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This is the good, the bad and the ugly. I'm the boss of that. No, I'm boss. That sounds weird. If I were going around, call myself the boss.
Anyway, look, this podcast is filled with uncensored interviews with experts in particular fields or real life stories from people who have inspiring personal tales to tell. It covers various topics in life, stories that I've really dug, you know what I mean? And I think you'll dig them to just say, you know, this podcast is for grownups that may contain adult themes, sexual references and strong language.
Fuck, yeah, I just wanted it, she said. Ladies and gentlemen, the story you're about to hear. Oh, now wait. I know you're going to dig this. I think the best thing for me to do is to introduce what Bill what's his name?
I mean, it's not a schwa. Me, it's there's a smiling welcome to the good, the bad and the ugly.
Come close to the end of season one. Wow, wow, wow, wow.
Since the first season, Don, West Bank in this podcast.
Who's your daddy? Who's your daddy?
I should be very clear. I wouldn't just spank listeners like that would say, is it OK for spank you to start? Well, it's all about consent, John. That's that's what I'm saying. John, John, John, John, John G. What does a new colleague, John, know exactly? Is this this is. Oh, you look so it's not that, John. John, because I work with a lot of older John's. But you're John.
John for sure. Look, all I'm saying is I'm feeling good. We're doing good. Right. Socially distance high five team. Oh, that's nice. Is a quote work. But whatever.
We're on episode seven, the social dilemma or is it the big question?
Right. A lot of people, me included, think they might be fona Horlicks Janjua phone phenolic. Yeah, yeah. My OK in complete denial there. I think actually it's called Numa phobia. Actually that's not right, because Na'ama phobia is the fear of being without your phone. But we're not talking about that and that's not really what we're told in this episode. See, what happened is I watched the social dilemma on Netflix a few months ago now and I watch it and I thought about it so much afterwards.
It was a good movie, wasn't it? It was good.
I like to, but at the end of it, it left me with this feeling of I had I just felt defeated. It left me with a very kind of negative feeling. I felt anxiety about the world. My children are growing into dangerous phones and technology and what what the future digital landscape is going to look like. I was concerned about myself, too, regarding becoming addicted to my phone and we spent far too many hours in the toilet. Honestly, sometimes I go in there, I could be forty five minutes to, you know, and he started in my own private in my bathroom and my own suite in the running room.
No, I don't hang around random toilets just OK. That's a different that's a different episode guys. No I mean like it's a it's a safe spot for me to go to and just lose myself on my phone and spend 45 minutes is looking at Instagram and YouTube clips and I don't know, nonsense. Right. But I lose time and you know, it's the digital matrix, you know. Do you get lost in the digital matrix? Yeah. Every time.
Anyway, the point is that if you buy everything, the social dilemmas saying you're screwed, man, like we're screwed.
It's not our fault they're manipulating the shit out of us.
Facebook is pimping you and your information out. You are not the client. You are the product. That's scary shit to sell. So that's what I got from that movie. I was terrified afterwards. So I said, John, John, help me. And what do you say, Nerea? Near real near real. For those of you you don't know, Nerea is an expert in behavioral design that for anyone who doesn't know, is kind of like an intersection of psychology, a little bit of technology and business.
It encompasses user experience, behavioral economics and just a dash of neuroscience. Very clever. He's the author of Hooked, a great book, How to Build Habit-forming Products and Indestructible How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. Previously, he was a lecturer in marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business on Design, and he sold to technology companies since to.
As an entry for most of his career, he's worked in the video gaming and advertising industries where he's learned, applied and at times rejected the techniques used to motivate him more to the point, manipulate users. As an active angel investor, he's put his money where his mouth is by backing habit-forming products he believes will improve lives. Some of his past investments are Eventbrite.
We all know Van Kahootz Ancora firm, which was acquired by Spotify, a convert to refresh O'Donnell, also acquired by LinkedIn, worked life acquired by Cisco. It goes on and on and on. He knows his shit. Let me tell you that he knows this shit.
This was a very uplifting, very refreshing conversation.
This is the conversation I was really looking forward to to chatting to you because I have an incredibly addictive personality. And usually when you think of addiction, you think automatically of the obvious ones, the drink, the drugs and sex, that kind of thing. But the digital addiction is that's a real thing, that that's not made up. That's a problem. No, it's made up. You believe it's made up? Yeah, it is. Tell me your view on this, because I've watched I've watched this.
I've watched the social dilemma. And when I watched it for a day or two, I was like really taken aback by it. And then after I kind of thought there must be a certain level of accountability, like if I'm abusing from abusing my phone and I know I shouldn't be on it as much, it's like going into the pub and blaming the bar for serving me 50 points of Guinness. Yeah.
So I was interviewed for that movie. I'm actually in the credits at the end. You can see my name I was in and I've sat down with them in August of twenty eighteen for three hours to do an interview with them and they didn't include anything I had to say. Why do you think that was. I assume it's because I didn't fit the narrative that my research is all about the psychology of distraction. And my first book was about how can we use technology to build healthy habits.
The book is called Hooked How to Build Habit-forming Products. And my second book was called In Distractable How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.
And I spent five years researching what we can do, knowing that I understand every trick in the book about how these companies work. I wrote the book. Their tricks are good. These tactics are persuasive. They're not that good. You know, the best metaphor I can give you is did you ever see the movie Indiana Jones?
Of course. Yeah, of course. Right. So you remember that scene where Indiana Jones goes out into the bazaar and there's that guy in the in all black and he has two swords and he starts doing all these tricks with a sword, waving them around. Very intimidating. Very scary. And then what does Indiana Jones do? He takes out his gun, bang, shoots the guy. And that's exactly what's going on.
The these tech companies, they have all this scary stuff with the algorithms and the computer processors. And it's so scary. And yet, what do we have we have the gun that they don't talk about in that movie until the closing credits, literally as the credits are rolling, is the first time we hear anybody mention, hey, how about turning off notifications?
Oh, my goodness. And what exactly can Mark Zuckerberg do to turn those notifications back on zero?
That's the gun. That's the bank. And so my big beef with the social dilemma, they raise some good points. I think they did everybody a service by raising awareness. But what they did a disservice is the message they preached. And what most people who make money and gain attention from this techno panic are after is that fear sells. And the reason I wasn't including it in the movie is that the psychology of distraction and the research around distraction shows that this is a problem that we can absolutely do something about.
Counter to the narrative, the movie, which basically says, you know, call your politician, let those geniuses do something. Yeah, right. We're going to wait for the politicians to fix this.
Seriously, it's never going to happen. And why the heck would we wait when there's so much we can do right now to to to take back control?
Because because I think I think what it was for me anyway, it was it was kind of showing a mirror where you kind of go.
Sometimes people are just slightly in denial that there is any issue if they go to the bathroom and they lock the door and usually something that will take five to ten minutes and forty five minutes later, they're still sitting there. So in some You Tube hole and you start to see these little signs of things where you think I'm being I'm being taken advantage, not taken advantage of. I'm letting them take advantage of me. I'm not being accountable for the way the way I'm acting.
First things first. What is your background and why did you fall into this arena of psychology?
Yeah, so I've been studying the psychology of habits and distraction for well over a decade. I taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and later at the Hassle. Plattner Institute of Design is a lecturer in marketing and I've written two books on this topic. The first one was published in Two Thousand and fourteen, called for How to Build the Products and my last book late last year, twenty nineteen about how to manage distraction. The book is called In Distractible.
And so yeah, I've been I've been an advocate for getting the best of technology without letting it get the best of us. And so I am not on the side of the Trystan heresies of the world in that their message is now it you didn't used to be so Trystan actually spoke before he spoke at Ted before he was on 60 Minutes. He actually spoke at my conference, which was called the Habit Summit years and years ago when he spoke about how we can change technology to fix the bad aspects of technology.
And it was wonderful. And then he started getting a lot of attention for know kind of this Chicken Little attitude that technology is melting our brain, that it's hijacking us, that it's addicting everyone. And this is scientifically bunk. It is not true. Do some people get addicted to technology? Absolutely. Do some people get addicted to drinking too much alcohol? Absolutely. We call those people alcoholics.
But you and I both know we're Irish, not everybody. Yeah, exactly. That anybody who has a pint after work or a glass of wine with lunch, not everyone who has alcohol is an addict. Right? Not everyone who has a beer once in a while is an alcoholic. So why do we think that somehow everyone who's on social media is addicted? I'll tell you why. Because we love that narrative. We lap it up.
It sells, right? It absolutely sells. Which is what's so ironic because the movie is about how these social networks manipulate you. And what the movie is doing is manipulating you. Right. With those three evil algorithms sitting in that room, pushing the buttons and doing as if you have zero control in the voodoo doll, that that boy who's sitting there listless and he's being, you know, the algorithms do whatever they want with him. It's perpetuating this myth that there's nothing we can do here.
That is bullshit.
Explain it to me. Like I can't ask you to sum up two books, but put the basis of of what you've learnt and what you tell people. Here's the thing.
So first we to start with what is distraction? And we don't need to just talk about technology is distraction because there have been all kinds of distractions since time immemorial. Plato twenty five hundred years before Facebook, before the iPhone, before the Internet, the Greek philosopher Plato talked about accuracy of the tendency that we have to do things against our better judgment.
Plato was talking about how distracting the world was twenty five hundred years ago.
And of course, every generation, every generation has this moral panic about whatever. She is freaking everyone out, right? When I was a kid, it was rap music, and before that it was heavy metal and before that it was video games and it was television and radio, the newspaper novels even. I dunno if you remember the scene in the movie, not to dwell too much on the on the social. There are those that scene, the movie where Tristan Harris talks about how the bicycle nobody ever freaked out about the bicycle.
You remember that where he says that the irony of that is if they would have just Google that.
I mean, just goes to show you how poorly research that movie was. If they would have taken five minutes to Google that that they would have seen. He didn't know what he was talking about because people absolutely freaked out when the bicycle came out. They thought that this would lead to women being lascivious. They said it caused mental illness in people riding bicycles, made people mentally ill. It is literally the same script people are using right now, yet again to talk about the latest technology.
It happens every single time. You know what happens, though? People adapt and they adapt culturally. Of the philosopher said, when you invent the ship, you invent the ship wreck. There is no way to have a technology with such far reaching consequences without having bad stuff happen, without having shipwrecks. But what do we do? Do we stop sailing ships? No. Why do you never hear of shipwrecks anymore? Almost never. Do you hear of a shipwreck?
Why? Because we stopped sailing ships. We made ships better, right? We adapted and we adopted. We adapted our behaviors. We learn how to sail ships better and then we use technology. We adopted technology to fix the bad aspects of the last generation of technology. And that is exactly what we are doing today.
I can see the benefits right. I can see all the benefits, but I kind of know nineties because I know what I was like in the nineties and I know the twenty twenty these bars and I kind of go, I think I was a little bit more creative or I didn't have to work as hard.
I wasn't lost in my own head. Like now I get five minutes alone. I'm like, OK, well if I'm going to look at my phone obviously I've got to jump onto YouTube, I've got to check social media or we have let's dive into distraction.
What does this actually mean? Because this word is actually really, really telling. So the best way to understand what distraction is, is to understand what distraction is not. So what is the opposite of distraction? Most people say the opposite of distraction is focus, but it's not focused on the opposite of distraction is traction that if you look at the etymology of the word, they both come from the same Latin root, which means to pull and they both end in the same six letters when it spells action.
So traction by definition, is any action that pulls you towards what you said. You're going to do things that you do with intent, things that move towards your values and help me become the kind of person you want to become. The opposite of traction is distraction.
Distraction is any action that pulls you away from what you plan to do, anything that is not in accordance with your values, that pulls you further away from becoming the person you want to become. So why is this so important? This is important for two reasons. Number one, anything can be a distraction. Anything can be a distraction. My daily routine before I wrote this book and embarked on five years of research to do it would be I would sit down on my desk and I would say, OK.
Today, I'm not going to procrastinate. I'm going to work on that big project I've been putting off. Is going to get in my way. Here I go. I'm going to get started right now. But first, let me check some email. Let me just scroll that slide. Let me just do that thing on my to do list just to get started. Right.
And what I didn't realize is that that is the most dangerous form of distraction, the distraction that tricks you into prioritizing the person at the expense of the important. So anything could become a distraction. Now, conversely, anything could be traction. So there is nothing wrong with you checking Facebook or YouTube or Netflix or playing video games or whatever it is you want to do as long as you do it on your schedule and according to your values, not the tech companies.
Why is it that watching football on TV is somehow morally superior to playing a video game? Rubbish, as long as you do it on your schedule according to your values. There's nothing wrong with it. And so the way we know the difference between traction and distraction is for thought is intense. It's not the technology itself. It's the problem. It's the fact that we're using it whenever the tech makers want us to use it, as opposed to using it on our schedule.
It's funny you say that because I was reading a book a while back a long time ago, because it's called The Chim Paradox under certain the certain things that we go through where we feel uncomfortable or workload and we're we're built to try and distract ourselves to the part of our psyche that just doesn't want to do the work, doesn't want to sit or doesn't want to be a certain way. And you will do anything other than and it does take it does take some focus to kind of realign yourself.
So what are the tools? Help me be better.
This is something that that's brought up a lot, is that our brains have not evolved for two hundred thousand years. And how can we be expected to do something that our species has not been evolved to do? The sugar is too delicious. Therefore, we're all clinically obese and the video games are so entertaining. How can we possibly stop?
Come on. There are all kinds of things that we do that we learn to do as adults. It's part of growing up. You know, the natural thing to do is to defecate wherever you want. That's natural. But human beings, we potty train, we learn to people in the right place and time, not whenever we feel like it. And guess what? It's no different with our technology. We need to learn how to use it appropriately.
Is it hard? Yes. How many things in life are worth having that don't require some effort? It's part of being a grown up.
I love your attitude. So tell me this. Tell me. Tell me what other kind of. Yeah. Where do you begin with? Like what are people fighting against and what are the main issues that they're coming up against.
OK, so we talked about traction and distraction. Right now we have to ask ourselves, well, what prompts us to these these parts of either attraction or distraction? We have what we call triggers. We have external triggers. External triggers are the things in our outside environment. The usual suspects, the pings, the Ding's, the rings, anything in our outside environment that can lead us towards attraction or distraction. This is what we tend to blame and it can be a source of distraction.
But that is not the leading cause of the problem. If we really want to get to the source of the problem, the number one cause of why we procrastinate, why we get distracted, why we don't do what we say we're going to do, the number one cause is not what is happening outside of us. It is what is happening inside of us. We call these internal triggers. Internal triggers are uncomfortable, emotional states that we seek to escape from boredom, loneliness, uncertainty, fatigue, anxiety, stress.
This is the root cause. Are they always negative? Always negative. In fact, everything we do, we now know that this idea of Freud's pleasure principle that we used to think most people still believe that motivation is about carrots and sticks. Right. The pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Jeremy Bentham said this. Freud said this neurologically speaking is not true, that neurologically speaking everything you do, you only do for one reason and that one reason is the desire to escape discomfort.
Everything you do, even the pursuit of pleasurable sensations, wanting, craving, lusting desire. All of these things are psychologically destabilizing. So what that means, therefore best is that time management requires pain management. Time management requires payment because whether it's too much news, too much booze, too much football, too much Facebook, any distraction, any time we go off track and do something we didn't intend to do, it is always because of an impulse control problem.
It is an emotion regulation problem. That is where we have to start.
It's very refreshing to hear because all I've heard people say is that, you know, social media or the Internet is the problem. Very few people say that it's our problem and grow up a bit. Is basically what you're saying, though, right? Because you hear this thing is dopamine. They make dopamine, dopamine to be like cocaine. Right. So like one little bit of dopamine, that's me. I'm doing like it wasn't my fault. I was on dopamine.
As soon as you hear somebody say that term, write them off. You know, right away. They have no idea what they're talking about. Dopamine is not cocaine, OK? Dopamine gets squirted every time you give someone a hug. When you learn the piano, when you play tennis, when you watch television, when you avoid social media and actually have a good time, you get dopamine.
It's ridiculous. Whenever you hear somebody say, oh, you're addicted to the dopamine. The dopamine is just it's ridiculous. They don't know the science at all. It's it's completely just blaming other stuff as opposed to figuring out how to claim responsibility for this. Now, that being said, these companies absolutely take advantage of your internal triggers.
If you are looking for distraction, it is easier than ever to find no doubt about that, that technology is more pervasive and more persuasive than ever before. But that doesn't mean we're powerless and in fact, I would argue, wait a minute, is what we want, do we want these products to be less engaging? Hey, Netflix, your shows are way too entertaining. Please make them boring. Apple, your phones are way too user friendly. Can you please make them harder to use?
No, that's ridiculous. We want these products to be engaging and there's never going to be a law that tells these companies to make their products less good. We don't want that. That's not a problem. That's progress. So we have to understand, look, they are absolutely capitalizing on our desire to escape discomfort, as is every product or service you think. You know, in the movie, they talked about how, you know, these these the problem is the business model monetizing attention and turning it into money from advertisers.
Well, how exactly do you think the news is funded?
They all make money the same way they sell your attention to advertisers.
Now, does that doesn't mean those businesses are evil. It just means we as consumers have to understand that their incentive is to keep us clicking, to keep us watching, to keep us engaged. That is how they make money.
And there are some people more susceptible. I know, like everyone's in charge of themselves. But when we say, like, if you are quite lonely or if you you are a depressed person, are you more likely to to be susceptible to to kind of to this element of social media?
And that's a terrific question.
I believe that there are two classifications of protected people, first as children, that there are lots of things in society that we do not let children do. They are a protected class. I wouldn't let my 12 year old daughter walk into a bar and order a gin and tonic. I wouldn't let her go gambling. I wouldn't let her frankly. I wouldn't let her go into a library and just read any book because there are lots of books that a 12 year old little girl should not read until she's ready.
So this idea that our iPads should be nannies is ridiculous. We have to moderate the content, any form, content, television, books, magazines, anything our children consume. We have to, as parents, take responsibility to make sure that they're not consuming crap, that that that it is age appropriate content. And the second category, I think this is where I do support legislation is people who are pathologically addicted. And this isn't oh, I like to use it a lot.
I'm talking about people who have the pathology of an addiction that we we today, we call everything addictive. My wife received a box from this company, DSW. It's a shoe company and written on the box was careful, addictive contents inside, like we use this medical term of addiction and just toss it around. I think it's incredibly disrespectful to people who are actually suffering from this disease. Just because you like checking WhatsApp or Facebook or whatever, you're not addicted to it unless you really have this pathology.
And some people do. Just like we talked about, single digit percentages of the population are addicted to alcohol. They're alcoholics, but that doesn't mean everybody is. And so we need to differentiate that for the vast majority of people, it's not an addiction, it's a distraction. But for those who are pathologically addicted, who are particularly susceptible, I think this is where there is room for legislation that these companies know how much we are using. And I think there are ways that they could help those people who really do need assistance.
It need special protection, like children, like people who are pathologically you talk about triggers, action, rewards, how do these all work together? So we kind of know what triggers are, I presume?
Yes, the triggers we have, the internal triggers we have the external triggers, then the the action is the simplest behavior done in anticipation of a reward. So this is where this would be the the scroll of the feed on Facebook, the push of the play button on YouTube, for example. Then comes the variable reward. And this uses this this idea of what's called an intermittent reinforcement. So any time there's uncertainty that causes us to engage and focus.
So when we think about certainly on social media that the scroll of the feed or what's next in the video is involves variability. It's in all sorts of things offline as well. If you think about what makes a book interesting, we want to know what's going to happen. How is the how is the the novel going to end? We want to when we think about news, the first three letters of news is any new. We want to know what's what happened that we don't know about.
It's all about that variability. When we watch spectator sports, when we watch a ball bounce around a pitch, it's all about the variability. Where's the ball going to go? Who's going to win the game? So variable rewards are not something that is new to to social media or to the Internet. Social variable rewards are in all sorts of products that are interesting and engaging.
There's some apps that I feel like are. It's so weird that I have a bigger hold over me. I'll give you an example, right, my fitness pal. All right. I go through these stages of getting into my fitness and keeping an eye on what I'm eating. And that's that's great. A deleted sometimes. And then I might download it again.
Instagram account, delete Instagram followers on Instagram and people I'm connected to the same with Facebook, even Spotify. If I was to delete Spotify, I got all my tracklist for the last 10 years. Like, I can't leave, can I? I feel like like I'm, I go in with these people to a certain extent. Is that is that planned or. That's just a good social media.
Oh, it's very much planned. It's very much designed. The question is. Does this product serve you or are you serving it, the customer is not getting what the intent of the product is, it, of course, harms them in any way. People are not puppets on the string. Right. That when it comes to these type products, these are not the same as cigarettes or as people say, oh, it's an addictive drug. Come on, we're not injecting Instagram.
We're not freebasing Facebook. We're not snorting Snapchat here.
I know you haven't you haven't met my sister. Honestly, she was starting Facebook during the pandemic so bad she just cold turkey. She just deleted, it seems like have to get it.
And what happened was better.
She feels much better. So where is this evidence that we're hopelessly addicted? Yeah.
See, this is the Indiana Jones shooting the gun install uninstall this crap. We don't need it. And I'm an advocate for it. If it doesn't serve you, bravo, get rid of it.
But let's not complain and say we're powerless, because what that does, it leads people to think that to believe what's called learned helplessness. And when people think, oh, there's nothing I can do, the algorithms, it's so addictive. You know what happens? They stop trying.
Yeah, I think it's funny. I had this analogy of I have a twin nephew and nieces and they're both putting the cost at the same time. And the little guy was out there. I hit his little ball with him and he was just kind of like, well, fuck it, that's I'm trapped. And while he was sitting there just kind of giving up, his sister was getting these cushions. And Ted, these are creating this wedge or this kind of bridge that she could climb out of the cost.
And I just thought, I love this kid. It's such a great definition of of a personality where one person is like, look, I'm helpless. And the other one is like, no, fucking get me out of here. Like, I'm going to fix this.
And you mentioned time management. Can you talk to me more about time management? Because. Because I'm not sure exactly what you mean.
Yeah. So we talked about that first step of mastering the internal triggers. And I will tell you that I at first I believed this rhetoric. I believe that the technology was the problem. And so I actually got rid of it all. At one point I did support these digital detoxes. I, I got myself this twelve dollar phone off of Alibaba with no apps on it. I got myself a word processor for the nineteen nineties with no internet connection.
I thought, oh great, now I have no internet connection, no apps. Now I'll finally be able to do what I say I'm going to do. I'm not going to get distracted anymore except for the fact that you see there is that book on my bookcase that I really should. There was this I think there's just this chapter I just read or my desk. Oh, my goodness, my desk is such a mess. Here, let me just clean it up and the trash needs to be taken out.
And I probably could go for the laundry and I kept getting distracted. You know why? Because I didn't deal with the reason I was looking to escape the discomfort. So that has to be step number one time management is pain management.
We have to learn the tactics that we can use to overcome to master these uncomfortable emotional states, because if we don't, we'll always get distracted by one thing or another. So that's the first step. The second step is to make time for traction by acknowledging that you cannot call something a distraction unless you know what it distracted you from. Let me say that again. You can't call something distracting unless you know what to distract you from. So if you don't have anything planned.
What did you get distracted from? Right, so most people don't keep any sort of a schedule and then they go through their days as I used to. I mean, I'm patient zero here. I've never had a lot of self-control. I've never had a lot of willpower. That is why I wrote this book. I wanted to unlock how some people out there seem to always do what they say they're going to do. How is it that I admire these people who they they said they were going to work out.
They work out. They say they're going to eat healthy. They eat healthy. They say they're going to go to a meeting and show up on time. They're there. I want it to be that kind of person.
I write. I'm a creative. And, you know, I've I've learnt over the years that I have to do that. I have to put my phone away and look at a clock and go, I'm not budging from this table for two hours or three hours in those days where I don't have a to do list, they can just hours go by and nothing has happened.
So I completely get what you're saying.
We're gone, you know, and you're way ahead of the curve here, because most people, they say they take the wrong approach, which you don't, which is they say I'm a creative. The muse can strike at any moment. I can't make a schedule for myself because I just I need to be open to inspiration. And those are the creatives that never make diddly. They don't produce because the way you produce is to get your butt in that chair from X moment to to why moment.
That's when the inspiration strikes. You have to plan this time or someone is going to plan it for you. There's a reason we call it paying attention. We pay attention just like we pay with dollars and cents. And you would just give out twenty pound bills to whoever wants it. You would be judicious about how you pay your money.
You know those moments where usually in your downtime people have this fear, like we mentioned, of being in their own head. Boards need to be entertained, constantly stimulated, where usually they would be times where creativity would come out of that kind of, you know, analyzing your thoughts and your feelings. And maybe, I don't know, maybe if you're creative, maybe write a poem where you write some lyrics or maybe pick up a guitar. Is that suffering, do you think, because of because of being untrained?
This is a fantastic point, because that I think part of the the disservice that the self-help community has done over the past several years is to tell people that feeling bad is bad. That is a real disservice that if you think about it, how many books have happiness in the title or some kind of goal that we all we all are supposed to expect to be contented all the time.
And that is just silly that, in fact, if you think about it from an evolutionary perspective, it would not make sense to have a species that was happy and contented all the time, because if there was ever such a species, if if there was ever a group of Homo sapiens who were perfectly happy and contented, always our ancestors probably would have killed and eaten them.
You want a species to crave, to desire to invent. That is what pushes us forward. So it's not a feeling that is bad, that, in fact, these internal triggers, we can respond to them in two ways. We can either trying to escape them because we can't deal with them. So we flee them with turning on the television, opening Instagram, doing one hundred other things, drinking a bottle, who knows what we could do to escape that discomfort.
Or we can use it like rocket fuel. We can use those internal triggers to lead us towards attraction rather than distraction.
That makes a lot of sense because as well, there's nothing nicer to be knee deep in shit at one stage and overcoming it. Right. Isn't that the human spirit? We all love the underdog. We all love the person who does that. There's a famous Irish comedian here. Any time you turn around and you say, God, if you were just coming around happy all the time, people would hate you. They just go, Oh, here's that happy fucker now, you know, like it just not it's not natural.
Tell me this as you're talking, I'm thinking you must have amazing self-discipline, dear.
No, no, no, the opposite. So I used to be clinically obese. I'm forty two and I'm in the best shape of my life because for the first time I actually exercise when I say I will. I mean this, this is why I wrote the book. I have never had good self-control and willpower know. In fact even just saying those words kind of makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, because this is the kind of stuff I heard as a as a fat guy.
Just have some self-control. What's the problem? Just use some more willpower. Stop eating so much. And easy for you to say. But but I never have had a lot of willpower and self-control. And part of the problem was that I, I fell into this spiral of blaming the food. Right. It's McDonald's. That's why I'm overweight. Right. It's these things outside of me. And of course, it wasn't until I stopped doing that and understood why I was overeating.
You know, people who are clinically obese, they don't overeat because they're hungry. I will tell you, as a former person who was clinically obese, personally, I didn't overeat because I was hungry. I overate not even because the food was that delicious. I was overeating because I was bored. I was lonely. I was feeling shame for overeating.
Do you think if you have a habit that's gone on for years or give you an example, if mathematically from a young age, I was very bottom, that's OK. Not bad of math and I was fine until I got to a certain age. And then I think a teacher put something in my head where I started to believe, you know what? I'm I'm the creative. I'm good with English and language and I'm not good with mathematics. And it wasn't until someone told me how long the fuck have you been telling yourself that?
Because what happens is you identify as that person that I'd been like that for years and years and years.
And then one day I decided just to do little things like, you know, add up the shopping as I'm walking around. And next thing you know, it starts to evolve.
Do you think if you have the habit of being a certain way for a long time, it's much harder to break it?
Yeah, absolutely. And the first step is to understand which self-image is serving us and which is hurting us. Let me give you an example. A few years ago, there was this very popular notion in the psychology community around a concept that is called ego depletion and ego depletion says that we run out of willpower, that willpower is a depletable resource, kind of like gas in the gas tank. And there was one particular psychologist that did a bunch of studies on this and did these experiments that appeared to show that you run out of this limited resource of willpower.
And even if you didn't know the term ego depletion, a lot of us act accordingly. So many years ago, before I started this line of research, I would come home from work and I would say, boy, I'm spent right. I have no willpower left. Give me that pint of ice cream. I'm going to sit on this couch and watch television because I've spent I've no willpower. Well, as is oftentimes the case in the social sciences, when a study sounds too good to be true, we replicate it, we run it again.
And so there was a researcher by the name of Carol Dweck at Stanford who is a phenomenal researcher. She wrote a great book called Mindset that you might have read. And she did these studies where she found that these these studies did not replicate that ego depletion. This study didn't find that it. Really exists, it turns out it was it was bogus science, except except in one group of people that there were, in fact, one group of people who really did exhibit this phenomenon of ego depletion.
They really did run out of willpower like gas and a gas tank.
And those people and only those people were the people who believed that willpower was a limited resource. Wow. That's it. Everybody else didn't run out of willpower. And so this is a great example of this of these self-defeating beliefs. And so just like somebody told you one day who told you this silly story that you're bad at math, I'd love to do the same for you with what you said at the very beginning of the interview, that you have an addictive personality.
You believe that as well?
I don't think you have unless unless unless you believe you have it.
That makes a lot of sense. Like, it's funny you say that because I don't drink and I don't party or do drugs or anything like that. And I've never I never had a problem giving up anything or cigarettes I found hard. But I think that was a physical thing.
I know that's one I struggle with, but there's an emptiness sometimes. I think that's the best example. I had a friend who is a shopaholic, and if you went into her wardrobe, the whole wardrobe was just clothes with the labels still on them like she had. And she would go into town. And this is before the Internet, she would go into them and just buy clothes and never take the labels off. And now and I think part of the appeal of, say, an unboxing video, I'm a sneaker head, right.
So I collect sneakers. Is that anticipation of watching someone open a box and see, that's the clincher. Once you actually you know, you ordered the trainers, they come in the post, you open the box. It's all all the high. But as soon as they arrive and you have them all of a sudden, it's a sugar rush of pleasure. And I think that's what happens, that there's a dessert. You get addicted to the waiting and the anticipation of these things.
I think some people are more prone to it. I've noticed I have done things over the years where I thought that was excessive. You know, it just certain things.
There are certainly people who suffer from the pathology of addiction. Now, the comorbidity with obsessive compulsive disorder is very, very high. That's the kind of people who really do have pathology of an addiction. It is a disease. It is not. I like it a lot. And so what I would challenge you to consider and I'm not saying that addiction isn't real, addiction is very, very real, but it is a disease that affects a very small percentage of the population, just like you say.
People say, oh, I have OCD because I like to do the dishes. No, you don't have OCD. That's a disease. That is a pathology. Real OCD is a terrible affliction. And so the same goes with addiction. It is a real pathology.
The problem is when we say we have something and we don't, we act accordingly.
Yeah, we might as well. You know, we actually know this is a real effect. This actually is real. It's called the what the hell effect, the what the hell effect happens if you're on a diet and then, you know, you're doing great. You have a very healthy breakfast, a very healthy lunch. And then at dinner, somebody says, hey, you have a piece of chocolate cake and say, OK, I'll just have one bite.
And then you say, what the hell? I already broke my diet for the day. Let me finish the rest of the cake and order another one.
Are you spying on me? Because it really feels like you might be. It's funny, I used to go to these I talk these meetings in London and they'd be big meetings. You know, as a TV presenter, you'd be nervous going to some of them.
I'm I used to listen to 90s hip hop songs like like Puff Daddy Momeni and and Biggie and stuff like this walking in. I used to listen to it because I thought up. I have to transform my mindset walking into this meeting where I feel like I'm an elevated version of myself who's uber confident and Uber a certain way. And then I would walk in and honestly, I would have a swag about me. I would be kind of like rockiness. And yes, because I told myself, this is the way you're going.
I was manifesting this. It would start to happen.
I love it. I love I'm so glad you mentioned this, because our self, we can we can adopt the self image that serves us. So just as we need to disavow these silly notions that many people have, that I have a short attention span, I have an addictive personality. I have this thing. This limitation decides we need to disavow those things that don't serve us. We can adopt, just as you said, these monikers, these identities that help us be better.
And this is exactly why my book is titled In Distractable in Distractible. Sounds like indestructible. It's an identity. It's who you are. It's a superpower. And let me give you this is why I'm so optimistic. This is why I don't believe these Chicken Little naysayers. That's. Old technology is hijacking your brain, it's all evil, it's addictive, blah, blah, blah, because we've been here before. I know we've been here before.
I remember as a kid, I grew up in the nineteen eighties, and I remember when I was a kid we had ashtrays in our living room. My parents didn't smoke and yet we had ashtrays. You remember this, but we're about the same age.
You remember we had ashtrays everywhere in our house, our houses filled with cigarette butts and that was the difference in my book on the reason we had that was because when you came over to someone's house or saw that when someone came over to our house, they just expected to light up a cigarette in our living room. Right. That was just customary. If you don't have an ashtray, that was very strange. Everybody had ashtrays in the living room.
Can you imagine if someone walked in to someone's living room? If you went to see a friend and you just lit up a cigarette in the living room would be unconscionable today, right? Yeah. What changed? What happened? Was there ever a law that says you can't smoke in someone's living room? No, not that I know of. There's never been such a law.
What changed was we adopted what we call social anti body social antibodies is when society inoculates itself from unhealthy behavior. So what happened?
One day my mom threw away the ashtrays and when a friend came over and lit up a cigarette, she said, Oh, I'm so sorry, we are non smokers.
If you'd like to smoke, if you'd be so kind as to go outside and, you know, this woman got really offended, you're going to make me go outside to smoke a cigarette, right? That was so different. That was so weird. Of course, today that's common practice. You, of course, would not smoke in someone's living room with at least not asking if you could do that. So what happened was that people started calling themselves something else.
There was a new moniker, a new identity. We are non smokers. And that's exactly what we have to do with our technology, is to say to ourselves, we are indestructible. And you know what? Maybe that involves a little bit strange behaviors. You know what? I don't respond to every text message in thirty seconds. I'm not constantly on WhatsApp. I make a schedule for my day. I know. How strange is that? It requires us to be a little bit different, a little bit weird from the mainstream in order to do our part to inoculate society so that we can all become indestructible.
You know what I find stressful? You know, when you open up a WhatsApp message and it does not take thing and, you know, they see that it's not texting and then they're going. Coulson replied, I feel this this pressure to reply. Well, it's nonsense. Listen, you've just kind of got to go. I don't I'm sorry. I don't play that game. Yeah, exactly.
And of course, nothing's going to happen if you don't reply within five minutes, the world's not going to stop spinning. And when people understand that, look, I do things that are a little bit odd, is it any more odd than a person who's a vegetarian that has an unusual diet or person who's a devout Muslim and wears a hijab? Is that's so different? I mean, it's unusual, but that's their identity. That's who they are. And so by having this identity is saying, look, I am a distractable.
This is how I live my life. This is how we can can help others also to see this new way of being non I love you.
I just think you're the best. You've got a career. Honestly, you've got such a great interest. Just to ask if you were to give like a couple of tips, you know, just things I know it's just down to everyone else's responsibility to do.
But if you were to give them steers on things of taking maybe a little bit of accountability and control back, what would they be?
Yeah, so these are the four strategies. So tactics are what we do. Strategy is why we do it and the strategy is actually more important. So here's the four step. Number one, we talked about mastering the internal triggers, understanding what are those emotional drivers to distraction. That's the most important step. Number two, making time for traction.
Those those triggers are all emotional things, loneliness and boredom, all those. OK, gotcha.
Exactly. Those uncomfortable emotions. The second step is making time for traction. Right. Turning our values into time, having that on a schedule. The third step is to hack back the external triggers. So we all know that these companies are hacking our attention to hack means to gain unauthorized access to something. Right. A computer hacker would hack into a bank account. These tech companies, the media companies are hacking our attention. They want to gain as much time that we'll give them.
But that doesn't mean we can't hack back. And so the third step is to take a few minutes, change the notification settings on your phone.
Two thirds of people with a smartphone, two thirds never change the notification settings. Really?
I'm sitting here, really, and I know I haven't changed.
And so there's some wonderful tools that you can use, ironically enough, technology to help us overcome the distraction caused by technology. For example, everybody's iPhone and Android phone comes built in with this feature called Do Not Disturb. While driving is wonderful. If you don't use it, learn how to use it. Here's what you do. You push one button and if someone calls or text you when this feature is on, they get an automatic message that says, I can't talk right now.
But if this is urgent, text me with the word urgent.
So if it really is. Oh, my God. So important. You have to call me right now. Your house is burning down.
They will text. The word urgent and then the call will come through. So these tools are already built in their freezer inside your phone right now, we just have to start using them in order to hack back our technology. And again, there's nothing these tech companies can do once we start using these techniques. So not only hacking back our phone, our computer, there are all kinds of other distractions in our life. And what about meetings? How many of us have to attend these ridiculous timewasting meetings?
Or what about our kids? Many of us are working from home today. We love them to death. But our kids can be incredible sources of distraction so we can hack back those distractions as well.
I walk through every single one of these types of distractions, hack them with a slipper, usually sort of have to go go 80s on them.
The fourth and final step is to prevent distraction with. And so this is where, again, we can use technology to block out tech distractions. So there are all kinds of tools out there. There's this app I use almost every single day called Forest that it's just very basic little app that basically what you do is you open up this app and you you see this little virtual tree, OK, this little virtual tree on your screen and you type in how much time you want to do focused work.
So when I'm doing my writing, I type in, let's say forty five minutes of time. I push this button that says plants and this cute little virtual tree is planted on my screen. Now if I pick up the phone and I do anything with it, that cute little virtual tree gets chopped down. I don't want to be a virtual tree murderer. So it's enough of a reminder. It's a pact I make with myself. No, I don't touch my phone right now.
I want to stay focused. I want to stay in distractible. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands of free tools out there that you can use to to prevent distraction by making these types of pacts. So that's it. Mastery internal triggers, make time for traction, hack back excellent figures and prevent distraction attacks. Those are the four big strategies everything else is near.
Honestly, it's like splashing fresh water on your face. It's just so good to hear someone talk like this because I think a lot of us, especially at the moment, and allow ourselves to fall into that mindset of just thinking, oh, it's not my fault. And, you know, it's the big companies. It's just brilliant to hear you talk about. I'm going to devour your books. I'm going to chew through them. I can't wait to get stuck into them all near.
Thanks so much, man. I love you. Thank you so much for that. And that was really, really fascinating.
You know, anytime. Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.
Now, you were brilliant. You're absolutely brilliant. I'll let the guys say goodbye to you as well, because another one, too, is great.
Yeah, that was brilliant.
Take care of yourself and I talk to you soon. Yeah, likewise. Take care. Bye bye. Bye bye bye.
Kajita sucking up to my friend near my friend. I'm joking. He's our friend. He's great though isn't he. My God, if you got a chance to read Indestructible, I highly recommend us actually. We're going to put a link in the in the footnotes. Yeah. Oh that. And that's all sort of shoulder. What do I think.
What do I think. OK, look, I have internal desires and goals and an image of the person I would like to be, but I'm not there yet. In other words, I often have moments where I kind of feel like I don't I hate that I'm always on my phone or regarding work. I wish I was better at time management. Sometimes, you know, while understanding those labels, it helps me observe and understand what I'm doing. Self labeling often creates an excuse for my personal development.
My goal should be to reach a better and improved version of myself. After all, I'm my best resource, right? Self labeling. It can just trigger a kind of defensive mechanism in your head and you go for me, but I'm helpless.
It's just who I am. I can't change that.
But bullshit, bullshit. This don't do that to yourself. Just get out of your own way. Don't do the idleness. I'm not preaching, but I am. Don't do that. Just get out of your own way. Meet the new you. You do anything man.
You really can. You can, you can. You can do anything. But sometimes we just, we have a version of ourselves, the kind of image of ourselves. And it's not always accurate. You just haven't proved it to yourself yet. I think that's what it is. Jesmond I'm preaching. I'm going to.
That's all I got. Now don't slow gloppy. That's so patronizing. Please. OK, listen, listen, I hope you enjoyed today's podcast as much as we did.
And as usual, you can get us on social media. You can get us at Facebook, Twitter and Twitter, get us on Twitter. You can get a Twitter or the Facebook, Instagram. And my tag is at the Ashmawy. Be Ashmawy. You can let me know how you enjoyed the podcast or you can just leave a message for Jianjun is very particular about his name, have whatever it takes and that's kind of it for this week. We'll be back on.
Next Tuesday and until then, sincerely, Nicole Brown.
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