Episode 24: Intentionality in the digital age: how to navigate distraction with Nir Eyal
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Nir Eyal (00:00):
So as I started exploring what I thought was a digital distraction problem, I realized that distraction is much bigger than just our devices. That distraction is this fascinating psychological phenomenon. If you think about it, why is it that despite us knowing what to do, we don't do it? Yeah. Right? Why would that happen? Right? That, that's the weirdest thing. I think we're the only species that does that, right? If a, if a lion wants to eat, the lion catches its prey, right? <laugh> doesn't think, oh, I got distracted by, uh, you know, I wanna watch the sunset now or something. The lion has an objective, and it goes, get it goes to get it.
Joey Odom (00:37):
Welcome back to The Aro Podcast. Hey, it's Joey Odom, co-founder of Aro. And listen, I don't use the term doozy lightly, but I got a doozy for you here Nir Eyal just joined us. We just had a 45 minute conversation, and I'm a little bit suffering from a blown mind right now. He brings the truth. It's so practical, it's so insightful. You really are gonna love it. He's written the book, the, uh, the books hooked and indestructible, and he just is a brilliant guy. And you're going to walk away with tools. That's what we wanna do here, is give you inspiration and tools to live out an intentional life. He's gonna give you both of those. Gonna give you tools. You're going to wanna go buy hooked, and then distractible immediately after. For now, just sit back, relax, and savor this doozy with Nir Eyal.
Hey, gang, you know what's really fun? Experience design, behavioral economics, and neuroscience. Now, if you don't believe me, then you're one of the very few who doesn't know our guest work. Our guest has used these tools and has vast experience to get the world hooked on becoming indestructible. Listen, he is six months older than I am, so I'm gonna give him all the respect. Do my elders. So whether you are far or you are near, I, all of you are welcome to gather around and listen in on this conversation with nir. I all nir. What's up, brother?
Nir Eyal (02:08):
Nicely done. That was you. Like, that was great. Yeah. Very nicely done. All the puns, you know, the highest form of humor right there.
Joey Odom (02:15):
I get it. I, I don't, I think a lot of people, namely my kids, would argue that, that it's the highest form of
Nir Eyal (02:21):
Humor. <laugh>, it all makes sense now that you, now I realize you're a dad like me. Yeah. All the dad quote make sense, <laugh>,
Joey Odom (02:27):
Like I said, I'm not, I'm, you know, I'm, I am, you know, six months younger though. So the, the, the youth here is, uh, I'm a young dad. <laugh>
Nir Eyal (02:35):
Joey Odom (02:36):
Well, man, thank you for jumping on. We're I, I'm, I've been very, very excited about this. You are. I mean, you're the thought leader. You are the, when we started ro it's just like we were reading your stuff and just couldn't get enough, um, and continue to read your work on your weekly newsletter. And it's, um, when it comes to behavioral design, habits and distraction, I mean, you're the guy. So I, I would love, how did you become the guy on those <laugh>? Like, how did, of all the stuff you could do, how did, how was that, the, those things, at least, you know, the habits, the, the maybe just behavioral design itself. How did you become the guy on that? What was your, your journey up to that?
Nir Eyal (03:13):
Well, I appreciate it and the, and the admiration is mutual. I mean, I love the fact that, uh, you are a perfect example of someone who is living out what I believe is the skill of century, right? Becoming indestructible. You and the team at Arrow, you are not sitting idle, right? And that's really my message with indestructible that, uh, the wrong thing to do is to do what I think a lot. You know, I hate to criticize others in the field, but a lot of tech critics are telling us that our attention is, uh, being hijacked. That our focus is being stolen. It's not stolen. It's not hijacked. We're giving it away, right? Hijacking is what they did to us on nine 11, right? It's not who I like to play, uh, a Pokemon or look at Instagram pictures, gimme a break. It's disrespectful to even use that term or our, you know, there's this new book Stolen Focus.
Our, our attention isn't, our focus isn't stolen. We're we're, we're giving it away to these companies. And so what I love about what you're doing is that you are giving people the tools to take back control. And so the, the, that will only work. However, when there are more people out there that believe that they are more powerful than these distractions, and I think unfortunately, we live in a society that loves to blame others. We just love to blame others <laugh>. Wow. And so everything is because of somebody else. Uh, and I think that is just disastrous. Even, you know, there's some amazing studies that show that even when it really is somebody's fault, right? Even when you are the victim, having a victim mentality, having what's called an external locus of control versus an internal locus of control doesn't serve you. It always benefits us to believe we have agency and control.
And so we're, we're very much cut from the same cloth. And I applaud you for pushing this movement forward, to tell people that they are more powerful than they believe. But to answer your question, sorry for that. Uh, I love that. I wanna compliment you on your efforts. Um, yeah. So I got started, um, with, with what I do, uh, always from necessity. So I write books that I need <laugh>. And so my process for writing books is I look at the problems that I have, and I got lots of problems in my life. So I've got lots of things to write about. And a few years ago, uh, I found that I was, uh, even though my business was doing better and better, I was doing more speaking engagements and consulting work and, uh, writing and I, there was more demands on my time.
I was having a tougher time focusing. And, uh, this all came to a head when I was with my daughter one afternoon. And we had this, this, you know, lovely time together, right? Just daddy daughter quality time. And I remember we had this activity book of different things that dads and daughters could do together and, you know, different things like, uh, do a Sudoku puzzle, have a paper airplane throwing contest. And I remember that one of the activities in this book was to answer this question. The question was, if you could have any superpower, what superpower would you want? And I remember that question verbatim, but I can't tell you what my daughter said, because in that moment, for whatever reason, I thought that there was just one thing I just needed to get to real quick on my phone. And by the time I looked up for my device, she was gone.
And she had taken this very clear message that I was sending, that whatever was on my phone was more important than she was. And that's when I realized that I had to reassess my own relationship with distraction. And if I'm honest with you, it wasn't just with my daughter <laugh>, it would happen at work when I would say, oh, I just need to work on this, this one thing, or, uh, let me just get to that, uh, that, that important project. And yet, 20, 30, 45 minutes later, I was checking email. I was scrolling Slack channels. I was doing everything but the project I said I was gonna do. Mm-hmm. It would happen when I would say, you know, about my physical health, oh, I'm gonna go to the gym. I'm gonna start eating. Right? But I didn't, and I wouldn't. So as I started exploring what I thought was a digital distraction problem, I realized that distraction is much bigger than just our devices.
That distraction is this fascinating psychological phenomenon, if you think about it. Why is it that despite us knowing what to do, we don't do it. Yeah. Right? Why would that happen? Right? That, that's the weirdest thing. I think we're the only species that does that, right? If, uh, if a lion wants to eat, the lion catches its prey, right? <laugh> doesn't think, oh, I got distracted by, uh, you know, I wanna watch the sunset now. Or something. The lion has an objective and it goes, get, goes to get it. But somehow, even when we know what we want, we go off track, we get diverted. And I think that in this day and age, the problem is no longer not knowing what to do. Right? It used to be maybe our parents, our grandparents could have had the excuse to say, you know what? I don't know how to do something.
But today, we all know. We all know, right? We all know that to, for the vast majority of people, maybe some exceptions, but for the vast majority of people to get in physical shape, you have to eat right and exercise. Yeah. Right? There's nothing new under the sun. If you want to excel at your job, you have to do the hard work and other people don't wanna do. If you wanna have great relationships with the people in your life, you have to be fully present with them. We know this stuff, right, <laugh>. And if you don't know Google it, all the information is out there. So the problem that we have today is not that we don't know what to do for the first time in history, everything is at your fingertips in terms of the information itself. The problem is, we don't know how to stop getting in our own way.
We don't know how to stop getting distracted. And so, when I saw that this was a problem in my own life, my first step was to read everybody's book on the topic, right? And what I read a lot of, and I was happy to find the answer, and I tried all their techniques, but basically what this, the summary of many of these books is the technology is the problem. You know, stop using the technology. And that wasn't very practical for me, right? That, and even when I, when I did that, I actually threw away my iPhone. I sold it, actually, I sold my iPhone. I got a flip phone from Alibaba, like this kind that has no apps, no internet connection, just sends s m ss, texts, things like that. And, uh, I got myself a word processor off of eBay that they don't even make anymore with no apps, no internet connection.
And even when I said, okay, great, I did, you know, took these books, advice, you know, stupid internet, that's what's causing all my distraction. It's all these apps. Even when I did that, I would sit down at my desk and say, okay, now I'm gonna focus. Now I'm not gonna get distracted, but there's that book on the shelf that I've been meaning to read. Yeah. Or lemme just clean up my desk real quick. Or, you know, what the trash needs taking out. And I still kept getting distracted. So I wanted to explore the deeper reasons why we get distracted in various areas of my life. And so that was the genesis of the book, that the advice of, well, just, you know, get rid of your technology wasn't effective. We have to figure out how to manage these technologies and use them in a way that serves us as opposed to us serving them. So that was the genesis of the book.
Joey Odom (09:26):
It's, it's such a, it's such a nuanced, what I like about the way you approach it is it's, is it the easy, the easy book to write is how to turn off all your notifications. And the easy book to write is, you know, even in what we're doing, like the nuance to ours is that we don't care. We don't really care how much you put away your phone. What we're looking for is in the moments like that, where, where you and your daughter are doing activity book, let's remove the greatest potential distraction in that moment, which is your phone. But put away your phone isn't the, isn't the objective. It's the life that happens on the other side. And if you do have to, it's almost like our parents, you know, in 1985, when my parent, when I was five years old, my parents didn't have the option for a cell phone.
But parenting was still very hard. There was still a lot of stuff you had to do. And distraction was still very, very prevalent. Now, we've introduced this thing that does introduce a lot more potential for distraction. So putting it down is not the real issue. And I don't even know, I'm curious if you would agree with this. It's, when I think about our phone, it's almost like if someone, if you were carrying a boulder and someone said, Hey, I need you to go run a marathon, you would drop the boulder, but the marathon would still be very difficult in, you know what I mean? It's in the same way in, in trying to focus on our family time, we're carrying around a boulder in our pocket. And when we put it down, that doesn't mean everything's easy then. So what I like about your, what you're talking about is the nuanced approach to it. And the gray area, again, the easier book is just put your phone down and manage your notifications. But for you, it's, let's get to the core reasons why we are distracted. So is this, are we more distracted now than ever before you tradit, like you said, distraction's always been there. Are we more distracted now than before? Is it in, in your findings, or did you find like, no, this is kind of like, there's a, there's a thing every generation.
Nir Eyal (11:07):
Yeah, there. That's exactly right. There is a thing every generation <laugh>. Yeah. I mean, you, you were mentioning, you know, what was it like to grow up, uh, when we were kids? And we tend to romanticize this, right? E every generation romanticizes the past and thinks, oh, you know, raising kids with so much easier in previous generations, no, there was just different challenges. Oh, the world used to not be as distracting. No, I remember when I was a kid, and Heehaw do, we're about the same age. Do you remember Heehaw course? Oh my God. Yeah. When that show came on this stupid show, by the way, we think, you know,
Joey Odom (11:36):
Nir Eyal (11:36):
We, we we're, we think that, uh, cat videos are stupid. Go watch an episode of Heehaw on YouTube. Bad. We wanna talk about stupid, racist, sexist television. It was terrible. <laugh> awful. It, like, it makes, it makes cat videos look like, uh, like physics. I mean, it's so dumb. But let me tell you, when Heehaw came on, it didn't matter what you were doing, you know, everything stopped. Everybody had to go watch the tv. And if, and if maybe you're a little younger, you don't remember, uh, Heehaw, think about back to the days when Seinfeld was on Thursdays seven o'clock Seinfeld's friends, everything has to stop. It's also distracting, right? Distraction wasn't all of a sudden invented because of our cell phones. I mean, we, we know that Plato talked about this problem of aia, the tendency to do things against our better interest. Plato, the Greek philosopher 2,500 years ago, was decrying how terrible this problem of distraction was.
And in fact, uh, uh, his, uh, mentor Socrates talked about the problem of this terrible new technology that he said would, in feeble men's minds, this technology was of course the technology of the written word. Wow. Right? Because in his day and age, this was a terrible new technology writing things down. Had it not been for Plato, we would have not known, ironically, the words of Socrates. Plato wrote down the words of Socrates <laugh> using this crazy new technology. So every new generation has this struggle. Now, that doesn't mean it's easy. I don't wanna dismiss it as something that just because it's always been here, it's not a problem. It is a problem. The thing that I think we don't realize is that the price of progress is learning these new methods, right? So every time there's a new technology, what has human being? Who, what has mankind always done, mankind with every new successive technology has adapted and adopted, adapted and adopted.
What does that mean? We adapt our behaviors to this new technology? Because as Paul Valio, the philosopher said, when you invent the ship, you invent the ship wreck. Okay? So I'm not a tech apologist. There are bad aspects to every new technologist. Like when you invent the ship, you invent the shipwreck, right? But what do we do? Do we stop sailing ships? No, we made ships safer, right? So what did we do? We adapted our behaviors with every new technology. We adapt our behaviors, and we adopt new technologies to fix the bad aspects of the last generation of that technology. And that's exactly what you see. You and your company are exactly the manifestation of this, right? Where you have invented a new technology to fix the bad aspects of a new technology. Because what technology does, technology does not solve our problems. Technology does not solve our problems.
Technology gives us better problems. Oh, that's interesting. Technology gives us better problems. So the problem we had before the smartphone was that it was really a pain in the butt to connect to people, right? Getting, I remember when I was a kid, if we wanted to look up something, we had to go to the Encyclopedia Britannica. If you were rich and had it in your house. And if you didn't, you had to go to the library. That was a real pain. Right? And hope that it, and hope that it was an updated edition, right? Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Well, now it's all here in our fingertips. And the price of that progress, the price of having the world's information accessible to anyone at any time, the price of of, of having a boredom alleviated whenever you it right? The price of, of being, uh, having courseware, you can learn almost anything that, that the humans know.
You can learn online, most of it for free. The price of all that progress is that you have a few more problems to deal with. You have to learn these new techniques, and you have to adopt new technology like, like arrow to, to fix these other problems that are created. So again, technology doesn't just fix all our problems. It gives us new problems, better problems that we'd rather deal with, right? I'd much rather deal with tamping down a distraction. That's a much easier problem to deal with. And I feel almost guilty complaining about it than the problem we used to have, which was information was only reserved for the very elites in society.
Joey Odom (15:30):
So what would, I don't, I want to, I don't know exactly how to answer, ask this question. If, if distraction is always going to exist, if it's always going to be there, and you just answered it in part, the, the, maybe the surface question is, why don't we just acquiesce? Like, why don't, why don't we just like, it's gonna be there? Is it really worth the fight? Maybe one, is it, why is it worth the fight? And, and then the second, maybe the, the deeper question I'm trying to ask is, so to what end are we fighting distraction? Does that mean, like, what's, what's the, what's the on
Nir Eyal (16:01):
The, that's a good question.
Joey Odom (16:02):
The, I hope that makes sense. I'd love
Nir Eyal (16:04):
It. It's a terrific question. It's a terrific question. And so I think the, the, what we have to ask ourselves is how we want to spend our time. So let, let me back up and kind of explain the indestructible model, starting with really like, you know, first principles. What does this word distraction even mean? Where does it come from? Right? So if you, if you wanna know what something is, a good test is ask yourself what it is not. So what is the opposite? The antonym of distraction. Most people will tell you the opposite of distraction is focus, but that's not exactly right. Hmm. The opposite of distraction is not focus. If you look at the entomology of the word, the opposite of distraction is actually traction. And it makes total sense when you think about it. Traction, dis traction, okay? Both words come from the same Latin root T, which means to pull.
And they both end in the same six letters, a, c t i o n, that bells action reminding us that distraction is not something that happens to us, it is an action that we ourselves take. Mm-hmm. So traction by definition is any action that pulls you towards what you said you were going to do, things that move you closer to your values and help you become the kind of person you wanna become. Those are acts of traction. The opposite of traction, dis traction is any action that pulls you away from what you plan to do away from your values, away from the person you want to become. So this is really, really important. And you see, I mentioned the world values many, many times here, because that should be our compass. Our compass should always be our values. What are values? Values are attributes of the person you want to become.
I'll say it again. Values are attributes of the person you want to become. So it's not up to me or anyone else to moralize and medicalize and tell you how you should spend your time. Okay? There's nothing wrong with going on social. There's nothing wrong with watching Netflix. There's nothing wrong with playing video games if that's how you want to spend your time. Okay? If you spend your time according to your schedule and your values, doing those things, do them. I want you to do them, right? Yes. But I want you to do them on your schedule, and according to your values, not someone else's. So, traction is any action that you decide in advance is what you are going to do with your time and attention. And that could be video games, that could be watching Netflix, it could be meditation, it could be prayer, it could be work, it could be being with your kids. Whatever you decide in advance, in advance is in accordance with your values. Distraction is anything that is not that anything that is not what you plan to do in advance. So, uh, there's no, I'll give you a great example. You know, so for years I would sit down at my desk and I would say, okay, I've got that big project I need to work on right now. Uh, I'm not gonna get distracted. I'm gonna work on that big project. Here I go, I'm gonna get started, but let me check email real quick.
Joey Odom (18:44):
Nir Eyal (18:45):
Right. Let me just clear out some of those messages. Let me just, uh, do some of those easy tasks on my to-do list, just to get some momentum going. And what I didn't realize was that that is the most dangerous form of distraction. The most pernicious form of distraction is the kind that tricks you into prioritizing the urgent and the easy work at the expense of the hard and important work we have to do to move our lives and careers forward. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So just because it's a work related task doesn't mean it's not a distraction that's the most terrible kind of distraction, because you don't even realize you're going off track. So anything that we say we're going to do in advance, it's traction. Everything else is distraction con guided by your values. And of course, I'm summarizing five years of research <laugh>. Yeah, exactly.
And a 300 page book. But I tell you exactly, you know, how do you distinguish your values? What should your values be? How do you ask yourself, what are my values? And so I walk you systematically through finding those values. And then most importantly, turning your values into time, turning your values into time. You know, people talk a good game about their values, but if you wanna see what someone's values really are, look at how they spend their time and their money. That's how you really know what someone's values are. People can say, oh, I, you know, I, I, I, uh, health is very important to me. Health is number one. I got, you gotta take care of your health, but do you have time on your calendar for exercise? Do you have time for proper nutrition? Do you have a bedtime? Right? I used to yell at my daughter, you have to have a bedtime.
And then she asked me one day, daddy, what's your bedtime <laugh>? She was absolutely right. I was a hypocrite 'cause I didn't have a bedtime. We've all heard the research about how important it's, it's gotta be on your schedule, right? Yeah. Uh, people say, you know, being with friends is very important. Oh, you know, loneliness, that's a terrible epidemic we're having right now. But do you have time in your schedule for the people you love? Or do you give them whatever scraps of time are left over? So all these things, whether it's taking care of ourselves, whether it's taking care of our relationships, and finally, of course, work, these things have to be planned in advance.
Joey Odom (20:32):
It really is so true. Going to your, to feel like you're just shining a mirror on me on sitting down to get stuff done. But it's, it's one of my favorite quotes is, there's no greater waste of time than doing something. Well, that didn't need to be done at all. And I feel like that's so
Nir Eyal (20:43):
Joey Odom (20:44):
So much with work. That's what we're doing. We're doing, we're doing a great job on stuff you didn't really need to do. Anyway. We got tagged in an Instagram post a couple weeks ago from an ro user named Sarah in Jacksonville, Florida. And I wanted to share with you, she says, friends, I wanna share with you what is in the words of my husband, the best thing I've ever bought for our family. This little box has changed how we have used our phones in the last couple of weeks. It's called an r o box. And it was created to help families regain uninterrupted time together. It's a beautiful box that has space for four phones with chargers already included, but it's not just a box. The magic is found in the r o app. When you have the app on your phone, r o can tell via Bluetooth when your phone is in the box and it starts tracking the time you spend away from it, gamifies your stats, offers daily challenges and goals, and lets you track what you do when you are away from your phone.
Something happens in your brain when your phone is in the box, you find yourself not wanting to pull it out and break a streak. We have spent hours and hours away from our phones this month, and it has been amazing. We let the kids put our phones away for us when dinner is ready, and we don't pull them out again until they go to bed. We are trying to set the example for them that when you have a device, there still needs to be time away from it. And it has to have a place to live instead of feeling the need to carry it around the house all the time. This is the absolute best thing we've done for our family, and we can already tell a difference in our time together. Sarah, thank you for that post. If you are an RO member and you have a great experience, we love seeing those tags on Instagram, please put them out there.
If you're interested in learning more about ro, check us out at, uh, at Goro now on Instagram. Now, back to this week's episode. You do talk about, in the book, you just alluded to it, but, but, uh, you, you have to know what you're being, to your point. You have to know what you want, what area you want traction in, which is where your values come in. So you talk a little bit about that process of, and I obviously don't give away the whole book, but <laugh>, how do you, that process of establishing your values and then approaching each moment, obviously you have the calendar schedule and you have a great tool online on, on time, on time blocking mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But even if you, like, are you constantly walking into a situation? Maybe you say like, oh, I just got home. And then like, are you doing a little mental reorientation? Like, okay, here's what I want to do in this moment. Are you really establishing an intention whenever you go into, to any situation?
Nir Eyal (23:10):
Yeah. Those are
Joey Odom (23:10):
Are two different questions. Yeah.
Nir Eyal (23:12):
Quote to yours, uh, which is, you cannot call something a distraction unless you know what it distracted you from. That's so good. You cannot call something a distraction unless you know what it distracted you from. So if you can't point to traction, there is no distraction by definition, by the very definition of the word. If you can't show me what it is you want to do, you cannot say you got distracted. So I hear from people all the time, oh, TikTok is so distracting, Instagram, so distracting the news, so distracting. But what was on your calendar that you got distracted from? And if it's blank, shut up, <laugh>. Like, you didn't do the homework. Yeah. You didn't take the first step. You're just complaining without realizing how much agency you have, people would not believe the most studied, the most verified and validated technique we have ever seen for time management and self-actualization is called setting an implementation intention.
And what is that? That's just a fancy way of saying, planning out what you're going to do and when you're going to do it. So only, the only people who can afford not to do this are people who are retired or children. Okay? If you're retired, if your life's perfect, you've accomplished all your goals, congratulations, go enjoy the beach. You have all the spontaneity you want in the world. But if you know that you're capable of more, if you know your relationships can be deeper and more fulfilling, if you know that you're physically able to do more with your body, then you're investing in right now, if you know that you can do better in your business, right? But you're not doing those things that you know you should do. The, I bet you the reason why is that you're not planning your time accordingly.
You're not turning your values into time. So how do we do that? Lemme give you this framework that I came up with. It's very simple. Essentially, we start with the center of these three life domains. The first life domain is you. If you can't take care of yourself, you can't take care of other people. You can't make the world a better place. So you have to ask yourself, remember, values or attributes of the person you want to become. How would the person I want to become spend their time taking care of themselves? Hmm. Okay. And it's not up to me or anyone else to tell you what that looks like. If you, the way you want to take care of yourself to be that future person that you want to become is playing video games all day, no problem. I don't care. It's up to you, right?
Yeah. But if you say no, the person I want to become is someone who takes care of their physical health. Okay, well, do you have a time for exercise? Do you have a bedtime? For example, if you say, the person I wanna become is someone who's educated, someone who reads, who, who, uh, who takes courses, for example. Well, do you have that time on your schedule? Uh, maybe it's, uh, uh, you know, self-care, whatever it might be, prayer, meditation, whatever it is, put that on your calendar first. And again, I have a scheduling tool that will put a link in, in the show notes. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, uh, that makes it super easy with the Google Doc, you can download it for free. It's very, very, you don't have to sign up for anything. Very easy to do. But you can use any calendar software you like.
So first, life Domain u the second life domain is relationships. So this is why we have a loneliness epidemic in this country. We know since the 1990s that regularly scheduled, social interactions have decreased precipitously. And this didn't just happen with technology, it didn't happen with social media. Robert Putnam wrote about this in the early 1990s in his book, bowling Alone. What's happened is Premier, you know, in America, that's kind kinda the context that, that I do. My research is in the American, to the American public, these events that used to be cornerstones of our life, right? Our parents and grandparents used to go bowling every Thursday. They used to go polka dancing on Saturday nights. They used to go to church on Sunday morning. Fewer and Americans have that time booked in their schedule. And it is causing, costing us our lives. It is literally killing us.
Now, why do I say that? I know it's very strong language. We know it's true that loneliness is as detrimental to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Wow. So this is literally an epidemic of loneliness. And it's because we don't have that time scheduled in our day. So now that you've heard this, you can do something about it. Schedule that time, have that, it doesn't have to be church or bowling league. Schedule the time with the important people in your life. If you have some buddies in your life that you don't want them to drift away, right? Mm-hmm. You don't want those relationships to die. Relationships die. You know why friendships die? They almost never die because people get mad at each other and say, we're not friends anymore. That almost never happens. Friendships starve to death. God, they starve to death because we don't invest the time in them.
So do something about that. Ha. So for example, in my, in my, uh, life, I noticed that my best buddies and I were slipping apart. And so what did I do along this line of research? I, I, you know, learned what I'm telling you right now. And I, I called my friends, I called three of my best friends, and I said, look, I really value our relationship, but it's getting difficult to find the time. And we also, we don't live in the same place. I live in Singapore. One of my buddies lives in, uh, Washington, dc another one lives in Tel Aviv, Israel. Another one lives in Los Angeles. And so I called 'em, I said, let's just make a time every month from now until forever, okay? Wow. Every Thursday at 8:00 PM every second Thursday of the month at 8:00 PM is Jeff. And every second Tuesday at 6:00 PM is Travis.
And we have that time on the schedule. So we know that time is booked, we don't have to spend this, you know, uh, do this email ping pong game, finding a time that time is booked. Same with my wife, right? I found that I was giving her less and less time. I was making her what we call the residual beneficiary, right? I was giving her whatever time was left over as opposed to properly investing in this relationship. So now we have, every Friday nights we take a long walk together, we do two hour walk. And then Sunday morning, we also take a long walk together. We have date nights occasionally, and they are scheduled on our calendar. Same with my daughter. Saturday afternoons. That's our time together. We have that time reserved for each other. And you say, yeah, why do you need that time reserved with the people you love?
Can't you be spontaneous? We call that planned spontaneity. What do I mean by that? Sounds like an, it sounds like an oxymoron, but here's how it works. We plan that time, but we don't plan necessarily what we will do with that time. So when I have time with my daughter on Saturday afternoons, we don't know we're gonna do, we're gonna be spontaneous. Maybe we'll go to the museum, maybe we'll go to the botanical gardens. Maybe we'll go play Frisbee. We don't know what we're gonna do, but we know that time is planned. Why? Because I know what I will not be doing with that time. I will not be on my phone. I will not be checking work email. I will not be on social media, because that time has been reserved for someone I love very much. Okay? So that's the next life domain, your relationships.
Joey Odom (29:34):
I have a question about that in the relationships, because it is so important. What is, what's the biggest imp imp I think anybody hearing that who's listened to this podcast and me hearing it myself, like, okay, I'm in. I wanna do that. What's the biggest, what are, what's the biggest, um, impediment to us doing that, do you think?
Nir Eyal (29:51):
I think it's the, I think it's that gut reaction that people have, that they feel this reflex. There's a psychological phenomenon called reactance. Reactance is when we are told what to do, our gut reaction is don't tell me what to do. Right? When our agency is threatened, we have that knee jerk response. Everybody has it to, to some degree or another. Uh, if your boss ever micromanaged you, right? That's that, that crummy feeling of being told what to do. Uh, if your mom, when you were a kid told you to put on your coat, even though you're perfectly capable of making up your own mind, like, don't, don't tell me what to do, that's reactants. Now, here's the crazy thing. Our brains will elicit reactants even when we ourselves are telling us what to do. How crazy is that? Wow. <laugh>, right? Yeah. That's how crazy our brains are.
But you have to, you have to overcome that, okay? And there's a few ways you can overcome that, by the way, to, to make sure you, uh, you disarm that, that sense of reactance. But the reason that is happening, the reason that people get that gut reaction of, of, of knowing, Hey, if I put on my calendar, I have to do it, that makes them realize, oh, crap. Now I actually have to, now it's real. Right? Which is insane, right? You think about it, right? It is like, if your reaction was, oh, I don't wanna schedule exercise, even though, hey, I've been planning to lose 20 pounds for 10 years and I haven't done it. Right? I'm giving you the formula <laugh>, like I'm literally handing it to you on a silver platter. If you have that reaction, you gotta do it. Right? That is exactly your conscious telling you, oh crap, this is actually gonna work.
Hmm. Right? I'm giving you the answer. And so that's the most common response that I hear, is, is not, it won't work. 'cause it does work, right? It's, I don't really want to, and this is, this is super important, actually. This is very, very important. We skipped over, uh, step number one to becoming in distractible is mastering internal triggers. You know, the number one reason we don't achieve our goals, the number one reason people don't achieve their goals, number one reason they quit. Number one reason. Yeah. Right? That's not to say that quitting is always bad. Sometimes the right thing is to quit. But just factually, the number one reason, common sense you don't reach your goal is you quit. Now, what's the number one reason we quit? The number one reason people quit is because they don't feel like continuing. Now, think about that for a minute.
<laugh>, it's a feeling. Okay? It's just a feeling. It's not objective fact. It's a feeling. I know I really should exercise. I don't feel like it, I know I really should go to bed on time and stop scrolling social media, but I don't feel like it, I know I shouldn't splurge on that thing that I, I bought, but I didn't need, but I don't feel like it, I want to <laugh>. They're just feelings. But once you realize that, it's incredibly empowering, right? Mm-hmm. These are called internal triggers. And if you don't master them, they will become your master. So I give a whole list of, of ways to reimagine internal triggers. And by the way, this is the most important step. This is why I repeat this mantra. Time management is pain management. Time management is pain management. If you don't learn how to manage these uncomfortable sensations, right? If you don't master these internal triggers, again, they will become your masters. So you have to learn how to deal with discomfort in a healthy way.
Joey Odom (33:07):
Dude, that's, that's so strong. And it is so true. It's so basic. I've been learn as I get older. I, I, you realize just how, how much longevity, like how valuable that is. And it's just my, my brother Jacob, he's a partner at a, at an a big five account. Big four accounting firm. And someone asked him once, they said, Hey, you're one of the youngest partners in the firm, and said, what did you do? And he said, well, he goes, every day for the last 15 years, I've come in and not turned in my two weeks notice. Like, that's all I've done. I didn't do anything special. I just didn't quit. So true. So ba so basic. But it's, it, it is true. Like, you just don't want to. And I think, I think for me, sometimes it's because I do find myself distracted. And my best days are the ones where I just, I gotten, you know, I got stuff done. I got things done, so I had traction with it. And I think it's like the, the reason why you don't feel like it is, 'cause you don't necessarily feel like you're making any progress. Like, that feeling of futility is so disheartening. You know what I mean? Am I doing or whatever, you know, we're building a business or I'm sure. And you know, even sometimes when you're writing your books, you're just like, is this ever
Nir Eyal (34:06):
Gonna be, oh, all the time when I'm writing my books, <laugh>,
Joey Odom (34:08):
Nir Eyal (34:09):
It's never fun.
Joey Odom (34:11):
Nir Eyal (34:11):
There's always pain and discover. I think that's, that's exactly the myth. We have this myth and we see it perpetuated by the self industry all the time, self-help industry all the time. That somehow we should have this goal of happiness, right? How many books have happy in the title, right? Yeah. That's what everybody wants. Everybody wants to be happy. And I'm here to tell you, happiness is not evolutionarily beneficial. You are not evolved to be happy. There is no purpose for you to be sustained and to have sustained happiness. Think about it. If there was a tribe, think about it, right? Like, let's go back 200,000 years ago, we're on the plains of the Serengeti Africa, and there's a tribe of people who are evolved to always be happy, to be contented, to be always fulfilled. What would happen if there was a rival tribe of people, our ancestors who were not always happy, who wanted what those people had? Yeah,
Joey Odom (35:04):
We would've be dead. Yeah. We
Nir Eyal (35:05):
Would've killed and eaten them, right? That's what we would've done. And so we are evolved to always want more, right? Mm-hmm. That has what has made our species the most dominant species on the face of the earth, right? Because we want more. That's what took us to space. That's what helps us cure disease. That's what helps us overturn, uh, despots and dictators, is because we want better. That's what makes our species great. So we have to free ourselves from this expectation that we need to always feel good. Yeah. Are things gonna be boring? Are things gonna be hard? Everything worth having in life is gonna be difficult. <laugh>, <laugh>. If it's, if it was easy, it wouldn't be worthwhile.
Joey Odom (35:40):
Mm. Man. That's good. I, I have a few extra questions I wanna be respectful. It's late night in Singapore. Um, the third life domain. Walk us through that one.
Nir Eyal (35:49):
Yeah. Oh, great. So the third life domain is the work domain. This is where more, most people spend most of their time, right? We talked about self, we talked about relationships. Now the work domain. Now work can be divided into two kinds of work. We have what's called reactive work, which is, you know, reacting to emails, reacting to messages, reacting to taps on the s uh, shoulder from your boss. That's called reactive work. And most of your day from most knowledge workers is spent doing reactive work. Now, there's the other kind of work, which is called reflective work. Reflective work is the kind of work that can only be done without distraction, thinking, strategizing, planning. All of these things require you to work without distraction. And if you want a leg up on everyone at your office, at everyone in your industry, plan time to think.
Because I bet you most, if not everyone in your industry ain't doing it. They're not planning time to think, because the brain is a cognitive miser. We know, right? This is the basis of, of, of so much of cognitive neuroscience. We know that the brain wants to conserve effort and conserve energy. So whatever will tell us to what whatever cures, discomfort, fastest and quickest, this is what we form habits around. And so as opposed to trying to sit down and think for a second, which is psychologically taxing, it requires effort to sit down and think, well, I'll just look at my email and, and my email will tell me what to do. Or I'll just look at the slack channel. The slack channel will, will tell me what to do, or I'll ask my boss. My boss will tell me what to do. As opposed to what we see that top performers in every industry, whether it's, uh, in business, the arts, sports across the board, if you look at a players, if you look at top performers, they make time for this reflective work.
Now, I know not everybody's day can be spent doing nothing but reflective work. And I understand that your day's going to be separated into reflective and reactive work. The problem is, far too many people allow their entire day to be reactive work, right? Because it's cognitively easy. My, you know, the, these technologies will tell me what to do, then I don't have to think. And here's what happens. If you do that day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, you will find that you're running real fast in the wrong direction. So you've got to make time in your day, schedule it in your day to have that reflective work time. Even if it's 15, 20, 30 minutes, that's fine. But you've gotta have it scheduled in your day.
Joey Odom (38:16):
I was gonna ask that, and it's a dumb question. How do you think for the, for someone who's only used to, to reactive work, which is most of us, how do you think, how should someone begin today and saying, okay, I'm gonna have, I'm gonna have some reflective time. What do I do?
Nir Eyal (38:30):
Yeah, so, so there's no dumb questions, only dumb answers. So leave the dumb bits to me, <laugh>. Uh, but I, I would say this is part of, of, uh, you know, in each life domain, the first step you can take, how do you plan time to think by just scheduling it, right? So every Sunday at 8:00 PM I have my time. When I look at the week that just went by and I plan the week ahead, and every week I ask myself this simple question, how can I make my schedule easier to follow? Easier to follow? Meaning, hey, you know what? Last week I had my scheduled book writing time, first thing in the morning, and you know what? It was kind of hard to stay focused. I wanna try next week what that might be like, scheduling in the evening. Okay? You can change your schedule any way you like.
I want you to revise it week after week. But once you set it for that day, okay, now it's in, in stone. Now you can't change it. You have to follow that schedule to the best of your ability and measure yourself not by this stupid to-do list technique, right? The tyranny of the to-do list is, is measuring yourself by how many cute little boxes you check off. We know that that's a terrible time management technique. A much better time management technique is to measure yourself by one metric only. Not how many things you finished, but were you able to do what you said you were going to do for as long as you said you would without distraction? That's the best metric of success. Did you do what you said you were going to do for as long as you said you would without distraction? Turns out people who do that, okay? People who measure themselves by that metric alone, they actually finish more, they get more done than the to-do list people turns out. So that's the first act you can take to plan time to think is to make that time to think. Asking yourself this question of how do I plan my week ahead so that I can turn my values into time following those three life domains?
Joey Odom (40:14):
I just, I, I imagine how freeing that could be. So my, my distraction, I'm, I'm a huge baseball fan. I love the, I love the Braves, the Atlanta Braves. And so I, I will, um, I love following their Twitter feed. And so it is, I'll jump over and see what's new, what the news is, and I just imagined a scenario in my, when my calendar that had 15 minutes scheduled for that during the workday and, and where, so then in your mind, you know, so one that would not be a distraction because it's scheduled to your point, and then it allows me in the times where I may wanna be drawn to, it's like, no, I got that coming up. That's okay. I don't have to do that now.
Nir Eyal (40:48):
That insight is huge. It's such a huge insight exactly what you said, because what ha what we find is when people don't schedule the time for the things that they enjoy and deserve, you deserve time to follow the Braves. There's nothing wrong with that, right? And don't let anybody tell you that, oh, Twitter is melting your brain. It's bad for you <laugh>. It's only bad for you if it's a distraction. Yeah. But if it's traction, if you plan it on your schedule, your brain doesn't have to constantly think about when do I get to check? When do I get to check? I see this with kids all the time. I tell parents, if your child has a problem with too much video, too many video games or, you know, is, is on social media too much? One of the best things you can do is to schedule time for it. Hmm. To sit down with 'em. I have a teenager as well, she has in her schedule, because then she doesn't have to obsess about it all day thinking, when do I get time? When do I get time? She knows when she's gonna get time. Yeah. It's on her schedule.
Joey Odom (41:40):
And I bet you those pe people who have that, they have more grace with themselves. They, they, they're more forgiving to themselves. They're kinder to themselves because you do feel, again, this is the, this is the problem. I think with the, the binary way that we look at phones right now is they're good or bad. Screen time. Screen time inherently has a bad connotation, which I think is such a misnomer screen. Time is good in the right context. And so you find yourself, anytime you look at this at a screen, it feels bad. As opposed to carving out those spaces of time for non phone time carving out space of time for phone time. And it even goes to this whole notion, and I just love that you're, that you say this 'cause it's such a contrary thing right now to say is that you say, we're not addicted to our phones for the most part.
And I think the science proved this out, Dr. Maxie Meyer, who's on our show, he talked about that the science doesn't prove that this doesn't have the characteristics of addiction. And one reason why, even if it's just semantics, is when you're addicted, you do two things. One, you admit your total powerlessness over it, and then two, you completely abstain from the thing you say you're addicted to. The second one is impractical. We're not gonna abstain from our phones. And then the first one, we need to understand our agency over it to all of you know, everything you say. And when you do that, it's a much smaller monster than you thought it was.
Nir Eyal (42:57):
That's, I, I couldn't have said it better myself. I mean, it drives me nuts when people say that they're addicted to this or that. I mean, the word addiction comes from the Latin adicio, which means slave. So you know what, what you're doing is saying that you are powerless, you are enslaved by this thing. And look, some people do suffer Yes. Right? From the terrible pathology of addiction. But now everybody's addicted to everything. Right? My my wife got a box of shoes from D S W and it was written on the box, danger, addictive contents inside <laugh>. We're talking about shoes, right? Everything is somehow addictive. That's ridiculous. And lots of things that are actually really addictive. Not everyone gets addicted to, right? How many of us have a glass of wine with dinner? I promise you, even if technology is addictive, it's nowhere near as addictive as alcohol. Right? <laugh>.
Joey Odom (43:47):
Nir Eyal (43:47):
But clearly only, what is it, three to 5% of the population that drinks alcohol is addicted, is an alcoholic. Right? Right. Just because we have sex doesn't make a sex addict. So why do we think that anybody who uses social media as a social media addict's ridiculous. So we need to reserve that term for where it really belongs, which is people who struggle with this terrible pathology, which at max is about three to 5% of the population. The rest of us, it's not an addiction, it's a distraction.
Joey Odom (44:14):
God, that's so good. All I have one final question for you. You, I, I am gonna let you get to sleep here in a second, but <laugh>, um, we're, we're all about intentionality right now. So you've written two great books, hooked and indestructible. And what's the intention right now that you're focusing most on the intention that you're focused on focusing right now? Most on living out?
Nir Eyal (44:35):
Yeah, that, that's it. Okay. So I, uh, of those three life domains, the one that I'm devoting the most time to right now in this season of life is that relationship domain. Because my, uh, I, I, my daughter who's an only child, uh, is about to turn 15, and we have a few more years until she's off to college. So, uh, of course I'm still working and, you know, consulting and speaking and writing, but where I am spoken, spending the most, uh, most of my time is, uh, with her homeschooling. So we're actually taking classes together. 'cause now she's taking some really cool classes. Wow. So we're taking an econ class that's for free from m i t online. So we're taking an econ class together. Wow. So that's the thing that I think is highest on my list of priorities to be intentional around.
Joey Odom (45:15):
I love that. That's so good. Um, near thank you. I want to, I want to hit all, I'm, I'm gonna miss some here, but near n far.com, n i r near n far.com, everybody needs to read hooked. I really do think, and this really to me, these are, because I mean similar to you, and I have a 15 year old, similar to you. My lens right now is parenting. So these are parenting books in my mind, hooked and indestructible. They're just, they're, they're such great parenting books for ourselves to be great parents, but then to how to rare to how to teach them to be great parents. Someday your weekly newsletter is dynamite. Everybody needs to go check that out. And your podcast is fantastic as well. What, what did I miss? We'll put all those in show notes too.
Nir Eyal (45:54):
That, that's great. I mean, there is, uh, if you're interested, there's an 80 page workbook that's completely free on my site in distractible.com, and that's spelled i n the word distract, a b l e. So indestructible.com, there's a free 80 page workbook you can download there.
Joey Odom (46:09):
That's fantastic. NIR Thank you my friend. Really, really appreciate it. Have a good night of sleep.
Nir Eyal (46:14):
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Joey Odom (46:15):
I don't really know where to start on a summary quote or wasn't it great when Nir said this because I have pages of notes in front of me. There was so much in there. And so I'll ask a favor of you. Will you just re-listen to the episode, take some notes, and then will you share it with a couple people? I think a lot of people need to hear these messages, so will you do that? Just re-listen, share this episode with a couple people and go by nears books if you haven't read them. Already hooked and indestructible. So good. So grateful for near for joining us, especially late night in Singapore and wherever you are, I hope you have a great day. Hope you have a great night. Thank you for joining us for this week's episode of The Aro Podcast. We'll see you next week. The Aro Podcast is produced and edited by the team at Palm Tree Pod co. Special thanks to Emily Miles for video and digital support and to our executive producer, Aro's own, Katelyn Farley.