How to Avoid Distractions and Be Indistractible –with Nir Eyal

Are you plagued by distractions? Fear no more! There is a way to avoid distractions and be indistractible. 

I was lucky enough to sit down with my friend Nir Eyal. Nir writes, consults, and teaches about the intersection of psychology, technology, and business. Nir has had writing featured in many major publications, such as the Harvard Business Review. He is a best-selling author and his newest book is Indistractible.

What is “Indistractible”?

Nir coined the term indistractible to mean living with integrity, being honest with yourself and others, and being able to do what you say you are going to do. It’s about being protected against distractions.

It doesn’t mean you never get distracted; it means developing a skill where you make it a habit to not let distracting forces pull you from your goals. In this article, we’re going to dive deeper into this topic, including what it is, and the steps you can take to get there. 

How Do We Become Indistractible? 

The first thing we need to do is understand distraction. The opposite of distraction is not focus (that’s right). In fact, the opposite of distraction is traction

Traction is any action that pulls you toward what you should be doing. Distraction, on the other hand, pulls you away from what you should be doing. 

Anything can be traction. If you plan on doing something, and you accomplish it, then it’s traction. But, if you find yourself torn away by other things, that is a distraction. This means that traction can include the “time-wasting” activities such as TV, Facebook, social media, and your phone. 

What Pulls Us Toward Traction and Distraction? 

There are two things that pull us toward a certain task. These are external triggers and internal triggers.

The external triggers are all the outside factors that drive us to distraction or traction. Be it alarms, dings, other people, or whatever is taking you away from the task at hand. 

However, the most common reason we are distracted is actually internal triggers. These are the uncomfortable emotional states that we seek to escape from. In fact, much of what we do is about escaping discomfort. All of these distractions are short ways of escaping uncomfortable emotional states. 

Time management is actually pain management. 

If we don’t find a way to cope with the discomfort that leads us to distraction, we won’t find a real way toward traction. 

So How Do We Avoid Distraction? 

We really only have two choices when it comes to fixing distraction – we can either:

  1. Identify the source of the problem and fix it
  2. We have to realize that part of being a human is feeling discomfort. In fact, if we can channel this discomfort toward traction, by coping with it, then we can drive these feelings toward productivity. 

Here are some techniques which Nir uses to cope with discomfort without letting it drive him toward distraction:  

The 10 Minute Rule

The 10-minute rule says that we can give into any temptation or distraction for 10 minutes. We know that strict abstinence can backfire. Therefore, we let ourselves live with the urge for a while, and then let it go for a bit. You can surf your urge for 10 minutes, but you need to hold yourself to the task at hand once this is over. This is a middle ground between strict abstinence. 

Make Time for Traction

It is important to note that the time you plan to waste is not wasted time. Plan time for things you enjoy. This includes productive things and “unproductive” things. By planning this time ahead, we don’t have to worry about a constant urge to do something else. 

And of course, you need to make a schedule for productive traction as well. If you know what you are supposed to do ahead of time, then you don’t need to stress over it as it happens. It helps to compartmentalize your time, and helps you avoid the stress of doing something you are not “supposed” to be doing. 

Hack Back the External Triggers

External triggers include all the outside forces pulling us in a certain way. However, in this step, we need to ask ourselves which of these triggers actually serve us, and which are we serving? Then we need to systematically identify and hack back against  the external triggers in our lives that aren’t helping our progress.

Preventing Distraction with Pacts

There are three types of pacts:

  1. An effort pact: Effort pacts make it harder to achieve your distraction, like hiding your TV remote. 
  2. A price pact: A price pact is when a cost is associated with something we don’t want to do. 
  3. An identity pact: An identity pact is when we have a moniker that we call ourselves. It might not seem like it, but with a moniker we become much more likely to do what we want to do. For example, if we call ourselves “indistractible”, we are much more likely to hold ourselves to it. 

These are all things that make it harder for us to achieve those distractions. And they are all good strategies to stay focused and to remain zoned-in on healthy habits.

Conclusion

The idea behind indistractible is not to have maximum self-control or willpower or self-discipline. The idea is to set up a lifestyle that works for you. One that allows you to do what you want, while living with personal integrity and still getting done what you need to get done. The fact is, there are few better feelings than getting to the end of the day and achieving everything you set out to. 

Being indistractible probably isn’t what you thought it was when you started reading this article. Indistractible is really about recognizing the difference between traction and distraction. You need to realize that it is all about doing something with intent. So if you intend on doing things that push your life forward, and you follow these methods to hold yourself to that, you have eliminated distractions. 

It doesn’t mean cutting out the things you enjoy and it doesn’t mean you will never fail, it just means that you are committing yourself to a path that will eventually lead to you accomplishing your goals. 

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