Nir Eyal: Mastering Indistractability (Managing Internal Triggers & Taking Personal Responsibility), Distraction vs. Traction & Taming the Technology Beast - E299

· Creators,Positivity

“These days, we have so many labels around. Some say they have a short attention span, that they have an addictive personality, or they’re not good at time management. We use these labels that are really self-defeating. If you believe in these labels, you will act accordingly, so choose a good label. The best label is to become indistractable. I chose that title because it sounds like indestructible. It's meant to be a moniker that you can use to say that’s who you are.” - Nir Eyal

“Founders who have been in the industry know what to do. It takes consistent effort. The secret to a life well-lived is putting in the time in the right places in your life according to your values. Many people are cheap with their money but when it comes to their time, they just give it away. It should be the opposite because you can always make more money but you can’t make more time.” - Nir Eyal

“Most people would say the opposite of distraction is focus. That's not exactly right. Based on the word’s etymology, the opposite of distraction is traction, which means any action that pulls you towards what you said you were going to do. Both words have the same Latin root ‘trahere’, which means to pull. Traction is any action that pulls you towards what you said you were going to do and distraction is any action that pulls you away from what you plan to do. Distraction is an action that we ourselves take. It depends on the intent.” - Nir Eyal

This conversation between Jeremy Au and Nir Eyal, the bestselling author of “Hooked” and "Indistractable," shares insights into mastering focus and avoiding distractions. The discussion revolves around three key themes:

1. Understanding the Psychology of Distraction: Nir explains the internal and external triggers that lead to distraction and emphasizes the importance of mastering emotional discomfort as the first step to becoming indistractable.

2. Time Management and Calendar Control: He highlights the significance of planning time for traction, aligning one's schedule with personal values, and using schedule syncs to prioritize tasks and prevent distractions.

3. Building Consistency and Identity: He also shares his personal journey towards becoming indistractable and advocates for adopting the identity of an indestructible person to make focused choices consistently.

Throughout the conversation, they talk about the power of intentionality in one’s personal and professional life, implementing the strategies outlined in his book. They also discussed the impact of technology in creating habits, the challenges of writing a book and achieving personal growth through consistent effort.

Supported by Ringkas

Ringkas is a digital mortgage platform solving the access to financing problems for home seekers in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Ringkas currently collaborates with all major Banks in Indonesia and the largest Property Developers across more than 15 cities. Ringkas vision is to democratize home ownership and create more than 100 million home owners. Learn more at 


Jeremy Au: (01:08)

Hey Nir, good to see you again for our monthly podcast. How's life for you these days?

Nir Eyal: (01:13)

Great to see you again. I've seen a lot of you recently. We saw each other at one of my talks at the Harvard Club and yeah. Good to see you again.

Jeremy Au: (01:20)

Yeah, I mean, it was great to organize that event for the Harvard Business School Club of Singapore and you are totally sold out. 120 tickets sold and it was a full up crowds, we're busy. We're at a Genting Centre. Great turnout, great questions, and it was incredible talk and obviously we're discussing Indistractable, your second book.

And I just thought to myself, man, that has got to be the topic for our second podcast especially since it was such, full of all these insights. And honestly, a great counterpart to our previous episode where you discussed about Hooked and how companies can build these habit formation loops into the product. Before we start on that, for those who are new to you, could you just introduce yourself real quick?

Nir Eyal: (01:56)

Sure. So I'm a behavioral designer, so my day job, so to speak, is helping companies build the kind of products that build healthy habits in users' lives, so products in EdTech, like Kahoot that uses the hook model to get kids hooked to learning products like Fitbod that get people hooked to exercise, that use the hook model to help form these exercise habits. Products like Sunnyside that helps, actually helps people reduce their habit around drinking alcohol by using the hook model to get them hooked to this mindfulness app. So yeah, so I'm an investor consultant, speaker, and author.

Jeremy Au: (02:30)

Amazing. And you know, you wrote a second book, right? And I remember reading Hooked, the first book in a bookstore in New York City and obviously, I was very fascinated as a founder entrepreneur about how to.

Nir Eyal: (02:40)

Wait, you read it in a bookstore because you didn't want to buy it or what? Why did you read it in a bookstore?

Jeremy Au: (02:44)

Yeah, unfortunately I never bought it. So none of that money went into your pocket. I'm sorry about that. I was just, I just spent about half an hour.

Nir Eyal: (02:49)

I want my $3 commission.

Jeremy Au: (02:51)

I know, right? So there I was, just reading, you know, just speed reading and looking at major headlines, chapters, some of the nice diagrams there. And now, you've written a second book, Indistractable, which is how to control your attention and choose your life. For those watching the video, you can see those two books in the background there. And so, I'd just love for you to maybe give a quick summary, I guess, of why you started writing this book before we kind of talk about what the key takeaways are.

Nir Eyal: (03:11)

Sure. Yeah. So Hooked is about how do you build healthy habits in users' lives. Indestractable is about how do we break bad habits in our life, and it's for different audiences and different products. Hooked was for people who are building these products. So, marketers, PMs, designers, anyone who's building the kind of product that needs repeat engagement, that's what Hooked was for and about Indestractable is for everyone.

It's not just for product people, it's not just for startup people, it's for anyone who's struggling with doing the things they know they should do, but for one reason or another, doesn't. We find that the problem that most people have today is not that they don't know what to do. We all basically know what to do. If you want to get in shape, you have to eat right and exercise. If you want to be better at your job, you have to do the hard work that other people don't want to do. If you want to have better relationships with your family, you got to be fully present with them, right? We know what to do, and if you don't know what to do, Google it, right?

For the first time in human history, all the answers are out there. They're all free. You just need to go do some digging, and the answers are there. So the problem is not that we don't know what to do, that was the problem of previous generations. They could, you know, our parents or grandparents might be able to say, well, we just didn't know. Today, we all know. We just don't do the things that we know we should. And so, the problem with the, with distraction is that it keeps us away from living our full potential and living the kind of lives that we know we deserve. So it's not just about tech distraction, even though that features prominently, a lot of people say they're distracted because of their phones or social media or whatever, but Indistractable seeks to go deeper than that, looking at the psychology of why we get distracted to all sorts of things. Why do we eat unhealthily when we say we're on a diet? Why do we smoke despite thinking that we know we want to quit. Why do we do all kinds of things that are different from what we say we're going to do?

And the good news is this is not a new problem. We know that Plato, the Greek philosopher, talked about this problem 2,500 years ago. He called it a Akrasia in Greek, the tendency to do things against our better interest, which reminds us that this is not something new, and it's certainly not something that was invented because of modern technology. It's an age-old problem, and so the solution goes much deeper than what a lot of stupid books out there tell you. Stop using your phone. It's all social media's faults. Your attention is being stolen. Your brain is being hijacked. I think that's largely a myth.

Jeremy Au: (05:20)

So, I wake in the morning and then the first thing I do is pull up WhatsApp, for example. And then I go to my email, I'm in bed, just catch up with everything. And then a time, you know, an hour flies by. Would you consider that distraction or would you consider that me just going about my communications workflow routine?

Nir Eyal: (05:37)

Well, let's start with what is a distraction? because then we can identify what that particular behavior is. So the best way to know what a distraction is, is to ask yourself what is the opposite of distraction? Most people would say the opposite of distraction is focus. That's not exactly right. If you look at the origin of the word, the etymology of the word, the opposite of distraction is traction. Of course, it's right. When you think about it, traction and distraction, they're opposites. Traction by definition is any action that pulls you towards what you said you were going to do. Both words, traction and distraction have the same Latin root ‘trahere’, which means to pull. So traction is any action that pulls you towards what you said you were going to do. Distraction is any action that pulls you away from what you plan to do and you'll notice that both words end in the same six letters, A-C-T-I-O-N, spells action.

So distraction is not something that happens to us, right? It's not as simple as, your pings, dings, and rings on your phone. Distraction is in fact, an action that we ourselves take. It's right there in the word. So the answer to your question is looking at WhatsApp first thing in the morning. Is that traction or distraction? It depends on one word, and that one word is intent. Intent, right? As Dorothy Parker said, "the time you plan to waste is not wasted time". So if you planned to go on WhatsApp and do your thing for that amount of time, and that's what you plan to do, nothing wrong with it. And I hate this narrative that you hear some people say, that oh, you know, playing video games or checking your phone, that's somehow morally deplorable, but yet watching football on TV, that's okay. Like it's all the same. It's not up to us to moralize and medicalize these behaviors. There's nothing wrong with it. We need to give ourselves a break and realize that there's nothing wrong with these behaviors. It's about why we're doing them, how we're doing them, how much time we're spending doing them.

It's much more sophisticated than just saying, oh, technology, good, bad. Starting with is it traction? Is it what you plan to do with your time? Or is it distraction? Is it something that you did not plan to do with your time? But the only way to do that, if we're honest with ourselves, is realizing that we can't call something a distraction unless we know what it distracted us from, right? If you've got a big white open space calendar with nothing on it, you didn't get distracted from anything because what did you get distracted from? You have to know traction in order to know what is distraction. So if you planned to go on WhatsApp, that's traction. Nothing wrong with it. But if you did it for another reason, it, this used to happen to me all the time. I said I was going to do some work. I said I was going to be with my daughter. I said I was going to do something or another. That's what I plan to do, and here I am putting it around my phone. Now it's a distraction.

Jeremy Au: (08:03)

You know, I think part of it is because I think there's a sense that it's hard to get distracted by chess to some extent. I mean chess is a game that's been around for thousands of years. It's relatively straightforward. I think it's hard to feel addicted or out of control playing chess, at least, as in that's what a lot of people around the dinner table would be, but when it comes to like Instagram, TikTok, it feels as an activity, way more process, way more hyper palatable. You know, much more engineered, more of inclination to lose control and to feel like time has gone by. So I think there's an interesting dynamic there where I think to some extent, obviously traction versus distraction, but it just feels like some classes of distractions are much more compelling, maybe because of your first book called Hooked, it's intentionally built to have that engagement loop .

Nir Eyal: (08:48)

Yeah, you know, I'm smiling and laughing right now because I pulled up an article as you were talking, that's titled in The New York Times, the American Paper of Record. The title of this article is the Stealth Campaign that's Getting Kids Hooked on Chess. It was in the New York Times, and this appeared April 24th of this year, and it's an article about how chess is this terrible problem because children in school keep playing and chess websites and chess streaming, and they can't focus on their studies because of this highly addictive game of chess. You see the irony here, we moralize and medicalize these new behaviors. It's Facebook, it's Pinterest, it's Instagram, it's TikTok. It's all these new products. Everything and anything can be a distraction if it's not what you plan to do. I know people where work is a distraction, work is very positive, but they work at the wrong times. They're not spending time with their family or going to exercise or doing things they know they need to do to move their lives forward because they're distracted by work.

I know people who are distracted by exercise, right? Go to the front of the line at any race and you'll see people who exercise way too much. You've seen them, right? They're stick thin. They're using running or exercise as an escape, as a distraction. So it doesn't matter if it's too much news, too much booze, too much football, too much Facebook, you are always going to find distraction unless you know why you're distracted. So the instrument, we, by the way, we do this with every generation. This is called a moral panic. Moral panics happen all the time, especially when it's something that might control the brains of women and children. We always see the same language recycled again and again. It's the same exact language that people use to criticize modern technologies today, especially with media. It's always this mind control. Oh my God, they're turning us all into zombies. There's nothing we can do about it. And not only is it wrong, it's actually playing into the hands of what the tech companies want. Did you see the Social Dilemma movie?

Jeremy Au: (10:53)

Oh, Not the Dilemma, but I watched The Social Network.

Nir Eyal: (10:57)

The Social Network? No. That was a good one.

Jeremy Au: (10:59)

That was a good one. It was very inspiring for at that time, a student entrepreneur.

Nir Eyal: (11:02)

Social Network was great. Social Dilemma is a movie that I don't recommend. They actually interviewed me for it. Well, I sat down with them for three hours longer than the movie itself, and I told them all the ways that we can do something about distraction.

Jeremy Au: (11:15)


Nir Eyal: (11:16)

And they didn't include anything I had to say in the movie. Nothing. Nothing. You know why? Because it didn't meet their narrative of pushing powerlessness, pushing hopelessness, that there's nothing you can do. They wanted to enforce this stupid narrative that you're a literally a puppet on a string. They show, I mean, the movie poster is literally like a person being manipulated by this evil looking hand making you into a marionette. And that is exactly, there's no, I don't think it's a coincidence that this movie was on Netflix. Netflix, the company where the CEO said that Netflix's biggest competitor was sleep, because if you want to teach people to be passive, to be hopeless, to not do anything with the problem about the problem, tell them there's nothing to be done.

Wait for the politicians to fix this problem. And so what do people do? Nothing, because we're all addicted. What can I do? So it just goes to show you that, whether it's chess or whatever, it's not about the activity itself. It's not about the phone in your hand. It goes much deeper. There's a deeper psychology around why we get distracted.

Jeremy Au: (12:19)

I mean, okay. I agree with you that there is moral panic. I mean, back when I was a kid, I was in moral panic about Pokemon and Harry Potter. There's always a moral panic about some something. So I agree with you that I think there's a sensationalism that's going to happen. There's going to be waves and waves, but at the same point of time, you know, on one end, is there still perception that newer classes of social media, or whatever you want to call it, activities can be more engaging than other forms, in terms of like that behavior? So we, for example, we do know there's alcohol and there's problematic alcohol drinking for which we have, there's obviously nicotine, which is another version. And obviously, people are talking about digital nicotine and all this other stuff. But, and then on the other hand, of course we have all of these public calls, in terms of Facebook and Google and they themselves are saying on these public earnings saying, Hey, we're looking to obviously increase engagement. We're trying to increase. So they believe, or at least are saying that they have mechanized or scientifically become rigorous about how to increase that from a systems perspective. So, I'm not disagreeing with you that this can be overly centralized, but is there, do you feel like there are some activities or that are the modern era, that are more palatable in that sense or engagement?

Nir Eyal: (13:29)

Sure. Absolutely. Yeah, the technology is definitely getting better at hooking you. No doubt about it. I wrote the book, Hooked. I know all their tricks and I will tell you that using these tactics work. We wouldn't have, it's funny, when I first wrote Hooked, I consistently got the objection that, come on, and these companies, they just got lucky. You know this kid in his dorm room, Zuckerberg, whatever, they just got lucky. Nobody says that anymore because these companies know what makes you click and knows what makes you tick better than you understand yourself. They are using psychological manipulation to encourage your behavior. They want you to stay hooked as much as possible. I know, right? I know all their tricks and they're good, but they're not that good.

Not that good. We are far more powerful. These techniques do work on the margins. Absolutely. They work, but they don't hold a candle to user who knows, just a few simple techniques on how to become indistractable. It's not crack cocaine. This whole, like, whenever you hear somebody talking, you hear a lot of these days about dopamine, this, and you know what, whatever serotonin that whenever you hear people talking about these chemicals in the brain, you can instantly discount everything they say because oh, digital detox. Oh, that's the stupidest thing in the world. Like, if you didn't have dopamine, if you detox on dopamine, you would die. Like Parkinson's, you know what Parkinson's disease is? Parkinson's is when your brain doesn't make enough dopamine. That's Parkinson's disease, right? So this whole, it's ridiculous. It doesn't make any sense. Now that being said, I do appreciate the fact that we need to be more aware of how we use these things, obviously, right? That's what Indistractable is all about.

I'm telling people, I'm teaching people exactly how to disconnect on their schedule and according to their values, what I think is a mistake is to offload responsibility to these companies. I think that's what I'm, that's what I'm arguing for. I'm not arguing tech good, tech bad. I'm not certainly not defending them. I wrote a whole book on how to disconnect from them more. What I'm arguing for is nuance, and that's what tech critics don't get. They have an incentive to make shit up essentially to get you riled up. And it, what's ironic is that they're using the same psychological manipulation that they derive.

Jeremy Au: (15:48)

Ah, interesting.

Nir Eyal: (15:49)

When you open the New York Times, the New York Times, every other day has some article about how tech is awful. Every other day. They are direct competitors with social media, right? They, it is their direct competitor because you only have so many hours in the day and they know the more time you spend on Instagram or Tik TikTok is less time you're spending reading the New York Times. And so what do they use? I was a journalism undergrad. My minor was in journalism. First rule of journalism is when it bleeds, it leads.

Jeremy Au: (16:15)


Nir Eyal: (16:16)

Bad news, and they say this all about social media. Social media, they push bad news because they know bad news will engage you more. Try and find a good news story in the New York Times. Find today's New York Times. Find me a good news story. Like tell me good news. You're not going to find it. It's all about using the same tricks, the social media the social dilemma, entire movie about how terrible technology is. And I'm not saying there aren't bad consequences.

Remember if {av Rilio said, when you invent the ship, you invent the ship wreck. There are definitely lots of negative consequences, but we, there are also lots of good stuff that happens, right? We know there's tons of good stuff and we can talk about all the good stuff and compare it to the bad. We need to have a nuanced conversation rather than saying, woo, technology good, technology bad. That's a very simplistic way of looking at the problem, and I think that's what I'm trying to rally against.

Jeremy Au: (17:03)

I think it's fair to say that there's a very nuanced perspective, right, and I think you're right. Also, I think it doesn't fit well into a documentary slash movie.

Nir Eyal: (17:11)

That's right. That's right.

Jeremy Au: (17:12)


Nir Eyal: (17:13)

And it's very convenient, right? We want that, especially as parents, right? We're both parents. And let me tell you, when my daughter does something I don't like, I would love to say, You see, it's social media and you know, when we were kids, you see it's Pokemon or heavy metal music or rap or the radio or the television. I mean, it goes back all the way to the written word. Like Socrates literally said that the written word, this terrible technology of the written word was going to in feeble men's minds. And you know what? It sounds crazy, of course, like look how much society has progressed since we have the technology of the written word. But he's also right in a way, right? There are things that the ancient Greeks could do, they could memorize things, they could recite full books from their minds. We can't do that today because we don't have to. We've offloaded a lot of that to our technology. So certainly the point is here that technology always comes with a lot of goods and a lot of bads, but what do you do about that? Do you smash the technology and say, let's not use it anymore? Do you wait for the politicians to regulate it? And usually they are so ham-fisted, they screw it up and make it worse. They usually make the problem much worse. Or do you say, Hey look, all media is designed to be engaging and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

I read the New York Times, I'm a subscriber. I pay them every month. But I know their incentives are to monetize my eyeballs. That's what they do. They sell my attention to advertisers, which is Facebook's business model two, right? So it's about how do we use these tools in a way that serves us rather than hurts us.

But if we don't have that conversation, if we just have this very simplistic conversation, well anything that comes outta Silicon Valley that's bad. I think we really shortchange ourselves.

Jeremy Au: (18:43)

So what's interesting is that in the previous episode you discussed actually there is space for government action, right? That you do believe that are steps that governments can take. Because we are citizens, we get a vote consumer, you know, get a lobby, governments for regulation. And you actually suggested, as you said, there is space that you think, you know, policy makers should, you know, Represent the interests of people and so, so forth.

So I'm just kind of curious in that third space because we talked about what tech companies are trying to do, we talked about what consumers should maintain agency, but I'm still kind of curious from your perspective, what policy makers should be considering from your perspective?

Nir Eyal: (19:19)

Yeah, so my lens for where government should get involved broadly, I think in society is where is there a market failure? Right? Where the market can work things out. We should let the free market work things out. I think that's the best model we have to increase. Human prosperity is the free market.

So generally the government should get out of the way. Now, there's sometimes when there is a market failure, and I think there are at least two cases that I can think of where there's a market failure, where there is not a mechanism of action that protects people who need special protection. Who are those people? Number one is children.

Jeremy Au: (19:52)


Nir Eyal: (19:53)

So we have all kinds of laws that make it illegal to do business with people who are under a certain age. Right? I can't go walk over to the casino with my daughter and let her go play blackjack. She's too young, right? She's a teenager. She's not ready to play blackjack. She can't order alcohol because she's too young, because government deems that people of a certain age are not of sound body in mind. They can't make those decisions. That's already on the book. So I think. For example, social media. The minimum age is 13. You know, I hear parents all the time telling me social media's so bad for my kid, and you look at this and that.

How is your kid? Nine ten? Guys, what do you, I mean, come on the company. How many products do you buy? If you went to the store and bought a toy and the, you wouldn't buy a toy for a 10 year old that says 15 plus, right? Like, whatcha doing? That's on us guys. The companies are telling us, don't let your kid use this. However, I think the government should step in and have greater age verification.

Jeremy Au: (20:47)


Nir Eyal: (20:48)

I don't like what Utah did. I think Utah did nobody under, I think it's 18, can use social media at all period. I think there should be age verification because for many children there, there is an upside, right? We know that, for example in the states suicide of LGBT, or sorry, I don't know what we're calling them today. I think we just call queer is the label. But queer youth we know has lower suicide rates than it used to. And we think that part of the reason that is, is because now for the first time, they can connect with other people who are struggling with similar challenges about their sexuality or gender in a way they couldn't previously. So that's a big plus, right? So we don't want to just blanket ban because there's a lot of good done from this as well. But I think there certainly should be a well enforced age limits. So if we say 13. Okay. You need age verification and some kind of parental override to say, you know, we're telling you this is not for children under 13 and maybe we can discuss whether it should be a little older than 13.

It's it, I think that's, there's a good debate to be had what the right age is, the other protected group that we don't talk about enough, but I think deserves to be a new category of protection. Are people who are pathologically addicted? We use the word addiction a lot. We throw it around. I'm addicted to that. I'm addicted to this. Here in Singapore, you know, you see this all the time. There's those Irving chips, right? The like crackers. It says danger, addictive contents inside. It's crackers, right? Like, come on we've so watered down this term addiction that it's become meaningless. Addiction is a pathology, it's a serious disorder. If you know somebody who struggled with addiction, it's not a joke. It's not, oh, I'm addicted to crackers, right? It's can be really debilitating. So I think that people who are pathologically addicted do deserve special protection. Now, there are lots of products that are potentially addictive.

I would argue that any product that is used by a sufficiently large number of people, is going to addict someone as long as that product is an analgesic. So any analgesic, anything that solves pain is going to addict people if it's used by a sufficient in large number of people. How do I know this? We have recorded cases of people getting addicted to Tylenol, you, what do you call it? Perol, what do you call it here? Panadol. Yeah. We have places of people getting addicted to chewing gum. We have cases of people addicted to literally drinking water. I mean, there are documented cases people get addicted to all kinds of stuff. It's not as simple as saying, oh, it's this substance or this device. It's addiction, it's a disease. So if you have the kind of product that can potentially addict people. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to do something about it, because oftentimes you can't.

Alcohol is highly addictive, way more addictive than anything on your phone, right? It crosses the blood-brain barrier. Clearly, it's physically addictive, not just behaviorally addictive. And yet, alcohol manufacturer have no way to know who's an alcoholic. How would they know? There's no way. However, I think that when you know who is potentially addicted, you have a moral obligation to do something. So these tech companies do know the gaming companies, the social media companies, the media companies know how much time we spend. And so I think that there should be legislation that says that every company needs to have what's called a use and abuse policy. Not every company, media companies, let's just start with media companies, gaming news, social networks that says, There's a certain number of hours. If you interact with us for a certain number of hours, there's a trip wire that sends you a message that respectfully says, we see you have used our product in a way that may indicate you're struggling with an addiction.

How can we help? And it gives you tools. So if you're reading New York Times way too much, okay we have people that are called news junkies. That used to be a term, I don't know if people still use it, but. Like when I grew up, people were news junkies. because they were just, and we probably know some of these people who just watch way too much news, right? Like go get a life and it impacts their wellbeing. So after a certain number of hours, they would send you a message that says, how can we help? And it maybe it's to blacklist you, maybe it's to moderate the number of hours, maybe it's to send you tools and references around how you can seek help for this disorder.

So we're taking that problem much more seriously by creating a new protected class. Now that's about 3% of the population, 3% of the population. So if you're not a child and you're not pathologically addicted, this is a personal responsibility issue. I don't think it's a government regulation issue.

Jeremy Au: (24:58)

Right. Really fascinating. So, you know, I think what was in the book as well was not just obviously, the structural, but taking a step back as well. Here is also how, if you are in that situation, how can you. Choose the life back. Right. So let's just say you're a junkie, right? Or you feel addicted, you feel like, there's too much. What are the steps, and I think you described this in a book, but how would you, what would you be, the way that you ask someone to acknowledge or get started on this road before we go into tactics, right? But how would you kind of get started?

Nir Eyal: (25:25)

Yeah. So, so strategy is more important than tactics, right? This is a mantra in life and business strategy is, sorry. Tactics are what you do. Strategy is why you do it. So it's more important that people take away from this interview or reading the book. What's most important is that they take away the big strategies, and there are four big strategies.

So we talked about earlier the difference between traction and distraction. Now we talk about triggers. There are two kinds of triggers. We have what's called external triggers. External triggers are things in your outside environment that can lead you towards distraction, pings, dings, rings, anything in your outside environment, and those can definitely lead you to distraction. It's what most people think about when they think about distraction, right? It was my phone, it was my kids. It was everything outside of me. But studies find that's only 10% of the time we get distracted. 10%. The other 90% of the time that we get distracted, it's not because of what's happening outside of us.

It's about what's happening inside of us. So studies find 90% of the time we get distraction. It's because of an internal trigger. What are internal triggers? Internal triggers are uncomfortable. Emotional states that we seek to escape. Boredom, loneliness, fatigue, overwhelm, stress, anxiety. These are the reasons that we get distracted because fundamentally procrastination, distraction are emotion regulation problems.

That's all they are. They're just, we haven't learned how to deal with these emotional impulses. Right? The antidote to impulsiveness. If you wanted to summarize my entire book, this is what it is. The antidote to impulsiveness is forethought. The antidote to impulsiveness is forethought. If all these issues, procrastination, distraction, checking your phone when you don't want to, not doing what you say you'll do in life, in business, whatever the case might be. It's simply that you haven't learned the tools to deal with emotional discomfort in a way that serves you rather than hurts you. That's the most important strategy you can adopt, okay? That's step number one to becoming indestructible. If you don't master your internal triggers, they will become your masters.

So the first step is to have these arrows in your quiver, to have these tools in your toolkit ready to go, so that when you feel discomfort, you'll do what high performers do. I interviewed dozens of high performers in the arts, in business, in sports. What you find across the board, they feel the same internal triggers. They also get bored. They also get tired. They also get lonely. They also get stressed. They also get anxious, but they deal with that discomfort differently. High performers, when they feel that discomfort, they use it like rocket fuel to propel them towards traction. Whereas distractable people, whenever they feel that discomfort, they escape it with distraction.

That's the difference. So you have to learn how to deal with that emotional discomfort in a healthier way. That's step number one. That's strategy number one. Strategy number two is to make time for traction, and this is where we get very nuts and bolts into, okay, what does your calendar look like? How do you make sure that you can live your life according to your values?

Not someone else's. Okay? And this is where we sit down with our values, where there's an exercise in the book where we sit down, we actually figure out what are your values? And I walk you through step by step. I don't ask you to just come up with them. We walk through step by step how to know what your values really are, and then how can you turn your values into time. Because we can talk a good game. People will say, oh, what? What? You know, what do you value? Oh, I value my health. Okay, when was the last time you exercised? No, I don't really exercise. Well, that's not really one of your values, is it? Right? How am what? What's another one? Family. Oh, family is very important.

Well, let me see your calendar. Do you have time for your family? Do you have time to. Call your parents to check in with your siblings, to hang out with your mates, to spend time with your kids, or do you just give them whatever leftovers, whatever scraps of time you might have at the end of your day if you don't plan time for it, it's not really one of your values. So do you want to change that? And I'm not telling people, by the way, what to do. I'm not saying you need to live a certain kind of life. I actually don't really care If you want to play video games all day, fine with me. I'm not going to judge you. But what I want you to do is to be intentional about that. It's to say this is what I choose to do. These are my values. And if your values include play playing video games, put it on your schedule. I have time in my schedule, like we were talking about earlier, to go on social media. because that's consistent with my values. I want that in my schedule. So that's how I turn a distraction into traction is putting it on your calendar.

The third strategy is to hack back the external triggers. This is where we sit down with all the pings, dings and rings, and we go systematically, not only in our phone, in our computer, that's kind of child's play. The much more corrosive distractions when it comes to external triggers. There are things that are related to work because somehow we justify if it's a work related task, well then it can't be a distraction and that is not true. Those are the worst kind of distractions because you don't even realize that they're a distraction. So we go into how do you deal with email? How do you deal with stupid meetings? Right? How much time do we spend in pointless meetings? Right? The worst distraction is the task or the meeting perfectly done.

That didn't need to happen. That's the worst distraction. So we walk through all those external triggers, and then finally the fourth step is to prevent distraction. With pact. Pacts are the last line of defense. It's the firewall against distraction, and we implement them by making a pre-commitment, by deciding in advance what we will do when we're likely to get distracted. So it's those four big strategies. Master internal triggers, make time for traction, hack back external triggers, and prevent distraction with pacs. Everything else are the tactics to implement those strategies.

Jeremy Au: (30:39)

I have to ask out of those four, if you're like really in, waving the white flag of surrender right in life, which of the four would you recommend people start with from your perspective? The first?

Nir Eyal: (30:49)

Definitely the first one, the internal triggers, because again, it's distraction, procrastination. These are emotion regulation problems. So if you don't know what you are escaping from. Is it a difficult home situation? Is it your work environment? Is it the task? Is it what is it that's causing you that discomfort? What is that discomfort? You can't deal with the problem. You're just putting band-aids on the problem,

Jeremy Au: (31:11)


Nir Eyal: (31:11)

Right? So, and you'll always find something, you always find something to distract you because it, again, it's an emotion regulation problem. So once you learn those skills your life becomes much easier. But they're all essential. They're all very important. But the most important is the first one.

Jeremy Au: (31:25)

And what if you are next to someone who's going through that, right? So let's just say, you know, it's your child, it's your husband or wife, it's you know, a friend who's kind of going through that. If you are someone who's just like one step beyond and they've expressed this concern that they feel this dysregulation and so, so forth, how would you think about that? I'm so curious.

Nir Eyal: (31:45)

So you're next to someone who is trying to become indestructible, or someone who is very distracted, who doesn't realize they could become.

Jeremy Au: (31:52)

Ooh. Ooh. Those are two very different scenarios. I can imagine both of those dinners. What we got to do both then.

Nir Eyal: (32:00)

Sure. So, the first one is much easier. So if it's somebody who's trying to become indistractable and you are already indistractableor on your path to becoming indestructible, then it's fantastic, right? I, this is what I recommend doing with with kids, right? Is showing them, Hey, I struggle with this too.

My daughter knows that I'm still struggling. I always struggling. And becoming in distractable doesn't mean you never get distracted. It means you know why you got distracted, so you can do something about it in the future. Right. So I was very honest with her, even from a very young age, and I told her about, Hey, look, the, these companies design these products to get you to use them as much as possible.

They're not tell you to stop, so we have to figure this out. I'm working on it. Let's do it together. Right. And so being vulnerable with her I think gave me a lot of credibility. So it wasn't me telling her what to do all the time. And then when she saw me on my phone, I don't want her to think I'm a hypocrite. It's very important they see that you set a good example. So if they want to become indestructible, that's wonderful. I think the problem I hear a lot is how do I get my husband to become indestructible? How do I get my kids to become indistractable? That's a harder pro. How do I get, I hear a lot. How do I get my boss to be indestructible? Look, I'm indestructible. My boss keeps fricking emailing me and calling me at all times of day and night. What do I do? So that's a little bit more difficult as an employee. I know what to tell people. There's this method you can use called a schedule sync.

A Schedule sync just says that you sit down with your, did we talk about this last episode? I can't remember. No, so this is a great technique. I think this is really important. A schedule sync. What you're doing is you take out your calendar now that you have one, because that's the second step of becoming indestructible, is turning your values into time.

You will have a physical schedule for you to follow, and you're going to show that schedule to your boss. Say, Hey, boss, from working hours, this is what I'm doing this week. And by the way, this takes maybe 10 minutes, right? If you say, boss, can we sit down for 10 minutes on Monday morning, I want to show you my calendar.

By the way, your boss, if they're a good one, will worship the ground you walk on. Because everybody who manages people, we secretly want to know what you're doing all day, right? But we don't want to ask, because we don't want you to think we're micromanaging you, but we would love to know what the heck you're doing, right?

So if you manage, you, man, your manager, if you man, what's called managing up. Take your schedule, show it to them, and then say, okay, here's this other list. Okay, I wrote on this piece of paper. Here's all the other things you asked me to do, and I'm having trouble finding time for those things. Why is this so impactful?

Because you are avoiding the worst piece of productivity advice, the worst piece of productivity advice that we hear all the time. If you want to be more productive, you have to learn how to say no. What kind of stupid advice? Only a tenured professor would tell you that type of stupid advice. You're going to get fired.

You're going to tell your boss, oh no thanks, boss. Yeah, I know you're cutting my checks every month, but I don't want to do that. No, that's a stupid piece of advice. Instead, you're asking your manager to do their most important job, which is to help you prioritize. So you say, okay, here's my calendar, here's my week ahead.

Here's these things that I didn't know where to foot it fit in. Can you help me reprioritize? And then what they're going to do invariably is say, you know what? That meeting that's on your calendar, that's actually way less important than this project. Can you move that over there? And you're showing them when you are available to be interrupted, right? When you have what's called reactive work time, and when you have your reflective work time, the time that you could work only without distraction. So that's a really important step to help. Your manager, right? Show, showing them how indistractableyou are. And, you know, you're going to get a great boost in productivity.

You're going to be seen as more, as a much more effective employee in your boss's eyes as well. It's also very effective in the home. So, a few years ago, my wife and I used to get into arguments all the time about household responsibilities. And you know, she would say, look, Nia why don't you. Do these things. Look, you know, the trash needs to be taken out. Our daughter needs to be fed. Like, what? Why aren't you doing these things around the house? And I said to her in a very you know, s surprise manner. Like, I don't understand honey. Like, if you need me to do something, just ask me. Just ask me.

Right? And what I didn't realize was that I was asking her to do yet another job. I was asking her to be my camp counselor. I was asking her to be my manager, and that's another job. That's more work I was asking her to do. So now we don't do that anymore. We never get into these fights. What do we do once a week?

Sunday nights 8:00 PM It's on our calendar. We sit down and we do a schedule sink. And so I know, okay, I need to take out the trash on these days. She's going to take our daughter here and there on those days. And we know what's res, what we are each responsible for, and most importantly, when those will happen.

It's all, we literally share our calendars and we synchronize our schedules and invariably there's, oh wait, I thought you were going to be here for dinner. No, you're out. Oh. Oh, okay. Okay. Takes 10 minutes a week. We've been married for 22 years. I think this is one of the pillars of our marriage. E everybody should do this.

It's incredibly effective. So that's a few techniques that you can use. Is leading by example. I don't like, you know, hey force them to get rid of their phone or stop, tell 'em to stop using their device. That's not going to happen, right? It only makes them want to use it more. The best thing you can do is lead by example.

So if you're a parent, be an indistractableparent. If you're a manager, be an indistractableboss. That's how we teach people how wonderful these techniques can be.

Jeremy Au: (37:06)

Well I'm glad to know I could use this with my boss and my other boss now. So, excellent. Schedule sinks and you know, obviously I think, you know, I think obviously there's a sensation of time, right? And you know, I think people think about it obviously on a daily basis. Weekly, monthly, yearly, you know, decade.

I'm just kind of curious, when you look at your own arc of life, what. I don't know, not just atomic habits. Right. For example, James Clear you know, all these other folks who are talking about dailies. And when you look back in life personally, I'm just kind of curious, have there been like daily or weeklies or monthlies that really feel like, have compounded over time and have there been activities that you felt have been like, eh, like, you know, I thought they were really important at time, but ends up they want, you know, kind of accreting to where I am today.

Nir Eyal: (37:51)

In terms of things that I put on my schedule that I make sure are on my schedule. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, look, I I wrote indistractablefor me. It took me five years to write it because I kept getting distracted.

Yeah. Because I kept getting distracted.

Jeremy Au: (38:03)

How long did you think it was going to take you? The first when you wrote that at a proposal, how long did you

Nir Eyal: (38:06)

I thought one year.

Jeremy Au: (38:07)

You thought one year. you thought it was easy?

Nir Eyal: (38:09)

And The reason is that, I didn't, it took me a long time to adopt these techniques. It wasn't until I had adopted them right first, it took a long time to do the research and I was really bad at doing the research. I was digging up. You know, I, for me, I really want to start at first principles.

because there's a lot of bad advice out there, especially when it comes to personal productivity and self-help. And I didn't want, you know, oh, here's what worked for so and so it's to for you, not necessarily, right? I wanted to see the studies. I wanted to see the peer reviewed research and so, Both my books have 30 pages of citations to peer reviewed studies in them.

So not only do I think it works anecdotally, but it's also backed by good peer reviewed research. And so, there's no facet of my life that hasn't been improved. I used to be clinically obese. Today at 45, I'm in the best shape of my life. I have like a four pack. know, I've never had that before.

Jeremy Au: (38:55)

I want you to like lift it up and show, but no, I think we just, no. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's like–

Nir Eyal: (39:01)

I'm not saying that to brag like it's got nothing to do with my genes. All it has or not even with how hard I work, it's just that I'm consistent, right? Everything great in life. It comes from consistent practice, but that's not what we think. We think, oh, you know, it's New Year's.

I'm going to set a resolution and this is the year I'm going to get fit. And you see people setting these New Year's resolutions and of course by, January 31st, half of them don't come to the gym anymore. You know, or you fall in love with somebody you spend every minute of the day together. Oh my God, we love each other so much.

It's so romantic. The sex is so great. And then, you know, five, 10 years later, eh, we get a divorce. Everything a business, you know that you see this every day in your line of work. And you don't have overnight successes. There's no such thing as an overnight success in business. Even the fastest growing companies.

You look at the founder's history, they've been working on this for decades. They've been thinking about it. They've been in the industry. They know they knew what to do, even for the fastest growing businesses. It takes consistent effort. So that's really the secret I think, to a life well lived is putting in the time, in the right places in your life, right, according to your values.

You know, so many people are cheap with their money, right? They click coupons, they split checks. You know, they look for how to save a buck everywhere. But when it comes to their time, They give it away. Whoever wants it. Oh, there's this stupid thing in the news. Okay, fine. There, there's this project at work.

Okay, sure. Like, everything okay? Everybody just take my time. They give it away. And that's, it should be actually the opposite because you can always make more money, right? You can always make more money, but I don't care if you're Jeff Bezos or or Elon Musk, you can't make more time.

You can't make more time. So we should be stingy with our time and generous with our money because we can always make more money. And so that's kind of been my philosophy of how I build my schedule. So every week I sit down, I make the schedule for myself, and now it takes me 10 minutes because, you know, I kind of know what works for me and I make sure that I live according to my values.

So, Exercise has yielded huge returns. As I mentioned, I used to be clinically obese. Today I'm in the best shape of my life again because I do consistent effort. I don't have to kill myself every time I go to the gym. I just got to do it a little bit every, you know, on a regular basis for the rest of my life, I.

Writing, you know, how did I write these two books? I didn't sit down and crank 'em out, you know, in one day I did a few words every day. I built, I've been working on this blog since 2012. So, you know, it, it compounds over time, little by little relationships, right? My wife and I have the best relationship we've ever had after 22 years of marriage.

Because we put consistent time on our schedules for each other. We don't give each other whatever scraps of time are leftover like so many people do like we used to do. We have walks scheduled, we have date days scheduled. We have time to talk about our marriage in our schedule. Same with my daughter. We have time on our schedule plan for now.

We don't always know what we're going to do. I call this plan spontaneity. People say, well, that's no fun, right? Like, how do you keep things fun and spontaneous? We plan spontaneity. How do we do that? When I plan time with my daughter, right, which we do every week. We have big chunks of time. We don't know what we're going to do.

Maybe we'll go to the park, maybe we'll go get some ice cream. We don't know what we're going to do, but I know what I will not be doing. I will not be on my phone. I will not be making business calls. I will not be checking email. I know what I will not be doing, and so that's why it's so important. I know that I will be with someone I love very much.

Jeremy Au: (42:21)

I have to ask then, you know, to wrap things up here, you know, if you look at last week, right? You know, let's zoom in on your last week, if you open the share, what would you feel was like adding a moment that you felt like traction, if that makes sense. I. Another moment where you felt distraction.

Obviously you overcame it or realized it, but could you share those two moments? You look at the past week of your schedule?

Nir Eyal: (42:41)

Well, everything that you plan is traction.

Jeremy Au: (42:43)


Nir Eyal: (42:44)

So it's not about what you're doing, it's about whether you did what you said you were going to do. So if I so I scheduled time for social media.

(42:53) Jeremy Au:


Nir Eyal: (42:54)

I like social media, right? That's traction because I did it when I said I was going to do it. Right. As opposed to if I was working on, you know, a presentation or writing a my, the next chapter of the book and then I checked social media when I said on my calendar I was going to work on my book. Now it's distraction.

Jeremy Au: (43:14)

On that note, any last words of advice you have for folks who are you know, as they think about indestructible, as they think about their own focus, any parting words of advice that you have for them?

Nir Eyal: (43:23)

Yeah, I think the best piece of advice is that you can do this. I think a lot of us, you know, particularly today when we have so many labels around, oh, I have a short attention span, I have an addictive personality. I'm no good with time management. We use these labels that are really self-defeating.

If you believe in these things, if you believe in these labels, you will act accordingly. And so choose a good label, and I think the best label is to become indistractable You know, I chose that title. Indestructible. Sounds like indestructible. meant to be a title. It's meant to be a moniker that you can use that says, Hey, this is who I am.

So you know what? I don't check email every 30 seconds. That's not the kind of person I am. I'm in distractible. And maybe I do some slightly weird things, right? Maybe I schedule my day. Okay, that's a little different. I. Is it so different from someone who prays to to, to someone five times a day or someone who has special a special diet?

Is it so weird? No. It's just part of our identity. It's part of our values, and so I think adopting that identity can be very helpful. So we have to be very careful about what label and identity we choose.

Jeremy Au: (44:24)

Thank you so much for coming on the show and looking forward to next month's discussion.

Nir Eyal: (44:29)

My pleasure. See you soon.