Sep 23, 2019

Book Review: Indistractable by Nir Eyal

2019 - the year where we have seen the release of two books that primarily talk about minimizing distractions. The ability to focus on work or pay attention to relationships without getting distracted is becoming such a challenge these days and I agree with these lines by Nir Eyal.

In the future, there will be two kinds of people in the world: those who let their attention and lives be controlled and coerced by others and those who proudly call themselves “indistractable.”

Early this year, Cal Newport's digital minimalism was launched and I loved it so much. Detailed review here.

A few years back, when I read Nir Eyal's Hooked, I learned about many key insights into human behavior that are being used as inputs into building habit forming products. If "Hooked" is a must-read for developers, designers and product managers building such products, "Indistractable" is for consumers using those products.

Through a 4-part framework, the author takes us on a journey to become indistractable. The following passage sums up this framework.

Imagine a line that represents the value of everything you do throughout your day. To the right, the actions are positive; to the left, they are negative. On the right side of the continuum is traction - actions that draw us toward what we want in life. On the left side is distraction, the opposite of traction. Distractions impede us from making progress toward the life we envision. All behaviors, whether they tend toward traction or distraction, are prompted by triggers, internal or external.

The biggest takeaway for me while reading this book was about how social media, smart phones, video games etc are the proximate causes of our distractions. The author shares several examples on how each new invention (be it print, newspaper, television, telephone etc) when it was launched was blamed for its distracting abilities. The bottom line is that we need to figure out the root cause of our addictions/distracted behaviors and implement strategies to manage potential distraction-causing triggers.

I loved the chapter on scheduling time for important relationships. We often tend to neglect (or even take for granted) the relationships where we need to invest our time and energy, without being distracted.

On dealing with external triggers,

"Is this trigger serving me or am I serving it?"

is such an important question to ask ourselves.

Many of the examples and case studies shared are easy to relate to, especially the author's role as a parent, his struggles to deal with distractions and get writing done. The solutions suggested are also quite simple and easy to implement for most of us. Apart from dealing with distractions on a personal level, the author also talks about workplace distractions - meetings, emails, Slack, content overload, social media and most importantly, managing expectations to be "online" during non-working hours. 

The chapter on raising indistractable children talks about the psychological needs. Overuse of technology is ONLY a symptom; we need to address the root cause. When kids' psychological needs are unmet, they go looking for virtual alternatives. Parents need to enable offline environments where children get to experience autonomy, competence and relatedness. As parents, we should model how to be indistractable ourselves.

My favorite passages from the book:
    Most people don’t want to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that distraction is always an unhealthy escape from reality. How we deal with uncomfortable internal triggers determines whether we pursue healthful acts of traction or self-defeating distractions.

Evolution favored dissatisfaction over contentment. Our tendencies toward boredom, negativity bias, rumination, and hedonic adaptation conspire to make sure we’re never satisfied for long.

Our technology gives us a way of being physically present but mentally absent; the uncomfortable truth is that we like to have our phones, tablets, and laptops in meetings not for the sake of productivity but for psychological escape. Meetings can be unbearably tense, socially awkward, and exceedingly boring—devices provide a way to manage our uncomfortable internal triggers.
 This tweet by BJ Fogg sets the tone for the future.

 "....we will start to realize that being chained to your mobile phone is a low status behavior, similar to smoking".

Nir Eyal's Indistractable provides us with actionable takeaways to manage our distractions and address the triggers that lead to distracting behaviors. An informative and relevant read for all.

P.S. I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher. The review is my honest and unbiased feedback on the book.

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