Did you know that the secret to living the life we want is simple? The truth is that we have to do the things that need to get done, so that we can achieve our goals.
We all know that. But despite knowing what we need to do, we allow ourselves to be pulled away from our goals so many times, we are getting in our own ways and don’t focus on what truly matters to us.
Does that resonate with you? Of course, it does!
Every single one of us is dealing with distraction, we are all struggling with staying focused on the important things in our lives.
The good news is there are some science-based tools that you can use in order to overcome distraction, control your attention and get back on track to achieve your goals.
Do you want to find out how to become indistractable? In this new episode of the Legendary Life podcast, Nir Eyal is going to reveal some important strategies on how to overcome distraction and focus on what really matters. Listen now!
Nir Eyal is the author of two bestselling books, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” and “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life”.
He writes, consults, and teaches about the intersection of psychology, technology, and business. In the past he was a Lecturer in Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford.
Follow Nir Eyal on Twitter @nireyal
The difference between addiction and habits [04:50-09:50]
Is willpower really a limited resource? [13:02-16:34]
What “distraction” really means? [21:50-25:54]
The four techniques to become indistractable: [27:09 – 30:47]
1. Mastering internal triggers [27:09- 28:38]
2. Making time for traction [28:38 – 29:23]
3. Hacking back external triggers [29:23 – 30:12]
4. Preventing distraction with pacts [30:12 – 30:47]
How to master your internal triggers [37:44 – 44:18]
And much more…
Podcast Transcription: Indistractable: How to Take Back Our Time and Focus On What Really Matters with Nir Eyal
Ted Ryce: What's up my friend. And welcome back to another episode of the Legendary Life podcast. I'm your host, Ted Ryce, health expert and coach to entrepreneurs, executives, and other high performing professionals. And you are listening to the Legendary Life podcast where we break down science-based information on how to lose fat, prevent disease and live a longer, healthier, legendary life.
And today, we got an important conversation for you with today's guest. What could that be, you ask? Well, let me put it to you like this: the secret to living the life that you want is so simple. All you gotta do is do the things that need to get done, so that you can achieve the goals that you want. But the issue is we don't do it. So, why don't we do it? Why do we allow ourselves to be pulled away from our goals, despite knowing what we need to do?
Does that resonate with you? Of course it does because you're a human being. Every single one of us are like this. So, today's guest, Nir, author of “Indistractable”, a book you definitely need to go and download. But hey, don't believe me right now! Listen to the interview and then make a decision.
But what we're going to be talking about is distractions. Why do we get hooked by them? What exactly is a distraction? We all think we know, but Nir said something really important. He said, if you're going to label something a distraction, you first need to know what you're distracting yourself from. Because this is amazing. It's amazing because there are so many of us who say "Oh, I need to put in a hundred hours a week at work! or “I need to go to the gym and work out for a bunch of hours." But the truth is a lot of the things that we think of as “good” can also become distractions.
So we're going to get into that. Some of the things that you might be doing that you pat yourself on the back about, could actually be a distraction from what you really care about, from what you're really trying to achieve, from what you really value.
Another thing that he's going to talk about is the blame game. "Oh, I get distracted because Facebook has these engineers, that software engineers that get input from neuroscientists. And you know, that's why I can't put my phone down." or "Oh, big food pays food scientists a lot of money, so they come up with these addictive foods."
Look, there is some truth to that, of course, but the real issue..., those are external triggers. But what Nir is going to talk about - and he's going to bring a very evidence-based conversation here, going into the research - is that a lot of what we're struggling with doesn't have anything to do with the food, it doesn't have to do with the technology that we're all bombarded by - the notifications, bells, whistles, et cetera - has to do with something a bit deeper. So again, if you're looking to get more done in your life, if you're looking to achieve more in your life, then you're going to want to listen to this episode! This is for you! So without further ado, let's step into this conversation with Nir Eyal on how to become indistractable.
Nir Eyal, thanks so much for coming on the show, really excited to dive into the topic today, which is: how do we take back our time, so that we can focus on what truly matters to us.
Nir Eyal:Thank you! Great to be here, Ted. I really appreciate it.
Ted Ryce: Awesome, man! I'm so excited for this! I read your book. Usually, like I said, before we hopped on and press record, what I usually learn from books is how to tell the stories. But in your book, I learned a lot of things that I didn't know or built on the things that I already know. And I know everyone listening, they're going to get a lesson in what's going on with our behavior.
We all know what we should do, but we're unable to do it. And one of that, one of the big impediments to achieving what we want is we constantly get distracted. So let's dive in like this. You are the bestselling author of two books, one “Indistractable”, which we're going to be talking about. But there's another book that you wrote before this called “Hooked”.
And can you talk a little bit about how you went from teaching people and companies how to create addictive products to now helping us take back our time, take back our attention.
Nir Eyal: Yeah. So, so “Hooked” was called “How to build habit-forming products”, not addictive products, by the way. Addictions are not the same thing as habits. Addictions are processed for assisting compulsive dependencies on a behavior or substance that harms some people. Habits on the other hand are not always bad. We have bad habits as well as good habits. Whereas addictions are always bad. So we would never want to create a product to addict anyone. Sometimes that's an unfortunate byproduct of a product that is very engaging is that some people overuse.
But “Hooked”, my first book, was really about how can we steal the secrets of the social media companies to build good habits in people's lives. In fact, the only case study in “Hooked”, the only case study, it's not a video game, it's not a social network, it's the Bible app, the Bible. Because I wanted to show people that we could use technology - and I use the Bible app as an example - to build good habits in people's lives, right?
We can steal these secrets that the gaming companies, the social media companies use to help people exercise, to get them hooked to online education, to get them hooked to meditation, or spiritual engagement, or connecting with their loved ones.
We can use this technology for good. Why do we always default to thinking about the bad cases? Technology is fricking awesome. Like right now you're in Brazil, I'm in Singapore. People are listening all over the world. This is science freaking fiction here, people. And yet we take it for granted. We always think about the bad stuff.
We should not be worried about a few companies using these technologies to get some people addicted. No, we should worry about why don't more products figure out ways to engage people in healthy habits.
That's what “Hooked” is all about. People kind of misconstrued into this story that the social media companies use it. No, the book came out in 2014, Facebook and Google and all these guys started their companies way before that, they had known, the gaming companies have known these techniques for decades. They didn't need to read my book. I wanted to steal their secrets for the rest of us.
Now that was “Hooked”. And that came out of a class that I taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford.
Later on, after I published “Hooked”, I wanted to tackle the other side of the story, right? What happens? If “Hooked” is about good habits, what do we do about the bad habits? And so that's what “Indistractable” is all about. I believe that we can get the best out of technology by using it for good to build these healthy behaviors in our lives.
But we can also figure out ways to excise, to remove the bad habits that oftentimes involve technology from our life as well. So it's two sides of the same coin. The good news is we can have both, right? We can have the good habits from technology as well as learning how to break bad habits. And that's what “Indistractable” is all about.
Not just about technology. In fact, “Indistractable” starts off with these new challenges that many of us face around, you know, too much email, too much Facebook, too much iPhone, too much whatever. But then it goes into actually distraction is nothing new, that Plato talked about distraction 2,500 years ago, he called it, in the Greek, “akrasia”, the tendency to do things against our better interests. People have always been struggling with distraction from one thing or another.
And so the real problem is not the technology. It's not the gadgets, it's it goes much deeper than that. And that's exactly what I wanted to explore in “Indistractable”, because exactly as you said, Ted, you know, we all know what to do, right?
The problem these days is not that we don't know what to do. Who doesn't know that if they want to have a healthier body, if they want to lose weight, for example, they have to eat right and exercise? Does anybody really need some silly diet book to tell them that? We know, right? Who doesn't know that a healthy salad is better for you than a chocolate cake? We know that! Who doesn't know that if you want to have good relationships, you have to be fully present with people, especially the people in your life that we take for granted, right?
That if you're using your device at the dinner table... let me tell you, it's not the device that's doing it to you. There's something else going on. And we should have those deeper relationships, but why don't we? We know that if we want to be fully present at work, right? We know we have that big assignment that we have to do, that big project, we know we gotta do it, right? That to get ahead in the workplace, you need to do the hard work, especially the stuff that other people don't want to do. We know! And if you don't know how to do something, Google it, it's all there, right? The answers are there for how to do things.
The problem is not that we don't know what to do. The problem is we don't know how to stop getting in our own way. The macro skill, the skill of the century, the skill that must come before every other problem in your life, whether it's "I wish I could read more books", whether it's "I wish I could lose weight", whether it's "I wish I could make more money", you have to know how to control your attention, how to control your time, because that is how we choose our life.
Ted Ryce: Nir, first of all, thank you for correcting me and differentiating between building habits and addictions. Very important distinction. My slip up. Second, I love that you're diving into this power for technology that is used to.... I don't have the evil sort of conspiratorial mindset about companies just want to do what's good for their companies. And I've had food people, food industry people on here that have said "Hey, listen, we try to make healthier products and nobody buys it. So we just make the things that people buy."
And yet it's very pervasive right now in our society to kind of focus on the negative. Part of that's the negativity bias, part of that's the whole pandemic craziness that is also adding a new, another level of stress to an already very stressful lifestyle for most people. And, shifting that perspective to the positive is so important and shifting our perspective and our focus to "Okay, well, how can we use technology to do this?"
Just, just a really powerful message out there for anyone who is kind of in that mood, in that mindset of blame. Cause what you also said, we can't wait around for tech companies to change, they're not going to do it. They're going to do what's best for their business.
And I feel also, Nir, interested in your perspective, but I feel like we're at this place in society where, you know, Facebook's not that old, social media is not that old, we're just kind of like, how do we use this stuff?
And more Mac computers come with all these notifications and everything. And, you know, people are just trying to, or companies just seem to try to make their products more usable, to spend more time with them.
Nir, the question I would love for you to expound on a bit is, well, you talked in your book about some research on the cravings and beliefs and how psychologists use this form that I'm going to start using with my body transformation clients actually. What do you believe about your control? Can you talk about the study that was done, about the physical dependency versus people's beliefs and what the relevance is for a person who's trying to change their behavior?
Nir Eyal: Yeah, absolutely. So, in the book I talk about how we can master our internal triggers. We can get into what those internal triggers are, but one of the pillars of overcoming distraction, overcoming procrastination, overcoming these actions that take us away from what we really want to do in life is to re-imagine our temperament, is to re-imagine how we see ourselves, because fundamentally behavior change necessitates identity change, okay? Behavior change necessitates identity change. So what happens today, what's always happened is that many people walk around with a self image that does not serve them, it hurts them. And, we see this, this is quite prevalent actually.
So, I'll give you one recent example from the psychology literature: a few years ago, there was this idea that willpower is a limited resource, that we run out of willpower, just like someone will run out of gas in a gas tank.
And this theory actually got some credibility when one particular psychologist labeled this tendency "ego depletion". That was the fancy name for it, “ego depletion”. And he did these studies showing that people run out of the ability to make good choices, they run out of willpower when they do difficult tasks. And it sounded like a good idea, and it kind of got adopted in the mainstream that you run out of willpower.
What does that sound like? What does that look like in the real world? When I used to come home from work, I would say "Oh, I've had such a tough day, I can't make any more of these difficult decisions. I've run out of willpower. Give me that pint of Ben & Jerry's, I'm going to sit on the couch and watch some Netflix, right? Because I've run out of the ability to say no to these treats. I've run out of the ability to exert willpower.”
Well, as is often the case in the social sciences, when a study sounds too good to be true, we try and replicate the study. This is the beauty of the scientific method, we don't have to accept things on faith, we can run the study again. And it turns out that - after several attempts at trying to replicate this study - turns out, it appears that ego depletion is not real. It does not exist. We do not run out of willpower like someone would run out of gas in a gas stake, except in one group of people. There is one group of people who really do run out of willpower, just like someone would run out of gas in a gas tank. And those people are the people who believe that willpower is a limited resource. That's it!
If you believe that you just can't, then you just won't. And so how does this get translated into our day-to-day lives? Well, we see that people who have these self images, "Oh, I have a short attention span!" or I'm a, this, or I'm a that, people who typecast themselves, will perform according to their expectations.
And one of the worst beliefs that we see these days is this idea that I'm addicted to technology, or that someone else is addicted to the technology. We know, for example, that the study you referenced that the number one determinant of whether an alcoholic will stay sober after rehabilitation, the number one criteria is not their physical dependency. It is not their physical dependency. It's not what's going on, how much alcohol is in their bloodstream. It is the thoughts in their head. The number one determinant of whether someone will stay sober after treatment is their belief in their own power to change.
So when we tell ourselves these self-defeating myths of "Oh, I have a short attention span!" or " I'm bad at time management!" or "I'm a morning person", or "I'm a Sagittarius" or whatever the hell you want to label yourself as, be very, very careful because many of those beliefs do nothing but reinforce what many people want, which is an excuse, not to have to do the work that they themselves know they want to do, but would be kind of hard.
And so we have to be very careful about those self images, because remember behavior change necessitates identity change.
Now the good news is we can actually use this principle and flip it around and we can use it as opposed to it using us. Here's what we do. We can choose our own moniker. So as opposed to, you know, labeling yourself with a self-image that harms you, you can choose one that helps you.
How do we know this? There's some fascinating literature that came out of the psychology of religion. By the way, I keep referencing studies because the type of self-help book I like is not "Oh, here's my own pet theory." No, no, no! I want to see peer reviewed studies.
Like my book has 30 pages of citations from academic journals. It is deep science that I spent years of reading up on so that you don't have to, but everything is backed by peer reviewed studies. And you'll see those citations in the back of the book, you don't have to read all the citations, but they're there so you know.
But we know that this fascinating research came out of the psychology of religion. What we found is that when people have a moniker that they identify with, it makes staying on track easier.
So for example, when a vegetarian wakes up in the morning, a vegetarian doesn't say to themselves "Hmm, should I have a bacon sandwich for breakfast?" No, it's not who they are. I am a vegetarian! I'm not but a vegetarian would say, that is who I am. I am a vegetarian. This is what I do.
A devout Muslim doesn't debate and say "Oh, should I have a glass of Chardonnay with dinner?" No, a devout Muslim does not drink alcohol. It is just not what they do because of who they are. Which is why the book is titled “Indistractable”.
“Indistractable” sounds like indestructible, it's meant to be a moniker, a super power, an identity that you can use. If you are listening to the sound of my voice right now, anybody listening can start to proudly proclaim themselves indistractable. You are the kind of person who is as honest with themselves as they are with others. That's what being indistractable means. It's about personal integrity.
So it doesn't matter if you haven't adopted all the techniques and tricks in the book that I teach you and all the tactics. That's okay. That can come. The important thing is..., is that you declare to yourself and to other people "I keep my promises to others as well as to myself", right? We all know how terrible it is to lie to other people. The worst thing you can be called in my book is to be called a liar, right?
We would never lie to our family, our friends, our, our colleagues. That would be a terrible thing! But we lie to ourselves every day. I certainly used to, I would say I was going to work out. No, skip. I would say I was going to eat healthy, I know I should, I didn't. I would say I was going to work on that big project, I wouldn't. So we lie to ourselves all the damn time! Being indistractable means "no more!". We have personal integrity with ourselves. If we say we're going to do something, we do it.
Ted Ryce: Very important points about the peer reviewed research that you referenced in your book and have referenced here. We're all about that on this show, by the way. I know it's the first time having you on, but we're all about that. This is about scientifically tested principles to get in better shape and also to change our behavior. Stories are nice and there can be some gems in them for sure and some inspiration, but when we're talking about what works for the majority of people, show me the study! And show me the meta analysis afterwards. Right? So, all about that. Thanks so much.
And it's interesting that even the studies that are coming out of religion, like you referenced, it's starting to show that “Oh, well, we have these core beliefs that dictate our behaviors. And, unless we're willing to go there and address them, we're not going to be able to change. “
Because as you said, behavioral change necessitates an identity change. Your identity has to change for you to be someone who is less distracted or who eats healthy more often, or who makes it to the gym on a more frequent basis. And to do that, I know you have a..., one of the things I really enjoy about your book is you have all these tools, I downloaded them, checked them out, have not started to use them yet, it's a lot of information. One step at a time, because one of my problems right now is I'm lacking focus. I've just made a major change in my business, and went through some personal stuff.
So definitely the first step here, get Nir's book ”Indistractable” and listen to it! But the second part is eventually you're going to have to do work here. Listening to this podcast isn't going to, it may provide some transitory inspiration and some new knowledge, but that goes away. And if you don't act on it, nothing changes.
Nir, what do you have to say about someone, and just our situation in general, at least the things I see, people are constantly consuming information, but not taking action on it. That has to be one big part of why you included those tools in your book, no?
Right, absolutely. So we should back up and kind of talk about what is distraction? Really! You know, we talk about this term and it's one of those words that I feel like everybody thinks they understand what that means, I certainly thought I understood what it means, but I kind of didn't.
And a good test to know if you really understand something is to understand, is to ask yourself whether, you know, the reverse of that thing. Do you know the antonym of the word? So if you think about, okay, what's the opposite of “distraction”? If you ask most people, what is the opposite of “distraction”, most people will tell you, well, obviously the opposite of distraction is “focus”. But that's not true. The opposite of distraction is not focus. The opposite of distraction, if you look at the origin of the word, the opposite of distraction is traction.
Both words come from the same Latin root, "trahare" which means to pull. And you'll notice they both end in the same six letters "act" and that spells action. So traction by definition is any action that pulls you towards what you intend to do. Things that move you closer to your values and help you become the kind of person you want to become. Those are acts of traction.
The opposite of traction is dis-traction. Distraction is any action that pulls you farther away from what you plan to do, things that you are not doing with intent, things that move you farther away from your values and further away from becoming the kind of person you want to become. So this is a really, really important dichotomy because of two reasons. Number one, anything can become traction or distraction.
What do I mean by that? How many times have you sat at your desk
first thing in the morning and said "Okay, I'm going to get started, I've got my to-do list here, I'm not going to get distracted. I'm not going to procrastinate. I've got that really important project, I have to work on this morning. Here I go! I'm going to get started right now! But before I do let me check email, right? Before I do let me just do that easy thing on my to-do list real quick, just to cross it off real quick. Why? Because that's productive, right? I'm doing work-related tasks. Let me just check Slack channels or email real quick. Just to clear that inbox."
No! That is a distraction, my friends! And it's the most dangerous form of distraction. Why? Because that is a case of pseudo-work. It's when we think we're doing something productive, but really it's distraction tricking us into prioritizing the easy and the urgent at the expense of the hard and important stuff we have to do.
So anything can be a distraction. Doing anything that is not what you plan to do with your time is a distraction by definition. Okay? So that's the first point.
The second point is that anything can be traction. I'm not going to tell you to stop going on social media. No, it's great. I connect with so many friends that I would have lost touch with, had it not been for social media.
And if I hear from one more professor in their ivory tower telling people not to use social media, and then you ask them "Really? Well, do you have a social media account?, "No!", "Have you ever had one?" "No." "Well then don't preach to me about not using social media, if you don't use social media!" Right? It's nice for you to say, but what if my job depends on it, right? What if I need to use email to make a living, right?
The fact of the matter is anything you plan to do with your time, anything that is that you decide to do is fine. You want to play video games all day? Awesome! I'm not going to tell you not to. What I'm going to help you do is to do whatever it is you want to do with your time based on your values and your schedule not somebody else's.
So that's the most important principle here. I'm giving you the framework, I'm giving you the strategy, right? Strategy is more important than tactics. Tactics are what you do, strategy is why you do it. So I want you to picture in your head a number line, okay? Moving to the right and moving to the left. You've got traction on one end and you've got distraction on the other end. Now I want you to picture two arrows bisecting that line, right? Two arrows pointing to the center of that horizontal line.
This represents the kinds of triggers in your life. We have two types of triggers. First are the external triggers. External triggers are kind of the usual suspects, right? The things in our environment that can lead us towards distraction: the pings, the dings, the rings. It's what most people think about when they think about things that distract them, their phones, email, their kids, the boss. All of these external triggers turns out that is not the leading cause of distraction. 10% of the time, only 10% of the time that you check your phone, studies have found, you check it because of an external trigger, some kind of ping, ding or rink. So what's the other 90%? The other 90% of the time that we get distracted is not because of an external trigger, it's because of an internal trigger.
What is an internal trigger? An internal trigger is an uncomfortable emotional state that we seek to escape from. Loneliness, fatigue, uncertainty, stress, anxiety, these uncomfortable feelings that we want to escape. Okay. And the way we escape them is towards traction or distraction. And this is a very, very important point.
So now we have our four points of this compass, the four strategies to become indistractable, starting with number one, mastering the internal triggers. This is the most important step. Why? Because 90% of the time, when people don't do what they say they're going to do, the number one reason is "I didn't feel like it. I wanted to go to the gym, but I didn't feel like it. I wanted to eat right, but didn't feel like it. I wanted to work on that big project, but I procrastinated because I didn't feel like it!" It's feelings, people, feelings, right?
Because time management requires pain management. So procrastination and distraction it's not a character flaw, there's nothing wrong with you. You're perfectly perfect. Okay? What's wrong is that you haven't learned how to deal with discomfort. You don't know what to do when you feel stress, uncertainty, fatigue, anxiety. So you look for escape from that discomfort, as opposed to doing something that moves you towards traction.
So what we're going to do is to learn what do I do when I feel uncomfortable? Do I instinctively try to escape with a glass of wine, turning on the TV, watching the news so I can worry about somebody's problems, thousands of miles away, as opposed to having to deal with my own stuff? Right? Do I escape the discomfort or do I deal with it in a healthy way that leads me towards traction rather than distraction.
So that's the most important first step. The second step, the second strategy is to make time for traction. If you don't plan your day, somebody's going to plan it for you. And this is the most well studied technique in this entire field. It's called setting an implementation intention. It's planning out what you're going to do, and when you're going to do it.
Stop running your life with to-do lists, to-do lists are the worst thing you can do for your personal productivity. If you wake up in the morning and look at your to-do list before you look at your schedule, you have already lost, you're doing it wrong! You have to use a schedule and you have to synchronize that schedule with the important stakeholders in your life. And I'll tell you exactly how to do that in the book.
We can talk about it now as well, but I just want to get through the four steps. The third step is to hack back the external triggers. So this is where we get really practical, right? We talk about how do you deal with, how do you hack back all the pings and dings?
Look, there's nothing Mark Zuckerberg can do if you turn off notification settings. What is he going to do, reach into your phone and turn them back on? Don't complain to me that you're addicted to your phone. If you haven't turned off the notifications, so that you're not constantly pinging and ding all the time.
It drives me crazy when you go to a restaurant and you hear all these pings and dings. Learn how to turn that crap off! It's not that hard. And that's the easy stuff, right? We talk about what we do if we're working from home and our children are the distraction? We love them to death, but they can be incredibly distracting.
I show you what to do about those external triggers. So we systematically go through meetings and group chat and news feeds and all these things that can be external sources of distraction.
And then finally, the last step is to prevent distraction with pacts, which is what we call a pre-commitment device. Also very well studied in the psychology literature, very effective technique, where we essentially erect a firewall, the last line of defense, so that if the other three techniques fail, that prevents us from going off track.
So it's really about these four techniques in concert, mastering internal triggers, making time for traction, hacking back external triggers and preventing distraction with pacts. If you learn these four strategies, I promise you, you will become indistractable.
Ted Ryce: Powerfully stated, Nir. And I love how you talk about the internal triggers, because in the book you mentioned how the Greeks talked about distraction. I believe you referenced Plato, then you talked about how reading was this thing that was society thought was going to distract everybody, and then the television, and it's just a never ending new distraction that comes up via technology. It's never going to end. It's really on us to take back our lives and most importantly, what you said based on research, it's only about 10% of those distractions that are coming from external forms of external triggers, right? Coming from the external triggers. Most of it's coming from internal triggers.
What do you recommend someone does with those? You say it's the most important thing. One of the things that I do with my clients, when I see..., cause as a coach, I think about it in terms of, okay, what do I do with people? How can I make this easier for them? How can I make this process more effective? And I do two things as a coach. One, I educate, that's the easy part. You got to know what to do, to change your body.
Two is helping my clients manage their emotions so that they can stay on track. And that's where really the trickiness comes in. And what I do is I have them do a seven day thought record, which is from cognitive behavioral therapy. And it talks about, okay, what are the activating events, what are the consequences and in in-between, what are the automatic thoughts or even core beliefs that are in between that activating trigger and the consequence, whatever it is, either a negative feeling or an action, reaching for the ice cream.
So, I know you have a lot of tools in your book, but could you expound on the internal triggers a bit more and help us, like, what can someone do who's really, who wants to take responsibility, but really struggling with that aspect?
Nir Eyal: Yeah. Well, let's talk about what is the specific distraction. Can you give me a scenario? I like to make it concrete, just so I can give more targeted advice. So tell me what is traction and what would be distraction for this particular person?
Ted Ryce:So I'll use a current client. I have this client who, if they don't see the number on the scale go down at a frequency that they expect, they have negative feelings, the negative feelings distract them from what they want, which is to get results, right? So to lose weight. We know how to do that, it's not magic. You got to stick with the program and also figure out the obstacles if any come up. So the distraction here is one, the negative feelings, which in turn drive behavior towards wanting to give up, or to skip workouts or to say "Screw it! I'm going to have myself, the entire key lime pie from Joe's Stone Crab in Miami beach!”
Nir Eyal: Yeah. Yeah. You can drop those kinds of food references on this type of podcast. It makes people too way too hungry! When you say key lime pie, that's a disaster! Okay? So this is a great challenge. So I'm particularly a..., this is near and dear to my heart because I actually used to be, clinically obese. And let me tell you, people who are clinically obese, we do not eat or overeat, I should say, because we're just exceptionally hungry and that's not what's going on. People who are obese, we overeat because we eat our feelings. At the end of the day, that's really what's going on. Right?
When I was bored, I would eat. When I was lonely, I would eat. When I felt guilty about how much I had eaten, I would eat. That's what was going on, because I didn't know how to deal with that discomfort in a healthy way, which is why mastering these internal triggers is so very important.
So having a set of, you know, having a, a full quiver of arrows, so to speak, that we can pull out anytime we need, different techniques - and I talk about different techniques from acceptance and commitment therapy and CBT, and all these different techniques that we can use that are tried and true tactics that we can use in that hot state, in that moment, when we really just crave that piece of chocolate cake or key lime pie, we can rely upon a different tool in that moment.
So one thing to recognize, one of the central mantras of my life and of this book is consistency over intensity. Consistency over intensity. I want people to go to every gym in America and X out the signs that say “no pain, no gain”. And instead replace it with “consistency over intensity”.
You will lose weight if you have that goal of getting into that wedding dress, okay? Or the suit that you planned to wear at your wedding, whatever the gender might be. But let me tell you, if you do this crash diet, these fad diets, you know what's going to happen the next day, right? If you are on a temporary diet plan, what's going to happen?
Temporary diets are stupid because as soon as you're off the diet and you eat like you used to, are you going to be surprised that you look like you used to? Of course, that's the way it works, right? So this has to be long-term change. And it has to happen through consistent behaviors. We've all seen, you know, the people who come into the gym in January 1st, rip, ready, ready to go, they've made their new year's resolutions, and then by February, bye-bye, you don't see any of them anymore, because they're all about intensity and they don't have a plan to act consistently, which is why we have to use these four tactics in concert.
So, I'm going to get to some techniques that we can use specifically about mastering the internal triggers, but let's talk about some of the other ones.
One of the big mistakes that people make is that they don't schedule the time for these things, right? Scheduling our meal times, scheduling that time in the gym. If this is some of your values, by the way, I'm not saying everybody has to have these values.
But if this is consistent with your values, you want to be the kind of person who exercises regularly, who eats right regularly, it needs to be in your schedule. It has to be on that calendar, just like you would book an important meeting, if, if one of your heroes called you, Oprah called you, or I don't know what, a famous athlete called you and said "Hey, I'd love to have lunch with you!" Would you keep that commitment? Of course!
So you have to keep that commitment to yourself by putting it on your schedule. The people we know, the people who say "Oh yeah, I'll exercise sometime today", they don't do it. It has to be on your schedule, it's an important meeting that you have to attend.
So let's talk about those internal triggers. One technique that I find very effective that I use almost every single day is... This comes from acceptance commitment therapy, it's called the 10 minute rule. And the 10 minute rule says that you can give in to any distraction, but not right now, in 10 minutes. Okay?
Why is it so effective? Because we know that abstinence can oftentimes backfire. This is called the opponent process theory. There was some fascinating research where one researcher asked people to whatever they do, do not think about a white polar bear, okay? Try this for yourself. I want you, Ted, do not think about a white polar bear. What are you thinking about, Ted?
Ted Ryce: I was using effort to get rid of it, but it popped into my head as soon as you, before you ask the question.
Nir Eyal: Exactly. And this is why abstinence so often backfires. This is why diets after a while are very hard to sustain. When it comes to these very restrictive programs, it's almost like pulling on a rubber band. When you tell yourself, don't do it, don't do it, don't do it, you're pulling that rubber band further, further, further back until you can't pull it back anymore, and when you let go, the rubber band doesn't go or backwards... it ricochets across the room.
And now we get into what we call the "what the hell effect", which is an actual, real life cognitive bias. This has been well studied. The effect is called "what the hell effect". We've all experienced it, where you say "Eh, I already cheated on my diet, what the hell? Let me eat everything now!" Right? And that, of course, it leads us only to bad links.
So abstinence can very frequently backfire. And we see this with smoking, we see this with food, we see this all kinds of things that strict abstinence really can backfire. Not always, but in circumstances where the triggers are all around us, as in the case of food or technology distractions, abstinence doesn't work. Which is why I'm not for these digital detoxes and digital... It doesn't work there either, just like these fad diets don't work.
So what do we do instead? Instead we tell ourselves "Yeah, I can give into that chocolate cake, I can smoke that cigarette, I can check Facebook. In 10 minutes." And what do we do for those 10 minutes? For those 10 minutes what I want you to do is surf the urge. Surfing the urge acknowledges that sensation, these internal triggers, these uncomfortable emotional states, when we experience them, we think they're going to last forever, right?
If we feel the urge to eat that chocolate cake, if we feel that urge to smoke the cigarette, if we feel that urge to just check email or Facebook or whatever, we think it's going to be permanent. But of course it never is. Because these uncomfortable sensations, these internal triggers, they're like waves. They crest, and then they subside.
And so if you can surf the urge for just 10 minutes. So what I do, you know, so I write every single day, writing is really hard work. I've written two sellers, thousands of articles, it's never easy for me, okay? It's always hard work. And all I want to do is check email or check the news, or do anything but writing, I'll take out my phone, set a timer for 10 minutes, I'll put the phone down and now I can take one of two paths.
I can either get back to writing, or I can surf the urge by just sitting there for a moment and bringing awareness to what it is that I'm experiencing right now? Okay. I'm feeling anxiety right now because I'm not sure whether anybody's going to like what I'm writing and I need to make sure that I do this and that. Okay. Where is this coming from? Just sitting there for a moment with self-compassion, not beating yourself up, not approaching this in a contemptuous way, but in a curious way to discover what are those internal triggers really that are going on?
And what you will find is if you do this exercise for just 10 minutes, nine times out of 10, if you tell yourself "yeah, I can give into that temptation, but not right now,!", you will find by the time that alarm rings and the 10 minutes have passed, you'll be right back to the task at hand. The thing that you defined for yourself as traction, rather than getting distracted.
It's a beautiful technique. And it's one of dozens in the book, but that's what I talked about. You know, these, these arrows in your quiver that you can take out and say "Okay, next time that I face a situation, this is what I will do!".
And by the way, let me dispel another very popular myth. This idea that we should visualize our goals, you probably heard this, right? That if you want to have a beach body, imagine, let's make a vision board, right? And let's think about how good we're going to look on the beach! Please, for God's sakes, do not do this! It has been shown when you visualize the ends what you tend to get is a backfire effect, because the brain registers the pleasure of thinking of yourself with a six pack abs on the beach as actually have gotten there. And it actually reduces your motivation.
Don't visualize the ends, visualize the means! So, the right way to visualize is to visualize the decision point of “what will I do?”. This is an exercise that you should do with your client, Ted, “what will I do?”. Not in the moment. Well before. Let's have a conversation, we know that this temptation will happen. I will lose motivation. What will I do when the scale doesn't move, but I know I'm doing the right thing? What am I going to do at that moment? What am I going to do when I go out to a restaurant and I have the option of ordering those cheesy fries? What am I going to do? Is it the 10 minute rule? Is it surfing the urge? Is it the other dozen techniques that I talked about in the book?
That's the right thing to visualize. So those are a few techniques that we can use to start mastering those internal triggers. Again, there's many, many more we can use, but it's about preparing in advance. Because if you really want to summarize my entire book into one mantra, this is the most important one: The antidote to impulsiveness is forethought. The antidote to impulsiveness is forethought. Distraction, procrastination, these are not character flaws, okay? There's nothing wrong with us. What these are, are simply our inability to deal with these impulses, with these impulsive actions that we later regret, which is why the antidote to impulsiveness is forethought. There is no distraction. There is no temptation. I don't care how fancy the Google algorithms are, I don't care how delicious the pizza is. There is no distraction that you can't overcome, if you plan today to decide what you will do when you are tempted by that distraction tomorrow, that's how we become indistractable. We plan today to make sure we don't get distracted tomorrow.
Ted Ryce: That is the key right there, folks! And again, if you are loving this interview, as much as I'm loving being part of it, get Nir's book and start taking action. In fact, I would ask you, after listening to this so far, what's one thing that you could do right now, right after this interview that can help bring you towards whatever it is that you're trying to achieve? Maybe it's even figuring out what those things are, writing them down.
As you said, Nir, to call something a distraction, you have to know what you're being distracted from, which necessitates, what are you trying to do? Because playing games, video games all day long, if you're a professional gamer is exactly what you probably should be doing. Or if you're managing social media, you probably should be on social media all the time. So really understanding those details, so powerful.
Nir, I feel like first of all, this has been an incredible conversation, I learned so much from your book and even more talking to you, I gotta have you back on the show.
Nir Eyal: Oh, my pleasure! Anytime. I am absolutely happy to do it. There's so much we didn't talk about, we only got to like step one of four, but there's so much more we could go into. There's also a section of the book about how to raise indistractable kids. You know, many of us have kids, I've got a 12 year old little girl and we're concerned about what effect does all this technology has on them. There's a section on how to have indistractable relationships, how to have an indistractable workplace. So, we've got stuff to talk about for days here, Ted.
Ted Ryce: 100%. And again, I love your approach where you've done the workforce, you've done the psychological, you've gotten into the research behind what works, what's been tested, what's been found to be false, like the ego depletion idea, and you've done the hard work for us, so it's just incredible what you've done. It's very obvious why it's a bestselling book. And by the way, I like that it's five hours. I listened to the audio book, which is five hours long, compared to some of the books... It's like nine hours is a lot.
Nir Eyal: Yeah. Yeah. I wanted to keep it very actionable because it's a book for distracted people. So I want to make sure they wouldn't get distracted while they're reading it or listening to it.
Ted Ryce: Sometimes books can be a distraction from the work and I love what you've done there. It's compact and it's full of tools. So, if you want to order Nir's book, obviously it's going to be wherever you buy books, amazon.com.
But if you want to check out more about Nir and perhaps sign up to his newsletter, see what else he has going on www.nirandfar.com. And you'll have all of that, including the book, a link to buy it, his website and his social media on the show notes for this episode.
Nir, we're running out of time here. And so appreciate this interview. What's one thing that someone could do, or a mindset or a technique that you would say "Hey, here's what you can do right now!", besides going out and buying your book, which everyone should do, by the way.
Nir Eyal: Yeah, thank you! I appreciate that. I think the most important thing that you can do is to not disempower yourself by giving up control. You know? So many people adopt these mindsets that they are addicted to technology. You're not addicted to technology, you are distracted. You're not addicted to food, you're distracted by food. That's the most important key here. Is to not believe this rhetoric that, that, you know, when we tell people there's what we call learned helplessness. That’s when someone believes there's nothing they can do, they don't do it.
I'll give you a very personal example. I hope my brother is not listening to this podcast, but I had a conversation with my brother who's very overweight as I used to be. And I was telling him about how for the first time in my life, I really have gotten into fitness over the past few years
and at 43 years old, I'm in the best shape of my life.
I've never been athletic and today I run an under eight minute mile and I swim a kilometer in record time, and I have a six pack abs for the first time in my life. And I'm not saying this stuff to Bri, I'm saying, you know, I did it because I stayed indistractable and look! It's been a lot of hard work, but it's been consistent action. And, his reaction was "Well, I can't do that because I have a slow metabolism".
Ted Ryce: We've talked a lot about this on the show.
Nir Eyal: Okay. So, I mean, this is such a great example. And you know, I hear this all the time. Oh, I can't do that because of this reason, that reason. And these beliefs are so disempowering because of course, you know, it's so obvious, right? If you believe you have a slow metabolism and there's no way you can get in shape, you just keep eating what you've always eaten and doing what you've always done. And of course your results will be exactly as they've always been, because you've already lost. You've already decided it's not going to work.
So the most important piece of advice I can give you is to not let anyone, including yourself, disempower you, by making you think you are a thing. You are whatever you want to be. You can decide your identity and you can decide to be indistractable.
Ted Ryce: Powerful closing thoughts, Nir, thanks so much. And can't wait to get you back on the show. Really appreciate you, appreciate what you bring to the world. And, just thanks so much for taking the time to be with us!
Nir Eyal: Oh, my pleasure, Ted! It was my pleasure. I really, really appreciate it!
Ted Ryce: That wraps up another episode of the Legendary Life podcast. And how amazing was that conversation! I want to ask you: what was your one big takeaway from listening to today's episode? And what can you do? What is something that you can implement today to start to become more indistractable, more focused on what needs to get done? That's what I want you to think about right now.
And if you want to keep this conversation going, which I hope you do hit me up on Twitter @ted_ryce. You have some feedback about today's episode, or someone you'd like me to interview on the show, or a topic that you'd like covered, or just to say "Hello!", hit me up on Twitter @ted_ryce.
That does it for me. And I want to let you know we've got a great one plan for you: Seven simple habits to protect your mental health. That will be the topic of this Friday's Real Talk Friday. So really looking forward to that.
I mean, I don't know about you, but my mental health has taken a serious beating with this Corona virus. And of course you've been struggling with this, of course, we all have, the whole entire world has. You're not alone. Even the people who say "No, I'm not struggling!". It's like, well, why are you talking about it? Why are you on Facebook talking about it? Right? Of course, we're all, we're all dealing with it.
So we're going to talk about seven simple habits to protect your mental health. That is for this Real Talk Friday. And looking forward to speaking to you, then!
That's it for me, have an amazing week! Speak to you soon!
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