Nir Eyal is an American author, lecturer and investor known for his bestselling book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.After graduating from Stanford University's Master of Business Administration program, Eyal taught a course at the Stanford Graduate School of Business on product design.Eyal is an expert in the field of behavior engineering, which incorporates elements of behavioral science to enable software designers to develop habit-forming products for businesses.
Recent episodes featuring Nir Eyal
Do you want to focus and get more writing done this year? Do you want to step away from the many distractions online and achieve your creative goals? In today's show, I discuss how to be indistractible with Nir Eyal. In the introduction, I talk about some of the challenges in writing for audio, and I also mention my interview on the QWERTY Writing Life Podcast where I talk about the power of affirmations for helping stay focused on what's really important. Today's show is sponsored by Draft2Digital, where you can get free ebook formatting, free distribution to multiple stores, and a host of other benefits. Get your free Author Marketing Guide at Nir Eyal writes, consults, and teaches about the interception of psychology, technology, and business. He's an entrepreneur, investor, and author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, and now, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below. Show Notes Is it our fault that we’re so distractable? Why technology isn’t the problem causing distraction Creating indistractable time for writing Why the opposite of distraction is not focus The two types of triggers for distraction Why do we do things that are against our better interests? Why time management is pain management The difference between a strategy and a tactic when it comes to being indistractable Thoughts on the future of social media You can find Nir Eyal at and on Twitter @nireyal Transcript of Interview with Nir Eyal Joanna: Nir Eyal writes, consults, and teaches about the interception of psychology, technology, and business. He's an entrepreneur, investor, and author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, and now, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. Welcome to the show, Nir. Nir: Thank you so much. Great to be here. Joanna: It's great to have you on the show. Tell me more about you and how you got to this area of behavioral psychology because it's super interesting. Nir: My experience comes out of the industry. I helped found two tech companies, the latest of which was at the intersection of gaming and advertising, and we founded that back in 2007. And it was there that I had this front-row seat to this rise in persuasive technology, as it's called, the rise of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and WhatsApp and Slack, all these tools that do such a good job of changing our behavior. I counted many of these companies as my clients, many of the people who work there were my friends and colleagues. And so I became fascinated by how they built these products to be so engaging. Later on, after my last company was acquired, I had the opportunity to codify what I learned, in the hopes of exposing and democratizing these techniques, so that all sorts of businesses could use software products to build more engaging products and services. Companies like Fitbod is a company that uses my first book Hooked. Hooked was the name of my first book, to get people hooked to exercising in the gym. Kahoot! the world's largest education software, gets kids hooked into classroom learning. I've worked with the New York Times to get people hooked to reading the newspaper every day. These are the kind of products I've worked with my first book and I taught for many years at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, in the Design School there. And so that was my first one, that was about five years ago. And in the meantime, I transitioned to what I'd learned as an industry insider to solve a new problem. Five years ago, the problem was that we were making tech that people found was too difficult to use, people would complain about how only nerds and geeks could use technology back then. And today, we kind of have the opposite problem. Today we have products that are so well designed and that we want to use them maybe too much and people find them to be very distracting at times. So I want to take what I learned from Hooked, which was a book about how to build habits to now write a book about how to break bad habits. And once you get to the root cause of distraction, to understand whether the problem is really about our technology, or is there something deeper going on? Joanna: Fascinating. And I think for everyone listening, there is this double-edged sword very much. And let's just get into Indistractable first. So the listeners are all writers, I'm a writer, and every day we must write some words on our latest book. But so often we do end up checking Instagram or Twitter or whatever or going down this internet rabbit hole. I definitely feel, and I know people listening, we feel like it's a personal failure on our part, like we are somehow weak and pathetic. But what you've just said there, it's the tools are made to be that way. How is this distraction? Is it our fault? How can we learn to accept it in order to deal with it? Nir: You've really framed the problem so well. I want to start by saying that I only write books for problems that I have. So when I have a problem in my life, I'll think about it, I'll chew on it. And the next thing I'll do is I'll buy every book on the topic that I can find if I still haven't come up with an answer for myself. Then I'll read as many of these books that I can find. And 9 times out of 10 the problem is solved right there. Somebody's already written a great book on the topic. But every once in a while, in my case, it's about every five years, I find a topic that I don't feel has been properly addressed, and the solutions that others put forth don't really solve the problem for me. In my case, I read every book about distraction and technology, and the case being made in all these books was that technology was doing it to you, that you should just stop using technology. And I'm sorry, it's very hard for me to listen to some academics, some professor who doesn't even have a social media account telling me how I need to stop using social media. And, despite that fact, I tried it. I thought “Okay, well maybe they're right. Maybe it really is the technology that's the problem.” And I know most people don't have that kind of luxury, it's not practical to go on a 30-day digital detox and just stop using technology, you'll get fired from your job. I do have that luxury as an independent. I write for myself, and I tried it. I got rid of all my technology, I got myself a flip phone that only sent and received phone calls and text messages, no apps, no internet connection. I got myself a Word processor from the 1990s that all it did, you can just type on it, there's no internet connection on it. I thought, “Okay, I've done what these books said, I've excised all of the social media accounts and internet access and Google from my life. Now I'll finally be able to write, now I'll finally finished that chapter that I've been procrastinating on. Here I go.” And then I would look at my bookcase and say, “Oh, you know what, I should probably do a bit more research. There's that one book that might be helpful,” Or, “Let me organize my desk. My desk is sort of messy here. Let me do that first,” Or, “Let me even take out the trash because the trash needs to be taken out at some way.” I would keep getting distracted, despite the fact that I had excised the technology from my life. So technology wasn't the problem. And in fact, what we see is that people tend to fall into two types of categories. We have what we call the blamers. The blamers say, “Oh, you see it's the technology that's doing it to me, it's Facebook, it's my iPhone, it's e-mail that's doing it to me.” Those are the blamers, they blame things outside them themselves. Then we have what's called the shamers. The shamers say, “It's all my fault.” This is what I used to do. I used to say, “Oh, you see, maybe there's something wrong with me. I'm an impostor here. People are going to find out I'm not really good at my job. Maybe I'm lazy. I must be broken in some way.” And I would shame myself. Of course, that's not helpful because that just makes the problem worse. I found that the worse I felt about myself as I entered into the shame spiral, I became even more likely to get distracted, to escape that icky discomfort of hating myself. So that didn't work either. And so I think the right way to be is not to be a blamer, not to be a shamer, but rather to be a claimer. A claimer claims responsibility for their actions, acknowledging that you can't control how you feel. You can only control how you react to those feelings. As you mentioned, people think of it as a personal failing in some way. I argue it's not your fault, okay, you didn't invent Facebook, you didn't invent Twitter, you didn't invent the internet and e-mail. It's not your fault, but it is your responsibility. Because these tools are not going away, and in many ways, we don't want them to go away. They're wonderful. They provide us with so much value. I think it's a much healthier approach to claim responsibility over our actions so that we can get the best out of these tools without letting them get the best of us. There's no doubt that they are designed to be engaging. And, of course, we wouldn't want it any other way. Should we tell Netflix, “Hey, can you please make more boring shows? I find that I want to watch them all the time.” Or, Apple, “Your phone is too user-friendly, please make it harder to use because I want to check it a lot.” No, that's not going to happen. That's not practical. So as opposed to being a blamer or a shamer, we can become claimers in order to make sure that we do more of what we say we're going to do, and that's really the backbone of how we become indistractable. Joanna: I like that very much. I listen to a lot of podcasts. We're on a podcast, so everyone listening, claim that you are listening to this show, and I think that's something that I often do, but I do it while I'm doing other things. So if I'm going to put out the trash, maybe I'll listen to some podcasts while I'm doing it or something like that. Those types of claiming and then taking action, like allowing myself time to be distracted from my work, so that I can then get back to it later. I know in the book, you talk about this sort of idea of hacking back our distractions, so maybe you can talk about how you did this. How did you make indistractable time for your writing? Nir: Let's start with understanding what we mean by distraction. The best way to understand what distraction is, is to understand what it is not. If you ask most people, what's the opposite of distraction, they'll tell you focus, but I don't agree. I think that the opposite of distraction is not focus, it is traction. That, in fact, if you look at the etymology of both words, they both come from the same Latin root “trahere,” which means to pull, and they both end in the same six letters, A-C-T-I-O-N, and that's spells action. So traction is any action that pulls you towards what you want to do, things that you do with intent. The opposite of traction is distraction, anything that pulls you away from what you plan to do with intent. So this is really important for two reasons. Number one, anything can be a distraction. Anything can be a distraction. If you sit down at your desk, and you say, “Okay, now I'm going to write, now I'm going to focus. Now, I'm going to do the thing that I was procrastinating, here I go, but let me check e-mail first.” E-mail, in that case, it feels productive. I used to do this all the time. I've got to check e-mail anyway, right? Maybe something important has come through, that's kind of a work-related, productive task, right? But I argue that if it's not what you plan to do with your time, it is just as much of a distraction, maybe worse than watching a YouTube video or playing a video game because distraction has tricked you. When you're playing a video game, it's clear you're not doing what you want to do if you intended to write. But if you're checking e-mail or doing some “research” is what I always used to do, “Let me just do that quick bit of research on Google.” And then, of course, an hour later, I went down this horrible rabbit hole of nonsense that I've been googling, that is just as much of a pernicious distraction. So, point number one, anything can be a distraction. Point number two, conversely, anything can be traction. I argue that going on Facebook is no more morally inferior than watching a football game on TV or reading a good book. There's nothing inherently evil or good about playing a video game or watching a movie on Netflix or going on Facebook. They are tools and they are past times and there's nothing wrong with using them as long as you are using them on your schedule, not on someone else's. Not because you got some ping, ding, or ring on your phone, or because you're feeling a need to escape your present reality, but you're doing it because you have planned to do it. I have time in my day for social media, it's in my calendar, and I go on social media or I check YouTube videos, or I watch Netflix films on my schedule. And it's planned for in my day, and so there's nothing wrong with it. So anything can be traction, anything can be distraction. The next thing we need to ask ourselves is what drives our behavior? What prompts us towards traction or distraction? And we have two types of triggers. The first type of trigger is what's called an external trigger. An external trigger is some kind of prompt in our environment that tells us what to do next. So this is where the pings, the dings, the rings, all of these things that tell you to either do some kind of action that leads you towards traction, if it's something you want it to do, or leads you to distraction, if it's something you didn't plan to do. They're not necessarily bad, but we have to ask ourselves the central question; is this trigger serving me or am I serving it? If that notification tells you, “Hey, it's time for your writing session, or it's time to go exercise. It's time for that meeting with a friend,” wonderful, it's serving you. But if you're in the middle of your writing session, and now you have some external triggers, some ping or ding that tells you to check the news when you plan to write, well, now that's leading you towards distraction. So we have those external triggers, and we can talk about what we do about those in a minute. But I actually want to focus on what I found in my five years of research is the most common cause of distraction. The number one cause of distraction is not the external triggers, not the things outside of us, but rather it is what is going on inside of us, that these internal triggers prompt us to get distracted by making us feel bad. And, in fact, Plato actually asked this question 2,500 years ago, he called it “akrasia,” 2500 years before the iPhone, he talked about how distracting the world was. And he asked, “Why do we do things against our better interests?” If we know what to do, if we want to be successful authors, we have to write. We have to do the work. Why don't we just do it? And the reason, if we want to answer that question, we have to go one layer deeper to ask ourselves, not only why do we not do what we say we're going to do, why do we do anything and everything? What's the root of human motivation? From a neuroscience perspective, it turns out that what most people believe is the reason we do what we do is incorrect, that most people will tell you that motivation is about the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. We've all heard this; carrots and sticks. Freud called it the pleasure principle. Neurologically speaking, it's not true. That is not why we do what we do. It's not about the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. It turns out, neurologically, everything we do, we do for one reason, and that is to avoid discomfort, everything we do. Physiologically, you know this to be true. If you go outside and it's cold, that's not comfortable. That doesn't feel good. So you put on a jacket. If you come back inside now you're too warm, that feels uncomfortable, so you take it off. If you feel hungry, you feel hunger pangs, so you eat. And when you're uncomfortably stuffed, you stop eating. Everything we do physiologically, any conscious action is about the desire to escape discomfort. And the same holds true psychologically. So when we're feeling lonely, we check Facebook. When we're uncertain, we Google. When we're bored, we check the news, Reddit, Pinterest. Many, many products out there cater to these uncomfortable solutions. What this means is, if all human behavior is prompted by a desire to escape discomfort, what this means is that time management is pain management. And that's why the first step to becoming indistractable has to be to master the internal triggers, to have tools that we can use so that when we feel discomfort, when we feel the pain of writing… And let me tell you, I'm on my second book now, it never becomes something without discomfort. There's always boredom and uncertainty and fatigue and even loneliness. When we feel these things, we have to have tools in our toolkit to use to make sure that when we feel those uncomfortable sensations, they move us towards traction rather than distraction. So that's the very first step. Joanna: Wow, I love that, and I'm on number 33 at the moment and it doesn't change. It still doesn't get any easier. And what you were talking there, about the avoiding discomfort, sometimes like today I did a 3,000-word session and I barely even looked up, and I was in that flow state, or whatever you want to call it. And I was just not distracted. I was all in. I knew what I was doing and I was in a comfort zone. And I feel like, especially with nonfiction, and people listening will understand, nonfiction, sometimes you are just talking about if you've done your research or you've experienced something, you're writing up kind of what you already know. But fiction, I feel, is so hard because we're making decisions for characters. And often the character is in discomfort or in trouble. But also we have to make decisions, which is also an uncomfortable thing for humans to do. We like habits, don't we? We like things to stay the same as such. So that actually really helps me understand why fiction can be so much harder than nonfiction. Is that something that you've come up against in your research? Nir: I only write nonfiction. So that's interesting. Elaborate for me a little bit. You think it's more difficult to write fiction because you're in the head of your character who may be in discomfort? Joanna: Obviously, the whole point of fiction is to put characters in difficult situations. But also you don't necessarily know you're making stuff up about that character. You can be sitting there, thinking, “Where do they live? Or, where are they going? Or, what does this place look like?” You've got far more decisions to make about the material. Whereas, with nonfiction, it's like you said, you did five years worth of research. And then when you're actually writing that up, sure, you're checking things, but you're not making it up anymore, it's based on research. Nir: That's so interesting. My nonfiction author friends and I always talk about how much easier fiction authors have it because they can just make it up. And we always say, “Wow, would it be great to be a fiction author?” Because as a nonfiction author, everything we say has to be based on facts, which means we have to do a lot of research. We have to go dig up a lot, and we can't just say something. We have to see, was there peer-reviewed research? Was the research any good? Has it been disputed since? It's so interesting. Maybe the lesson here is that… Joanna: The grass is always greener. Nir: It's all hard. Yeah, it's all difficult. And the big picture lesson here is managing that discomfort, no matter where that discomfort comes from, is a superpower. That is the macro skill here, to become indistractable, to do what it is you say you're going to do. Let's even go outside the realm of writing. When it comes to why don't we exercise if we say we will? Why don't we eat right if we say we will? Why aren't we fully present with our kids, with our friends with our family? Why don't we do what we say we're going to do? It's an ever-present question. I think it's a fascinating question. It all comes down to impulse control. It all comes down to what do I do in response to discomfort? And the important point here is, I'm not saying that discomfort is bad, in fact, quite the opposite. I think a lot of people in the personal development, self-help industry, they try and sell this notion that feeling bad is bad. And I couldn't disagree more. Our species has been gifted with this ability to do something that no other animal on the face of the earth can do, which is to see into the future better than any other animal. No creature can predict what is going to happen like we can. What that means is, fundamentally, no matter what potential distraction we might face, the antidote to impulsiveness is forethought. Let me say that again. I think that's probably the summary of the entire book. The antidote to impulsiveness is forethought. We have no excuse to continually be distracted by something more than once. So Paulo Coelho said that, “A mistake repeated more than once is a decision.” And I think that's so true. Because in my life, I would continually get distracted again and again and again by the same things. And now that doesn't happen anymore. If it happens once, okay, you're human. But if you keep getting distracted by the same thing, whether it's, “Wow, this is really hard, I'm trying to escape.” Or, “This ping or ding keeps distracting me. Another person keeps interrupting my day. I don't plan my day properly.” Whatever it might be. Continually getting distracted by the same thing, again and again, becomes after while a decision. Now we have no excuse. It's something that we are doing to ourselves. And the antidote is always forethought. It's planning ahead. If you wait till the chocolate cake is on the fork, you're going to eat it. If the cigarette is lit in your hand, you're going to smoke it. And if your cell phone is right next to you when you wake up first thing in the morning, you're going to check it before you even say hello to your loved ones. Because that's too late, now you're depending on self-control and willpower. The research tells us that self-control and willpower don't work. What works is a system, is steps, is tools that you have in place to deal with distraction before it even occurs. Joanna: Let's give some specifics. I like that you keep mentioning pings and dings because that drives me absolutely nuts, and I personally have everything turned off. What I do have, though, is, and I got this because of the health issue, because as a writer you get this terrible posture, and when I do get in the flow, I forget to stand up. So I've gotten this Apple Watch, but it doesn't ding, it just kind of vibrates slightly when I need to stand up. So that is the only notification I allow myself, and I need that for health reasons. So that's something I've done. Also like the e-mail, one of the biggest things I did this year was get an e-mail manager, an inbox manager. And I know that's not right for everybody, but in my business that has made such a difference, because I just can ignore e-mail, knowing that someone else is dealing with it. So what are a couple of things that you do…? Nir: Interesting. How does that work, by the way? I'm curious, I don't go into that in-depth, not that it's not a terrific solution, it sounds like it's working for you. But can you tell me just a bit more about that? What does an email manager…how does that work? Joanna: It's a company called InboxDone, which is by my online mentor Yaro Starak. And essentially, it's another person who manages my Gmail inbox for my main business e-mail. So she goes in there every day. She's an American, so she's on American hours. I have a writing website, obviously, and I get a lot of questions like, how do I self-publish a book? And I was just getting so annoyed every day answering the same question over and over again. And I have certain things with Patreon. I had all these repetitive tasks that are driving me nuts. But they had to be done because I was serving people. By having somebody else to do repetitive tasks, it freed my time up to do more things like writing. So these are a couple of examples in my life. What are a couple of your examples of ways that you make sure this gets done? Nir: That sounds like a terrific technique. I'll give you some of the techniques that I recommend. The most important thing here is the strategy, not the tactics, but I do want to go into some of the tactics. But I just want to emphasize, tactics are what you do, strategy is why you do it. So the most important thing you can get from listening to this podcast or if you eventually read the book, it's this framework, these four parts that involve becoming indistractable. Step one is about mastering the internal triggers. Step two is about making time for traction. Step three is about hacking back the external triggers, and we'll get to that in just a minute. And then step four is about preventing distraction with pact. Now, there's lots and lots and lots of tactics that fit under those that I talk about in the book, but I just want to make sure people know that it's not as important to focus on the tactics. Because you can customize the tactics, discover your own tactics, read a bunch of tactics online. But if you don't understand why these things work, then they're ultimately not going to work for you because you won't be able to adapt them to your particular situation. Given that, let's dive into the third step, how to hack back external triggers, and specifically, this question of e-mail that plagues many of us. And in my case, writing my first book was relatively easy and distraction-free because nobody knew who I was. I wasn't getting any e-mails or very few. I wasn't getting the speaking and consulting engagements that I started getting once my book started selling 250,000 copies. Then I became someone that people reach out to. And ironically, the thing that made me successful prevented me from doing the one thing, one, I really enjoy doing and, two, was what made me successful in the first place, the writing. And so it was really a bad situation. It's a big reason why I wrote Indistractable was because I was a victim of success. And I knew if I wanted to continue my career as a writer, I had to figure this out. So let me give you what one of the techniques are in the book for mastering this e-mail inbox that plague so many people. The technique I'm going to to describe has been shown to reduce the time you spend on e-mail by up to 90%. And here's how it works. The idea here is that when you look at time studies of where people waste time on e-mail, it's not where you think. People think they waste time on checking and replying. That's not where the time wasted on e-mail goes. The time wasted on e-mail is wasted not on the checking, not on the replying, but on the re-checking. That's where we waste time on e-mail. What does this look like? In my case, I would open an e-mail, read it real quick, put it away, open it again, put it away, open it again, put it away. It's the checking and rechecking because we forget what's in the e-mail, so we touch each e-mail way too many times. So the rule here is that each e-mail, you only touch twice. The first time you open that e-mail, you need to ask yourself one question, and that one question is the most important question from a time management perspective. It is, when does this e-mail need a reply? Not what do they want from me? What's the contents? No. When does it need a reply? And now you've got a decision to make. If it never needs a reply, just delete it or archive it. If it needs a reply right this minute, your house is on fire, you have to answer this e-mail right away. That's about 1% of your e-mails that are actually really urgent. Go ahead and reply. But that's about 1%. The rest of your e-mails, 99% of the remaining e-mails are going to fall into two categories, e-mails that need a reply today and e-mails that need a reply some time this week. Now, what I want you to do is to label each e-mail with one of those two labels. And if you don't know how to use label settings, just Google it. There's all kinds of instructions on how to do it no matter what your e-mail service provider might be. Everybody has labeling built-in. So you want to label it with either “Today” or “This week.” And then you want to make sure that you have time in your calendar to only reply to the e-mails that you marked “Today” in your calendar. So you have time in your calendar, reply to urgent e-mails, and you're only replying to those e-mails that need a reply today. It's going to be about 20%, for the average knowledge worker, 20% of your e-mails actually really do need to reply some time today. Then you have a different time blocked out in your calendar. For me, I have a three-hour block every Monday, I call it Message Mondays, when I go through all of those e-mails that can wait a little while. But then you're saying, “Well, how does that save me time? Aren't I just putting off the inevitable?” Here's a magic trick. You can make e-mails disappear by making the recipient wait a little bit. It's amazing, try this. If you just let e-mails simmer for a little while, not the ones that are urgent, of course, the ones that are really urgent, you'll reply to today, about 20% of your e-mails. The other 80%, it turns out, you can reduce that 80% by half or more just by giving them a little time to wait. Why? Because people figure out their own questions, that what was urgent then it's not so urgent anymore. Somebody else chimed in or just got crushed under the weight of some other priority. And you'll find that many of those e-mails that needed a reply actually didn't. And, furthermore, if you reply to those e-mails in a solid block of focused work, as opposed to replying whenever you get these e-mails, you'll be much more efficient, you'll be at your desk, you can process them much quicker, and you can fly through those e-mails that need a reply some time this week much quicker than if you just reply whenever you got them. Because, here's the formula. If you want to receive fewer e-mails in a given period of time, you have to send fewer e-mails in a given period of time because people play this e-mail ping pong game. They think, “Oh, I got an e-mail, that means I got to return it.” No, you don't, you don't have to return it immediately. You can wait when you return those e-mails. So that's just one technique, this labeling technique. There's about a dozen others that you can use as well that I describe in the book. Joanna: I think batching is definitely a superpower. I use Google Calendar and I pretty much batch everything. All of these are great in organizing things in advance. Now, the book is fantastic, it's really useful. It's got lots of stuff in, but I do want to change tack a bit. Because from what I've read about your publishing journey, I believe you self-published the first edition of Hooked. Nir: I did. Joanna: And then you got picked up by a publisher. I'm an independent author, I run my own publishing company. Many listeners are indie by choice, but also a hybrid so they do a bit of both. Maybe you could talk about your publishing journey and why you went indie and why you switched? Nir: With Hooked I self-published because I didn't really have any other options at that point. I never published before. I had a blog with about 5,000 e-mail subscribers at the time. And I figured, you know what, I just want to write this book for myself. It was a question I had in my mind. I just thought, “You know what, I'd make a little PDF, I'll self-publish it, I'll put it on CreateSpace. If anybody wants a print on demand copy, they'll get one.” After I did that, the book started getting some momentum, and when I had about 100 5-star reviews on Amazon I started getting phone calls from publishers, saying, “Hey, you know, what's the deal with this book? Are you thinking about professionally publishing it?” And I think what happened was that the book was kind of de-risked. Publishers want winners. They want books that they think can sell a lot of copies. And so, because the book was starting to get so many good reviews, the question of, “Well, is there demand? Is this book any good?” was kind of removed from the equation for a publisher. So it was no skin off their back, they already saw the book was good. They didn't have to believe me or my book proposal. I actually never wrote a book proposal for Hooked. The customers were speaking in, and it turns out that there was demand for it. So we ended up taking the book off the market, republishing it professionally, with portfolio, and then off to the races. Since we sold about a quarter-million copies and counting, and so that's that was the story of Hooked. Joanna: Once you've done the one book, they were like, “Right, you're off”? Did you then go the straight traditional route for the second book? Nir: I will say it's a lot easier on the second book. The second time around was definitely a lot easier. The first time I didn't even try because I wasn't in a position where I needed the advance to write the book. I wanted to write the book first and foremost, and then just see what to do with it next, because I was just thinking a few of my blog subscribers would get it and maybe it'd be helpful for them, but I mostly wrote it for myself. I actually did something very similar with Indistractable. I don't like the pressure of, “Here's a bunch of money, you better write this book, or else we're going to take that money back away from you.” I wanted to write the book first, take my time, do the best job I possibly could, and then sell the book. And so that's basically what happened with Indistractable. I had a probably a third draft at that point. I was happy with it. I knew it was going to be a book I would be proud of. And, by the way, it had happened many times before that I'd start writing a book and say, “This is rubbish, or somebody else already wrote a book that was much better than I'm going to be able to do, so let's drop this project.” I'm so glad I didn't sell those books to a publisher because then I would have made something I'm not proud of, as opposed to my methodology. And again, I'm not saying this should be everybody's, but I really like my freedom and autonomy, and I didn't want to feel like I was on the hook for something that I may not be able to deliver a product that I'm really proud of. I was about 80% done within Indistractable when we put in a proposal, and my agent then went to shop it around and we ended up going with the more traditional route as opposed to the self-publishing route. Joanna: I know freedom and independence resonate with my audience. I have one more question for you because we're almost out of time. So this is going out on the show in early 2020. So we're at the beginning of this new decade, and there's lots of kind of discussion of what is going on. I just got “Wired Magazine” today, which has Zuckerberg on the front. What is going on with Facebook? Is big tech going to be broken up? I feel like we're on this knife-edge of the good and bad aspects of social media. You've talked about very much, it's not the fault of tech. And we love tech. I'll fully commit to saying I have my phone next to my bed. And obviously, no one can tell the future. What are your thoughts around this knife-edge between the good and the bad side of social? Are we going to see big changes ahead in social media in the coming years? Nir: It's a great question. I think everybody's watching this closely. I want to be very clear, I'm not a tech apologist. I think that they have a lot of things to account for when it comes to data incursions, there are these companies' monopoly status, political interference. These companies have a lot to account for, and I think they're showing that. They spend billions of dollars, literally billions of dollars in fixing these problems that we see from these platforms. And so, it's not that I say that these companies are lily-white. No, quite the opposite. But I think when it comes to this particular problem of, is technology addicting us all? Is it hijacking our brains? That's baloney. It's not scientifically true. Clearly, many things are potentially addictive. It's not that I'm saying that it addicts no one, it clearly addicts some people, but addiction is a pathology. And just as some people get addicted to alcohol, the vast majority of people do not become alcoholics. Not everyone who drinks a glass of wine with dinner is an alcoholic and clearly not everyone who uses e-mail and Facebook or Instagram or Twitter is an addict. We really need to stop using that term, one, because I think it disrespects people who actually have the pathology of addiction, but also because I think it's very disempowering because it places blame on the pusher, the dealer. That's why we love this terminology of addiction because it frees us from responsibility. And I'm here to tell you as an industry insider, my first book was about how these products are built, I can tell you these tools are good, these techniques that they use are effective. They're not that effective, that you are way more powerful than you think. It's only when we adopt this mindset of, “They're doing it to us. They're controlling our brains, they're addicting us,” that's a very convenient excuse for someone who doesn't want to take personal responsibility and do something about the problem. I've written this 250-page book to tell you how to stick it to Facebook, to tell you how to stop using these tools if they're not serving you. I don't want people to keep using these tools. I want you to stop using these tools if they don't serve you. But if you find that, you know what, in some ways, in some context, they're great, then I want you to keep using it in a way that serves you as opposed to you feeling like you're serving them. Joanna: Fantastic. You are more powerful than you think, that is a good place to finish. Where can people find you and your books and everything you do online? Nir: Sure, so my website is And if you want specific information about the book it's is the website. And there's a free complimentary 80-page workbook we couldn't fit into the final edition, but it's there for you, you don't have to buy anything to get it. But if you do end up buying the book and there's a special form on, on that website, where, if you put the order number, I will give you access to a free video course as well. So check that out at Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time Nir. That was great. Nir: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Nir writes, consults, and teaches about the intersection of psychology, technology, and business. The M.I.T. Technology Review dubbed Nir, “The Prophet of Habit-Forming Technology.”Nir founded two tech companies since 2003 and has taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford.In addition to blogging at, Nir’s writing has been featured in The Harvard Business Review, TechCrunch, and Psychology Today.Nir is the author of the bestselling book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.Helpful Links:Schedule maker tool: article: guide: vs routines article: a Patron!Help us grow and become a Patron today: University - Now’s the time to start earning your master’s degree! Enroll now by going to - Try ShipStation FREE for 60 days when you use offer code SMART. JUST visit, click on the microphone at the TOP of the homepage and type in SMART.Audible - Get 3 months of Audible for just $6.95 a month. That’s more than half off the regular price. Visit or text SMART to 500-500.Donate:Donate here to support the show!
If you struggle with feeling distracted, you likely think that modern technology is to blame, and that if your phone wasn't so infuriatingly desirable to check, you'd be a lot more focused and productive.But my guest today argues that the problem of distraction doesn't lie with technology, but with you. His name is Nir Eyal, and he's a behavioral design expert and the author of Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. Today on the show we first discuss Nir's work in helping companies create apps that hook people into using them, and why he thinks these methods of attraction can be positive as long as you put tech in its place. We then dig into how to do that, beginning with the idea that you can't complain about being distracted, if you don't know what you're distracted from, how the first step in getting control of your attention is understanding what you'd like to be doing with it by planning out your time, and why the opposite of distraction isn't focus. We discuss why time management is pain management, and why we need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable internal triggers that prompt us to use our devices for emotional pacification. Nir then walks us through how to deal with the external triggers of distraction, including managing your email inbox, making pre-commitments, and turning indistractability into part of your identity.Get the show notes at
Nir Eyal’s last book, “Hooked,” taught Silicon Valley how to make addictive technology. In his new book, “Indistractable,” he gives you the tools to take back control of your attention and your life.Join the conversation at Get an additional 10% off with promo code PODCAST.Support us by supporting our sponsors!LinkedIn — Get a free $100 ad credit by going to — Visit or text BIGIDEA to 500500 to start your 30day Audible trialNative — For 20% off your first purchase, visit and use promo code BIGIDEANext Big Idea Club — The best books of the year delivered to your door. Visit
Nir Eyal, an expert on technology and psychology, says that we all need to learn to be less distracted into activities that don't help us achieve what we want to each day. Unwelcome behaviors can range from social media scrolling and bingeing on YouTube videos to chatting with colleagues or answering non-urgent emails. To break these habits, we start by recognizing that it is often our own emotions, not our devices, that distract us. We must then recognize the difference between traction (values-aligned work or leisure) and distraction (not) and make time in our schedules for more of the former. Eyal also has tips for protecting ourselves from the external distractions that do come at us and tools to force us to focus on bigger-picture goals. He is the author of the book "Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life."
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Episode Count
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15 hours, 35 minutes