Bookcover - Indistractable


by Nir Eyal

Rating: 4/10


A book about attention and techniques that help focusing our attention, when faced with the diversions of a modern life. It's explaining many basic ideas about how to live a more productive life, by restricting time spend mindlessly engaged with media in various ways.

To me, the most interesting idea from the book is that Ego Depletion is a self-fulfilling prophecy. People who don't believe in ego depletion do not show a decline in willpower over time.

Main Ideas

The main model of the book is that of distraction vs. traction. We need to control our behavior by focusing on and controlling our internal and external triggers, if we want to be productive. First we need to decide what's important to us and what we value and want out of life. Then we need to plan our lives accordingly, setting up a time plan, that we review regularly to keep, how we spend our time in accordance with what we believe to be important. Then we need to modify our environment, to make it as easy as possible to stick with that time schedule. Any modification that makes our schedule easier is good, anything that can drive us away from it, needs to be adjusted.

Simple, practical steps: Think from values. Derive Schedule. Write down moments of craving. Remove distractions.

Steps to do so are numerously detailed in the book, but most of them were to me things I already do anyways: Uninstalling apps from the phone, turning off notifications, creating phone free zones, decluttering your desktop and phone home screen, unplugging devices at night, creating pacts with yourself by using Pomodoro Timers, putting barriers in place so people can not disturb us (at work for example), batching email etc.

While the recommendations are numerous they are all basic, and to me, feel like they do not really touch the problem at the heart of procrastination. The book offers a bunch of bandaids that adress symptoms but don't relieve the root cause of why procrastination happens... It's typical self-help. Sadly.

Detailed Notes

Introduction: From Hooked to Indistractable

Book Recommendation: Hooked: How to build habit forming products - Nir Eyal

If you are not equipped to manage distractions , your brain will be manipulated by time-wasting diversions.

Thought: You are in an arms race struggle for your attention and your brain. Companies designing better products to get you better hooked, versus yourself, designing better measures to not get hooked as much.

Chapter 1 - What's Your Superpower?

Distraction is a problem deeper than technology. It's not tech that makes us distracted. It just changes the medium we use for distracting. Swapping out our phones for books, we can still procrastinate what we want to do.

We know what to do, but we don't know how to do it, without getting distracted, without procrastination.

The time you plan to waste, is not wasted time.

Chapter 2 - Being Indistractable

Traction vs. Distraction - pulling towards or away from the things we really want.

This "really" is interesting. What is that second thing that does the wanting? Why are we so sure that our rational desires are really the thing we want? What about them makes them worth of pursuit?

Traction is working toward goals. Distraction is the monkey in the dark playground

Means of distraction become better over time, because we find out how to get humans hooked onto something better, and optimize for that.

We can step back from desires.

Do, what you say you will do.

There are external and internal triggers leading both to tractive and distractive behaviors.

Part 1 - Master Internal Triggers

Chapter 3 - What Motivates Us Really?

Pleasure is beeing free from the pain of wanting. This thought is Buddhism, Epicurus, and the Stoics at its core.

We are at fault for our own behavior.

Distraction is always an unhealthy escape from reality.

What is the real, root cause of a distraction? Why are we responding to a trigger with distractive instead of tractive behavior?

Chapter 4 - Time Management Is Pain Management

Distraction is just another way our brains attempt to deal with pain.

We need to learn to handle discomfort, if we want to not get distracted anymore. That's the essence of "willpower". Namely that we can override the uncomfortable nature of things by changing the framing around them.

Boredom, Negativity Bias, Rumination and Hedonic Adaptation drive us to distraction. (More towards action in general, but because distraction is the easiest way to act usually, these things help it more than tractive behaviors)

Paradigm Shift: Feeling bad is the default state of evolution. And feeling bad is the source of all good things in life, namely things we do, driven by pain avoidance, is what moves society forward.

Chapter 5 - Deal with Distraction from Within

ACT - acceptance and commitment therapy

Acknowledge urges, step back, let them dissipate.

Trying to resist, makes the reward for giving in greater, so when eventually giving in, the addictiveness of the behavior is much stronger.

Chapter 6 - Reimagine the Internal Trigger

Track emotional state before trigger happens. Write it down. Explore the feeling, but with curiosity, not adversity. Beware Liminal Moments (in between tasks, only doing this for a second, while waiting...)

For me the last one happens a lot, namely, when eating lunch, I want to also be distracted and start watching YouTube and then stay hooked, for another hour or more, after lunch is already over.

Chapter 7 - Reimagine the Task

Paying close attention and finding challenges where there previously where none, is the nature of play and that is fun, even if the activity itself is not enjoyable necessarily.

The cure for boredom is curiosity, there is no cure for curiosity.

Having fun in that way, of challenging ourselves, is reimagining the task to gain more traction.

Asking, what could be the challenging aspect in this? How could I do this better, how could I master this, helps in motivating yourself to do "work".

Chapter 8 - Reimagine Your Temperament

Is Ego Depletion, the belief, that willpower is limited, and gets used up when doing "hard" things, real?

The idea of ego depletion is a self fulfilling prophecy. Believe in ego depletion, and your willpower will deplete because of moral licensing. An idea explored in Jonathan Haidt's the Righteous Mind. "Look here, I did something good, now I can do something bad. It's okay". Whenver this happens, you are effectively fooling yourself.

How you feel about how much control over your actions you have, determines how much control you actually have.

Mindset and Framing have strong measurable real world effects on addiction outcomes.

Failure leads to stress, leads to self doubt which leads to more failure.

Instead frame obstacles and failure as a necessity for learning. Just like the People at Pixar did.

What we say to ourselves matters.

Part II - Make Time for Traction

Chapter 9 - Turn Your Values into Time

Time is sacred. It's the most valuable asset we have and hence it needs to be allocated wisely.

If we don't plan our day, someone else will.

To me, that someone else is the part of the brain, that is the instant gratification monkey. Without a plan of what I want to do, I do whatever feels good, and usually that's heavy procrastination, a mix of YouTube, Porn, Video Games, playing chess and playing the piano.

Instead what to do, start with why to do it.

Values are not end goals; they are guidelines for our actions.

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

This idea/quote strikes me as odd. Namely, everything is a distraction, because there is opportunity costs. One of the fundamental problems of life is that there are too many choices and choosing one over another is hard. If that choice isn't made (or couldn't be made, because giving up something in favor of something else is too painful) it leads to procrastination as the default. If there are too many things I value, and I can't rank them, then I'll spend all my time being distracted, since I task hop from one thing to another. That's what happens to me, right now. I don't have enough focus on one thing, because I haven't decided my values clearly yet. I.e. I don't know what I am doing or what I want, at least not exactly enough to derive a clear hierarchy of values that would show what is "distraction" and what is "traction".

Why, what and when => how to make a schedule.

The important metric is how much you fit your schedule, not how much you got done. As long as you planned to play computer games, things are fine. However the allotment of time for computer games, based of your values, is probably relatively low.

Perfect week + 15 minute weekly reflection on it. When did I got distracted, when not? How can I change my calendar to express my values better?

Make Time for Traction, then eliminate distraction, to focus time on what matters to you.

Chapter 10 - Control the Inputs, Not the Outcomes

Circle of Influence vs. Circle of Concern

Show up, the rest is not up to you.

Chapter 11 - Schedule Important Relationships

Relationships are too important to neglect in terms of time allotment. People in our lives are important. Especially friendships, if neglected, die. And without friends our health (psychological and physiological) declines much more rapidly. Kurzgesagt has awesome videos on these ideas - Loneliness and Friendships.

Idea - social event "Kibbutz", regular meetinh, where open ended debating of one question happens.

Chapter 12 - Sync with Stakeholders at Work

Weekly meeting for refining the schedule at work, to prioritize what is truly important and make sure that things that need to be done are done. No wasted motion.

Part III - Hack Back External Triggers

Ask the Critical Question

Fogg Behavior Model: B=MAT Behavior follows motivation, ability and a trigger.

Phone in field of view is already distracting. Not using the phone takes mental energy.

Triggers are tools, we have to use them as such.

Our technology should serve us, not the other way around.

Chapter 14 - Hack Back Work Interruptions

Use Props to show that you're deep working.

Chapter 15 - Hack Back Email

Emails - send fewer, recieve fewer.

Chapter 16 - Hack Back Group Chat

Tools influence the way we and even whole companies feel. Group Chat, is unorganized and not useful for many things.

Disable Slack for most of the day. Just batch reply at some set time of the day. Limit time spend on it.

Documents for thoughts are better than a chat. Writing things down in long form clarifies thinking.

Chapter 17 - Hack Back Meetings

Meeting => Agenda + Brief Digest

Brainstorm in small groups. 2 max. 3. Maybe even alone. Then compare notes.

No tech distractions in meetings.

Chapter 18 - Hack Back Your Smartphone

Essential Home Screen, no apps of distracting nature. Delete apps not necessary or addictive. Remove notifications.

Chapter 19 - Hack Back Your Desktop

What we fear most is usually what we most need to do.

Desktop without clutter.

Chapter 20 - Hack Back Online Articles

Bundle reading with pocket app, then only let pocket app read to you while at the gym.

Chapter 21 - Hack Back Feeds

Extensions to make websites less addictive.

Part 4 - Prevent Distraction with Pacts

Chapter 22 - The Power of Precommitments

Remove future choices, by Precommitments. Like Ullysses and the sirens. Prepare now, so that you can't do something later.

Chapter 23 - Prevent Distraction with Effort Pacts

If something needs more effort, if there is friction, we won't do it. One of the core ideas of Atomic Habits.

You can use tech to stay off tech.

Chapter 24 - Prevent Distraction with Price Pacts

Pay or lose a sum of money if you do something you don't like or don't do something you'd like to do.

Burning - literally burning - 100€ each time you don't exercise on an exercise day.

Pitfalls: Only escapable triggers. Only short Tasks. It's scary. If you beat yourself up, huge amount of stress.

Chapter 25 - Prevent Distraction with Identity Pacts

Our perception of who er are changes what we do.

Identity is a way of sticking to actions. Behavior is like casting votes for the person we want to be. This is again found in Atomic Habits.

Being Indistractable is an Identity to take on. If we think of ourselves as Indistractable that influences the choices we make, so that we actually choose to become much less distracted than otherwise.

Ritualize behavior. Be religious but in your own way. I.e. use the tricks religions have figured out but to cast an identity that is actually useful for the modern day and age.

Part 5 - How to Make Your Workplace Indistractable

Chapter 26 - Distraction Is a Sign of Dysfunction

Bad Work environments can cause a lot of pain.

Lack of Control about work is bad.

Distraction is a symptom of that pain. If we feel like what we are doing doesn't matter and that the expectations are high but we can't fulfill them, we can get depressed and escape into tech distraction world, to not deal with the problem.

Chapter 27 - Fixing Distraction Is a Test of Company Culture

Psychological Safety in a team and company setting is really important. The book Creativity Inc. shows to what great lengths people go to at Pixar to achieve it.

The same idea can also be found in Principles by Ray Dalio. It's called an idea meritocracy there, but to build such, the team needs to have a very high margin of psychological safety.

Everybody's solutions count, only the best ones may win, failures are there for learning, what we think matters. We are in it together working things out, failing along the way, learning from the failures, to become even better.

Here they call it the "Learning Zone".

Chapter 28 - The Indistractable Workplace

Part 6 - How to Raise Indistractable Children (And Why We All Need Psychological Nutrients)

Chapter 29 - Avoid Convenient Excuses

Simple answers to complex questions are often wrong.

Tech panics have existed in the past. They, so far, always turned out wrong.

Urban Myths - such as sugar highs, the "berserk" teenager and how tech is bad for the next generation, are easy to belief and latch onto minds, but are often wrong or not quite correct.

Chapter 30 - Understand Their Internal Triggers

3 things human psyche flourishes on: autonomy, competence, relatedness

Attention is coupled to autonomy. Children unlearn attention, because their autonomy is taken away by school.

More autonomy - kids use screen time less.

People seek competency, schools don't allow for expression of competence, hence people turn to the easier alternatives - games, social media. Immediate feedback.

Children are not playing enough outside anymore, loosing the ability to form deep and spontaneous social bonds with others as equals, instead searching for that same bond online.

Chapter 31 - Make Time for Traction Together

Show kids how to plan time and stick to a schedule and why that is useful, and discuss with them what their values are - and what the consequences their actions will have and why all of that is important.

Chapter 32 - Help Them with External Triggers

Teach Children how to use phones and how to manage not being distracted by them, before giving them devices.

Book Recommendation: The Art of Screen Time - Anya Kamenetz

Chapter 33 - Teach them To Make Their Own Pacts

Tell children the truth, make them understand the positive and negative aspects, then let them come up with their own solutions.

Part 7 - How to Have Indistractable Relationships

Chapter 34 - Spread Social Antibodies Among Friends

Social Antibody Theory by Paul Graham – part of the Addictiveness Article

"Phubbing" - phone + snubbing - ignoring other people by being on the phone.

Chapter 35 - Be an Indistractable Lover

We can all strive to do what we say we will do.

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