Are you ‘indistractable’?

In an India ‘First and Exclusive’, Wall Street Journal bestselling author, Nir Eyal talks about how we can get the best from technology, without letting it hurt our lives.

By Dr Meghna Singhal  • 8 min read

Are you ‘indistractable’?

Do you find yourself picking up your phone at random and scrolling your Facebook and WhatsApp feed? Do you find yourself procrastinating on your exercise? Does your spouse complain that you don’t spend enough time with her?

What if I were to tell you that you can become ‘indistractable’? In short, nothing can distract you! We all can, asserts Nir Eyal.

Eyal hardly needs an introduction. A behavioural engineer with an MBA from Stanford, Eyal is a lecturer and investor. He is also the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. His latest book Indistractable: How to Control your Attention and Choose your Life teaches us how to get the best from technology, without letting it get the best of us. Interestingly, Eyal got the world ‘hooked’ with his great book on habit formations and today, his very book on ‘indistractability’ is enabling people make judicious and responsible decisions on use of gadgets.

Eyal spoke for the first time ever with an Indian publication all the way from New York. In a freewheeling conversation, Eyal talks on a whole range of issues that bother people and their ‘excessive’ use of smartphones today, and how they can overcome the ‘resistance’.

Watch the exclusive conversation with Nir Eyal here

Says Eyal, “The ability to stay focused is a competitive advantage, in work and in life. If we want to raise children who are ‘indistractable’, we have to learn to be ‘indistractable’ ourselves.” The good news is becoming ‘indistractable’ isn’t difficult. If you follow these four basic steps outlined by Eyal, you can become ‘indistractable’:

  1. Know your internal triggers
    Most distraction starts from within us. The reason we look for distraction is to escape some kind of uncomfortable sensation: boredom, loneliness, fatigue, uncertainty, stress, anxiety. So, the first step is to understand your uncomfortable psychological triggers.
  2. Make time for traction
    The opposite of distraction is not focus, asserts Eyal. It is traction, which means any action that pulls you toward what you want to do and do with intent. Anything can be traction as long as you want to make time for it—if you want to spend time on Facebook or whatever you want to do with your time, pray, meditate, draw, take a walk, or be with your loved one.
    So, make time for traction. Turn your values into time. So, if you value taking care of your physical health, do you schedule time (within your schedule) for proper sleep and exercise? The same goes for spending quality time with those we love. Do you schedule in regular time for your spouse, children, friends? To make time for traction, Eyal suggests making a time-boxed calendar and do a ‘schedule sync’ where you look at your calendar with, say, your boss or spouse, to make sure you’re both on the same page. 
  3. Hack back the external triggers
    The external triggers, no surprise, are the pings, notifications, emails, or even other people distracting us from our work. It’s not that these are bad- it’s about whether they serve us or take us away from our goals, priorities, and values. There are many strategies that Eyal suggests to ‘hack back’ external triggers that don’t serve us- such as putting on a ‘concentration crown’ or mounting a simple card on your work desk that says “I’m indistractable. Please come by later!”
  4. Prevent distractions with pacts
    Pacts are a pre-commitment device that we use to decide in advance what we are going to do. You can have an effort pact, price pact or an identity pact.
    An effort pact prevents distraction by making unwanted behaviours more difficult to do. For example, installing an app to curtail one’s time on social media.
    A price pact involves putting money on the line to encourage us to do what we say we will. For example, putting money in a jar as a precommitment deposit with a pledge to, say, exercise 4 days a week for one month. If you reach your goal, you receive the deposit back but if you don’t, you donate it.
    An identity pact prevents distraction by aligning our behaviours to our identity and helping us make choices based on who we believe we are. For example, giving up meat and calling yourself a vegetarian shifts the focus from ‘I can’t eat meat’ to ‘I don’t eat meat’ and is psychologically empowering.

The idea is not to disconnect from our technology completely, but to use technology on your schedule and to fit in with your priorities. Become ‘indistractable’ and reclaim your attention, your focus, and your life.

About the author:
Interviewed by Meghna Singhal, PhD on 4 November 2019. Reviewed on 20 November 2019.
Dr. Singhal is a clinical psychologist and currently heads the Content Solutions Zone at ParentCircle. She has a doctorate degree from NIMHANS (Bangalore) and holds a post-doctorate in parenting from the University of Queensland (Australia)
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