Every one of your actions either reflects traction—moving in the direction of what you actually want, helping you accomplish goals—or distraction—moving away from what you actually want and your goals.
Today, with technology as an integral part of your world, it’s harder than ever to avoid the temptation of distraction. To keep moving in the right direction, you need to become indistractable—able to understand and avoid your distractions and choose traction.
There are four elements of the indistractablity model:
We’ll discuss these four elements and then examine different ways you can bring indistractable habits to your workplace, your children, and your relationships.
The root of distraction is inside you. Humans are motivated by freedom from discomfort—mental and physical discomfort triggers you to find escapes.
To get a handle on your distractions, you need to control their root cause—internal triggers.
Learning to control your internal triggers isn’t about trying not to think about them—this will just make you fixate on them more. It’s about learning to change how you think about them. Three exercises can help you examine and understand your internal triggers.
Rather than reacting to triggers with distraction, take four steps to meaningfully reflect on them and make more deliberate, traction-supporting choices.
Rethink the situation you’re in, finding a way to make it fun. “Fun” doesn’t always feel good—it often feels like challenge, discovery, or most importantly, freedom from discomfort. Making your situation engaging decreases internal triggers such as boredom and frustration, which curbs your urge to escape into distracting behaviors. This process has two parts:
Successfully becoming indistractable requires you to rethink two ideas about yourself: your willpower and your labels.
Willpower: Many people believe they have finite willpower that becomes depleted. We often use this as an excuse for unhealthy behaviors—for example, you binge-watch Netflix after work because your “willpower is spent.” It’s important to think of your willpower as an emotion that comes and goes rather than a resource that runs out.
Labels: Pay attention to the way you label yourself. When you label yourself a certain way—for example, “easily distracted” or “impulsive”—your behavior becomes more aligned with that label. This works in a positive way, too: Calling yourself “focused” or “indistractable” will prompt focused, indistractable behaviors.
When your time isn’t structured, it’s all too easy to give it up to distractions that feel urgent or necessary. You get to the end of the day having done a lot, but none of the things you meant to do. The natural solution to distraction-filled days is creating a schedule.
Build your schedule around the three responsibilities that take up all of your time—you, your relationships, and your work—and your values in each. This allows you to visualize the balance among your responsibilities and better distinguish between traction and distraction. Any behavior that happens at a time it’s not scheduled is a distraction, even if it feels productive.
In this section, we’ll examine how each of your three responsibilities should show up in your life, then discuss how to build and maintain an indistractable schedule.
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In our overconnected world, there’s always an app notification begging for your attention, an email pinging in the background, or a news feed to scroll through. Technology can be useful if you have control over how you use it, but that’s often not the case. Many people are ruled by their devices—unable to pull themselves away even when they know they should. This takes a toll on your physical and mental health, your ability to focus, and your relationships.
Every one of your actions is spurred by an internal trigger, such as boredom, or an external trigger, such as an Instagram notification. These actions either reflect traction or distraction.
Reflect on the distracting, unimportant activities that take your time away from goal-supporting and productive actions.
Think about your day-to-day activities. What do you consider your most distracting habits? (For example, checking social media on your phone or binge-watching Netflix.)
Before you can control your distractions, you first need to understand what distractions are. Like many people, you probably believe that distraction is a product of the things around you such as your phone, different apps, or your chatty coworkers. In reality, the root of distraction is inside you.
Contrary to popular belief, humans aren’t motivated by punishment and reward—we’re motivated by freedom from discomfort. When we feel physical or mental discomfort, we naturally search for ways to escape it. These discomforts and escapes can take many forms, such as:
To get a handle on your distractions, you need to control their root cause—internal triggers.
No matter how good your life is, it’s likely you have a nagging sense of dissatisfaction or restlessness that drives you to look for “escapes.” **What’s surprising about this feeling is that it’s completely normal—human...
One of the keys to stopping and preventing distraction is paying attention to the internal triggers that usually drive you to undesirable behaviors.
Describe the situations where you find that you’re most easily driven to distraction—pay attention to both the activity and details such as time of day or who’s usually with you. (For example, you might feel most distracted at work right after lunch or when you’re trying to study alone in your room.)
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Adding challenges to everyday activities makes them engaging and interesting—reducing your need for a distracting “escape.”
Describe an activity that often makes you feel bored, restless, or otherwise in need of escape. (For example, practicing an instrument or writing article pitches.)
The second part of becoming indistractable is learning to schedule your day around traction-supporting activities—that is, activities that pull you toward what you want to do and who you want to be.
Two-thirds of Americans report that they don’t plan out their days. Although an unplanned day might make you feel that you have more freedom over how your day is spent, it actually creates less freedom—instead of controlling your day, your day controls you. When your time isn’t structured, it’s all too easy to give it up to distractions that feel urgent or necessary. You get to the end of the day having done a lot, but none of the things you meant to do.
Often, people try to add structure to their days by creating to-do lists. This is one of the worst ways to plan your day, for several reasons:
Building a schedule that prioritizes what’s truly important depends on being clear about your values.
What are your personal values? (For example, your values may include challenge, variety, and learning.)
The third element of becoming indistractable is reducing the external triggers in your life. While internal triggers are frequent drivers of distraction, external triggers constantly invade our lives with beeps, pop-up notifications, vibrations, alarms, and so on. They tempt you with an escape from any internal discomfort you may be feeling.
It’s vital that you get a handle on the external triggers around you because they don’t just interrupt you for a moment—they can derail your workflow for an extended period. Research shows that when people are interrupted during a task—to answer a message or check their email, for example—they’ll try to compensate when they return to the task by working faster, but with higher stress levels.
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t so easy as refusing to respond to incoming emails or turning your phone facedown.
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In this chapter, we’ll examine ways to diminish the power of the second type of external trigger—the technology you use every day.
Your smartphone is probably one of the most—if not the most—distracting things in your life. However, it can also be a valuable tool for staying in touch with people, listening to music, capturing photos, or navigating. Maximize your phone’s use as a tool for traction by first rearranging your apps and then adjusting their settings.
Look through the apps on your phone and assess each honestly: Does it benefit you or do you benefit it? Based on your answer, take one of three actions:
1) Remove: Delete unused apps and apps that don’t benefit you or don’t align with your values.
2) Change: Some apps can be used for traction, but they show up in your life as distractions.
Left unchecked, external triggers can easily break your focus and pull you off task throughout your day.
What external trigger(s) do you find most distracting? (For example, audio text notifications, your email, or recommendations at the bottom of articles.)
The last part of the indistractable model focuses on locking yourself into traction, rather than keeping distractions out. You accomplish this by using precommitments—choices you make while in an undistracted state that will help guide your behaviors when you’re tempted by distraction in the future.
Precommitments are the last piece of the indistractable model because their success depends on the first three elements:
There are three types of precommitments that can minimize the power of distraction: effort pacts, price pacts, and identity pacts.
**An effort pact is a precommitment that makes it more difficult...
You can help yourself avoid undesirable behaviors by making them harder to perform.
What’s an undesirable behavior that you’d like to perform less? (For example, skipping the gym or going on social media when you should be studying.)
Your indistractability will naturally touch all parts of your life—and, with conscious application, you can use it to improve these areas. Over these next three chapters, we’ll explore how you can apply the indistractable model to your work, your children, and your relationships.
The first area we’ll explore is your workplace—while you may be on your way to developing strong indistractable habits, a toxic work culture can easily derail you.
You can’t be your best at work if you’re distracted the whole time—but solving the problem requires a bit of digging. A common scapegoat for workplace distraction is the technology that keeps employees connected inside and outside of the office. But of course, technology itself isn’t at the heart of distraction—internal discomfort is.
Numerous organizations cultivate work cultures that can cause clinical depression in their employees. **Two factors significantly...
The second practical application of the indistractable model is using it to support your children in an increasingly connected and technologically dependent world.
Many people blame advancing technology for their children’s distraction, emotional dysregulation, behavioral issues, and so on. Technology has been a popular scapegoat for hundreds of years—everything from the printing press to the radio has been publicly condemned for “ruining” children’s minds and attention spans.
The reason we keep recycling this tired story is that technology allows us to pin the blame of misunderstanding our children on something out of our control, instead of taking responsibility. This mindset is a huge disservice to our children, who need help managing today’s distractions.
There’s no difference between the type of distraction you experience and the distraction your child experiences. Like you, they need to learn how to have a healthy relationship with technology—but unlike you, they won’t understand the problem and find solutions on their own. It’s up to you to explain what it means to be indistractable and help them develop indistractable systems that work for them. **Help...
Lastly, you can use elements of the indestructible model to identify and solve points of distraction in your relationships with your family and your friends.
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.
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...
When friends spend distracted time together, they miss out on important moments and conversations that deepen their relationships.
Describe situations where you and your friends often become distracted. (For example, you always end up looking at your phones while at dinner together or your children often wander into your get-togethers and derail your conversations.)
Shortform: Many reader reviews of this book note that a few years ago, you wrote Hooked—which discusses creating a product that people come back to—and then followed up with Indistractable. Some of these reviewers suggest that Indistractable is a sort of “antidote” to Hooked. What are your thoughts on that?
Nir Eyal: I’ve heard this trope a lot, and I can’t say I didn’t court it, because I made the books look very similar. However, I didn’t title Indistractable as “Unhooked”—even though my publisher wanted to—because I didn’t want to negate anything in Hooked.
Why? Because Hooked is about how to build good habits in customers’ lives. It’s not written for social media companies. There are no case studies of social media companies. The only case study in the entire book is of the Bible app. What I wanted to show with Hooked is that we...