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Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life

Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life

by Nir Eyal

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Overview

"Indistractable provides a framework that will deliver the focus you need to get results.”

—James Clear, author of Atomic Habits

"If you value your time, your focus, or your relationships, this book is essential reading. I’m putting these ideas into practice."

—Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind

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?”

International bestselling author, former Stanford lecturer, and behavioral design expert, Nir Eyal, wrote Silicon Valley’s handbook for making technology habit-forming. Five years after publishing Hooked, Eyal reveals distraction’s Achilles’ heel in his groundbreaking new book.

In Indistractable, Eyal reveals the hidden psychology driving us to distraction. He describes why solving the problem is not as simple as swearing off our devices: Abstinence is impractical and often makes us want more.

Eyal lays bare the secret of finally doing what you say you will do with a four-step, research-backed model. Indistractable reveals the key to getting the best out of technology, without letting it get the best of us.

Inside, Eyal overturns conventional wisdom and reveals:


  • Why distraction at work is a symptom of a dysfunctional company culture—and how to fix it
  • What really drives human behavior and why “time management is pain management”
  • Why your relationships (and your sex life) depend on you becoming indistractable
  • How to raise indistractable children in an increasingly distracting world

Empowering and optimistic, Indistractable provides practical, novel techniques to control your time and attention—helping you live the life you really want.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781948836531
Publisher: BenBella Books, Inc.
Publication date: 09/10/2019
Pages: 300
Sales rank: 184,788
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

A graduate and instructor in Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Nir Eyal has studied and taught behavioral design with and to industry-leading experts and scientists. He writes, consults, and teaches about the intersection of psychology, technology, and business at NirAndFar.com and his writing has been featured in Harvard Business Review, TechCrunch, Time, The Week, Inc., and Psychology Today.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

WHAT'S YOUR SUPERPOWER?

I love sweets, I love social media, and I love television. However, as much as I love these things, they don't love me back. Overeating a sugary indulgence after a meal, spending too much time scrolling a feed, or indulging in a Netflix binge until two A.M., were all things I once did with little or no conscious thought — out of habit.

Just as eating too much junk leads to health problems, the overuse of devices can also have negative consequences. For me, it was the way I prioritized distractions over the most important people in my life. Worst of all was what I let distractions do to my relationship with my daughter. She's our only child and, to my wife and me, the most amazing kid in the world.

One particular day, the two of us played games from an activity book. We turned to a page and answered questions designed to bring dads and daughters closer together. The first activity involved naming each other's favorite things. The next project was to build a paper airplane with one of the pages. The third was a question we both had to answer. The question was: "If you could have any superpower, what would it be?"

I wish I could tell you what my daughter said at that moment, but I can't. I have no idea because I wasn't really there. I was physically in the room, but my mind was elsewhere. "Daddy?" she said. "What would your superpower be?"

"Huh?" I grunted. "Just a second. I just need to respond to this one thing." I dismissed her as I attended to something on my phone. My eyes were still glued to my screen, tapping away at something that seemed important at the time but could definitely have waited. She went quiet. By the time I looked up, she was gone.

I had just blown a magical moment with my daughter because something on my phone had grabbed my attention. On its own, it was no big deal. But if I told you this was an isolated incident, I'd be lying. This same scene had played out countless times before.

I wasn't the only one putting distractions before people. An early reader of this book told me that when he asked his eight-year-old daughter what her superpower would be, she said she wanted to talk to animals. When asked why, the child said, "So that I have someone to talk to when you and mum are too busy working on your computers."

After finding my daughter and apologizing, I decided it was time for a change. At first, I went extreme. Convinced it was all technology's fault, I tried a "digital detox" and started using an old-school cell phone so I couldn't be tempted to use email, Instagram, and Twitter.

But I found it too difficult to get around without GPS and meeting addresses saved inside my calendar app. I missed listening to audiobooks while I walked, as well as all the other handy things my smartphone could do.

To avoid wasting time reading too many news articles online, I purchased a subscription to the print edition of a newspaper. A few weeks later, I had a stack of unread papers piled neatly next to me as I watched the news on TV.

In an attempt to stay focused while writing, I bought a 1990s word processor without an internet connection. However, whenever I'd sit down to write, I'd find myself glancing at the bookshelf and soon start flipping through books unrelated to my work. Somehow, I kept getting distracted; even without the tech that I thought was the source of the problem.

Removing online technology didn't work. I'd just replace one distraction for another.

I discovered that living the life we want requires not only doing the right things, it also requires we stop doing the wrong things that take us off-track. We all know eating cake is worse for our waistline than having a healthy salad. We agree that aimlessly scrolling our social media feeds is not as enriching as being with real friends in real life. We understand that if we want to be more productive at work, we need to stop wasting time and actually do the work. We already know what to do, what we don't know is how to stop getting distracted

In researching and writing this book over the past five years, and by following the science-backed methods you'll soon learn, I'm now more productive, physically and mentally stronger, better rested, and more fulfilled in my relationships than I've ever been. This book is about what I learned as I developed the most important skill for the 21st century. It's about how I became indistractable, and how you can too.

* * *

The first step is to recognize that distraction starts from within. In Part One, you'll learn practical ways to identify and manage the psychological discomfort that leads us off track. However, I steer clear of recommending well-worn techniques like mindfulness and meditation, not because they are not effective for some people, but because these methods have already been written about ad nauseam. If you're reading this book, my guess is you've already tried those techniques and, like me, found they didn't quite do the trick for you. Instead, we'll take a fresh look at what really motivates our behavior and learn why time management is pain management. We'll also explore how to make just about any task enjoyable — not in the Mary Poppins way of "adding a spoonful of sugar," but by cultivating the ability to focus intensely on what we're doing.

Part Two will look at the importance of making time for the things you really want to do. We'll learn why you can't call something a "distraction" unless you know what it is distracting you from. You'll learn to plan your time with intention, even if you choose to spend it scrolling through celebrity headlines or reading a steamy romance novel. After all, the time you plan to waste is not wasted time.

Part Three follows with a no-holds-barred examination of the unwanted external triggers that hamper our productivity and diminish our well-being. While technology companies use cues like the pings and dings on our phones to hack our behavior, external triggers are not confined to our digital devices. They're all around us — from cookies beckoning when we open the kitchen cabinet to a chatty coworker keeping us from finishing a time-sensitive project.

Part Four holds the last key to making you indistractable: pacts. While removing external triggers is helpful in keeping distractions out, pacts are a proven way of reining ourselves in, ensuring we do what we say we're going to do. In this part, we'll apply the ancient practice of precommitment to modern challenges.

Finally, we'll take an in-depth look at how to make your workplace indistractable, raise indistractable kids, and foster indistractable relationships. These final chapters will show you how to regain lost productivity at work, have more satisfying relationships with your friends and family, and even be a better lover — all by conquering distraction.

You're welcome to navigate the four steps to becoming indistractable however you like, but I recommend you proceed in order through Parts One through Four. The four modalities build on each other, with the first step being the most foundational.

If you're the kind of person who likes to learn by example, and you want to see these tactics in action first, feel free to read Parts Five and on, then come back through the first four parts for a deeper explanation. Also, there's no requirement to adopt each and every technique right away. Some might not fit your current situation and only become useful in the future when you're ready or your circumstances change. But I promise you that by the time you finish this book, you will discover several breakthroughs that will change the way you manage distraction forever.

Imagine the incredible power of following through on your intentions. How much more effective would you be at work? How much more time could you spend with your family or doing the things you love? How much happier would you be?

What would life be like if your superpower was being indistractable?

CHAPTER 2

BEING INDISTRACTABLE

The ancient Greeks immortalized the story of a man who was perpetually distracted. We call something that is desirable but just out of reach "tantalizing" after his name. The story goes that Tantalus was banished to the underworld by his father, Zeus, as a punishment. There, he found himself wading in a pool of water, while above his head dangled a tree ripe with fruit ready for the picking.

The curse seems benign, but when Tantalus tried to pluck fruit from the tree, the branch moved away from him, always just out of reach. When he bent down to drink the cool water, it receded so that he could never quench his thirst. Tantalus' punishment was to yearn for things he desired but could never grasp.

You have to give it to the ancient Greeks for their allegories. It's hard to portray a better representation of the human condition. We are constantly reaching for something: more money, more experiences, more knowledge, more status, more stuff. The ancient Greeks thought this was just part of the curse of being a fallible mortal and used the story to portray the power of our incessant desires.

TRACTION AND DISTRACTION

Imagine a line that represents the value of everything you do throughout your day. To the right, the actions are positive; to the left, they are negative.

On the right side of the continuum is "traction," which comes from the Latin trahere, meaning to draw or pull. We can think of traction as the actions that draw us toward what we want in life. On the left side is "distraction," the opposite of traction. With the same Latin root, the word means the "drawing away of the mind." Distractions impede us from making progress toward the life we envision.

All behaviors, both traction and distraction, are prompted by triggers, whether internal or external. Internal triggers cue us from within. When we feel our belly growl, we look for a snack. When we're cold, we find a coat to warm up. And when we're sad, lonely, or stressed, we might call a friend or loved one for support.

External triggers, on the other hand, are cues in our environment that tell us what to do next, like the pings, dings, and rings that prompt us to check our email, answer a phone call, or open a news alert. External triggers can also take the form of other people, such as a coworker who stops by our desk. They can also be objects, like a television set whose mere presence urges us to turn it on.

Whether internal or external triggers prompt us, the resulting action is either aligned with our broader intention (traction), or misaligned (distraction). Traction helps us accomplish goals; distraction leads us away from them.

The challenge, of course, is that our world has always been full of things designed to distract us. Today, people find themselves attached to their mobile phones, but they are only the latest potential hindrance. A few decades ago, people complained about the brain-melting power of television. Before that, it was arcade games, the telephone, the pinball machine, comic books, and the radio. Even the written word was blamed for creating "forgetfulness in the learners' souls," according to Socrates. Though some of these things seem dull in comparison to today's enticements, distractions have and always will be facts of life.

Today's distractions, however, feel different. The trinity of more data, transferred at faster speeds, enabling ubiquitous access to new content on our devices, means the world can be more distracting. If it's a distraction you seek, it's easier than ever to find.

What is the cost of all that distraction? In 1971, the psychologist Herbert A. Simon presciently wrote, "the wealth of information means a dearth of something else ... a poverty of attention."

Researchers tell us attention and focus are the raw materials of human creativity and flourishing. In the age of increased automation, the most sought-after jobs are those that require creative problem solving, novel solutions, and the kind of human ingenuity that comes from focusing deeply on the task at hand.

Socially, we see that close friendships are the bedrock of our psychological and physical health. Loneliness, according to researchers, is more dangerous than obesity. But of course, we can't cultivate close friendships if we're constantly distracted.

When we consider our children, how can they flourish if they can't concentrate long enough to apply themselves? What example are we setting for them if our loving faces are replaced by the tops of our heads as we constantly stare into our screens?

Let's think back to the tale of Tantalus. What was his curse exactly? Was it never-ending hunger and thirst? Not really. What would have happened to Tantalus if he had just stopped reaching? He was already in hell, after all, and dead people don't need food and water last time I checked.

The curse is not that Tantalus spends all eternity reaching for things just out of reach, but rather his obliviousness to the greater folly of his actions. Tantalus' curse was his blindness to the fact he didn't need those things in the first place. That's the real moral of the story.

Tantalus' curse is also our curse. We are compelled to reach for things we supposedly need but really don't. We don't need to check our email right this second or need to give in to some other distraction, no matter how much we feel we must.

Fortunately, we, unlike Tantalus, can step back from our desires, recognize them for what they are and do something about them. We want companies to innovate and solve our evolving needs, yet we must also ask whether better products bring out our best selves. Though it's not our fault distractions exist (as they always have) managing them is our responsibility.

Being indistractable means striving to do what you say you will do. Indistractable people are as honest with themselves as they are with others.

If you care about your work, your family, and your physical and mental well-being, you must learn how to become indistractable. The four-part Indistractable Model is a tool for seeing and interacting with the world in a new way. It will serve as your map for controlling your attention and choosing your life.

CHAPTER 3

WHAT MOTIVATES US, REALLY?

Dr Zoë Chance had earned a doctorate from Harvard and taught at the Yale School of Management when she made a shocking revelation to the crowded TEDx audience. "I'm coming clean today, telling this story for the very first time in its raw, ugly detail," she said. "In March of 2012 ... I purchased a device that would slowly begin to ruin my life."

At Yale, Chance taught future executives the secrets of changing consumer behavior. Despite the class' title, "Mastering Influence and Persuasion," Chance's confession revealed that she herself was not immune to manipulation. What began as a research project, turned into a mindless compulsion.

Chance stumbled upon a product that typified many of the persuasion techniques she taught in her class. She tells me, "We kept saying, 'Oh, this is brilliant. These guys are geniuses.' They've actually used every motivational tool we could possibly think of."'

Naturally, Chance had to try it out for herself and signed up to be the first guinea pig in her research experiment. Little did she know how the product would manipulate her mind and body. "I really, really, truly could not stop, and it took me a long time to realize it was a problem," she says now.

It's easy to understand why Chance stayed in denial for so long. The product she became dependent on was not a prescription pill or street drug — it was a pedometer. More specifically, it was the Striiv Smart Pedometer, made by a Silicon Valley start-up founded one year earlier. Chance is quick to mention that the Striiv is no ordinary pedometer. "They market it as a 'personal trainer in your pocket,'" she says. "No! It is Satan in your pocket!"

As a company founded by former video game designers, Striiv utilizes behavioral design tactics to compel customers to be more physically active. Users of the pedometer are tasked with challenges as they accrue points for walking. They can compete with other players and view their relative rankings on tournament-style leaderboards. The company also couples the step counter with a smartphone app called MyLand, where players can exchange points to build virtual worlds online.

Clearly, these tricks had cast their spell on Chance. In fact, she found herself incessantly pacing to keep accumulating steps and points. "I would come home, and while I was eating, or while I was reading, or while I was eating and reading at the same time, or while my husband was trying to talk to me, I would be going in this circuit between the living room and the kitchen and the dining room and the living room and the kitchen and the dining room."

Unfortunately, all that walking, much of it in circles, started taking a toll. She had less time for her family and friends. "The only [person] I was getting closer to," she admits, "[was] my colleague Ernest, who also had a Striiv, so we could set challenges and compete with each other."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Indistractable"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Nir Eyal.
Excerpted by permission of BenBella Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction: From Hooked to Indistractable
1: What’s Your Superpower?
2: Being Indistractable

Part 1: Master Internal Triggers

3: What Motivates Us, Really?
4: Time Management Is Pain Management
5: Deal with Distraction from Within
6: Reimagine the Internal Trigger
7: Reimagine the Task
8: Reimagine Your Temperament

Part 2: Make Time for Traction

9: Turn Your Values into Time
10: Control the Inputs, Not the Outcomes
11: Schedule Important Relationships
12: Sync with Stakeholders at Work

Part 3: Hack Back External Triggers

13: Ask the Critical Question
14: Hack Back Work Interruptions
15: Hack Back Email
16: Hack Back Group Chat
17: Hack Back Meetings
18: Hack Back Your Smartphone
19: Hack Back Your Desktop
20: Hack Back Online Articles
21: Hack Back Feeds

Part 4: Prevent Distraction with Pacts

22: The Power of Precommitments
23: Prevent Distraction with Effort Pacts
24: Prevent Distraction with Price Pacts
25: Prevent Distraction with Identity Pacts

Part 5: How to Make Your Workplace Indistractable

26: Distraction Is a Sign of Dysfunction
27: Fixing Distraction Is a Test of Company Culture
28: The Indistractable Workplace

Part 6: How to Raise Indistractable Children
(and Why We All Need Psychological Nutrients)

29: Avoid Convenient Excuses
30: Understand Their Internal Triggers
31: Make Time for Traction Together
32: Help Them with External Triggers
33: Teach Them to Make Their Own Pacts

Part 7: How to Have Indistractable Relationships

34: Spread Social Antibodies Among Friends
35: Be an Indistractable Lover

Chapter Takeaways
Schedule Template
Distraction Tracker
Acknowledgments
Contributors
About the Authors
Notes
Index

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“If you value your time, your focus, or your relationships, this book is essential reading. I’m putting these ideas into practice.”

—Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind

Indistractable is the most practical and realistic approach to balancing technology with well-being. A must-read for anyone with a smartphone.”

—Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

“This book is full of insights, stories, cutting-edge research and—most helpful—concrete, manageable strategies for becoming indistractable.”

—Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project

“In a world filled with noise, Indistractable provides a framework that will deliver the focus you need to get results.”

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits

“Success and happiness belong to people who can control their attention. Nir Eyal is on a mission to protect you from distraction—and his lively book is full of actionable ideas”

—Adam Grant, author of Give and Take and Originals

“In the future, there will be two kinds of people in the world: those who read and apply the principles in Indistractable and those who wish they had read it sooner.”

—Kintan Brahmbhatt, global head of product at Amazon Music

“Being indistractable is the essential skill for our time. Skip this book at your peril! My advice is this: Read it. Live it. Repeat.”

—Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism

“This is such an important book. Indistractable is the best guide I've read for reclaiming our attention, our focus, and our lives.”

Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive, Global and founder of The Huffington Post

“I can think of no more important skill than focus and no better teacher than Nir Eyal. Being indistractable is the skill of the century.”

Shane Parrish, founder of Farnam Street

“As a lifelong procrastinator, I'm painfully aware of how much productivity-related advice there is out there and how little of it is actually helpful. Indistractable is an exception.”

—Tim Urban, author of WaitButWhy.com

“This book has done more to change the way I see the world than anything I've read in the past several years. The actionable insights from Indistractable have helped me reduce my daily time spent on email by 90%.”

—Shane Snow, author of Smartcuts

Indistractable puts humans back where we belong when it comes to distraction: in the cockpit of our own lives.”

—Anya Kamenetz, author of The Art of Screen Time

Indistractable will help you make the most of your time and find peace and productivity in an increasingly distracting world.”

—Charlotte Blank, chief behavioral officer at Maritz

“Dive headfirst into this book. Indistractable is a fascinating, visual, and profoundly helpful guide to overcoming distraction. The deeper you dig into this book, the more productive you’ll become.”

—Chris Bailey, author of Hyperfocus

Indistractable is filled with both wisdom and humor. This is a valuable read for anyone navigating our modern world.”

—Richard M. Ryan, cofounder of self-determination theory

“Nir Eyal understands the modern technologies of attention from the inside, and in this practical and timely book, he shares the secrets to regaining and sustaining the capacity to focus on what matters. Your brain (not to mention your spouse, your kids, and your friends) will thank you for reading it."

—Oliver Burkeman, columnist for The Guardian

“An essential book for anyone trying to think, work, or live better.”

—Ryan Holiday, author of The Obstacle Is the Way and Ego Is the Enemy

Indistractable is priceless. You can’t afford to ignore this book.”

—Eric Barker, author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

“By following Eyal’s four-step, research-backed model, you’ll be able to gain control of your attention and leverage the incredible benefits of modern technology without feeling scattered and drained. Indistractable is an essential book for people looking to make big things happen in the digital age.”

—Taylor Pearson, author of The End of Jobs

Indistractable helped me realize technology was not the real reason I got distracted and struggled to get things done. It changed how I manage every part of my day, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Everybody should read this book!”

—Steve Kamb, founder of Nerd Fitness and author of Level Up Your Life

Indistractable is a masterclass in understanding the root cause of distraction. Recommended for anyone looking to do more deep work.”

—Cal Newport, author of Deep Work

Indistractable was an ‘ah-ha moment’ for me. Eyal distills academic research without ignoring the nuances and he values the readers’ time with a Goldilocks amount of detail, relevant examples, and practical strategies.”

—Jocelyn Brewer, founder of Digital Nutrition

Indistractable is the most complete guide I’ve ever read on being focused. This book is a gift for anyone looking to free up time so that they can live a better, more fulfilling, and less hectic life.”

—Dan Schawbel, author of Back to Human