosity instead of contempt.
Step 4. Be extra cautious during liminal moments. (Liminal moments are transitions from one thing to another throughout our day.)”
“We can master internal triggers by reimagining an otherwise dreary task. Fun and play can be used as tools to keep us focused. Play doesn’t have to be pleasurable. It just has to hold our attention. Deliberateness and novelty can be added to any task to make it fun.”
Reimagining Our Temperament Can Help Us Manage Our Internal Triggers
- 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.”
Seneca wrote, “People are frugal in guarding their personal property, but as soon as it comes to squandering time, they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”
“The Stoic philosopher Hierocles demonstrated the interconnected nature of our lives with concentric circles illustrating a hierarchical balance of duties. He placed the human mind and body at the center, followed by close family in the next ring, then extended family, then fellow members of one’s tribe, then inhabitants of one’s town or city, fellow citizens and countrymen next, finishing with all humanity in the outermost ring. Inspired by his example, I created a way to simplify and visualize the three life domains where we spend our time: work, relationships and you.”
“The most effective way to make time for traction is through timeboxing. Timeboxing uses a well-researched technique psychologists call “setting an implementation intention,” which is a fancy way of saying, “deciding what you’re going to do, and when you’re going to do it.” The goal is to eliminate all whitespace on your calendar, so you’re left with a template for how you intend to spend your time each day. It doesn’t so much matter what you do with your time; rather, success is measured by whether you did what you planned to do. Keeping a timeboxed schedule is the only way to know if you’re distracted. If you’re not spending your time doing what you’d planned, you’re off track.”
Being Indistractable Involves 3 Life Domains
“Schedule time for yourself first. You are at the center of the three life domains. Without allocating time for yourself, the other two domains suffer.
Show up when you say you will. You can’t always control what you get out of time you spend, but you can control how much time you put into a task.
Input is much more certain than outcome. When it comes to living the life you want, making sure you allocate time to living your values is the only thing you should focus on.
“The people you love deserve more than getting whatever time is left over. If someone is important to you, make regular time for them on your calendar.
Go beyond scheduling date days with your significant other. Put domestic chores on your calendar to ensure an equitable split.
A lack of close friendships may be hazardous to your health. Ensure you maintain important relationships by scheduling time for regular get-togethers.”
“Syncing your schedule with stakeholders at work is critical for making time for traction in your day. Without visibility into how you spend your time, colleagues and managers are more likely to distract you with superfluous tasks.
Sync as frequently as your schedule changes. If your schedule template changes from day to day, have a daily check-in. However, most people find a weekly alignment is sufficient.”
The rest of book deals with how to “hack back” various kinds of distractions using different techniques. Check out Indistractable and its various formats on Amazon here.