In a world flooded with constant notifications and unending digital noise, it’s all too easy for distraction to take the reins of your valuable time. The battle against these attention-grabbers is no joke. Without the right tools to stay focused, your daily story might end up being shaped by the capricious twists and turns of fleeting diversions.
In today’s episode Ted is going to talk to Nir Eyal, the author of two bestselling books, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” and “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life”.
They will discuss the concept of indistractability, the importance of taking personal responsibility for managing distractions, and the need to focus on what is within our sphere of agency.
Nir will share insights into distractions in the health and nutrition industry, emphasizing the significance of consistency and planning to stay on track. He will also reveal his four steps to becoming indistractable, the number one skill that we need to achieve our goals in 2024. 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.
Connect to Nir Eyal
- The #1 key to managing distractions
- Learned helplessness and its effects on personal growth and agency
- The scapegoat mentality and the zero-sum thinking
- Distractions in the health and nutrition industry
- The secret key to staying on track and avoiding distractions
- The challenge of staying focused
- Four steps to becoming indistractable
- And much more…
Ready to make 2024 your best year ever?
We just opened spots for our Unstoppable After 40 Coaching Program starting this month.
Together, we’ll craft a personalized plan to reclaim your health and transform your body in a way that fits your busy lifestyle.
If you want to learn more about our program, click here!
We have limited spots, so click here to book a call now!
Podcast Transcription: Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life with Nir Eyal
Ted Ryce: Nir Eyal, thanks so much for coming back on the show. It's been a couple of years, as we talked about, but it's a pleasure to have you on again.
Nir Eyal: Oh, my pleasure. It's an honor to be back. So, thank you so much for having me back.
Ted Ryce: Now last time we spoke, I was in Brazil, you were in Singapore. Where are you today?
Nir Eyal: I'm still in Singapore.
Ted Ryce: Oh, amazing, so you live there, full time, that's your place.
Nir Eyal: Yeah. Pretty much, yeah, we bounce back between here and the states. But yeah, we've been here most of the time for the past four years or so.
Ted Ryce: Okay, amazing. Well, I've been there once and actually twice. Amazing place. Great example of how a city can be created to be a blue zone. And I'm curious if you've noticed, we can get into this later, of course, because some people haven't heard our first interview and maybe haven't read your book yet. But I would love to hear how the environment has affected or hasn't affected your ability to stay “indistractable”.
Nir Eyal: Oh, it's, yeah, it's a great question. It's definitely, you know, I'm a big proponent of designing environments where possible. This is what we call behavioral design. And so, I think Singapore is very much, uh, at the vanguard of, of that, on a, on a system-wide level, on a country-wide level. Um, it's, I don't know if does everybody in your audience know what a blue zone is?
Ted Ryce: I've talked about it, and hopefully, they've seen that new Netflix series talking about it and a lot of people have read the books as well. So, a blue zone is where people disproportionately live to 100 and beyond. Just, just if you're listening and not sure what that is now, now you know.
Nir Eyal: So, although I do want a little bit of a disclaimer because I dug into some of the research around Blue Zones. Have you heard about this Blue Zones and public records? Have you heard about this?
Ted Ryce: No, no, please share.
Nir Eyal: There's a very interesting phenomenon that the number of centenarians, people who live over 100, drops precipitously when it comes to the birth year relative to the date when records were kept accurately.
So, it turns out a lot of the Blue Zone stuff is nothing more than people forgetting when they were born or making up when they were born, and they're not actually as old as they think they are. Because as soon as the actual verified birth records are there, there's a lot fewer centenarians all of a sudden.
So, let's not put too much weight in it. It could very much be a clerical type of thing. But that being said, you can look at other metrics, right? You can look at BMI, you can look at incidences of heart rate, of heart disease and cancer, and happiness scores.
And there's all kinds of other metrics you can look at. And I would say that on that with just lifestyle factors. There's a lot about Singapore specifically and I think cities in general, cities kind of get a bad name for being dirty and smelly and grimy and you don't think of cities in the same breath that you would think about health and wellness, and I think that's a big mistake because you could be out in nature but if you have to drive from your house, to the grocery store and from the grocery store to a business meeting, if everything you're doing is driving.
And this is where I grew up. I grew up in central Florida, which had lots of nature, right? Plenty of fresh air. But I never moved. I was clinically obese as a kid through my teens. I was clinically obese because there was no movement. There was no reason to get those steps in.
And I think that there's a real wisdom to cities in that a well-designed city makes you move. Like in Singapore, I'll regularly walk 10,000, 15,000, sometimes 20,000 steps, just living my life. Just like going from place to place. I don't own a car because you don't need one in Singapore.
The public transportation is so good here and it's very compact, right? Everything is contiguous. And so you just kind of exercise in a way that is not a big deal. It's not an effort; it's just part of your day-to-day life. And there's other things they do here as well. Everything is socially engineered. We can talk about that as well.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, I would be happy to do that. And I love this conversation already because I think it's so important. One of the, I've traveled a lot and one of the biggest things that I'd say, the biggest lessons that I try to share with people, it's like being overweight, yes, it's your responsibility, but you don't realize if you're American and you're like you in Central Florida and you can't drive, or I'm sorry, you can't walk to the coffee shop like I do every morning, or you're just not moving that much and it's stacked against you.
And then to bring in your concepts of your book, you start having these internal triggers, you're bored, you're feeling disconnected from people because it's such a long drive and I'm with you on cities. I'm a city guy. I love Lisbon. Most recently I spent, you know, about a year there. It's just so walkable. You get in ship just from going to get coffee, walking up several flights of stairs. So, talk a little bit more, like you seem really into this idea that this idea you're living in probably the most engineered city in the world in terms of obviously there's Vegas, there's Dubai, but in terms of like creating health, fostering community and connection, Singapore has done that intentionally where I don't know if Vegas and Dubai quite have the same intention behind what they do.
So can you talk a little bit more about, yeah, talk a little bit more about that, please.
Nir Eyal: Yeah, no, I think there's it is a fascinating place. I feel like every American should come visit Singapore just because it really challenges our beliefs that things have to be the way they are. And I love America, I'm a very proud American citizen. I think that there's a lot of things in America that we do better than anywhere else in the world. But there's a lot of stuff we don't do better than other places.
And so, I think it's really interesting to come to a country with no homelessness. Like, there is literally no homelessness in this city. It's very, very rare. Like, you have to work at it to be homeless. And there are, I'm sure there's one or two people who are homeless, but it's been engineered in such a way that the government essentially guarantees housing and subsidizes housing based on your income.
Now, I'm not saying that that's necessarily the way forward for the United States. It's frankly too late. You know, this is a country that was founded in 1965.
So, there's a lot of things that they could do looking at other countries and where other countries don't have their act together and made sure that they built it appropriately. But, you know, the fact that everybody does have housing, the fact that there is virtually no crime, there's some very strict laws in some areas, for example, drugs; any kind of drugs is the death penalty. Very serious offense here. And you're warned on the plane over that it's such, they take it very, very seriously because they have a history with the opium wars in this, in this region in Asia.
So, they have a very strict policy on that. And yet they're very socially liberal in other ways, like prostitution is legal. So, it's this funny balance of, you know, if you mind your own business and you don't hurt society, they don't really care. But anything that might have spillover effects in terms of societal implications, down to the fact that, hey, if you're overweight, that's going to cost the system too much money, so they put in all kinds of schemes.
So, for example, in Singapore, they have mandatory national service. So, every male has to serve in the army, in the military here for just two years. It's a very short commitment. But you have to stay in the reserves. And in the reserves, every, I think it's every year, if I'm not mistaken, you have to go take a fitness test. And if you pass this fitness test at various levels, you get a monetary bonus. And it's pretty significant. I think it's like 500 bucks.
So, I think if you can do, I think it's like 50 pushups, you get $500. And this is up until like, I think until your late 30s, maybe even 40s. So, think about what that does for a country, for every male citizen of that country to know that they have a physical fitness test every year as part of their obligation to their country. You know, whether it's to, you know, Singapore hasn't had a war since for a very, very long time. Their modern military has never fought a war, in fact.
But there's something about that, the engineering around the health and society by saying, hey, there's these certain requirements that we're going to have in the name of public service, in the name of defending the country. And then there's all kinds of other things they do as well. They have this really interesting system. So, they used to have race riots here in the 1960s, where there were race riots between the Chinese and the Indian and the Muslims. There was all kinds of racial problems.
Much worse than what we have in the United States today, but rumblings of something similar, very sectarian, very, very racially charged environment. So, what happened after Singapore gained independence? The prime minister at the time, Lee Kuan Yew, who's kind of the George Washington of Singapore, he said, well, we want that to never happen again. We need people to integrate. We don't want people to separate. We want people to integrate. What did he do? He said, look, if you want public housing and public housing in Singapore is very different from public housing in America.
Public housing in Singapore is very good. I mean, some of these places, you know, on the free market would sell for millions of dollars and they're public housing. So, they're subsidized by the government based on your income. He said, OK, you can have this amazing public housing. The catch is you can only sell to someone of your same ethnic group. You can only buy or sell for someone of your own race. Why did he do that?
Because he wanted that every public housing development should have the same ratio of ethnic groups because he didn't want ghettos. He realized that people getting into ghettos, racial ghettos, was a source of problems because then you didn't know your countrymen. You didn't know other citizens of your country. But now if you have a Malay person living next door and then an Indian person on this side and a European here, you're forced to integrate. Your children are kind of forced to play together.
And so, it's just, it's very, it just, everything is, uh, so well thought out. Everything is, is engineered in this way. And sometimes it doesn't work, but many times it does. Uh, and it's, it's really beautiful to see how another country can, uh, solve what we think in America are these intractable problems.
Ted Ryce: And was that why you, part of why you moved there is because of how things were, or is this what you learned after you moved there or, or you specifically chose Singapore as like, you know what, this place is engineered in this way. And I want to experience that.
Nir Eyal: Well, it's not why we, well, kind of it is. So, we came frankly because of COVID. We were in the middle of Manhattan. I remember when COVID first, okay, when COVID first started, this was March 13th, 2020. I'll never forget that day. That was the day that it was announced as officially a pandemic by the World Health Organization. And I remembered as a kid in my teenage years seeing that Dustin Hoffman movie, what was it called? Contagion or something?
What was that? That Dustin Hoffman, basically like COVID in a movie 20 years ago. And I remember seeing that. I remember thinking, you know what? There's it's probably not going to be anything. But just in case, let's go over to Google and search best place to go during a pandemic.
That's literally what I typed in. Best place to be during a pandemic. And I think Google said Taiwan, New Zealand and Singapore, because they had experienced SARS before covid. And of course, this was, you know, when nobody was taking covid seriously. This is way before any of the lockdowns and everything that happened afterwards. But I thought, you know what, let's take a little vacation. Let's go visit Singapore.
So, I told my wife and daughter, I think it's a good time to visit Singapore. I had a client here at the time that I called and wanted to see how things were looking and she said, pretty good. So, we came on a tourist visa. And then the lockdowns happened and the rioting happened in New York and the looting in Soho.
And we thought, you know what, Singapore might be a nice place to stick around for a little while. And seeing how well the country went through that, right? What happens when you have a super functional government that people trust. They weren't always right. But people, I think the average Singaporean doesn't agree with everything the government does, but they believe that they have their best interests in mind and are doing their best.
And just seeing like once we got here, how, how good they were about communicating, right? Every day, one person, the Minister of Health, would go on TV, would go on the radio, you know, would be in the newspapers. Here's what we're going to do. If the numbers go here, here's the plan. If the numbers go there, that's what we're going to do.
Very clear, very thoughtful. And we really appreciated, you know, in a time of emergency, being here. I think as opposed to what we were looking at in the news, we weren't in the States at the time.
But, you know, Anthony Fauci said one thing, and Trump said something else, and, you know, 16 other people disagreed with all of them and they were all, you know, arguing with each other.
And I think there is a time and a place for that. Like that's really America's strength is that we, we argue, uh, and find the, hopefully, you know, it's this, it's this marketplace of ideas. Was it John Locke that talked about the marketplace of ideas, and America's really good at that, right? Debate and free speech. It's, it's what makes America wonderful.
But there are some times you want to shut the hell up and do what the government tells you. War and pestilence, right? That's when you want to shut the hell up and just do what a central authority tells you because it's a time of crisis.
And in that case, you really want a competent government and an obedient citizenry for just that time. Like, let's not argue. We'll argue about it after the disaster. And so, we can argue about mask mandates and vaccines and was this right? Was that right? But after the fact, not while we're going through it.
And then after, we'd damn well better have a commission to assess, hey, how do we do? That's politically super toxic in America. There will never be a commission, I don't think, to sit down and argue about, hey, what could have been done better, which is exactly what we should have done now. Looking back, like, what did we do right? What did we do wrong? Let's have the playbook ready to go so we can take it off the shelf next time.
That's exactly what Singapore did, right? They did a damn good job. Like, the rates of death were, I think, some of the lowest in the world.
And there's many reasons for that. They have great reverence here for the elderly. So, it was literally like the messaging from the government was, it doesn't matter if you're protecting yourself. It's not about you. It's about grandma and grandpa, right?
We are doing this for grandma and grandpa. And that was something that really resonated with people here because they really do revere the elderly in a way, I think in the West we kind of don't. Like in the West, the elderly are in some home, and we don't really think about them.
And we don't see them anymore. Uh, but here it's very different. So, um, so, so yeah, so that's just some, some of my observations on what went well, what went not so well.
And again, I'm not saying that there's a panacea of Singapore has lots and lots of problems, but I think what has kept us here is, uh, is the quality of life. Frankly, you know, my daughter's 15, and, uh, because it's so safe here, because public transportation is so good, my daughter can be out at 1 a.m. And I don't know what she's doing, but I know she's safe.
And that's, I hate to say it, that's something I can't say for New York City.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, I hear you on that. And like you, I love America. I'm so grateful to be American. I haven't been able to spend more than a couple of months at a time, or really a couple of months per year, inside the States for a number of different reasons. And part of it is just experiencing other cultures and just contrasting it.
And one of the things I love to do is like what you're doing right now. You're trying to bring some lessons from your experiences just to paint a different picture. And like you said, Americans, we're so great at innovation and so many creations that have come from our culture and from the brilliant people in the States. But when you start to travel a bit, you see, hey, we could be doing things better for sure. That's fascinating.
Nir Eyal: Yeah, yeah. And again, it's, you know, our strength is also our weakness, right? Because so America is really defined by individualism. That's what America is all about. You know, from the founding of the country, it's really people who wanted to make a life for themselves primarily focused around commerce. Alright, that's really the business of America's business.
Ted Ryce: I want to pay those taxes. Yeah. Back in, back to the king.
Nir Eyal: Yeah, exactly, exactly. Right, right. So, this was this new frontier that they could go find, find their way in the world. And it's all about freedom. The problem with that, the downside is, is that we tend not to be as collectivist. We tend not to worry about each other in the same way that maybe other countries do.
So, if you want to be the individual best in the world, right? You want to be, uh, a world-famous athlete, uh, you want to be world famous, uh, movie star, you want to be, uh, a, a, a tech billionaire. Well, there's, there's really only one place you can go, right? You want to go to America. And that's amazing.
And there's so many things that America has given the world in terms of culture, in terms of innovation. Absolutely. Because it's so individually minded. The trouble is, of course, that we leave a lot of people behind. And that's something that I think we can learn from other countries and that, you know, in America, the sky's the limit, but also, you know, you might sleep on the streets.
Whereas in Singapore, at least, that's not the case at all. The government will make sure that you will, the floor is only so low. You're going to get good healthcare, you're going to get the best education system in the world, you're going to get housing. They're not going to let you fall that far. But how high can you go? Probably limited as well.
So, that's kind of the trade-off. Now they're trying to change that, of course. They're becoming the Manhattan of Asia in many ways now. And so, we are seeing more tech billionaires coming out of Singapore. A lot of companies are basing their headquarters here, Shein and TikTok and a lot of these companies now that started in Asia but now are crossing over to the US market are basing their headquarters here.
So, I think you're going to be hearing a lot more about Singapore in the future. Now again, it's not perfect. Like one thing that really bothers me here or at least bothers my American sensibilities is that they've been under single-party rule since 1965.
Um, which is, which is crazy because there's very few historical examples of a single party ruling a country and not causing crazy corruption. And yet they really haven't. It's it....
Ted Ryce: Mmm, the nepotism.
Nir Eyal: Yeah. It's, in fact, known to be, it's ranked one of the least corrupt countries on earth. I think it's always like number one or number two least corrupt countries because they have very strict laws here around corruption, very strict penalties.
And they pay their government officials a ton of money. Like government officials here get paid seven figures, which is unheard of. Right. And so, what happens as opposed to in America, if you say, oh, I'm working for the government, it's like, oh, you couldn't get a private sector job, right? Why would you take a job with the government?
The patriotism of, you know, the JFK years of ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country, it's kind of evaporated in America to some extent.
Whereas here, that's not the case at all. The most prestigious job you could possibly work is working for the government. Not only are you very well paid, but it's kind of the best and brightest are tracked to work for the government. And it pays off in that they tend to make really good decisions as well.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, it's a fascinating conversation. And if you're listening right now, travel can really change how you look at things and maybe even can help you change your behavior or reevaluate your environment back home.
So, to tie it in with, because it's fascinating, this is, you know, great catching up with you. I would love to hear because the first time you're on, you know, you wrote two great books, Hooked and Indistractable.
With Indistractable, you came on the show a couple of years ago, like we talked about, and talked about, you know, what is indistractable and why we're so distracted.
And you talked about external triggers versus internal triggers and how a lot of the blame we have around not having enough time or eating fast foods or, um, getting addicted to our phones. A lot of really what the research shows is about 10% of those triggers are external and the rest is all internal.
And if you're just tuning in and you haven't listened to episode, go to episode 448, “Indistractable, How to Take Back Our Time and Focus on What Really Matters”. And also, you can buy Nir's book on Amazon by the same name.
But Nir, what have you learned about living in Singapore, staying outside the country? Has anything changed for you about how you looked at distraction, internal triggers, external triggers?
Nir Eyal: Yeah, not too much has changed in terms of the core psychology that underlies distraction. This is, and that's kind of the big revelation that I had looking at first principles. You know, whenever I have a problem in my life, I'll write about it to myself, and then I'll usually figure it out most of the time, and then if I still haven't, then I'll talk to my wife, maybe I'll talk to my friends about it, and then if I still can't figure it out, I'll read books about it, and most of the time, by that time, I've solved the problem for myself.
But distraction was one of those problems that I went through all those steps. And by the time I got to reading the book stages of reading other books on the topic, basically many of these books were written by tenured professors whose advice was, well, stop using technology, right? Stop using social media, stop checking emails so much, stop using your phone so much.
Well, thanks, stupid. That's nice of you know, for you to say because you're tenured, you're not going to get fired. But for most people, if you stop checking technology, you're going to get fired from your job. So that's not a very practical solution, is it now? And so, and it doesn't even work because when I followed their advice, and I got rid of my cell phone, and I got a flip phone from the 1980s or 1990s, you know, these flip devices that have no apps on them, no internet connection, just calls and text messages.
And I got myself a word processor also from the 1990s. I bought it on eBay from, you know, somebody was throwing it out. And this word processor had no Internet connection, no apps, just let you type and upload.
And let me tell you, even without all of our modern distractions that we think are causing us to go off track, I still got distracted because I would say, oh, look, there's that book on the shelf I've been meaning to read or let me just clean my desk really quick. Let me take out the trash. And I kept getting distracted.
And so, what I did was to say, look, if these solutions aren't working there must be something else going on. What's the deeper reason we're getting distracted? And the deeper reason is that we tend to blame the things outside of us, the external triggers, the pings, the dings, the rings. But in truth, it turns out time studies have found that 90% of the time we get distracted, 90%, it's not because of what's happening outside of us, but rather the vast majority of distraction begins from within.
These are called internal triggers. Boredom, loneliness, uncertainty, stress, anxiety, feelings that we seek to escape. So, distraction, it's not a character flaw. There's nothing wrong with you. You're not broken in any way. It's simply that distraction is an impulse control issue.
It's a skill like anything else, right? You learn to read; you learn to drive. We need to learn how to control our attention and choose our life. And so, it's that skill that what I think is the skill of the century, this ability to sustain our attention long enough to change our life.
Because look, you can, you can, I can give you a wonderful book with all the best advice in it. Uh, but if you can't pay attention long enough to read that book and incorporate it into your life, you're not going to learn, right? And so, what, what you are really at risk of is just, you know, drinking from this information fountain, right? There's the, this fire hydrant of information that's coming at us, all of us, and you're not drinking any wisdom from it, it's just information.
And so, in order to turn information into wisdom, into action, into changing your life you have to be able to sustain your attention. So, this is the macro skill, becoming indistractable.
And I think it's, there's a real bifurcation between people who allow their time and attention to be controlled by others, and people who stand up and say, no, I will decide how I control my time and attention because I am indistractable. And so that's really why I wrote the book in 2019 is when it was published. And let me tell you, over the past few years between the pandemic and the election and all the, and wars and all the other crap that's going on in the world.
I thank my lucky stars every day that I have this toolkit because it's so tempting in the world today to distract yourself, right? And the crazy thing is we rationalize it, right? We say, oh, I need to be a concerned citizen. So let me worry about somebody's problem, you know, 5,000 miles away so I can take my mind off my problems right here at home.
And that's the very nature of distraction. It's always about that, whether it's too much news, too much booze, too much Facebook, too much football you are always going to get distracted by one thing or another, unless you understand the root cause of the problem.
And the root cause of the problem, step one of four to becoming indistractable, step one is to master the internal triggers or they will become your master.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, thanks for that breakdown again. And just to come back to what we started with, it brought up something that I looked up, I think it was back in 2022. And it was a it was an infographic on the stress in America.
And 70% of people or adults rather reported that they do not think the people in the government care about them. Like what you said, 64% of people said they feel their rights are under attack. 45% said they do not feel protected by the laws in the United States.
There was also concerns about money and other things. And one thing that I heard you say, I forget if it was on this podcast, when I had you on or when, well, you just said it again right now, it's that it's so much easier to get distracted by something that's happening thousands of miles away or something that may not have a direct effect on you versus taking action on something that has an immediate effect on you because it's just uncomfortable to maybe do the work around it. You don't know how to do the work with it. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Nir Eyal: Sure, yeah. I think distraction is not your fault. You didn't create social media, you didn't create cable news, you didn't create all the troubles going on in the world, you didn't create any of that. That's not your fault. But it is your responsibility.
Because who else's responsibility is it? Is the government going to swoop in and say, hey, you know what, you should really go have a life right now, stop using social media so much, we're going to regulate technology? I think that's a long shot.
The history of the geniuses in Washington fixing these kinds of problems and not being incredibly hamfisted is pretty rare, right? They tend to screw this kind of stuff up. Are we going to wait for the tech companies can do it?
We can complain all day long about social media. And even if Mark Zuckerberg said, hey, you know what, I'm sick of this shit. I don't want to do Facebook anymore. I'm shutting it all down. You think people are just going to start reading Shakespeare and Chaucer in their spare time? Of course not.
They're going to go back to all the distractions they used to have before the social media. So that's not the root cause of the problem. So, the person whose responsibility, whose feet the responsibility lays at is essentially us, right? Yes, these tools are designed to be habit forming. Of course, they want you to spend as much time as possible with all forms of media, right?
Whether it's spectator sports, right? The NFL is never going to say, Hey, that's enough. Go away. The New York Times never going to say go have a life. You've read enough news. That's never going to happen. We have to do this ourselves. And so, what you want to do is to find your sphere of agency, meaning what is the easiest thing that you can do directly to change this problem, not let me call my senator, let me debate some idiot online, let me do this.
That's not going to solve the problem. It's certainly not, let me go watch the news. It's not that because that is the source of the problem, right? The source of the problem is we are so consumed by news that doesn't affect us.
Look, there's lots of terrible things happening in the world, but I can't do anything about the war in Ukraine. There's nothing I can do about that. What am I going to do? There's nothing I can do about that. You know what I can do? I can serve on my school board. I can help my city council. I can volunteer in my community. I can take care of myself. First and foremost, the thing that you have the most agency over is first and foremost, you, then your relationships, then your community.
And in that order, I can't tell you how many people I've worked with who have all these ambitions and all these goals and want to do all these things, but they don't start with taking care of themselves. If you can't take care of yourself, you cannot take care of other people. I'm talking about really basic stuff. It's all, I'm taking care of myself. Okay, great, you take a shower every day. But what else is important to you? Do you have a proper bedtime?
You know, I have a 15-year-old and for years when she was little, when she was small, I would tell her, you have to go to bed, it's your bedtime. And then one day she said to me, daddy, what's your bedtime? And she was absolutely right, right? I was a hypocrite.
And so, I would tell, I know the importance of a bedtime. We've all read books ad nauseum about how important sleep is, but do you have a bedtime? Is it on your calendar? Right?
That's taking care of yourself. Time to read as opposed to constantly worrying about people's problems thousands of miles away, how about as opposed to yelling and screaming about the Arab-Israeli conflict or whatever it is that you're worried about today and you're protesting over online. How about reading a book that looks at both sides of the issue?
And what you will oftentimes find, actually almost always you will find, is that the answer to every complex question is never black and white. It's never good versus evil. Never. It's always. It depends. Right. That's how you know someone is competent about a topic is that they can argue both sides. Can you argue both sides?
If you can't argue both sides of a topic, shut the hell up. Nobody needs your opinion, unless you know both sides and can argue equally well both sides of the argument.
That's how we take personal responsibility for this stuff. And so, when we start with our sphere of agency, what can you do something about? You can take care of yourself, you can take care of your relationships, then your community.
That should be the order of preferences, where I think what we do instead, people who are very distractable as opposed to indistractable, they start with the outside in, right? They start with making a lot of noise about these national issues, international issues that they can do absolutely jack about. And then the last person to have any attention is themselves, is to work on themselves. I think that's exactly backward.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, one of the things that I want to get into with you is the idea of learned helplessness because what comes from focusing on things that you don't have control, you're like, well, I can't do anything. I'm not a general in the army. I'm not a, I'm not in the Pentagon making decisions on this stuff with, with your, um, examples with the, the conflicts going on.
And when it comes to health, you're not on the board of some big food company, or the big tech companies when it comes to technology. So, you can feel helpless. And you can just say, you know what, nobody can do anything about this.
So, I'm just going to create a lot of problems because I don't know how to express my frustration in a constructive way. And I think that's a really important message right now.
One of the things that was coming up for me when you were saying that too, is that I think a lot of people find, I think a lot of people, we know we're in a loneliness epidemic. I'm not so good, you were mentioning some of the history, and that's not my realm, but when it comes to science, and especially the science of health, we know that we're in an epidemic of loneliness.
And people are looking for connection. And certainly, you can find that in tribes, in tribal behavior, you're looking for your groups. And it's like, well, part of this is the loneliness that's happening. I see it with diets. A less controversial thing to talk about, or at least you would think, it gets quite controversial at times near, I'll tell you, on the social media.
But people are looking for things to belong to and just ignoring the other side, for example, the, you know, the keto people who are really not people who follow keto, but the people who kind of belong to the cult of the ketogenic diet, right. And so yeah, it's really important. Can you talk about learned helplessness and your thoughts on what we just said?
Nir Eyal: Yeah. Sure. Yeah, this, that is incredibly important. So learned helplessness is when we believe we can't do anything about a problem, so we don't, right?
There's a very broad scientific literature about how this works. There's some very sad experiments on dogs that were done back in the 1950s and 60s, which you probably don't want me to go into about how you can actually teach an organism to not even try, even when they could do something about the problem, they don't because they think they can't.
And so, this is really where beliefs, you know, I'm not very mystical or supernatural, I don't believe in any of that stuff, but there really is a mind over matter type equation when it comes to your belief in your own agency. How able are you to affect a problem? And really our beliefs have been completely 180 switched. Right?
It is a fact, there is nothing you can do about these big international problems. If you're unless you are in charge, unless you are a bureaucrat of some kind, you have some kind of authority. There's not much you can do other than protesting in the streets with, which frankly is a big waste of time, right? It doesn't really do anything when you go and shout in the streets. Okay?
So, you actually cannot do very much other than other than vote, which drives me crazy, right? Because people, the same people who protest and complain and yell and, you know, block the streets don't even bother to show up to vote.
That's crazy to me. That's where you actually do have agency and you don't even take that right that you have is very sad. Meanwhile, just as people have been convinced, they have agency where they do not, we've also been convinced that we don't have agency where we definitely do.
So, when it comes to these idiots that you hear online talking about how technology is hijacking our brain, how it's stealing our focus, that's ridiculous and offensive. Hijacking is what those bastards did to us on 9/11. It's not, oh, I like to play Candy Crush a lot.
You know, there's a book called Stolen Focus, which is so dumb beyond belief. These companies aren't stealing your focus. We're giving it away. And so, what these people are telling us is that you're powerless. If you're hijacked, there's nothing you can do. If you're addicted, right, we hear this word thrown around all the time. Everything suddenly is addictive.
Well, you know, addicted, the word addiction comes from the Latin addictia, which means slave. And we love it, we lap it up. When people tell us, oh, social media, the technology, it's so addictive, our kids are addicted to it. Because what do I do if I think that my kids are enslaved that my brain has been hijacked that my attention has been my focus has been stolen?
What do I do? Nothing. There's nothing to do. You have no agency; you have no control. And so, we've and by the way, the same argument exists with nutrition. There used to be this stupid argument around, oh, McDonald's puts these additives in their food and they make it so addictive you can't stop. Come on, come on.
Ted Ryce: Those are called, we used to call those chefs that make delicious... I was in Spain and there was this old pastry shop. I'm like, they've been, they've been doing this for a while. They're called pastry chefs. Yeah.
Nir Eyal: Yeah, exactly. And let me tell you, I don't care who you are. If you go to McDonald's as addictive and engineered by the big corporations as it is, and you put that next to an artisanal croissant in France, nobody's going to pick the McDonald's crap as addictive as it is as engineered by big corporations as it is the beautiful, fresh artisanal small bakery hole in the wall that makes that French baguette or croissant is going to be better. I'm telling you.
So, it's not about, you know, that these things are somehow engineered. Of course, they are designed to be tasty. Would you want it any other way? Do you want to tell McDonald's, hey, McDonald's, stop making your food so delicious. I like it a lot.
Hey, hey, Netflix, can you stop making interesting programs? I find I like to watch them. No, that's the job of these companies. They are there to build products you like. Are we going to complain to them and say stop that? That's ridiculous.
That's not a problem progress. We want these companies to make great products and services. So, what we need to realize, though, is that we have the agency that in fact is in our sphere of agency, we can take control of these things. The problem is, what most people do is that we like to default to being the victim. It's very pleasant. It's a nice warm sensation, this blanket of comfort to think it's being done to me, right? I'm addicted, there's nothing I can do about it.
But when you realize that for the vast majority of people, now some people are actually addicted, there is such a thing as a pathology of addiction. And that accounts for about three to 5% of the population. That's a disease, right? It's not, ooh, I like it a lot. It's an invasive, pervasive behavior.
It's something that you have a very, very difficult time stopping. That is not the vast majority of people. For the vast majority of people, it's not an addiction, it's simply a distraction.
But of course, we don't like to call it that because now I have agency over it. Now I kind of am compelled to do something about it. And so that's really the myth we have to break. We have to understand the things that are in our sphere of agency, things that we can do something about and focus on those and leave the rest behind.
Ted Ryce: Where do you think this narrative came from? Because I don't know when it happened, but it just became about who was doing what to the people. And for me, it started, I think, in my early 20s when I first got into the health and fitness industry, I learned from someone who had a very kind of conspiratorial mindset, who I've since distanced myself from.
But is there in your research, was there a shift? Have we always been like this? Is this just human behavior? What are your thoughts?
Nir Eyal: Oh, this is, this is an, a, a tale as old as time. It's called the scapegoat and it's in the Bible, right? Where they literally took a goat and they put all the people's sins on the goat and then they pushed the goat out into the desert where the goat could die and absolve their sins.
And we see this story repeated again and again and again. I mean, this is the story of Jesus Christ. This is the, you know, if you look at Gerardian ethics, you know, where Rene Gerard talked about how society does this again and again. We raise somebody on a pedestal, we put a leader, and then we kill that person to absolve us of our wrongdoings.
And so that's exactly what's happened, I think, in the industrialized world where it used to be that the corporation was our savior. If you think about, you know, post-World War II, during World War II, we in fact looked at the Howard Hughes's of the world, we looked at the industrialists as the people who helped us, you know, defeat the Nazis defeat Imperial Japan and save the world from tyranny.
And it was because of our collective efforts driven by the free market that got us out of this stuff. You know, think about how we canonized Henry Ford and you know, so many of these of these industry leaders, we put on a pedestal. And then you know, that now we have to scapegoat them.
So, the cycle continues in that now we have to bring these people down to earth by, by making them account for not only their sins but our sins as well. So, it's not our fault that we're getting, that we like technology so much. It's Mark Zuckerberg's fault. Right. It's, it's, you know, we used to love Steve Jobs when he was alive, but now we vilify the technology because it's, you know, we need someone to absolve us of our sins.
So, this is part of the natural process. And it's, of course, futile and very narrow-minded and very elementary. I think where does it actually come from? Even before the scapegoat, it comes from what we call zero-sum thinking that if you look, if you ask a child, as soon as they're able to talk, if you ask a child, hey, look, here's a poor person on the street, here's someone homeless. And look at that rich person over there, right?
Look at that rich man or woman, look how much money they have. How come, how come? Why is that? You know, if you ask a child, the child will tell you, well, that person took money from that person. That's zero-sum thinking. That if I have it's because you don't have. And this is very, very elementary because that's the way it looks, right? It's like, you know, is the world flat?
Yeah, it looks pretty flat to me. Okay, that's what it is. It's only when you zoom out. It's only when you have a perspective, when you can hypothesize in your mind that the world might actually not be flat, that actually, you know, if we do some empirical testing, we see that that's not true. It's not flat. It's round. It's a sphere, that you see the real truth. And it's the same way when it comes to zero-sum thinking. Economic progress is not zero-sum thinking. It's not the rich have because they took from the poor. That doesn't make any sense.
Why would it? If you go back 10,000 years, where did all that value come from? Clearly, we're all much better off than we were 10,000 years ago when we were an agrarian society. Where did all this new stuff come from? It's not zero-sum. It's that when we work together, when we are all working to make things better, then we can create more for everyone. But that's not obvious. Right.
And so, the default, the default mindset is always towards zero. So, I'm thinking if my life sucks, it's because your life is good, but nothing could be further from the truth. It's, it's, it's an absolution of, of responsibility. And of course, you know, simple-minded people constantly revert to this mindset.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, so the personal challenge, the personal responsibility there, although I don't think many simple-minded people listen to this podcast could be wrong, but I don't think so with the level of science that we go into here probably makes people who want that black and white or zero-sum thinking type of answers with health and nutrition because there is a lot of nuances there. Is saturated fat bad? Or you know, there's so many things in nutrition that are so nuanced. But yeah, the personal response, go for it.
Nir Eyal: Even, let me just comment on that actually. I'll tell you, because the funny thing happened just this weekend, so it was very topical and top of mind for me. So, I don't want to name who this person was, but a very well-known fitness influencer came to Singapore this past weekend.
Ted Ryce: From the US?
Nir Eyal: From the US. Like somebody a lot of people have heard of recently. And he came here and he said he was going to do, like, or just, I was told that he was going to do a beach workout, and so, hey, do you want to come? I paid 30 bucks to go do a workout with him on the beach here in Singapore.
I was thinking, okay, this guy's been in the news a bunch, I'll learn from him. So, we get to the workout, and this guy's a longevity expert, and he gives maybe a two-minute little speech about how, hey, we're living the first time in history where we might actually be able to conquer death, and isn't that exciting that we can all extend longevity if we do things the right way, my way?
Okay, then, all right, let's go, let's exercise. We start exercising and he and about 20 other people leave just 10 of us to exercise. So, 10 of us are actually doing the exercise.
Meanwhile, the other 20 are just chitter-chattering about which type of protein should we use and what type of algae should we put up our butts and all this other bullshit, frankly, that has a very marginal effect on longevity because at the end of the day, we all know eat right, exercise, don't smoke, don't drink. That's fricking 99% of it. Okay?
Exercise, eat right, don't speak, don't smoke, don't drink. That's it. The supplements and the enemas and all the crap that they try and sell you. That's details, right? That's marginally effective. I'm not saying it's not effective but what these experts don't tell you about is effect size. Nobody talks about effect size.
They say, does it work? Does it not work? If it works, use it. Yeah. But if the impact, if the effect size is puny, if it's a mar, if it's a rounding error, what are you doing? You should, if you're not exercising, eating right, not drinking, not smoking, don't worry about the rest of the stuff. Do that stuff first.
And I think there's something very similar in that, you know, what we were talking about before about absolving responsibility, it's much easier to debate what type of protein, what type of diet, what type of this, what type of that and get so spun up in that because that's comforting.
And then I actually don't have to do the hard work. I don't have to do the exercise. I don't have to eat a calorie-restricted diet. I can eat, you know, I just have to think about it a lot and argue about it a lot. And that is my escape from actually doing the difficult work.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, I'm with you on that. And, you know, I told my coaching group recently, I was like, look, I could come here, talk about in my newsletter, I talk about a lot of different studies that come out. And I enjoy doing the newsletter. But in my coaching group where people are paying me for a result, it's just the same stuff repetitiously.
Because if you don't get that, you don't get results. I get unhappy clients, and it's just like, how do you stay on top of this stuff in a world where there are a lot of distractions where you can start wondering, well, maybe I should be putting algae up my butt instead of getting my 7,000 steps in per day and going to bed at 10 PM every night. So yeah, I appreciate that.
And I think I know who you're talking about we don't have to name names. But yeah, what is the, you know, we've talked a lot about it. But what would you say like you would want someone to take away from this conversation about this confusing world that we're in? There's more distractions than ever There's more of an ability to be distracted than ever. And what would you say?
Nir Eyal: Yeah, so I think this is what the book is absolutely for. Because we find that most people know what to do, right? If you want to get in shape, who doesn't basically know? You eat, right, you exercise. We know what to do already.
What we don't know how to do is how do we keep on track? How do we get out of our own way? So, if you don't know what to do, Google it, right? The answers are all out there. It's not that we don't know, it's that we don't know how to stay indistractable.
And that's what the book is for. So first, I'll just go over the four steps really, really quickly. Of course, there's a lot more in the book. Step number one is mastering those internal triggers.
You have to figure out the source of that discomfort. If the reason that you're online arguing with people about vegan or keto or this supplement or that supplement is because you don't want to do the hard work, you have to tackle that issue of the emotional deterrent to doing the thing that you're trying to do, right?
That's step number one. You have to have tools in your toolkit ready to go. And I give over a dozen different techniques you can use to make sure that you can master those internal triggers.
Step number two: make time for traction. You cannot call something a distraction unless you know what it distracted you from. So, a big part of it, right, one of my life mantras is consistency over intensity. Consistency over intensity. You've got to put in the work over a long period of time. Everything worth having in life, relationships, health, financial wellness, all this stuff requires consistent effort, right? Winning the lottery is stupid. It's a tax on people who can't do math.
The real way to get rich is to work on something consistently over years. The real way to get into shape is to do the exercise over years, consistency over intensity. To do that, you have to plan your time. You have to have it on your calendar when you're going to work on these things.
And this is very basic, right? But you would not believe how many people complain and moan about how distracting the world is. But when you ask them, what did you get distracted from? What did you plan to do that you didn't do? Oh, I didn't. I didn't put it on my calendar.
Well, then you can't complain you got distracted because you can't say you got distracted unless you know what it distracted you from. That's step number two.
Step number three, and there's of course, I'm really, really summarizing here, but there's a lot more, how do you actually do that. Step number three is hack back the external triggers.
So even though they only account for 10% of our distractions, we can go through systematically all those pings, dings, rings, the meetings, our kids, all of these things can be sources of distractions outside of us. What do you do about those things?
And then finally, the last step is to prevent distraction with a pact. A pact is what's called a pre-commitment. It's when we decide in advance what we will do to keep ourselves on task.
And so, when you use these four strategies in concert, master internal triggers, make time for traction, hack back external triggers, and prevent distraction with pacts, this is how anybody can become indistractable.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, that was concisely put. And certainly, if you're wanting to learn how to do this and go deeper, go get “Indistractable”. I listened to the audiobook. I thought the audiobook was excellent. If you are listening to books, I mean, I'm sorry, reading books, that's also available for you. And yeah, it's really like you said, Nir, I agree with you, even though I'm in the health and fitness realm, it's like staying focused on what you need to stay focused on.
If you're worried about algae or whether whey hydrocellate is better than whey isolate, then you're missing the forest through the trees, right? It's, you need to stay focused on those things that really move the needle, the Pareto principle of results of fitness, if you will.
And how do you stay consistent, to your point, I preach the same thing despite the distractions, despite the internal triggers that make you kind of want to give up when it gets busy, hard or inconvenient.
So, such a powerful book and just can't say enough about that. And thanks so much for coming back on the show today. We've got to get into how to raise indistractible kids next time you're on.
Nir Eyal: Yes. Oh, I'd love to do that. I think actually that is the most important chapter. It's about the future, about the next generation. As a father, I discovered a lot of myths and apple carts that needed to be overturned. I'm happy to talk about that. That's a super interesting discussion as well.
Ted Ryce: Awesome. Well, definitely got to do that. Let's not wait two years, just more like, uh, you know, a few months or something, but it was such a pleasure having you back on the show. Thanks for your time, your knowledge, most importantly, um, you know, sharing this wisdom, this, this research that you've done to help us take more personal responsibility about this.
Nir Eyal: My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me back!!
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.