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Nir Eyal: How to be Indistractable
Episode 63 of the Design Better Podcast
You’re sitting at your desk, trying to do some deep work—finishing up a presentation, writing some code, sketching out a new interface—and you hear a noise. It’s the familiar knock of Slack, or the chime of your e-mail inbox. All of a sudden, you’re taken away from a state of flow and into an attempt to multi-task, which is the enemy of getting things done.
By some estimates, distractions cost the US economy more than $650 billion dollars a year in lost productivity. And Nir Eyal, bestselling author of the book Hooked, may have been the inspiration behind some of the most habit-forming products out there.
But he also has another book, Indistractable, which can give you the tools to avoid distractions both at work and at home. In this episode, we chat with Nir about what got him interested in the intersection of technology and psychology, how we as consumers can have a better relationship with habit-forming products, and how he—as a parent— thinks about kids and technology.
Nir Eyal writes, consults, and teaches about the intersection of psychology, technology, and business. Nir previously taught as a Lecturer in Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford.
Nir co-founded and sold two tech companies since 2003 and was dubbed by The M.I.T. Technology Review as, “The Prophet of Habit-Forming Technology.” Bloomberg Businessweek wrote, “Nir Eyal is the habits guy. Want to understand how to get app users to come back again and again? Then Eyal is your man.”
He is the author of two bestselling books, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.
Indistractable received critical acclaim, winning the Outstanding Works of Literature Award as well as being named one of the Best Business and Leadership Books of the Year by Amazon and one of the Best Personal Development Books of the Year by Audible. The Globe and Mail called Indistractable, “the best business book of 2019.”
Nir invests in habit-forming products that improve users’ lives. Some of his past investments include Eventbrite (NYSE:EB), Anchor.fm (acquired by Spotify), Kahoot! (KAHOOT-ME.OL), Canva, Homelight, Product Hunt, Marco Polo, Byte Foods, FocusMate, Dynamicare, Wise App, and Cutback Coach.
Nir attended The Stanford Graduate School of Business and Emory University.
Summary (via ChatGPT🤖)
Nir Eyal, author of the books "Hooked" and "Indistractable," discusses the intersection of psychology and technology, and how products can change our behavior. He explains the Hook model, a four-step process for building healthy habits using technology, and shares his thoughts on the current state of the tech industry and the importance of balancing engagement with user well-being.
📚 Nir Eyal has written two books: "Hooked" and "Indistractable"
🧠 Both books focus on the intersection of psychology and technology
🛠️ Hooked presents the Hook model, which consists of Trigger, Action, Variable Reward, and Investment
🎯 The goal of a habit-forming product is to associate with an existing internal trigger
🔁 Habits are formed through successive cycles of the Hook model
📈 Many companies use consumer psychology to increase engagement and form habits
🧘 Eyal believes that users have a responsibility to manage their own behavior and use technology appropriately
Aarron Walter (00:00):
Nir Eyal, thank you for joining us on the design better podcast.
Nir Eyal (00:03):
Oh my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Aarron Walter (00:06):
So you've written some interesting books and we wanna dig into both of them, but hooked and intractable. They explore these topics at the intersection of psychology and technology. Why is that space in particular so interesting to you? What do you hope to bring attention to with these two books?
Nir Eyal (00:24):
Yeah, that's a great question. I think what I'd like to bring attention to is attention. Interestingly enough, I'm fascinated by how products change our behavior. Why is that fascinating to me? I guess I'd probably have to go back to my childhood. I used to be clinically obese and I remember as a kid, the whole struggle of feeling like certain products controlled me. I remember food feeling like was something that controlled me as opposed to me controlling it. And I think probably from that struggle, I, I form this fascination with how products can change our behavior. And I think we see very similar struggles with technology as we do with food. It's about planning. It's about impulse control, and it's also about figuring out ways as people in business to build the kind of products and services that can actually improve people's lives. I mean, we, we always think about the nefarious ways that companies change our behavior to get us to eat more and buy more and spend more. But there's also ways that we can use the same psychology for good. And so I'm fascinated by both sides of that equation. How can we build products to build good habits and how as consumers, we can use the same psychology to make sure that these products serve us as opposed to us serving them.
Aarron Walter (01:37):
Can we dig in a little bit more? This is fascinating that that's your origin story of you, you know, goes all the way back to your childhood. You alluded to, there were some products, even when you were a kid where you felt like it controlled you, what are some examples of that? Where like there were some patterns that might be touched upon and hooked. Maybe they were good patterns, maybe they were dark patterns. What were those products?
Nir Eyal (02:00):
You know, we can all find ways that companies predict the food space, make their products more attractive. And there's a fine line to walk here because while we can criticize these products, it's also the price of progress, right? The price of living in an age, where for the first time, in 200,000 years of human history, we have more people dying of diseases of excess than diseases of scarcity. It used to be that for 200,000 years, people struggled with famine and starvation. Well, this is the first time in human history where more people die because of diseases of excess, like diabetes and obesity than they do of starvation. And so there's a lot to celebrate, I think in terms of the progress we've made as a species. But of course, that also means that we have more responsibility to manage our own behavior because these products are not going to manage it for us.
So products are designed to be more delicious, more attractive things that we want to consume. And that's a good thing. We wouldn't want the opposite. Obviously we wouldn't want products that suck. Right? So in my case, I think I used to blame for a while when I finally lost the weight and figured out how to manage my own obesity and, and get that under control. I transitioned from blaming the products, right? Blaming McDonald's for making delicious French fries to figuring out, wait a minute, what do I actually have agency in control over? What can I do in my circumstances? And I think that that was kind out of a transformational shift of seeing, okay, here's what you're doing to me. Right? Here's how these products are made to be attractive. You know, simple things like happy meals, right? Right. Happy meals are designed to get kids to when mom and dad say, Hey, where do you wanna go for dinner? They want to create that mental availability of McDonald's because I want the happy meal toy, not the food is so great. The food at McDonald's is not that great. The toy creates that association. And so there's all kinds of these methods of creating mental and physical availability. Some of these practices, of course, don't benefit the consumer and probably should be regulated or controlled in some way. And then there's a lot of other stuff that we, as the consumers need to step up and take action over as well.
Eli Woolery (03:59):
Yeah. When I, when I first met you, I was working out of a venture capital firm and you came and gave a talk to the portfolio companies. I found it fascinating, and it was all about how to, you know, create products that people want to engage with more. And maybe you could talk a little bit about that in relation to your book hook. The framework that stood out to me the most was the trigger ability, motivation. Maybe you, could I talk about that for folks that aren't familiar with it?
Nir Eyal (04:23):
Sure. So hooked came outta my class at Stanford that I taught the graduate school of business. And later at the HASA planner Institute of design and the core model in the book is called the hook model. And it has this four steps that we can use to design a consumer experience to build a healthy habit. So I work with many companies in health tech, in FinTech, in ed tech, all kinds of products that rely upon repeat customer engagement, forming healthy habits. So the idea was when I wrote the book and designed the class was, you know, how do we take the secrets of the companies that are the most habit forming? When we think online it's companies like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and WhatsApp and slack. And so I wrote hooked not for their benefit. I wanted to steal our secrets to democratize how they work so that the rest of us can build products that improve people's lives.
Thankfully, that's exactly what's happened. I worked with a company and invested in a company called Cahoot that uses the hook model to get kids hooked to online learning. I love yeah, it's amazing how well they've done fit. Bo gets people hooked to exercise, all kinds of products and services, get people hooked to healthy habits. So that was really the basis of hooked. So the core hook model is about these four steps built into the user experience, starting with a trigger. We have two kinds of triggers. We have external triggers. These are the pings and dings and rings that we all experience as consumers every single day. But that's about only 10% of what prompts people to action. When it comes to their phones. Studies find that 90% of the behavior associated with our phones are prompted by internal triggers. What are internal triggers? Internal triggers are uncomfortable.
Emotional states that we seek to escape. So the ultimate goal of a habit forming product is to no longer require an external trigger, no longer require a pinging, a ring, but rather the user triggers themselves whenever they feel an uncomfortable sensation. When we are lonely, we seek connection with a social network. When we're uncertain, we Google when we're bored, lots of solutions to boredom, right? We can check stock prices, sports scores, the news, lots of things to take our mind off of those uncomfortable sensations. So ultimately this is the goal of every habit. Forming product is to build an association with an existing internal trigger. We don't create these internal triggers. They're already there. We just need to serve our customers needs by fine finding that internal trigger and attaching our products use to that uncomfortable emotion. The next step of the hook model is the action phase, which is described as the simplest behavior and anticipation of reward.
So it's the easiest thing the user can do to scratch that psychological itch, check an app, scroll a fee, look at a dashboard, whatever the case might be. That's where the habit is manifested. The third step is the variable reward phase, which is where the users itch is scratched a little bit. And there's some kind of uncertainty there. So it's not good enough just to give the user what they want. Habit forming products will have some element of variability, some kind of uncertainty, some kind of mystery, what we call an intermittent reinforcement, which gives people what they came for, but leaves a bit of mystery and uncertainty for what they might find line. The next time they engage with the product. And then the fourth and final step of the hook model is what we call the investment phase. And this is probably the most overlooked of the four steps of the hook.
People think when they're designing a product, let's just give people what they want. And that's enough. And what we find is that there's this critical fourth step that most products leave out, which is that if you don't get the user to best in your product, and I'm not talking about with money, I'm talking about putting something into the product that makes it better with use. So this can be data. This can be followers. This can be content. This can be skill acquisition, something that makes the product better and better. The more we use it so that it does two things. One, it loads the next trigger. And two, it stores value. This is what I call stored value. It gets better and better. The more it's used. So a habit form product should appreciate with use as opposed to a non-habit forming product tends to depreciate, right? If you think about your car, your clothing, your furniture, all these things, lose value with wear and tear. They depreciate habit, forming products. The more you use them, the more label they become. And that's a defining trait of these habit, forming products. So that through successive cycles, through trigger action reward investment, this is how our preferences are shaped, how our tastes are formed and how these habits take hold.
Aarron Walter (08:31):
Strangely enough, today in a store, I saw a dog casino. So using the variable rewards, psychology principle on a pet to keep them engaged. I'm curious, like since writing hooked, it's super applicable to lots of different product situations, marketing situations. What was the year that it came out
Nir Eyal (08:52):
Post came out in 20 14, 20 14,
Aarron Walter (08:56):
And today in 2021, when we're recording this, the world seems like it's a very, very different place. I'm curious if your perspective on this topic and products in general has shifted in any way.
Nir Eyal (09:09):
Well, it's interesting. So when I first started teaching about habit, forming product design, I had to convince people that this is something that the world's stickiest products used right back then people kind of thought, oh, those kids in Silicon valley, you know, they just got lucky. Well, I don't have to convince anyone of that anymore. You know, people understand that today, these products understand what makes you click and what makes you tick better than you understand yourself. And so that's not a war I have to fight anymore. And now I think actually, interestingly enough, I think the pendulum has swung too far, the other direction. It used to be. I have to convince people that companies were using consumer psychology to change their behavior online. Now, I think some folks have found profit and fame through moral panic. You know, you see films like the social dilemma and a lot of what's going on in the tech backlash.
Now I have to convince people, Hey, Hey, okay, listen, we gotta put this in perspective. These products are good and their techniques are effective, but they're not that effective. This isn't mind control this isn't brain hijacking. This isn't addicting everyone. That's ridiculous. And so now I have to kind of tell people, look, yes, these products are designed to get you hooked. I know all their tricks. I wrote the book hooked. I know all these tactics, and I will tell you that they are effective, but it's not something that we can't do something about. And so that's why I wrote intractable was to kind of put this stuff in perspective and say, look, we can actually have our cake and eat it too. We can have products that help us build good habits in our lives if we use them appropriately. But we can also take steps as users. We all have to take steps as users to make sure that we don't become distracted
Eli Woolery (10:44):
In "Indistractable" you give this example of a woman who is, I would say more than highly engaged with her walking app and her counter here steps. And so here's an example of a healthy product, but it's just taken to an extreme where it's interfering with her emotional health and other things. Do you think that companies are starting to realize that products with this addictive potential are there's a risk to their long term viability if they don't address those types of things?
Nir Eyal (11:09):
Yeah, absolutely. So it's very rare that a product can actually addict anyone. But the fact of the matter is because we have the ability to reach site of scale with these products because you know, millions of people can use our products and services with some products, billions of people actually use, you are going to have a proportion of the population that does become addicted to any product that is good, right? That is engaging. If it reaches enough people, you're gonna find people who form addictions. Now, addictions, you know, this is a term that think is oftentimes misappropriated. It's not the same thing as a habit. Hooked is not about how to build addictive products. It's about how to build habit, forming products. That's right there in the title, because a habit is simply an impulse to do something with little or no conscious thought. It's about half of what you do every single day and is done out of habit.
And we have many good habits, right? Driving your car is something we can do with little or no conscious thought. We can do it while we're having a conversation or listening to a podcast. Lots of the things we do about half of what we do every day is done out of habits. That's very different from an addiction. An addiction is a persistent compulsive dependency on a behavior substance that harms the user. So we would never want to design for addiction. That's sadistic and unethical. However, any product that is good, that is engaging and is used by a sufficiently large number of people will attract some addicts. I mean, if you talk to clinicians, you'll hear stories of people getting addicted to the most mundane things, right? People get addicted to Q-tip. People get addicted. I'm not making this up to drinking water. I think you will find people who get addicted to all kinds of things.
Now, this is a very small percentage of the population, but the ethical rule here should be that if someone becomes addicted to your product, that's an unfortunate byproduct of creating a good product, right? The same things that make something engaging can addict people as well. Your ethical responsibility, however, is to do something about it. If you can. So the ethical imperative that I've been talking about now for over six years, that I've been proposing, this solution is what we call a use and abuse policy that most companies that build addictive products think about alcohol. For example, if you're an alcohol manufacturer, you, how do you know who the alcoholics are? You don't yout don't have any kind of personal connection with someone who's drinking too much. So you can't really do much for them. However, with online products, we do know we have personally identifiable information that tells us how much you're using our app, our website.
So the rule should be to create what's called a use or abuse policy. Now this applies to very few companies, right? I'll tell you that as a preamble, you know, nobody out there is getting addicted to SaaS products, right? Nobody's getting addicted to educational products. Very, very few people will have that kind of problem. The vast majority of people listening to the podcast right now, their problem is not that people are overusing their products. Their problem is not enough. People are using their product or they're not using it enough. But if your product is the kind of product that may unfortunately addict a small percentage of the population, you do have an ethical responsibility to help them. If you know that's happening the way this use and abuse policy works, that I've met with all the tech companies, Reddit and Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat.
I met with all of them and proposed this, which is give me some kind of number, right? How many hours per week would you propose that if you use this product more than X number of hours a week, that sets off some kind of circuit breaker, and we're going to reach out to you with a very respectful message that says, we see you've been using our product in a way that may indicate you're struggling with an addiction. Can we help? Okay. Very, very respectful message. And if someone says, yes, I need help. We point them to resources. We help them or use, we put them on a black list that restricts access something to help them manage this problem. But that's something that I think the bigger tech companies can do right away if they don't do. I think that's something that could be called for regulation, but that's why I think, you know, people who are addicted should be a protected class, just like children, right?
There's lots of things that children can't do in society. My 13 year old can't walk into a bar and order a gin and tonics. She can't go into a casino and start playing blackjack. She's not ready for that because she's a protected class. So we have special rules and laws for children. I think it's time we do that for people who are pathologically addicted now for the rest of us. So if you're not a child and if you're not pathologically addicted, nobody's coming to help you. Okay. This is something we have to do something about ourselves.
Aarron Walter (15:19):
Yeah. The child situation in that ethical theory is a thing that really comes to mind for me where the idea of building habit, forming products that, you know, that's okay in and ethical situation where there are adults who have a certain amount of self-awareness and can govern that behavior themselves. But we see just like terribly destructive results upon teenagers and teenagers or, or young women in particular with Instagram. And it's not only about the amount of use, but it's also the type of use of how Instagram is shaping social behavior and damaging people. And we see these spikes in self harm and suicide that happens there. How does hooked fit into the circumstance? I mean, there are a lot of unintended consequences with products that we're making have made and have popularized and in different contexts, things start to fall apart.
Nir Eyal (16:19):
First of all, I'm in the midst of this as well. Right? The reason I wrote intractable was because I was struggling with distraction myself. I have a 13 year old daughter who uses these tools and I am very familiar with the struggle that a parent can face trying to figure out how to, you know, help your child become tech literate, but also making sure that they don't overuse or abuse these products. So I think there's a lot that we can do to help our kids because frankly, if you hold your breath and wait for these companies to fix the problem you're gonna suffocate. Yeah. Right. I mean, it's, there's always gonna be something, okay, let's start with that. As parents, there will always be something. And my generation is, oh, you're watching too much TV. And the rap music is gonna melt your brain and heavy metal is bad for you and comic books.
I mean, literally every one of the things I just mentioned had congressional hearings and people up in arms and a moral panic about how this is causing, you know, all kinds of damage. Even with the Instagram debate. It's incredible how in the media, it's twisted in turn ways that are just not accurate. We find that studies of children's use of technology finds number one, three hours or less of extracurricular screen time, not even one study has shown deleterious effects. Okay. So let's start with that. Number two, we also see that the issue is way more complex. There's no connection between Instagram and suicide that does not exist. There is no such study, never has been. What we do find is that for some kids, depending on how much they use and what they are doing, we see some deleterious effects with way overuse. Okay. And for some small fraction of population.
So we know it's only girls and it's, it's only girls in United States and Canada, where we see this increase in depressive symptoms. Then in fact, there was other meta studies. There was just one meta study just goes to show you how the press often twists this in ways that don't give people a full portrait of what's going on. There was a meta study, meaning a study of studies of over 37 studies that concluded that there is no association with deteriorating mental health and social media use. Other studies have found that even when there is an effect it's incredibly small, one study found this was another meta study that found that the effect size. So how much of an impact social media use has on kids in terms of their mental health affected their mental health, the same amount as eating potatoes. So just because a certain behavior has an effect, doesn't mean that in the real world, that affects size makes any practical difference.
So I'm not advocating for more social media use. Absolutely not. I, you know, as a parent, I have very consciously worked with my daughter to make sure that she's using these things appropriately. What we need to do is to keep our heads on straight and realize that there's a right way and a wrong way to use these technologies, especially when it comes to our kids. So I think it's, it's very much about helping our kids become intractable, that this is going to be the skill of the century. We have to teach our kids how to put this stuff in its place to make sure that they don't abuse it. They don't overuse it. They don't use it incorrectly. If you talk to a parent and you ask them, you know, how did you teach your kid to swim? Well, you know, it took us a long time.
We had to make sure that they were safe. We took lessons, but when it comes to technology use, oh my iPad can become an I nanny. Here you go. Watch this because I don't wanna hear you whining at the dinner table. And we stuff this technology in kids' face without actually thinking, how can we use stuff appropriately? So absolutely the companies do have a responsibility to keep kids safe, but ultimately it's gonna be up to it parents because look, here's the thing. Just because something is not your fault. Doesn't mean it's not your responsibility, right? It's not your fault that Instagram exists. It's not your fault that Facebook exists. You didn't create these things right. But it is our responsibility. And as parents it's, we have to do everything we can and not leave it up to the genius politicians to fix the problem. Certainly not to the companies to fix this problem. We have to figure out how to do something about it ourselves, cuz these companies and the politicians are not gonna save us
Eli Woolery (20:03):
On that topic of kids, Aaron, Aaron, and I both have kids too, but younger than your daughter. And so I'm sure we're both gonna wrestling with these things too. And I thought you had some really great tactical tips, but also sort of a higher level overview of like what makes things attractive to kids. What are good ways to set boundaries? And you have this idea of autonomy, competence and relatedness, which actually felt a lot like Dan Pink's mastery, autonomy and purpose felt like there was a lot of overlap.
Nir Eyal (20:28):
Well, yeah, so we, we both went to the same source. So Dan Pink's book and this was from the same to genius scholars. Desie and Ryan who came up with what's called self-determination theory.
Eli Woolery (20:38):
Okay, awesome. Awesome. I didn't, I didn't know about that, but I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that and why those three things are important when you're trying to set these boundaries up for your kids.
Nir Eyal (20:46):
Sure, absolutely. So the first thing we have to understand is that when it comes to becoming intractable, the best thing we can do as parents to help our kids become intractable is to be intractable ourselves. That children come inborn with what we call hypocrisy detection devices. Did you know that that your child is born with these little invisible that are, I'm very familiar with around, you're familiar with this, right? And I can't tell you how many parents come to me and say, huh, Instagram is so terrible. And my kid won't get off fortnight and they won't stop playing video games all the time. What do I do? And meanwhile, as they're telling me this, they're checking their email, okay? We can't do that. We have to learn how to become indestructible ourselves to set that example and to tell our kids, look we struggle with at this too, right?
This technology is awesome. We wanna use it all the time, but we have to use it appropriately. So becoming intractable yourself as a parent is the very first step. Now, when we dive deeper into what's really going on with our kids, we have to stop this surface level analysis of just blaming whatever's in the kids' hands, which by the way, every generation does right. We heard this as kids that, oh, it's TV melting our brains. It's the radio it's rock and roll. It's heavy. Like parents always do this crap. The reason we do this as parents is because it's so much easier to blame, whatever new technology the kid is using. As opposed to thinking, wait a minute, we have an influence on our kids' behavior. And that look, our kids are autonomous human beings, right? They make choices different that we might make. And that's okay.
So we have to start by acknowledging that we play a role here as well. We can't just slough off responsibility and say, oh, it's this technology. That's doing it to them. So let's go deeper. Why do kids overuse? Why are they interacting with these technologies more than we think is good for them? What's going on? Well, it starts by understanding their triggers. Okay. Where is this discomfort that they're looking to escape coming from? And here I propose that they are deficient in three psychological nutrients. So I'm working from the work of Des and Ryan that I mentioned earlier self-determination theory, which says that every human being on the face of the earth needs three things to thrive. I label them as psychological nutrients because I like parallel to physiological nutrients. We have the macronutrients of protein, carbohydrates and fat, right? Everybody knows the three macronutrients.
Well, we have something similar for our psychological wellbeing, which is competency, autonomy and relatedness. Okay. These are these three psychological nutrients that we all need to flourish. And when we don't get those psychological nutrients, it's offline in the real world, we look for them online. This is called the needs displacement hypothesis. So when we see children who are overusing any form of media, right? Whether it's too much television, too many books, right? For a while, my daughter was reading too much Harry Potter. It was just too much in a day, right. Also bad. Or whether it's too much online interaction, we have to ask ourselves why, what are they escaping into? What are they looking for? And here's what they're looking for. Number one competency. So when we look at some of these negative things that have happened to psychological wellbeing, all around the same time, 2008, some tick critics say, oh, you see that's the year the iPhone came out.
Well, what also happened around this time is the no child left behind act, which in the United States started dictating and mandating for teachers to start teaching towards the test. And so what happens is that for many kids across the country, they are constantly tested throughout the year with these standardized tests. And they're measured based on these standardized tests. So what does that do for our sense of competency, which is one of these three core psychological nutrients. If throughout the year, you're told you are not competent. Okay. If you're constantly told that in the real world, you look for a way to feel competent in the online world. Well, you know, Minecraft and league of legends or Fortnite, these games, these online interactions make you feel competent. You feel like you're in control of your universe. You feel like a God. And that feels great. Okay.
That's the first psychological nutrient then autonomy. We know that this is the most regulated generation in history. Okay? These days, our kids a study by Peter Gray found that children today have 10 times as many rules placed upon them as an average adult, twice, as many as an incarcerated felon, that there's only two places in society where we can tell kids where to go, what to eat, how to dress, who to be friends with, what to think and that school and prison. And is it any surprise? When we put people in cages that they behave like animals. And when we don't give people autonomy, when we don't give our kids the freedom to make their own choices, they are desperate. They are starving to have autonomy somewhere. Well, where do they go? They go online because online they feel free. Okay. Part of the problem is that children today have less, what we call free play than ever before.
Kids are constantly told where to go and what to do. It used to be in previous generations. When we got home from school, we just played. We just went outside and we weren't constantly watched and pestered by our parents. Well, today you can't do that. A kid can't go out and just play because the me media has scared the crap outta parents and thinking that, oh, stranger danger that our kids could constantly get abducted. Even though it's never been safer to be a kid in America, in American history, it's never been safer, but we are so paranoid as parents that we constantly either track our kids and make sure that they're always doing the right thing at the right time. Or we're putting 'em into programs where it's between the two he prep and the Chinese lessons and the swimming lessons and the soccer practice.
Kids have no time to beat kids and just play, which leads us to the third psychological nutrient throw acting, which is relatedness. So we know that interacting with peers without the watchful eye of parents and teachers and coaches, having that time for free play is absolutely goal for psychological wellbeing. But kids have less of that time than ever before. The neighborhoods of America used to sing with a song of kids playing outside. Well, you don't hear that anymore. Right? And so when you don't have that time for free play, when you don't have that socialization, you don't have that time to just be with your friends. You know, this is where we learn our place in the world. So it's one thing. If a parent or teacher tells you what to do, it's a whole nother thing. When one of your peers says, Hey, if you act like that, I don't wanna play with you anymore.
And so kids aren't getting that in the real world. So what do they do? They look for it again in the online world. So when kids are on social media, when they're on Fortnite, what they're doing is interacting with their friends because they're not getting it enough in the real world. So when kids are deficient in competency, autonomy and relatedness, they're looking to fulfill those needs with online play. So if we don't replace those psychological nutrients and what's amazing is that many times it really is a, our fault as parents, that we're not giving kids the opportunity to replenish these psychological nutrients. Right. We're okay with them sitting indoors and keeping them safe and thinking that well, that's okay. You know, the kids actually also would prefer to go play with their friends, given the opportunity. So what we have to do as parents is to make sure that there's ample time for those offline opportunities as well. And then have, you know, some amount of time online is perfectly normal. Again, less than three hours a day of extra screen time has shown no deleterious effects. But when we look at the excessive use, right, 3, 4, 5 hours a day, this is the underlying cause it's not the technology itself. It's why they're overusing and abusing the technology
Aarron Walter (28:03):
To bring this back to organizations and teams and, and the professional worlds distractability clearly is valuable to building your career, to kind of building your own capacities. And it's also useful for teams. Could you talk to us a little bit about like the business value of cultivating that intractable mind?
Nir Eyal (28:24):
Sure. So half of intracted was about what you can do yourself as an individual, but of course we operate in various contexts. The workplace, our external environment can greatly shape our behavior. So there's a whole section in the second half of the book on how to build an intractable workplace. And so what we find is that an intractable workplace has these three characteristics of number one. It's a place. People can have psychological safety, meaning they can talk about this problem. Here's what I discovered in my research that the real problem of distraction at work, people tend to blame the technology. But of course, again, that's just the proximal, cause it's not the root cause. The root cause of the problem is that we can't talk about the problem. So if you can't raise your hand at work and say, you know what, I'm constantly pinged and dinged.
I can't get anything done because I'm constantly getting these messages and meeting requests and slack notifications. I can't think if you can't raise your hand and talk about this problem, that is the problem. Okay. It's the fact that you can't talk about this problem without fear of getting fired. So an distract a workplace, number one is one that gives people psychological safety to talk about the problem. The second characteristic is that they have a forum to talk about the problem. So I profile several companies that are intractable. Some of them have a weekly meeting. Some of them have an online forum. People can talk about their concerns with the enterprise. And then third and most important is that intractable companies are run by leadership. That appreciates how important it is to be intractable themselves. I can't tell you how many times I work with companies and the most distracted person in the organization is the big boss or right.
The person in the back of the room, in the meeting who's fidling away on their phone is, is not the, the millennial. It's the big boss who wants to show everybody how important they are. I have to email everybody constantly because I'm so important. And they don't realize that culture flows downhill, that we see that, that people will act in accordance with how the, the, the boss acts themselves. So I profile a few companies. Ironically, one of them is slack, which is one of these technologies that people think is so distracting. So I went to visit slack headquarters and I found that they don't struggle with this problem of distraction. That in fact, on nights and weekends, if you use slack and you are slack employee, you are reprimanded. You are told, no, that is not what here we do not use slack on nights and weekends.
It's part of the company culture. In fact, if you walk into company headquarters, you will see in the canteen, right where people gather for lunch and, and meals, you'll find that there's a big neon sign that says you can't miss it. It says work hard and go home because it is part of the company, ethos to respect people's attention and their time that we can't do our best work if we can't do so without distraction. So those are the three attributes of an intractable workplace, psychological safety, a form to talk about these problems. And most importantly leadership that exemplifies how to become intractable.
Eli Woolery (31:19):
So we've got kind of two quick fire questions. The first part is where can people learn more about you and your work? And the second part is what's either inspiring you right now or making you more intractable.
Nir Eyal (31:29):
So to find more about my work you can go to my website near and far.com. So that's spelled like my first name, N I R near and far.com. And if you go to intractable.com, there's actually a workbook that's complementary. We couldn't fit into the final edition of the book. It got too long. So we decided to make it available for free online. That's at intractable.com. That's spelled I N the word distract a B L e.com intractable. And what's inspiring me right now. You know, I, I think that there's so much momentum to figure out how to solve this problem of distraction. I was telling my wife the other day, thank goodness I wrote this book for COVID because I don't know if I would've made it through the world has become so much more distracting since COVID, you know, the, the number of internal triggers.
We feel the fear, the uncertainty, the stress, the anxiety makes us more likely to seek out distraction. Plus many of us are working from home. So now we have these different types of distractions. It's not your coworker tapping you on the shoulder, distracting you, it's your kids, it's your pets. It's all these other potential distractions. So, number one, I wrote the book for me. I needed to solve this problem for myself, but it's also fantastic to see how it's improved. People's work life as well as personal life when they can become intractable. So that's always super inspiring. I, I get an email or some kind of message every single day from someone who says, oh, I was struggling. I wasn't finishing my work. I wasn't able to work on my book. I wasn't able to spend quality time with my kids. I wasn't able to work on, you know, my physical health. And now I can, because I do what I say I'm going to do. I become intractable.
Aarron Walter (32:58):
Fantastic Neer. Thanks so much for joining us on the show. This was a great conversation.
Nir Eyal (33:02):
Oh my pleasure. Thank you so much.