How to Build Strong Relationships: Be Indistractable

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Indistractable" by Nir Eyal. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you want to know how to build strong relationships with friends and loved ones? How do habits of distraction spread among social groups? How can devices destroy romantic relationships?

These days, it’s much harder to build strong relationships because people are often distracted. Whether it’s a familial relationship, a friendship, or a romantic relationship, it’s important to reduce distractions while together in order to promote communication and closeness.

Here’s what Nir Eyal, the author of Indistractable, has to say about how to build strong relationships using the indistractable model.

Promote Indistractability in Your Relationships

If you want to learn how to build strong relationships, consider Nir Eyal’s indistractable model. Distraction is a problem that affects everyone in a relationship—unmanaged, it pushes people away from one another and prevents key moments of connection from happening. This problem is becoming increasingly prevalent, as smartphones are ever-present in everyone’s pockets and various devices become necessary fixtures in many homes. Not only are distractions constantly accessible, but they’ve also become such a common part of our lives that distraction is almost always tolerated. 

Strong, indistractable relationships depend on your refusal to tolerate distraction and a group commitment to finding solutions to distraction problems. First, we’ll look at how you can manage distraction in your friendships and then examine ways to create distraction-free time with your partner. 

Maintain Indistractable Friendships

One reason that distraction happens so frequently in the time spent with your friends is social contagion—humans look to one another for social cues, so one person’s distraction easily spreads in a group. 

  • For example, if you’re having coffee with a group and one of your friends pulls out her phone, it will prompt everyone else to pull out their phones. Your group inevitably ends up sitting together in silence, scrolling social media instead of talking to each other. 

Not only does this tendency to fall into distraction together make it harder for you to maintain indistractable habits, but it also gets in the way of the conversations and shared moments that deepen relationships. The solution to this issue is consciously refusing distraction cues and sending social cues to your friends that distraction is not okay. 

To make someone understand that their behavior isn’t appropriate, call them out on it. You don’t have to be rude in doing this, but you do have to be direct. An effective approach is to ask them directly about the behavior. 

  • For example, you’re having coffee with a few friends when one of them takes out her phone while you’re trying to talk to her. You can say, “Oh, sorry. I didn’t see you were on your phone. Is everything all right?” 

When you pose this type of sincere, direct question about someone’s behavior, you give them two options: 

  • If there is something that needs to be dealt with, the question gives her the chance to explain and excuse herself to attend to it. 
  • If there isn’t any reason to be using her phone, the question reminds her how rude it is to be using her phone at that moment, prompting her to put it away. 

Over time, these direct callouts will remind everyone in your social circle of the rudeness of distraction—prompting them to stop tolerating distraction and call others out. 

Keep an Eye Out for Distraction Everywhere 

Phones may be the most common way that you see distraction manifest in your gatherings, but distraction can take many forms. With your friends, communicate the importance of indistractable time together, stay on the lookout for distraction, and find ways to navigate different types of distraction together. 

  • For example, if you go to a restaurant that has televisions everywhere, ask the hostess to seat you in an area that makes it difficult to see the television.

One distraction that naturally becomes part of your life as you get older is your children. When you get together with other parents, you’ll inevitably have children wandering into your group to ask their parents for something. Unfortunately, this often derails important, friendship-solidifying conversations—imagine your friend was just about to talk about his father’s illness, but then your friend’s child comes in looking for a snack. The conversation then veers toward the kids and your friend never gets to finish his thought.

  • Avoid this by agreeing as a group to be indistractable and finding a way to make sure your kids won’t interrupt. For example, you can put all the kids’ toys and snacks in another room and communicate to them that they may only interrupt in case of an emergency. 

Spend Indistractable Time With Your Partner

Many couples struggle with keeping a healthy balance between their devices and spending meaningful time together. 

  • One study showed that nearly a third of Americans would rather not have sex for a year than give up their phone for a year. 

When you choose your device over your partner, you miss out on an opportunity to talk, unwind, and share intimacy. Over time, distraction can destroy communication and closeness in your relationship. It’s not likely you’ll be able to have device-free time during the day—most people use their phone and laptop for work and to manage their family’s schedule. The most natural time for you and your partner to unplug is right before bed.

This might be difficult for you, especially if you have a television in your room, use your laptop in bed to stream movies, or—like 65% of Americans—sleep with your phone in or next to your bed. Make the shift to an indistractable bedtime easier by following the indistractable model: 

  1. Control your internal triggers. If you feel like using your device while you’re in bed, wait for 10 minutes before doing so. Often, the pause will help you overcome the urge. 
  2. Build a schedule. Timebox your device-free bedtime so that it becomes a scheduled part of your routine rather than something that happens once you “finish up this one thing.” 
  3. Cut out external triggers. Remove the temptation to reach for devices before bed by removing all devices from your bedroom. For example, instead of relying on your phone for an alarm, purchase an analog clock, and leave your phone charging in the kitchen.

Create precommitments. Plug your internet router and your computer monitors into a timer that’s set to turn off at your bedtime. This creates an effort pact: If you want to use your internet during your device-free time, you’ll have to get out of bed and reset your router—giving you a moment to think about whether staying online is really worth the effort.

How to Build Strong Relationships: Be Indistractable

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Nir Eyal's "Indistractable" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Indistractable summary :

  • How to become indistractable in a world full of distractions
  • Why your schedule should be based on your values instead of tasks
  • How to start driving your life instead of letting its distractions drive you

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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