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About the book

You sit down at your desk to work on an important project, but a notification on your phone interrupts your morning. Later, as you’re about to get back to work, a colleague taps you on the shoulder to chat. At home, screens get in the way of quality time with your family. Another day goes by, and once again, your most important personal and professional goals are put on hold.  

What would be possible if you followed through on your best intentions? What could you accomplish if you could stay focused and overcome distractions? What if you had the power to become “indistractable”? 

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

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

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

Buy book: Amazon

Year published:  2019


Quotes from the book

Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life (Nir Eyal)

  • The one thing we control is the time we put into a task.
  • Samuel Johnson said, “My life is one long escape from myself.”
  • Traction (the actions that draw us toward what we want in life)
  • The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity
  • Loneliness, according to researchers, is more dangerous than obesity.
  • Play doesn’t have to be pleasurable. It just has to hold our attention.
  • We are compelled to reach for things we supposedly need but really don’t.
  • Parents don’t need to believe tech is evil to help kids manage distraction.
  • Labeling yourself as having poor self-control actually leads to less self-control.
  • You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it’s distracting you from.
  • The wealth of information means a dearth of something else . . . a poverty of attention.
  • People who did not see willpower as a finite resource did not show signs of ego depletion.
  • The better we are at noticing the behavior, the better we’ll be at managing it over time.
  • Look for the discomfort that precedes the distraction, focusing in on the internal trigger
  • As philosopher Paul Virilio wrote, “When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck.”
  • Precommitment involves removing a future choice in order to overcome our impulsivity.
  • Distraction, it turns out, isn’t about the distraction itself; rather, it’s about how we respond to it.
  • I’m not telling you to tag emails by topic or categories, only by when the message requires a response.
  • Fun and play don’t have to make us feel good per se; rather, they can be used as tools to keep us focused.
  • Only by understanding our pain can we begin to control it and find better ways to deal with negative urges
  • You’ll learn why you can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it is distracting you from.
  • Values are how we want to be, what we want to stand for, and how we want to relate to the world around us.
  • Only by understanding our pain can we begin to control it and find better ways to deal with negative urges.
  • We must disavow the misguided idea that if we’re not happy, we’re not normal—exactly the opposite is true.
  • Ryan and Deci proposed the human psyche needs three things to flourish: autonomy, competence, and relatedness
  • While we can’t control the feelings and thoughts that pop into our heads, we can control what we do with them.
  • We can use the same neural hardwiring that keeps us hooked to media to keep us engaged in an otherwise unpleasant task.
  • Most people don’t want to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that distraction is always an unhealthy escape from reality
  • Even when we think we’re seeking pleasure, we’re actually driven by the desire to free ourselves from the pain of wanting.
  • Dissatisfaction and discomfort dominate our brain’s default state, but we can use them to motivate us instead of defeat us.
  • Simply put, the drive to relieve discomfort is the root cause of all our behavior, while everything else is a proximate cause.
  • Self-compassion makes people more resilient to let-downs by breaking the vicious cycle of stress that often accompanies failure.
  • It’s a curious truth that when you gently pay attention to negative emotions, they tend to dissipate—but positive ones expand.
  • Simply put, the drive to relieve discomfort is the root cause of all our behavior, while everything else is a proximate cause.
  • Dweck concluded that signs of ego depletion were observed only in those test subjects who believed willpower was a limited resource.
  • Bricker then recommends getting curious about that sensation. For example, do your fingers twitch when you’re about to be distracted?
  • The goal is to eliminate all white space on your calendar so you’re left with a template for how you intend to spend your time each day.
  • But like the parents who blame a sugar high for their kid’s bad behavior, blaming devices is a surface-level answer to a deep question.
  • Learning certain techniques as part of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can disarm the discomfort that so often leads to harmful distractions
  • Fun is looking for the variability in something other people don’t notice. It’s breaking through the boredom and monotony to discover its hidden beauty.
  • I discovered that living the life we want requires not only doing the right things; it also requires we stop doing the wrong things that take us off track.
  • People who have a positive and caring attitude . . . toward her- or himself in the face of failures and individual shortcomings tend to be happier.
  • Test for tech readiness. A good measure of a child’s readiness is the ability to manage distraction by using the settings on the device to turn off external triggers.
  • Socially, we see that close friendships are the bedrock of our psychological and physical health. Loneliness, according to researchers, is more dangerous than obesity.
  • Anything that stops discomfort is potentially addictive, but that doesn’t make it irresistible. If you know the drivers of your behavior, you can take steps to manage them.
  • A study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that individuals who believed they were powerless to fight their cravings were much more likely to drink again.
  • In the future, there will be two kinds of people in the world: those who let their attention and lives be controlled and coerced by others and those who proudly call themselves indistractable.
  • If you were to walk around Slack’s company headquarters in San Francisco, you’d notice a peculiar slogan on the hallway walls. White letters on a bright pink background blare, “Work hard and go home.”
  • Another study found that people’s tendency to self-blame, along with how much they ruminated on a problem, could almost completely mediate the most common factors associated with depression and anxiety.
  • Timeboxing enables us to think of each week as a mini-experiment. The goal is to figure out where your schedule didn’t work out in the prior week so you can make it easier to follow the next time around.
  • When we need to perform a difficult task, it’s more productive and healthful to believe a lack of motivation is temporary than it is to tell ourselves we’re spent and need a break (and maybe some ice cream).
  • He believes that willpower is not a finite resource but instead acts like an emotion. Just as we don’t run out of joy or anger, willpower ebbs and flows in response to what’s happening to us and how we feel.
  • Ten-minute rule. If I find myself wanting to check my phone as a pacification device when I can’t think of anything better to do, I tell myself it’s fine to give in, but not right now. I have to wait just ten minutes.
  • As is the case with all human behavior, distraction is just another way our brains attempt to deal with pain. If we accept this fact, it makes sense that the only way to handle distraction is by learning to handle discomfort.
  • Tantalus’s curse is also our curse. We are compelled to reach for things we supposedly need but really don’t. We don’t need to check our email right this second or need to see the latest trending news, no matter how much we feel we must
  • Only a third of Americans keep a daily schedule, which means the vast majority wake up every morning with no formal plans. Our most precious asset—our time—is unguarded, just waiting to be stolen. If we don’t plan our days, someone else will.
  • At the heart of the therapy is learning to notice and accept one’s cravings and to handle them healthfully. Instead of suppressing urges, ACT prescribes a method for stepping back, noticing, observing, and finally letting the desire disappear naturally.
  • To make sure we always have something fun to do, we spent one afternoon writing down over a hundred things to do together in town, each one on a separate little strip of paper. Then, we rolled up all the little strips and placed them inside our fun jar.
  • When similar techniques were applied in a smoking cessation study, the participants who had learned to acknowledge and explore their cravings managed to quit at double the rate of those in the American Lung Association’s best-performing cessation program.
  • Hedonic adaptation, the tendency to quickly return to a baseline level of satisfaction, no matter what happens to us in life, is Mother Nature’s bait and switch. All sorts of life events we think would make us happier actually don’t, or at least they don’t for long.
  • Being indistractable means striving to do what you say you will do. Indistractable people are as honest with themselves as they are with others. If you care about your work, your family, and your physical and mental well-being, you must learn how to become indistractable
  • The curse is not that Tantalus spends all eternity reaching for things just out of reach, but rather his obliviousness to the greater folly of his actions. Tantalus’s curse was his blindness to the fact he didn’t need those things in the first place. That’s the real moral of the story.
  • An individual’s level of self-compassion had a greater effect on whether they would develop anxiety and depression than all the usual things that tend to screw up people’s lives, like traumatic life events, a family history of mental illness, low social status, or a lack of social support.
  • Next, book fifteen minutes on your schedule every week to reflect and refine your calendar by asking two questions: Question 1 (Reflect): When in my schedule did I do what I said I would do and when did I get distracted? Answering this question requires you to look back at the past week.
  • When I taught at the Stanford design school, I consistently saw how teams who brainstormed individually before coming together not only generated better ideas but were also more likely to have a wider diversity of solutions as they were less likely to be overrun by the louder, more dominating members of the group.
  • Eons of evolution gave you and me a brain in a near-constant state of discontentment. We’re wired this way for a simple reason. As a study published in the Review of General Psychology notes, If satisfaction and pleasure were permanent, there might be little incentive to continue seeking further benefits or advances.
  • We can cope with uncomfortable internal triggers by reflecting on, rather than reacting to, our discomfort. We can reimagine the task we’re trying to accomplish by looking for the fun in it and focusing on it more intensely. Finally, and most important, we can change the way we see ourselves to get rid of self-limiting beliefs.
  • My wife bought a hard-to-miss headpiece on Amazon for just a few dollars. She calls it the concentration crown, and the built-in LEDs light up her head to send an impossible-to-ignore message. When she wears it, she’s clearly letting our daughter (and me) know not to interrupt her unless it’s an emergency. It works like a charm.
  • In order to live our values in each of these domains, we must reserve time in our schedules to do so. Only by setting aside specific time in our schedules for traction (the actions that draw us toward what we want in life) can we turn our backs on distraction. Without planning ahead, it’s impossible to tell the difference between traction and distraction.
  • Whether I’m able to fall asleep at any given moment or whether a breakthrough idea for my next book comes to me when I sit down at my desk isn’t entirely up to me, but one thing is for certain: I won’t do what I want to do if I’m not in the right place at the right time, whether that’s in bed when I want to sleep or at my desk when I want to do good work. Not showing up guarantees failure.
  • The primary objective of most meetings should be to gain consensus around a decision, not to create an echo chamber for the meeting organizer’s own thoughts. One of the easiest ways to prevent superfluous meetings is to require two things of anyone who calls one. First, meeting organizers must circulate an agenda of what problem will be discussed. No agenda, no meeting. Second, they must give their best shot at a solution in the form of a brief, written digest. The digest need not be more than a page or two discussing the problem, their reasoning, and their recommendation.