How Can We Become Indistractable?

Nir Eyal
Author: Indistractable, Hooked; Investor; Consultant; and a Public Speaker

Nir was born in Israel but immigrated to the US when he was three years old -

“When I’m in Israel, I feel like an American, but when I’m in America, I feel like I’m Israeli",

 he said with a smile. 

His research on personal productivity and distraction came from a specific moment in his life, when he and his daughter a quality afternoon together, reading an activity book for parents and their kids, and one of the suggestions there was to ask each other - ‘If you could have any superpower, what superpower would you want?’

Unfortunately, Nir shared he didn’t hear his daughter’s answer because he was too busy checking his phone.

“When I looked up, she was already gone, because I was sending a very clear message that my phone was more important than she was.” 

At that point, he realized he needed to reassess his approach to distractions because he could see how it affected every single part of his life.

The superpower he now wanted to cultivate was the power to be undistracted.

He spent five years researching and writing the book "Indistractable" to help people learn how to control their attention and become more successful in life,

“but it took me so long because I kept getting distracted! I wrote this book for me, more than anyone else, cause I needed it”.

He wanted to provide a tech positive approach that doesn't moralize or medicalize the problem, but instead looks at the root cause of why we get distracted in the first place. 

Understanding distractions

Nir explained that people tend to separate themselves into two categories when it comes to distraction: the blamers and the shamers

The blamers are those who blame things outside themselves, which is not effective because there’s always going to be outer distractions - Plato already talked about this problem 2500 years ago, it’s not a new thing technology caused.

The shamers on the other hand tend to blame things inside themselves and think there's something wrong with them -

“Shaming yourself is so harmful because that shame is a very uncomfortable sensation that nobody likes to feel, so you’ll likely use distractions to take your mind of that uncomfortable sensation - it’s a cycle of shame.”

Instead of those two unhelpful methods, Nir explained we should be claimers. The lesson here is that we can’t control how we feel, but we can control what we do in response to that.

For example, when we feel the urge to sneeze, we can’t just stop it - but we can take out a tissue paper and cover our face so we don’t sneeze all over everyone - this is the responsible thing to do. The same principle goes for all the sensations and feelings we experience - It’s not about the feeling itself, but in how we respond to that sensation that matters.

Overcoming the pull of distraction

When I asked Nir what we can do to overcome the power of distractions, he answered:

“Viktor Frankl said that between stimulus and response, there’s a space - we need to cultivate this place - because we’re not robots, we are not automatons, and our brains are not being hijacked by these technologies.” 

To address this gap, it’s important to stop moralizing these behaviors and to start from fundamentals to understand what is distraction. The opposite of distraction is not focus, it’s traction. Traction and distraction are two words that come from the same Latin root trocar, meaning to pull.

Traction is any action that moves you closer to your values and helps you become the kind of person you want to become, while distraction is anything that pulls you further away from what you said you were going to do and further away from your goals -

”Any action can be a traction or distraction”. Forethought is essential for any action, as Dorothy Parker said, the time you plan to waste is not a waste of time.

Turn your values into time

It’s important to prioritize what you want to do and what you need to do, based on your values, on the strategy that you want to act upon for your product, for the service, for whatever it is you decide you are going to do. 

This will help you avoid prioritizing the urgent and easy work at the expense of the hard and important work you have to do in order to move your life and career forward. 

One of things I (Gali) like to use with the founders I work with is the Eisenhower matrix. It’s a great tool for prioritizing the things that you want and need to do and managing our time based on that.

Still, it’s important to remember that it’s not a question of how you manage your schedule, but how accurate you are with yourself, with your inner self, and how attuned you are to what you want to do. 

“What I want to do is help people avoid looking back with regret on what they could have done but didn’t, because of distractions.” 

What we know and how we act on it will always be at odds; it’s our job as humans to narrow this gap and make it as small as possible.

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