Nir Eyal: Mastering Indistraction [The Knowledge Project Ep. #104]

Bestselling author of Hooked and Indistractable, Nir Eyal was dubbed by The M.I.T. Technology Review as, “The Prophet of Habit-Forming Technology.” In this episode, Shane and Nir discuss regaining control of our attention from technology, how to get more done in less time, controlling the things you have agency over and so much more.

Here are a few highlights from the conversation:

Every new technology has goods and bads, any technology of this scale. The question is, how do we keep the good aspects without succumbing to the bad aspects? The answer is quite simple, it’s what we’ve always done in history, we adapt and we adopt, we adapt our behaviors and we adopt new technology to fix the last generation of crappy technology. This is what we have always done.

What I discovered was that distraction, the leading cause of distraction, and research bears this out, the leading because of distraction is not what we call external triggers, it’s not the stuff outside of us, but rather distraction begins from within, what we call the internal triggers. That is the leading because of distraction: boredom, uncertainty, fatigue, anxiety. If you don’t understand this principle that I live by that time management requires pain management, time management requires pain management, you’ll always be distracted by something.

Neurologically speaking, this is not true that human motivation is not about carrots and sticks, it’s not about pain and pleasure, but rather it’s just about one thing; all human behavior is spurred by the desire to escape discomfort. Everything we do, we do for just one reason, the desire to escape discomfort, even the pursuit of pleasurable sensations.

If there was ever a group of homosapiens that was happy continuously, our ancestors would have killed and eaten them. That would not be a beneficial evolutionary trait. You want people to be perpetually perturbed. You want them to want more, that’s what gets us to hunt, to invent, to create. That discomfort, that wanting more can be rocket fuel to propel us forward.

If you plan to spend your time playing a video game or scrolling social media or watching a YouTube video, great, there’s nothing wrong with it. As long as it’s done on your schedule, not the tech companies’. So the time you plan to waste is not wasted time.

I know you’re a huge advocate of this, Shane, that if you want a competitive advantage over other people in your industry, if you want a competitive advantage over people in your workplace, make time to think because nobody’s doing it, nobody’s making that time to plan, to strategize, they’re just reacting all day long, as opposed to the person who makes 30 minutes, 45 minutes an hour and protects that time and keeps it sacred for time for reflective work.

When it comes to time, this one thing that no matter how rich you are, you still have the same 24 hours in a day, Jeff Bezos doesn’t have more time in his day, Bill Gates doesn’t have more than 24 hours, we all have the same amount no matter how rich you are, somehow, that we give away to everybody. And that’s so counterproductive.

There’s this wonderful quote from Paulo Coelho who said, “A mistake repeated more than once is a decision.” So if you keep getting distracted by the same stupid thing, day after day after day, you are deciding to be distractable, whereas an indistractable person says, “Look, there’s only three reasons. Either it’s an internal trigger, an external trigger or a planning problem.” Every distraction is only one of those three reasons, what can I do today to prevent getting distracted tomorrow?”

One of the defining traits of families that raise well-adjusted children is having meals together. Yeah. Without technology, it drives me crazy when I go into a restaurant and I see parents just giving their kids the iPads, like the iPad is some iNanny, please have moments in your child’s life with you where you have no phone zones. One of those no phones zones should be the family dining table.

All you can control is having your butt in the chair to do the work when you said you would. All you can control if you need enough sleep is to get to bed on time so that you can get proper rest for your body. What your body does with that is not always in your control, but control the things you do have agency over.

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