Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life .Review
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"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."

Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life

Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Hooked

“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.”

In 2014 Nir Eyal published his first bestselling book, Hooked, where he decodes how companies can ‘Build Habit-Forming Products’ with addictive consumer outcomes. Now with his second book Indistractable, written with Julie Li, Eyal shares how to take back control of our modern-day tech addictions and distractions.  

Humans, he argues, have always been distractible and always will be. We are evolutionary hardwired to easily feel dissatisfied, discontent and on the hunt for something novel and better.  Now with modern technology, the reality is that we are dependent on our apps and devices that have been designed by some the best brains on the planet to distract us by exploiting this psychological weakness. In fact, most distractions are an internal desire to escape a current discomfort. 

This bombardment of constant notifications is the perfect recipe for distracting us from doing our important work and not being present with our relationships. Over time, this can lead to dysfunctional habits with the potential for disastrous outcomes.  Especially resulting in relationships being damaged and robbing us of our important life achievements. 

That is why Eyal has created a model to work on becoming ‘Indistractable’ with the following four stages:

  1. Master Internal Triggers 
  2. Make Time for Traction 
  3. Hack Back External Triggers 
  4. Prevent Distraction with Pacts 

The 4 Stage Indistractable Model 

Indistractable traction distraction triggers diagram

Indistractable is not about self-control, willpower, self-discipline or stopping doing the things you enjoy in life.  It’s about setting up your life with integrity and ‘still getting done what you need to get done’. Therefore, his book is basically a user’s guide to master these following 4 stages.

1. Master Internal Triggers 

“Dissatisfaction and discomfort dominate our brains default state, but we can use them to motivate us instead of defeating us.”

Internal triggers are the emotions and feelings we have i.e. lonely, restless, sad, bored, etc. that precedes us being distracted.  For example, I need to focus on completing a detailed proposal for a client, I start to feel frustrated (my internal trigger) about my lack of progress, so I decide to Google stuff for extra ‘research’ for my proposal! 

He argues that most distractions come from humans hating sitting through discomfort.  As he says, ‘time management is actually pain management’ and much of our distracting behaviours is about escaping this discomfort. With boredom being our number one discomfort!

Eyal has a simple but effective approach to managing these internal triggers and that is his ‘10-Minute Rule’ that will allow you to “Surf the Urge” of your distractions. Basically, you can tell yourself it’s OK to give in, but not right now. I just have to wait 10 minutes. 

2. Make Time for Traction 

“You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it’s distracting you from.”

If internal triggers pull you away from what you want in life, Traction draws you towards it.  So, the second step is to make traction more likely to happen in your life. To do this we need to examine how we spent our time, but more importantly we need to know our values, what we stand for and how we want to live with integrity and how to be in this world.  

Most people he argues ‘squander their time and time is something that we should be stingy with’. His simple hack is to ‘Timebox’ your day based on what you are striving to become. Your calendar should be helping you to become the person you want to be, where you have carved out time to live out your values.  A great question to ask yourself daily, ‘does my calendar reflect my values and move me towards what I want to achieve?’. 

3. Hack Back External Triggers 

‘Today, much of our struggle with distraction is a struggle with external triggers.”

In this third stage, Eyal guides us to take back control of our external triggers that don’t serve us.  External triggers are environmental events and situations that can distract us.  Many of these are the dings, pings and notifications that stop our flow and distract us from what we need to be focusing and working on right now. 

External triggers aren’t always harmful, distracting, or bad for us. However, what we should be asking; ‘Is this trigger serving me, or am I serving it?’ and ‘Does it lead to traction or distraction?’. 

Once you discover any external trigger that does not serve you, then hack it back! His motto is ‘Remove, Replace, Rearrange or Reclaim’. Such as uninstalling many of your apps, switch off your notifications, reengineering your workplace clutter, interruptions, meetings, your smart phone, and your desktop. 

4. Prevent Distraction with Pacts 

“An effort pact prevents distraction by making unwanted behaviours more difficult to do.”

The final stage is all about making pre-commitments with yourself and others to not only keep you from feeling distracted but by removing future choices.  Prevention pacts are about making unwanted behaviours difficult to do and staking your future claim to who you are becoming.

According to Eyal, living the good life requires not only doing the right things but also not doing the things we know we’ll regret. Being indistractable, is about understanding the real reasons why we do things against our best interests and this book will not only help you discover exactly that but put you on a course to do the right things for you to transform your life. 

Eyal certainly has his critics. Some would say cynically that this second book is an apology for his first book (and his previous work in video gaming and advertising) where companies applied his techniques to motivate and manipulate users to enhance digital addiction. 

However, I loved reading his book, as it gives real insider knowledge to the tech world, along with life changing hacks and strategies to take back the controls for leading a fulfilled and healthier life.  

This is not an anti-technology or an anti-device book.  It’s an investigation of human psychology behind our behaviours that distract us, which have been exacerbated in our 21st century digital centric world. 

Read it, apply the ideas from his 4 stages and you might get your life back.

Richard Dore

Book review by:
Richard Dore - CEO, Proteus Leadership

Nir Eyal