What I discovered was the distraction, the leading cause of distraction and research bears this out, the leading cause of distraction is not what we call external triggers, not the stuff outside of us, but rather distraction begins from within what we call the internal triggers. That is the leading cause of distraction, boredom, uncertainty, fatigue, anxiety. If you don't understand this principle that I live by, that time management requires pain management. Time management requires pain management.
You'll always be distracted by something, right? If it's too much news, too much booze, too much football, too much Facebook, it doesn't matter. Something is going to distract you unless you understand what feeling you are trying to escape. Procrastination, distraction. It's not a character flaw. It's not some kind of moral failing. It is the inability to deal with emotional discomfort.
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Check out the show notes for a link. My guest today is near Wall, founder of two companies and the author of Hooked and Indestructible. For most of his life, he worked in the video game and advertising space where he learned the tricks and tactics that are used to hook our attention. Then he did a deep dive into how we can take back control. This episode is all about what we can do to hark back. You walk away with a clear list of easy to implement ideas to help you get more done in less time.
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Have you seen the social dilemma ?
Oh, I wish you would have see the social dilemma, that would have been a really good conversation. Have you heard about it now?
No,What is it?
It's this Netflix film that everybody's talking about that basically technology is melting your brain. Technology is addictive. Technology is hijacking your brain. It's this sorry. It's a horror film. Galavanting as a documentary. It's it's ridiculous. But people slap it up.
So what's the promise that, like, technology is destroying us?
that technology is basically the source of no social media specifically is the source of all of our ills these days. It's classic moral panic stuff, but people just love it.
What's your take on that?
My take on it is that it's it's the equivalent of if Steven Spielberg called Jaws a documentary,
it's you really have to see it. It's so it's sloppy to the point of negligence. It's so silly. Let me tell you what happened. So they interviewed me for three hours for this documentary. So I sat down with the director for three hours. We did a super long interview and they completely cut me out of the film and I don't really care.
OK, fine. It's not about ego here. They didn't even have one person represent the other side of the story, not even one person. And so it's this it's this basically this horror show, really. I mean, they have the docu the dramatizations of the big bad algorithms that are sending you notifications in order to bring you back to Facebook and keep you addicted. And it's not scientific in the least riddled with errors. Ridiculous, but it's almost a religion like people.
It's almost like I was just talking to a friend of mine about this, and he's he's in in personal fitness and health. And he talks about how, like, it's actually very similar to the Netflix documentaries. You know, every other week there'll be a documentary about, oh, everybody should be Kitto know everybody should be vegetarian. No, everybody should be vegan. And there's no, like, talking about the science and any of these camps, it's only about like my studies and my research.
And let's not look at anybody else's perspective. And that's exactly what has become, I think, of this debate around social media and tech addiction and all this nonsense, unfortunately.
Do you think that it's changing to the point where, like what's happening online is coming to video now?
Like what drives clicks is sort of like one sided. You get your side, they watch the whole thing. So if your metrics are sort of like watch time on videos and all of this, you want to reinforce what people already know. You don't want to challenge them. You don't want to get too nuanced. Like, do you think that that is just translating over?
I mean, this is the ultimate irony and the hypocrisy of this film, because the film is about how Facebook and social media is in general is perpetuating filter bubbles and filter bubbles are bad because they only give people one perspective. And so they made a movie that the only way they can figure out how to make a documentary was to create a filter bubble and only give people one side of the story.
and it's hella entertaining, just like a horror film as hell entertaining. You don't watch a horror film and have the director stop the film and say, hey, folks, just want to remind you that the monster isn't real. No, you want to get into it. And so they just they use every manipulative moviemaking trick in the book that just makes the whole thing just a big hypocritical shit show. Unfortunately, the real tragedy is it could have been awesome.
It could have been something because I actually agree that we should use less social media or at least use it more responsibly. But instead, they took this path of scaring the hell out of people. And I don't think that's effective.
What's the core of that? Is it that it's feeding the worst part of ourselves or that it's showing us? Things that we don't have and therefore we're wanting them and we're always and we're never happy or content because we're always seeing people with things that we don't have, like it used to be you'd be sort of like in a small town and you wouldn't see the world, you would just see your street. So if somebody got a new car, you'd have somebody right there.
But now you see, like everybody in the world, you have access to all these celebrities and the lifestyle they're living. And it sort of makes you feel less about yourself. And at the same time, the worst parts of yourself can get reinforced in that filter bubble where you're just spiraling. And it's sort of like feeding on itself, which is like, oh, you click on this, we're going to show you more content like this.
Yeah. And I'm not defending social media. I'm not saying people should use more social media. Quite the opposite of what I'm saying is that we need some nuance. We need to understand more than just tech is addictive. Tech is bad. Don't use tech because that's not realistic for people. You know, for many people, our livelihoods depend on this technology. You can't just say, I'm going to stop checking email. I'm going to stop using my cell phone.
I'm going to stop checking social media. For many people, these things are wonderful. You know, they talk about in the movie about how teen suicide has risen. And there's all kinds of that's those kind of statistics that we can go into in a minute. But they haven't talked about is, for example, that LGBTQ suicide has dropped largely because one of the reasons, not the only reason, but one of the reasons is that people from disparate groups, if you lived in that small town and nobody was like you because you were LGBTQ, now you can connect to people in a way you couldn't connect.
You can't find a community of people. Exactly.
Exactly. Which, of course, has goods and bads. Right. Sophocles, said the Greek philosopher. Nothing great enters the life of mortals without a curse. Every new technology has goods and bads, any technology of this scale. The question is how do we keep the good aspects without succumbing to the bad aspects? And the answer is quite simple. It's what we've always done in history. We adapt and we adopt. We adapt our behaviors and we adopt new technology to fix the last generation of crappy technology.
This is what we have always done. We did this with the motor car. We did this with television. We did this with radio. We always do this. But when we turn from, I think what is a healthy attribute of skepticism. Right. I think skepticism is a very healthy attribute to now. The conversation has become cynical, right? We're no longer skeptics. We're cynics like these tech companies can do nothing. Right. And I think that that that that's a missed opportunity.
Right. We want more people to go into tech, not necessarily to support big tech, screw big tech, but to create the new tech that fixes the old tax problems.
Arguably, though, didn't you create a lot of this with your book Hooked, like your research into how to make things addictive and how to make them?
OK, before we get there, how did you get interested in sort of things that are outside of our control and how how they can or are not even outside of our control, but things that are outside of us and how they influence us? And then I want to go into that because, you know, arguably you get labeled as the guy who made tech addictive for a lot of people.
Yeah. By people who haven't read the book. The book, just to put this in perspective, Hooked How to Build Habit-forming products came out in 2014. Google was started years and years before that Facebook was started. Years before that, the gaming companies were started. Decades before that hooked was about stealing the secrets of social media companies so that the rest of us could use it in hooked the only case study in the entire book and the entire book. There's only one case study.
It's not Facebook, it's not Twitter. It's not any of the big tech companies. You know who it is you happen to remember.
I don't remember often
The Bible, the Bible, not the actual King James, the Bible app, which today actually hundreds of millions of people use, if it was a big tech company, it would be one of the biggest. It would be worth billions and billions of dollars. Why did I pick the Bible up as the case study? I knew people would think that somehow this book was used to manipulate your minds. And look, I know better than anyone how these companies get you hooked.
I wrote the book Hooked. I know all their tricks. And I will tell you they're good. They're not that good. They're not causing addiction. The name of the book is How to Build Habit Forming Products. And I intentionally did not call it how to build addictive products for a very specific reason. An addiction is a pathology. Today, we love to say everything's an addiction. My wife ordered shoes from the store DSW and the box came with it was written on the side, dange addictive contents.
Inside we medicalise everything and I think to our own detriment because these things aren't addictions for the vast majority of people. Let's think with a little bit of logic here, the definition of addiction is a persistent compulsive dependency on a behavior substance that harms the user. You would never want to build an addictive product that's sadistic. You would never want to do that. And just because a product is potentially addictive doesn't mean it. Addicts, everyone, right. We all have a glass of wine with dinner, a beer with lunch.
We're not all alcoholics. Single digit percentages of people are alcoholics. Single digit percentages of people are addicted to social media because people get addicted to all sorts of things. Any analgesic is potentially addictive. So I think the right way to approach this is to have legislation. I'm for legislation, but let's legislate that. We are going to make these companies identify and help people who are pathologically addicted. Those people can't help themselves. They are not of sound, body and mind.
The other group that needs protection is children. Right. There's lots of things in society that I wouldn't let my 12 year old daughter do. I wouldn't let her go to a casino and just play blackjack. I wouldn't let her go into a bar and order a gin and tonic. She's twelve years old. She's not ready for it. And why do we think that an iPad is somehow an eye nanny who had that idea? That's stupid. There's no form of media that I would let my daughter consume without any form of supervision, even books.
We think books are oh, this beautiful technology, no books. Not only were they just as feared as social media today, if you look back at what people said about the written word, let alone comic books and all these other mundane things that we think are couldn't possibly be harmful, people said the same thing back then about those technologies they do today about social media. But I wouldn't even let my 12 year old daughter walk into a library and just read any book.
There are lots of books that a 12 year old little girl should not be reading. She's not ready for it. So any form of media needs moderation for people who are not of sound, body and mind, pathologically addicted people, which are identifiable, identifiable cohort and children. But for the rest of us, we need to stop calling things addictions when they're not addictions. For the vast majority of us, they are distractions. But when we call them a distraction, that's no fun, right?
Because now I can't blame, you know, when there's an addiction.
Now, it's. My fault's
a dealer. Exactly. Well, it's not your fault. That's I think that's that's a loaded term. I wouldn't say it's your fault. You didn't invent Facebook, you didn't invent Twitter or Slack or any of these tech companies didn't vet that stuff. It's not your fault. But lots of things in life are not your fault. But they are still your responsibility.
And so the price of progress, the price of having all these amazing magical tools is what? Guys, we need a little bit of personal responsibility. And I think that's my big criticism of these Chicken Little tech critics. Nobody ever talks about, wait a minute, we can do something right. We can turn off notifications. We can hack back the technology. And it seems like such common sense and it's never discussed because people are so desperate to blame big tech and hope that big government fixes the problem.
They're not going to fix the problem for us. And even if they could, why the heck would we wait and not do something about it ourselves?
Do you think it's as much blaming other people as it is just really absolving ourself? Because if if it's not somebody else's fault, then it's really within our control or our responsibility. And it's so much easier just to put it on somebody else. And they're convenient arguments.
And this is I think this is a a pervasive trend. And when in order to gain control without assuming responsibility, this is what we love to do. I mean, and it's and there's many aspects of society that we do this. But it just fascinates me how, you know, I wrote this book in Distractible. It took me five years to write it. My gut instinct, by the way, when I first embarked on this journey to write this book, I really wrote it for me.
And I thought, you know, I wrote book. And then I found myself overusing technology. I found myself there was one seminal moment that really made me reconsider my relationship with distraction. It was when I was with. My daughter one afternoon and we had this just daddy daughter time plan just this afternoon to play together, and I remember we had this activity book that daddies and daughters could could play different games. So there was a sudoku making their an airplane and there was to get to know each other, ask each other this question like a conversation prompted.
The question was, if you could have any superpower, what superpower would you want? And I remember the question verbatim, but I can't tell you what my daughter said, because in that moment, for some reason, I decided to look at my phone and have to check something. And my daughter got the message that I was sending that whatever was on my phone was more important than she was. And when I finally looked up from my device, she was gone.
She left the room to play with some toy outside and I'd blown it. And Shane, if I'm really honest with you, it didn't just happen once, it would happen on multiple occasions, not just with my daughter would happen when I said I would go exercise and I didn't. I was going to eat. Right. But I wouldn't I would get to my desk and say, OK, I'm going to write. I'm going to work on that hard project I've been delaying.
And yet 20, 30, 40 minutes I'm checking the news or scrolling Twitter or doing whatever else. That's not the thing I said I was going to do. And so that's when I decided, look, I really have to reassess this problem. And my first instinct was to do exactly what most people do. Well, it's the technology distracting me. You see, I was looking at my phone instead of being with my daughter. It must be the phone's fault.
And I actually I read every book I could find on this site. I did the digital minimalism. I did all that stuff. I got rid of that. I did the digital detox. And it's amazing. I got myself a flip phone from Alibaba. I had to have it imported from from China because they don't really make a
nineteen nineties style.
Exactly. Exactly. This flip phone with no apps, no Internet connection. I even found on eBay a word processor that a library is selling from the nineteen nineties. No Internet connection and just an Ethernet cable. That's how you like downloaded. Whatever you typed is the word processor. And I sat down on my desk, I said great, no internet, no apps, no Facebook, no Twitter, no email. Now I'm going to write and I would sit down on my desk and I'd say, you know, before I start writing, there's that book that there's that chapter in the book.
I think this might be helpful with my writing. And boy, my desk is cluttered. Let me let me just clean up my desk real quick. And, you know, the trash, the trash needs to be taken out. And I still got distracted because what I discovered was the distraction, the leading cause of distraction and research bears this out. The leading cause of distraction is not what we call external triggers. It's not the stuff outside of us.
But rather distraction begins from within what we call the internal triggers. That is the leading cause of distraction, boredom, uncertainty, fatigue, anxiety. If you don't understand this principle that I live by, that time management requires pain management. Time management requires pain management. You'll always be distracted by something, right? If it's too much news, too much booze, too much football, too much Facebook, it doesn't matter. Something is going to distract you unless you understand what feeling you are trying to escape.
Procrastination, distraction. It's not a character flaw. It's not some kind of moral failing. It is the inability to deal with emotional discomfort.
Go deeper on that.
Like, why are we unable to deal with emotional comfort? Where does that come from?
Yeah. Yes, fundamentally,
is there gender differences, too?
I haven't seen gender differences, but I think the reason why we why distraction and procrastination is always an emotion regulation problem is because the root cause of all human behavior is not what most people expect that most people subscribe to this this pop psychology notion that has Freud actually proposed that he called it the pleasure principle, that everything we do is about the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain? Right. Jeremy Bentham said something very similar. We all know it as carrots and sticks.
Right. This is how you motivate. Turns out, neurologically speaking, this is not true. That human motivation is not about carrots and sticks. It's not about pain and pleasure, but rather it's just about one thing. All human behavior is spurred by the desire to escape discomfort. Everything we do, we do for just one reason the desire to escape discomfort, even the pursuit of pleasurable sensations. If you think about it, craving, desire, wanting, lusting.
These sensations are themselves psychologically destabilising. They feel bad. In fact, the brain spurs us to action by creating this discomfort that gets us to act. So this is called the homeostatic response. We know this to be true physiologically. It's pretty much common sense, right? If you think about how if you go outside, you live in Ottawa, if it's cold, your brain says that doesn't feel good. It's too cold. You should put on a coat.
If you come back inside with that heavy coat, your body says, oh, this is uncomfortable, it's too hot. Take it off. If you're hungry, you feel hunger pangs. So you eat. And if you're stuffed way too much. Oh, the body the brain says this doesn't feel good. You should stop eating. So those are physiological responses to discomfort. The same holds true to our psychological responses. So, for example, when you feel lonely, check Facebook when you're uncertain before you scan your brain to see if you know the answer, Google it when you are bored.
Oh, my goodness. Tons of solutions for boredom. Write sports scores and stock prices in the news. Right. Let's think about somebody else's problem halfway across the world so we don't have to think about what's going on in our own lives. So lots and lots of solutions, commercial solutions are offered for these emotional discomfort that we seek to escape. So that's why the first step to becoming an distractible is not to blame the technology. It's not to shame yourself.
It's to. Claim responsibility for these uncomfortable sensations by mastering the internal triggers, and this is this is worth talking about for just a minute, that most people out there, when it comes to distraction, they tend to fall into these two buckets of what I call blamers and shamers. Right. The blamers, they say it's Facebook, it's the iPhone, it's my boss, it's my kids. That's why I'm not doing what I said I was going to do.
I don't accomplish my goals. I don't I missed this deadline or I did this and I didn't do what I said. I'm going to do it because of this stuff outside of me. They blame or this is what I hear all the time these days. It's the modern world, right.
As if you can do anything about any of that stuff. You can't change any of that stuff. There's no magical time machine to go back in time before these these technologies existed. So that's futile. The other extreme, and this is the camp I used to fall into is what we call the Shamer. The Shamer doesn't blame things outside themselves. They shamed themselves. They say, oh, there I go again, getting distracted. I have a short attention span.
I have an addictive personality. I'm a more I'm not a morning person. Right. They label themselves with all of these self-defeating images of themselves, self images that that make it even worse. Why? Because the more shame we feel, the more of these internal triggers. Shame is a very uncomfortable internal trigger. The more we feel of that internal trigger, the more likely we are to seek escape with guess what, more distraction. So we don't want to be a blamer.
We don't want to be ashamed or we want to be what we call a claimer. A claimer claims responsibility not for how they feel. This is a really important point. You cannot control your feelings. This is a myth. You can't control your urges any more than you can control the urge to sneeze. If you feel the urge to sneeze, it's too late. You already felt that urge.
What you can control is how you respond to that feeling, how you respond to that urge. So when you feel the urge to sneeze, do sneeze all over everyone and get them sick, or do you take out a tissue and cover your face so you don't you don't infect others. So that's where the word responsibility comes from. It's how we respond to those internal triggers to those uncomfortable emotional states so that when we feel boredom, anxiety, fatigue, loneliness, whatever the case might be, do we escape that discomfort in an unhealthy way by getting out of our heads, turning on the TV, reading the reading the news, going on email or Facebook or whatever, or do we deal with that, discover in a healthy way that that propels us forward?
A couple of things you said there, strike me as really interesting and maybe you can pick up on one of these threads, which is like one, we we sort of have habitual responses to things even though we control them. When I'm looking at Facebook in line at the supermarket or something, that's a it develops a habit. And then the other thing that you said that really struck me was how when we shame ourselves, our identity becomes within that shame.
And then that becomes self reinforcing, because if you tell yourself you're always distracted, you're always the person that does this. I mean, that just becomes more and more of the case.
That's what you see, what you expect, and you become powerless in a way.
I'd love to hear you sort of riff on those two things.
Right. And this is definitely something that the tech companies take advantage of, that the internal triggers are part of the hook model that I describe in my book, that they attach themselves to that uncomfortable, emotional state, the board on the uncertainty, the fear. They know that you are looking for a self. You are looking for some kind of solution. And so whatever you habituate to, whatever you turn to with little or no conscious thought will be what your brain will look for to solve that problem as quickly and efficiently as possible, which is something to be aware of.
We have to be careful with that. Now, the way we short circuit that is to understand what is that discomfort. And this is, of course, nothing new. Plato talked about this twenty five hundred years ago. The Greek philosopher called it a Carsia. The tendency to do things against our better interests. And he he asked this question. He pondered, why is it that even though we know what to do, why don't we just do it?
This isn't a modern question. This is an ancient question. This is this wasn't a question that just came up with Facebook and the iPhone. People have always been distracted by one thing or another. And the answer is it's always this inability to deal with discomfort in a healthy way. And I think part of the problem, particularly today, it's a relatively modern phenomenon, is that we have this this aversion to discomfort in in an unhealthy extent. What do I mean by that?
Of course, pain doesn't feel good. It's not meant to feel good. It's meant to spur you into action. But that doesn't mean that feeling bad is bad. That, in fact, feeling bad can be very good, that if we think about how many books do they have happy in the title and preach contentment and tell you that if you follow this five point plan, you're going to reach Nirvana as if if you're not constantly happy, something's wrong with you.
And that's totally ridiculous that I would argue that from an evolutionary basis, you wouldn't want a species of Homo sapiens to be happy and contented all the time. If there was ever a group of Homo sapiens that was happy continuously, our ancestors would have killed and eaten them. Right. That would not be a beneficial evolutionary trait. You want people to be perpetually perturbed. You want them to want more. That's what gets us to hunt, to invent, to create that that discomfort, that wanting more can be rocket fuel to propel us forward.
And so that's why it's very important not to run away from that discomfort, but to harness it to lead you towards traction rather than distraction.
How do we learn to deal with that discomfort? How do you teach your daughter to deal with that rather than solving our problems? How do you teach adults to deal with discomfort instead of running away from it or thinking that it shouldn't happen at all? Because a lot of people seem to grow up, at least in the Western world, where they feel like it's somebody else's responsibility to make them happy or take care of problems for them,
right, no, I think that this is this is, I think the aid that the question of our age and I think, you know, this is this is a good place because I realize we jumped into the conversation without kind of defining some terminology. I think words are really, really important when it comes to the subject. So let me just back up just for a quick second and talk about what is distraction, really. I mean, we use this term, but what does it actually mean?
And I think the best way to understand what distraction is, is to understand what distraction is not. So most people will say the opposite of distraction is focus. Right. I don't want to be distracted. I want to be focused. But that's not actually the opposite of distraction, the opposite of distraction. If you look at the origin of the word, the opposite of distraction is traction, that both words come from the same Latin root trickery, which means to pull and both words also and in the same six letters when that spells action.
So traction by definition, is any action that pulls you towards what you said you were going to do, things that you do with intent, things that help move you towards your values and help you become the kind of person you want to become. So those are acts of traction. The opposite of traction is distraction. Distraction is any action that pulls you away from what you plan to do, anything that is not done with intent, anything that moves you away from your values and pulls you further away from becoming the person you want to become.
So this isn't just semantics. This is really important because I would argue that any action can be traction or distraction. What do I mean by that? Let me give an example. I would sit at my desk every morning before I embarked on this line of research. I would sit at my desk and I would say, OK, I'm going to work on a big project. I'm going to finish that blog post. I'm going to work on that proposal.
I'm going to get to work that thing. I've been delaying no more procrastinating. I'm going to do it. Here I go. But first, let me check some email. Right, because that's a worky task, right? That's something I have to do at the end of my day anyway. Right. So let me just go do that right now. And what I didn't realize is that I was letting distraction trick me into prioritizing the easy and the urgent work as opposed to the important work that this is the this is the most pernicious form of distraction, the kind that we don't even realize is pulling us off course.
Because if I sit at my desk and I start playing Candy Crush, obviously that's a distraction. But if I'm checking email thinking I'm productive, but really I'm not working on that thing, I know I should do, that's more important. That is also a distraction because it's not what I plan to do with my time.
Conversely, anything could be traction. So don't believe these Chicken Little tech critics that say video games are melting your brain and Facebook is melting your brain and everything is melting your brain. Ridiculous. The science doesn't support that at all. Right. That if you plan to spend your time playing a video game or scrolling social media or watching a YouTube video, great.
There's nothing wrong with it as long as it's done on your schedule, not the tech companies. So the time you plan to waste is not wasted time. Any distraction, it can be turned into traction by simply making time for it in your day. So back to your question about how do I teach my daughter this? There's a whole section in the book about how to raise in distractible kids. And this is something I feel really passionate about, because if you think the world is distracting now, just wait a few years, right?
It's only going to become more distracting with virtual reality and augmented reality. And who knows what else reality. It's only going to get worse. So we have to raise our kids to become in distractable. This is going to be the skill of the century. This is what is going to define the people who. Become manipulated and coerced into doing all kinds of things because somebody else wanted them to do versus people who say, no, I control my attention, I control my life because I am indestructible.
So the first step is to master those internal triggers. So now that we know, OK, we've got traction, we've got distraction, we have internal triggers and external triggers. Now we work through those four main points and this is how we become indestructible. So it's using these four techniques in concert, the first being mastering the internal triggers. And there's lots of tactics that we can talk about there. The next part is making time for traction. This is where we actually ask ourselves, wait a minute, how do we want to spend our time?
Because I have very little sympathy when somebody says, oh, I got distracted because. Did you see what happened on social media? Did you see what happened in the news? My boss wanted this. My kids want that. And then you ask them, you say, OK, well, what did you get distracted from? Meaning what was on your calendar? What did you want to do with your time that you didn't do? Oh, I'm not really sure.
Well, then how did you know you got distracted if you didn't know what you got distracted from? So we have to plan our day. There's just no other option. And this is where I bust some myths around, for example, to do lists. Right, to do list. Turns out most people use the way they used to do this is completely destroying their productivity. We can talk about why that's such a horrible technique in a minute. The third step is to get back to those external triggers, right?
The pings, the dings, the rings, all of these things in our outside environment that can lead us towards traction or distraction. What we're going to do is to systematically ask ourselves, is that external trigger serving me or am I serving it? Is it leading me towards traction or distraction? And they're not all bad, right? If if you get a phone call that was for a meeting you scheduled or a notification on your phone, it says, hey, now it's time to go work out or be with your kids or whatever, if that's what you plan to do, it's traction.
But if you're with your daughter, as I was, and now I get a notification for some stupid app, well, then that's distraction. So we're going to ask ourselves for email, for meetings, for our desktop, for our phone. We're going to systematically go through all these different places where we might find external triggers and do what I call hack back the external triggers. Because one of the things that I think really drives me crazy these days is that we blame the technology, but the technology is so much weaker.
We are so much more powerful than the tech companies. For example. Let me give you one quick example. I love YouTube. There's some amazing videos on YouTube. There's also a lot of crap on YouTube. So what I did, I got a free Chrome extension called YouTube. D.F. DFG stands for Distraction Free, Totally Free. And when I install this YouTube DFG now, every time I watch a video, I only see the video. There's no auto play disables that feature.
It scrubs out all those videos on the sidebar there, all the ads, all that crap gone. Right. I hacked back the technology.
And so by doing that, now I'm in control. Now I'm using the technology the way I want to. And guess what? There's nothing that that that Zuckerberg or Dorsey or any of those guys can do now that I've hacked back the technology. So we're much more powerful than they are if we know what to do. And there's all these tools are free, essentially. And then the last step just to finish up the last of the four is to prevent distraction with PACs.
PACs are what we call a pre-commitment device. This is where we make a promise with ourselves, with other people to make sure that as the last line of defense, when we might get distracted without conscious awareness, we put in some kind of firewall to make sure that as the last line of defense, we don't slip into distraction. We can talk more about all those tactics. But essentially it's really about these four strategies that I think a lot of people, they look for the silver bullets, they look for the life hacks.
There is no silver bullet, really. It's about these four strategies, master. The internal triggers, make time for traction, Hack back the external triggers and prevent distraction with PAC
Let's dive in the main ordert let's start with mastering your internal triggers.
How we master internal triggers. There's a few different ways that I talk about in the book. And none of these techniques, by the way, are just like techniques I made up. This is I spent five years researching this book and there's over 30 pages of peer reviewed studies and citations. So a lot of what I draw from is from acceptance and commitment therapy, which has been around for decades. And so there's a few different techniques. So let me just for the sake of time, I'll give you a few that I use every day to help me master these internal triggers.
One of the first things we can do is to write down the preceding emotion. So when you find yourself getting distracted, if you can just take out a pen and paper and just write down what was that sensation, boredom, anxiety, fear, uncertainty. Just if you can just put pen to paper and recognize that sensation even after it happened, that's OK. Very substantial. First step. The next step is to explore that sensation with curiosity rather than contempt.
OK, so we don't want to be a blamer. We don't want to be a shamer. We want to explore that sensation. OK, don't don't shame yourself. Don't tell yourself. Oh, there I go again. Getting distracted. I'm. I must have a short attention span, there must be something wrong with me. No, there's nothing wrong with you. You're learning a new skill of how to recognize those uncomfortable emotional states. The third step, and this is called surfing the urge.
And this has been around for decades, a very, very effective technique, because what we realize is that emotions are like waves, that they crest and subside. So if we can just hold out long enough for that emotional wave to crest and then and then subside, we can overcome that urge. And here's how we do it. One of the techniques that I use almost every day is called the 10 minute rule. And the 10 minute rule says that you can give in to any distraction, OK, eating that piece of chocolate cake that you're trying to cut back on sugar, smoking a cigarette, picking up the cell phone when you really want to be working on that project that that that you need to focus on whatever the case might be, you can give in to that distraction, but not right now.
OK, you're going to do that in ten minutes. Why is this such a powerful technique? Because we know that for frequently occurring external triggers, meaning if you can't if you can't remove the external triggers from your environment, abstinence doesn't work. In fact, abstinence can backfire. Why does abstinence backfire?
It's almost like when you pull on a rubber band, right? If you pull on a rubber band and you pull, pull, pull, pull, pull, eventually it gets so tight that when you let go of the rubber band, the rubber band doesn't go back to where it started. No, it's going to ricochet across the room. Right. And that's how these when you abstain, when you tell yourself, no, don't do it, don't do it, don't do it.
Don't, don't, don't, don't, don't, don't. OK, fine. When you give in, the brain begins to associate that. The relief from the discomfort of telling yourself no only comes from telling yourself yes. And this is actually a theory as to why cigarettes are as addictive as they are. It's not that nicotine doesn't cause a sensation in the brain. Absolutely. But if the association of don't smoke, don't smoke, don't smoke, don't smoke.
That's actually what we get addicted to. And it's the same exact thing. This is why digital detox is don't work, right, because we're not learning how to deal with that discomfort. So one of the ways to deal with the discomfort as opposed to telling yourself, no, you're going to tell yourself not yet. And so when we say, OK, I'm going to work on this for 10 that so many times, I'll take out my phone, I'll set the timer for 10 minutes, and now I have two choices to make.
I can either get back to the task at hand or do whatever it is I said I was going to do with my time in advance. Or I can explore that sensation with curiosity rather than contempt. I can just sometimes I just sit there five, 10 minutes go by where all I'm doing is just sitting with my sensations. What is it that I'm experiencing right now? Just having a little conversation with myself, not beating myself up. And what you will find is by the time that alarm goes off by just ten minutes, it feels like forever in the moment.
But if you just let ten minutes go by, you will see that that emotional urge will crest and subside just like a wave nine times out of ten. You don't even have that urge anymore. And you're right back at work. And so you've successfully mastered that internal trigger. So that's that's one technique out of many that we can use.
And two is managing your time.
So the second step is to make time for traction. That's the second big strategy. Making time for traction essentially acknowledges that you can't call something a distraction unless you know what it distracts you from. And so this is where we're actually. Yeah. So this is this is a really, really important insight. Most people out there don't keep any sort of a schedule. What they keep as a to do list and to do lists are horrible
on the site validated right now.
Oh, you're not too big to do list guy either.
No, I had to do I put almost everything in my calendar.
Yes, OK, thank goodness. So you're already a convert and this is this has been around for decades. Actually, this is one of the most well researched time management techniques out there. This is called making an implementation intention. Literally thousands of studies have shown that you are much more likely to do what you say you're going to do when you plan a time and place to do it. It's kind of common sense and it's incredible how few people say, oh, I use my to do list to get things done because that's what some guru told me or I read some book that that's what I'm supposed to do.
And they don't realize that to do lists are killing your productivity and they kill your productivity for a few reasons. I know I'm killing a sacred cow right now, but this is really, really important. I'm not saying don't write down things, OK, if what you do is a brain dump of yours, all the things I need to get done, that's fine. What I'm saying specifically is don't run your life with a to do list. Don't wake up in the morning and look at your to do list as the first place you look.
You should be looking at your calendar. Your calendar is your best to do list. And the reason to do lists are so toxic is for a few reasons. Number one, when people look at it to do list first thing in the morning as opposed to their calendar, do you think the first thing they do in the morning is the important thing, the hard thing, the thing they know they really need to get done? No, of course not.
They do the easy stuff, right? They they do the stuff that's not that important. The distracting stuff that doesn't really matter if they did, that's what we tend to do. The second big problem with to do list is that they're not there's no there's no constraint to a to do list. So what people do want to do is they just add more and more and more and more, making them even less likely to finish what they say they're going to do.
I've never met anybody who actually finishes everything they say they're going to do on their to do list. Unless they keep a calendar, they never finish everything. And this was me, by the way, five years ago. I mean, this is very autobiographical. And the third reason this is so toxic is that when you live like this, when day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, you don't do what you said you're going to do.
You still have unfinished tasks. At the end of your day on your to do list, you are reinforcing a self image of someone who doesn't live with personal integrity. Right, that you are reinforcing. Another day went by and I didn't do what I said I'm going to do. I lie to myself yet again. I didn't go to the gym. I didn't finish that project. I didn't make time for my kids. Whatever the case might be, I didn't do what I said I was going to do.
And that over time begins to become acceptable. And that's where we really lose the war. We begin to think of our self image as someone who just can't follow through. And then the lost cause, as opposed to a time box calendar with a time box calendar. What we're doing is we're going to decide in advance how we are going to spend our time. And the only metric of success is not did we check some some box off? Right.
That's not the metric of success. The only metric of success is not finishing anything. The only metric of success is did we do what we said we were going to do for as long as we said we would without distraction? Not did I finish? OK, this is a big mindshift for people. It's not about finishing the task. It's about working on the task for as long as you said you would without distraction. And it turns out that people who use that tactic actually finish more.
They are actually more productive than to do less people. So that's why time boxing is such an absolutely fundamentally important technique that we must use. And it's really about what I call turning our values into time, where the first step here is to ask yourself how what are your values really? I mean, that's where we start. But this is very difficult for me because I don't know what are my values. Instead, what I tell you to do is to look at values as attributes of the person you want to become.
If values are defined as attributes of the person you want to become. So what are you going to do is to ask yourself how would the person I want to become spend their time? And so here's where I give these three life domains of you. You are at the centre of these three life domains. How would the person you want to become invest time in themselves? How much time with the person you want to become, spend reading or prayer or video games, whatever it is that you want to do with your time to invest in yourself?
How much time with that person spend on themselves and put that time in your calendar? Then the relationships domain. How much time with the person I want to become spend on friendships, on important family relationships, on community groups, whatever the case may be, put that time in your calendar. And then finally, the last domain is what we call the work domain. And this is where we have two kinds of work. We have reflective work and we have reactive work, reactive work you'll be very familiar with.
This is the paying the denning's the this is responding to the emails, the slap notifications, the phone calls. Part of everybody's job is reactive work. The problem is that if we're not careful, our entire day becomes reactive work. And so we have got to carve out time to think. And I know you're a huge advocate of the shame that if you want a competitive advantage over other people in your industry, if you want to compete, advantage over people in your workplace, make time to think because nobody's doing it.
Nobody's making that time to plan to strategize. They're just reacting all day long as opposed to the person who makes thirty minutes, forty five minutes an hour and protects that time and keeps it sacred for time for reflective work. This is the kind of person who gets ahead. So that's what, that's what making time for traction and turning your values into time is all about.
I like how you phrase it out of a couple of things that might add or maybe you can push back on, one of which is I remember people tell you what their priorities are and then you ask them how they spend their time and they.
And don't line up right, in part because they operate on this to do list mentality. And the other thing I've noticed, and this is what got me here to the to do list, to be honest with you, is. When you have a to do list, it's really easy for somebody to usurp your time. It's really easy for somebody to have a request for you and you just put it on your to do list. You just scroll to the bottom of like this four or five pages or whatever your system is.
And you just add it and you're like, I'll get to that. But when you have to actually go in and physically book a time in your calendar and you start going out two weeks, three weeks, you're like, oh, maybe, maybe this isn't that important to me. Maybe this isn't something I should be saying yes to. It's really interesting.
And then the other aspect that I thought was this also applies at work, right? Where if you're running a team and you're sort of like you're given priorities and you have a top three priorities, that you can do a calendar audit and see what percentage of your time and your team's time is actually spent on those priorities versus all the other stuff that gets in the way.
What we found or I found, I guess is one, put all the table stakes stuff in the afternoon. So all the stuff that's not really adding value. So for me, a lot of times is sort of like lawyers calls, calls with accountants, like all of the stuff of running a business. I put it all in the afternoon because my most valuable time of the day is the morning. And the morning is for me to be productive on the things that matter to me.
And I never have to find time because I know with very few exceptions from every day, I don't book anything until 12:00. There's the odd exception, but it's just it's there. It's sacred time. It's untouched. And then I can work on the things that are the most important to me. And I find that that gives me velocity. Like I actually start moving towards my destination versus when I didn't do that. And I operated on this to do list of so busy with.
There was nobody who was busier than I was. But I wasn't actually getting anywhere. Like, I didn't feel like I was getting any traction. I was just sort of running in circles.
It's such a great point. And even the words you used, you said the way you spent your time, you know, we use that kind of language of how we spend time, how we pay attention. We use the same words with time and attention as we do for money. Right. We spend money. We we pay with dollars and cents just the same way we would spend time. And we pay attention because these things have value. And, you know, it's ridiculous to think that you would stand in the corner and give whoever wants it.
Here's here's a five. Here's a twenty. Take my money. Go ahead. Have as much as you want. You would be judicious about how you spend your money. And yet when it comes to time, this one thing that no matter how rich you are, you still have the same twenty four hours in a day. Right? Jeff Bezos doesn't have more time in his day. Bill Gates doesn't have more than twenty four hours. We all have the same amount no matter how rich you are somehow that we give away to everybody.
And that's that's so, so counterproductive. And I think what you said about in the company context is super important. One of the techniques I talk about in the book that has really changed my life and I know it's changed the life of of thousands of people who use this technique is called schedule thinking. And this is this is pretty new. A lot of people already have heard of time boxing, but schedules thinking is not something that people have readily do.
And this is a really, really powerful technique because one of the benefits of time boxing, of building this this time boxing calendar, by the way, you're not you're not building it once you're refining it. Right. So it took you some refining to know actually know what for my reflective work that needs to be in the morning for someone else. It's not in the morning. But you only do that if you treat this like a scientist, not a drill sergeant, but a scientist where you're revising and saying, you know what, I'm going to move this to over here next week because it didn't work so well the past week, not during the day, but during the week ahead.
You can revise that schedule to make it easier and easier to follow. And when you do that, when you have a time schedule, now you have a physical artifact and that physical artifact can be shared, just as you mentioned. You can see how people are spending their time. And this is something that I think everyone can do, even if they work at a company that has a very Always-On culture. You know, half of the book is about stuff you can do yourself.
The other half of it. Distractable is about operating in various contexts. So there's a whole section of the book that I think is probably one of the most important sections of the book of how do you build an indestructible workplace. Right. What if you work in a place where people are always bothering you and never give you that time to concentrate because they insist that we all must be always on the lot to that? We can talk about that in a minute.
But one of the things that you can do is to manage your manager by doing a schedule. Think what does that look like? We have all heard this awful advice. One of one of my pet peeves in the personal productivity community is this horrible advice that I'm sure we've all heard a million times, which says if you want to be more productive, if you want to focus, if you want to not get distracted, you need to learn how to say no.
Right. And we all heard that learn how to say no to people. What kind of stupid advice is that? You're going to go to your boss, the person who pays your bills. You're going to tell that person, no, you're going to get fired. That's horrible advice. Exactly. So that's just the dumbest advice I've ever heard. Instead, don't be the person who says no. You want to make your boss the one who says no in terms of what product you should work on and what you should not work out.
How do you do that? You do a schedule saying here's how it looks. You take your calendar. Now that you have your physical artefact, you print out your calendar. If you keep in your schedule, doesn't matter. You sit down with your boss for 15 minutes, OK, Monday morning, 15 minutes, sit down with your boss and say, look, boss, here's how I'm going to spend the week ahead. OK, you see all these time boxes.
Here's how much time I'm going to work on this project, on that project, this meeting, that meeting. Now you see this other piece of paper over here. OK, here's where I wrote all the things that I didn't know where to allocate in the week ahead. Can you help me prioritize if there is something on this list that needs to go in my calendar? OK, now you've handed them the tool. They will worship the ground. You walk on why most managers have no idea what their employees are doing and they're dying to know how they're spending their time, but they're not going to ask them because they don't want to micromanage them.
So if you proactively do this and say, look, boss, I'm spending every minute working on this stuff and here's how I'm spending my time, you through that schedule process, you're helping prioritize what's important, what's not important. And every time you do this, you will find something that's not as important as you thought that your bosses actually take that off your calendar. Can you do this thing instead or that meeting is not that important or this one is that schedule thinking process will absolutely change your work life.
All right. Let's go to number three, which is sort of the external managing. The external what? How did you work? Triggers. Triggers how how do we dive into this?
So hacking back the external triggers. So this is kind of the most tactical part of the book. This is where we actually dive into how do we hack back these technologies. And I use that word hack back very deliberately because the definition of to hack in computer programmer parlance means to gain unauthorized access. Right. That's what it means to hack. So a computer hacker might hack into a bank account or something. And so I use that term because we all basically know that, that any company that monetizes through advertising is hacking our attention.
Does anybody not know that? Does anybody not know that? Fox News and CNN and Wall Street Journal and New York Times and Facebook and Twitter, all these companies make money on ads. They sell your eyeballs, your attention to the highest bidder. That shouldn't be news to anybody. The fact is, though, that we can hack back. We are not powerless. And so this is where we talk about the tools I talked about before, like YouTube, D.F., noosphere, Facebook news feed, eradicators, which is wonderful.
As great as that news feed is, I don't think people need it. I certainly don't need it. I love Facebook. I use it every day. But I'll go to specific people's pages to see what's up with them. I don't want to see that wall of garbage called the news feed. So I don't I have a chrome extension that every time I go to Facebook, I see a nice little inspirational quote in where that news feed used to be.
And guess what? Zuckerberg can't do anything about it.
It's not an arms race. At the end of the day, like if you're doing that and then enough people do it, Facebook still needs to make money so that you can have the product. Like walk me through how you see that playing out?
I don't actually.
First of all, it's been around for a while. It's been around for years and they haven't done anything about it. And second, I think the blowback would be so severe if they tried to do something about it that I can't see that on their radar. And and more so the evidence of this is that we actually see companies, tech companies doing things to help us use their products less. Right. Apple screen time feature, Google well-being feature. I mean, they have built in the two major phone OS manufacturers have built into their products ways for us to use their products less.
Why would they do that? The reason they've done that is because they realize that products that that is a way to make their products better. And the perfect analogue here is what happened in the automobile industry. So seatbelts appeared in cars seventeen years before any legislation required. You know why? Because safer cars sell better. That's why.
And so that's why these companies are happy to give you these tools to use this, to use their technology in a way that doesn't burn you out. We see this. The companies are doing this voluntarily. You know, Instagram, big bad Facebook owns Instagram. Well, now they have they've instituted what's called a stop in. Q So they tell you at the bottom when you read all your Instagram stories as if you're caught up. Right. That is not a good thing for them to do if all they care about was keeping you addicted to their product because they told you you're caught up.
Right. That's not in their interest, so to speak. But they know if they don't do that and you get burned out, then you're going to uninstall and say, this doesn't serve me because fundamentally people aren't stupid. Right. We're pretty good consumers. If you go to the grocery store and you buy an apple and it's rotten in the. Or you'll buy it once, but you're not going to keep going back to a crappy grocer who doesn't keep fresh produce, you'll go buy something else.
And so this is what they're seeing, that because people like me and you are installing ad blockers and chrome extensions to hack back the products, they if anything, it will prompt them to change their products, to help us moderate our use so that we don't get burned out with these complaints and hack back this way. So I'm all for hacking back these products and bring on the arms race because I think the consumer is much more powerful than they are.
And the fourth phase of this was the one that I was I like the most, which was pretty.
Yeah. So so PAX and precommitment, there are three types of pacts. We have what we call an effort pact, a price pact and an identity pact. So an effort pact is when we put some bit of friction in between us and something we don't want to do. So let me give you a good, good example. And just as a disclaimer here, don't jump to this technique. A big mistake that people make is they say, oh, I get it, I get it, I'll make a bet with somebody or I'll do this.
And and they go straight to that. This will backfire. This technique will not work unless you do it in order. First, you have to master the internal triggers, then make time for traction, then hack back the actual triggers. The fourth and final step, the failsafe, the the firewall to distraction is this four step. But you have to do the other three steps first. So an effort packed is when there's some bit of friction. So for example, several years ago, my wife and I, we've been married for almost 19 years.
And a few years ago, our sex life was really suffering that every night we were going to bed and I was fondling my phone and my wife was cuddling her iPad. And we we we found that we weren't being intimate with each other and we were going to bed later and later and later. And so when I was doing this research, I came across this idea of an effort packed, and I went to the hardware store and I bought us a ten dollar outlet timer.
Now this outlet timer will turn on or off anything you plug into it at a predetermined time of day or night. What did I plug into it? I plugged in our Internet router and all our monitors. So in my household every night, 10 p.m., the Internet shuts off automatically. In fact, more recently now we have we upgraded and now we have an Internet router that turns on its chems built in this feature many Internet routers do where it'll turn off only some devices, but it won't turn off your home security system or whatever else might be on wi fi.
And so that would be an example of an effort. Could I find a way to get back on the Internet? Of course I could. I could unplug the router, plug it in. I could fiddle with the settings. Of course, I could find a way to get back on if I really wanted to cheat. But the idea here is that I've added a bit of friction. I've added a bit of effort and mindfulness to an otherwise mindless behavior.
So that's one example. There are many other examples in the book of different RAPEX you can make. The second type of pact is called a price pact.
We did that. Hope your sex life first before we go.
Yes, it did. And it did. And and I get more sleep as well. So I did. Yeah. So yeah. The second pact is called a price pact and this is where we have some kind of monetary disincentive to getting distracted. And so actually this was a good example of I saw this research when I came across a study that found that the most effective smoking cessation study in history was a study that simply paid people to quit smoking.
And not only that, it was even more effective if the person had to put some skin in the game. So in this experiment, some people had to put in one hundred fifty dollars that they would get back if they didn't smoke for six months. And those people were more likely to quit smoking than the people who just won money without putting some skin in the game. So when you have some kind of monetary disincentive to getting distracted, that's another form of a part.
I remember I was I was there when you and Mark Mantan. Yes, that's right.
That's right. You remember that you were at that table.
You want to explain this to us? Yeah.
Yeah. So, OK, so this happened after about four years of researching this, the studies in the book. And I just needed to write the damn thing. Right. I just needed to sit down and do it. And so I had learned this research. I had studied about how powerful these these price packs can be. And so I told our mutual friend, I told Mark one day as we were all having lunch together, I said, you know what, if I don't finish this book?
But I think it was January 1st, right? By the end of the year, if I don't finish this book, I'm going to give you ten thousand dollars. And my hand was shaking.
You remember, as I was, like, shaking his I was like, scared.
But hey, guess what do you think I paid on the ten thousand dollars? Of course I didn't pay the ten thousand hours because I finished my damn book and I kept my money. So it's it's a wonderful way to incentivize yourself to finish a task. Now, many people will not do this because they're scared they might have. Do the work right, and that's why a lot of people, because this technique is incredibly effective, you know, if you put enough stakes into enough skin in the game, you will do it.
But many people say, well, I don't want to do it because then I would actually have to do the work. But, of course, that's the point. Right. That is that is why these packs are so powerful. The one caveat here is that price pacts are not good for every type of behavior. For example, don't dare do this to change your behavior around Nail-biting or something, because it has to be where you can remove the external triggers so you don't make a bet with somebody that you'll stop by your nails.
Horrible idea. Don't do that. There's only some types of behaviors that can be changed with these types of bets, principally ones that you can escape the external triggers, you can remove the external trigger and where the behavior is fully in your control. So don't bet somebody that you're going to make a million dollars by the end of next year. That's not a hundred percent in your control. But for me, writing this damn book was one percent of my control
and you control your time.
And what was the third type impact?
The third type of pact is called an identity pact. And this is actually the most powerful of the three packs and identity pact uses the psychology of having some kind of monicker some kind of identity that we use to describe ourselves. This research actually comes from the psychology of religion, where we know that people who have some kind of of of identity, some kind of noun they use to describe themselves are much more likely to do what they say they're going to do.
So, for example, if someone says I'm a devout Muslim or an observant Christian or even I'm a vegetarian, a vegetarian doesn't wake up in the morning and say, I think I'll have a bacon sandwich for breakfast. No, vegetarians don't eat meat. That is who they are. It is their identity. And so this is why I titled the book In Distractible, because this is our right in distractible. Sounds like indestructible. This is the this is our superpower.
Right? This is the superpower. I would most want per my conversation with my daughter having that power to do what I say I'm going to do to live with personal integrity. That's my identity. We can all call ourselves indestructible. Even if you just listen to this podcast episode. If you are the kind of person who strives to do what they say they're going to do, it doesn't mean you never get distracted. By the way I made up this word in Distractable.
It's a made up term and so I can define it any way I want. And so it doesn't mean you never get distracted. That's impossible. It means that unlike a distractable person, you know why you got distracted and you can do something about it. There's this wonderful quote from Paulo Coelho who said, A mistake repeated more than once is a decision. So if you keep getting distracted by the same stupid thing day after day after day, you are deciding to be distractible.
Whereas an indestructible person says, look, there's only three reasons. Either it's an internal trigger, an external trigger or a planning problem. Every distraction is only one of those three reasons. What can I do today to prevent getting distracted tomorrow? And so having that monicker is is very powerful. And in fact, I'm inspired by the fact that we've been here before that I remember as a kid, I grew up in the early eighties. I guess we're about the same age.
So you probably remember this, too. I remember that in my household and all my friends houses, everybody had an ashtray in their living room. Yeah, everybody did that. My parents didn't smoke, but that's just what people did back then. In the early eighties, everybody had ashtrays. Why? Because back then you were just expected to be able to smoke wherever you wanted, including people's private homes. Now, today, that would be ridiculous.
Can you imagine if someone came to your house and just lit up a cigarette in your living room? That would be crazy. Nobody would imagine doing something like that. What changed was it do we pass any laws that said you can't smoke in someone's private residence? Of course not. There's never been such a call. What changed was that our social norm, this is what Paul Graham calls social antibodies, that societies tend to inoculate themselves from unhealthy behaviors.
So how did this happen? One day my mom threw away the ashtrays and when one of her friends came over and took out a pack of cigarettes and was about to light a cigarette, she said, Oh, I'm sorry, we are non smokers. If you would like to smoke, if you'd be so kind as to go outside. And this was a big deal, like this woman got really offended that my mom asked her to smoke.
exactly. It was like a big deal back then. Exactly. You could lose friends today. Of course, this is commonplace, right. We've changed society this way because people said I'm a non smoker, people brave enough like my mom to say I'm a non smoker. So this is this is the new norm. This is the new manners. And that's exactly what we have to do with our distractions, like these technological distractions is to say, hey, I'm in distractible.
Yeah. Do I do some things that are a little bit weird? Sure. I keep a time box calendar. I hack back these external triggers. I don't respond to every email, every text notification within 15 seconds of getting it because this is who I am. I'm in distractible. Is it so weird from someone who has an unusual diet that's not. Main stream, or maybe as a minority religious group that wears a religious garb, it's no different.
So this is why we can call ourselves in Distractible to help us become the kind of people we want to become
I like that.
Now, let's get back to the original question, which is like, how do you teach your daughter, who's 12, how to become an distractible? And then how would you go about teaching an adult to become indestructible?
Yeah, yeah. So for both adults and kids, it's just these four steps, right? So tactics are less important than the strategies. So tactics are what you do. Strategy is why you do it. The strategies are more important. So if you can visualize in your head these two arrows going to the right to the left of traction and distraction and the two arrows point to the center of internal triggers and external triggers. Now you have the visual, the model in your head.
If you if you take away nothing else, remember these four points of traction, distraction, external triggers, internal triggers. Now, these are this is the strategy. Everything else is tactics. And so the way we teach this, for example, to a child and there's a whole section in the book on how to raise an distractable kids first, we understand those internal triggers. And there's a really interesting body of literature around what children are actually escaping when they overuse technology.
There's so much misinformation and fear mongering out there around kids and technology. We can talk about all this misinformation, if you like, but basically what we have to understand is that if a child is using a technology, it's never just about screen time. Screen time is a horrible metric because screen time has does not consider what the child is doing. Who are they doing it with? Are they doing it with an adult or are they being monitored? How long they are doing it and what would they be doing instead of being on that device?
One of the things that I think we fail to consider when we look at these statistics around teen suicide and this and that, and one of the things we almost never talk about, you never hear anybody saying, is that this stuff doesn't live in a vacuum, that we have to ask ourselves, what would kids be doing instead of being on their devices? In a few months ago, I watched this classic film. It was recommended as the best films you should watch with your kid.
And one of the movies was American Graffiti. Have you ever seen this movie?
No, I don't.
We've been on this kick lately, but no, I've never seen.
OK, so this you should you should see it. You should definitely see. It's like nineteen seventy something. Richard Dreyfus is in it like a bunch of celebrities. It's actually the movie that inspired Happy Days. OK, the television series first they made American Graffiti, then that became this spin off of Happy Days. And it's all about like the good old days back in the nineteen fifties when kids were kids.
And it's horrible like it is kids drag racing and drunk driving and having reckless sexual behavior. All this stuff that kids used to do that I like I was watching with this with my daughter about like, oh, the good old days. It's horrible. It just happened.
Like we all have the same like human impulsiveness and sort of like the same. We just have better tools now or different tools, not even better tools, like different things available
in many ways, better tools.
Because if you think about it, if you look at the statistics, everything that kills kids, everything that harms kids, not just kills kids, it harms kids, is down to record lows, homicide, record lows, truancy, record lows, drug use, record lows, pregnancy record lows, incarceration record lows. All these things are at record lows. Even suicide has gone up over the past few years, but it's not at a record high. If you look at the nineteen seventies and eighties and nineties, actually, suicide was higher back then.
It's so what they do is when they show you suicide has gone up is what they did in the Social Dilemma movie. They only showed it to you from the graph starting around two thousand four. But if you take the X axis back, you'll see suicide is at an all time high. Quite the opposite. It used to be much higher in the past. So if we wanted to build a device to keep kids off the streets, off the roads and safe at home, maybe this gadget is not such a bad idea.
Maybe it's useful.
It seems to be having some upside.
I mean, this is it's a contentious thing with parents because I talk about this all the time with, like, the kids, friends, parents, and they're like, well, how much screen time do you give them? And I'm like, well, that's that's a wrong question because there's different types of screen time. Right? There's you're playing a video game screen time. There's like you're making music or learning to code or doing something educational, which is very different type of screen time.
And I think of them completely distinct. And so it's not all the same type of screen time.
So I mean, if is is talking with grandma and grandpa for an hour on Zoom, is that bad?
Oh my God. If I could get my kids to talk with my grandparents for an hour, that would be amazing.
I mean, I think it's the point here is it's. He wants requires more than just technology, bad books, good writing. It's just way too simplistic,
But I think we've fallen into this sort of trap. What I never wanted was I didn't want computers to be a babysitter. I didn't want screen time to be OK. Well, you go for an hour while I do this thing with very few exceptions. And it's so easy to get into that habit.
And I think you hit the nail on the head that studies find that one of the defining traits of of families that raise well-adjusted children is having meals together without technology. I mean, drives me crazy when I go out to a restaurant and I see parents with with just giving their kids the iPads, like the iPad or some kind of nanny, please have moments in your child's life with you where you have no phone zones. And one of those no phone zones should be the family dining table.
Simple thing you could do another no phone zone is the kid's bedroom. I cannot figure out why a child needs to sleep with their cell phone. Why would a child need to have a television in the room? Anything that interrupts sleep I think is unnecessary. Now, they can have it during the day, but the science is provides really good evidence that sleep is absolutely essential for a brain and for a growing teenage brain, a child's brain. And I think the reason we see some of these mental health outcomes that these these deleterious outcomes is not the technology itself.
It's what the technology is displacing, namely sleep. Yeah, right. That that is the big culprit. I think anything that boops or beeps or buzzes in a child's room doesn't have a place, including older technology like televisions. Why does it need a television in their bedroom? Beats me.
I'm with you.
I mean, we have no tech in any of the bedrooms, no TVs, no computers. All the computers are in sort of like public areas in the house to encourage good browsing and all about other stuff.
But you mentioned sleep. You used to suffer from insomnia. Talk to me about that.
I did. Yeah. Yeah, I did, actually, for for quite a while. And actually this this harkens back to part in the book of where I talk about internal triggers as well as as making time for traction. One of the one of the dilemmas I think of planning time and why some people resist making a time box calendar is that they say, well, you know, I need spontaneity. I need time to just do what I feel like doing, because what if I get inspired to work?
If I sit down, I say I'm going to I'm going to write. Or if I said, if I go to bed and say I'm going to sleep, what if it doesn't come? What if I. I don't I don't feel like it. And this is a problem that I had for a while because I would go to bed, I'd have a bed time. Right. That was a new breakfast, by the way. That was something that I had that I learned from my daughter because she said, Daddy, you tell me I have a bedtime.
Why don't you have a bedtime? She was right. I was being a hypocrite. So I have a bedtime now and now when I when I go to bed for a while, I had this problem of I would go to bed and every night I would wake up around three a.m. and I would not be able to fall back asleep. And so I thought maybe this whole time boxing thing is stupid. Maybe I maybe you can't plan out what you're going to do.
And and so the idea here, the reason the revelation I had here was to to to use what I call reimagine your temperament, having a new conversation with yourself. So today I have a mantra that says every time I'm up at three a.m., I have a mantra that goes the body gets what the body needs, the body gets what the body needs. And the reason I came across this was because I read that one of the leading causes of insomnia is rumination.
Right. Chewing on the fact that you can't go to sleep for hour after hour and stressing out about, well, if I don't get to sleep, that I won't be able to do that presentation in my whole day is going to be shot. And that rumination can keep you up. That is actually part of what causes insomnia for many people, not for everyone, but for a lot of people. It's a leading cause of insomnia. Is that rumination?
So by having this interruptive mantra that I repeat to myself, I say, look, you know what, it's OK. I don't fall asleep because the body gets what the body needs. So if I don't sleep well tonight, I'll sleep well tomorrow night. Right. And just repeating that mantra, the body gets the body needs the body gets with the body needs. I began to relax. I stopped ruminating. I stopped this rumination cycle. And you know what came next?
I started falling asleep. And so that that was a very, very powerful technique and reinforced this notion of, you know, you can't always control the outcome. I know you do a ton of writing. You can't always sit down and write and say, oh, my goodness, you know, this is going to be the next New York Times bestseller. Here comes the Muse. Look at all this creative, wonderful prose. You can't control that.
That's not necessarily in your control. All you can control is having your butt in the chair to do the work. When you said you would all you can control if you need enough sleep is to get to bed on time so that you can get proper rest for your body. What your body does with that. Is not always in your control, but control the things you do have agency over.
One of my memories of our many conversations before is how you and your wife handle disagreements.
And I think that would be worth sharing with people where you do remember how you guys handle them or how you said because you assign scores to look how much you care.
you want to explain that? Yeah.
You know, it's funny that you mention that because now it's become so habitual. I forget that not everybody does it, but we
I think it's brilliant.
Yeah. You like it. Yeah. Yeah. It's it's it took me a while to realize that other people don't do this, but this is this is like one of our secrets to a happy marriage. We've been married now Saturday will be 19 years. And and the trick is to provide a weight to how important something is to you. So most of us, we kind of have to realize I should caveat this. So one thing we have is a code word that you use when you want to do a nice thing for somebody.
This is going to sound really weird, but basically, like if you want the chance to do something nice to somebody and you don't want them to argue with you. So, like, let me just take out the trash. We have a secret word that we use that when you hear that secret word, that means like I'm doing this, I'm doing this nice thing for you. Don't argue with me. And it builds your bank account of nice things you've done.
Right. So, like, you're almost you get into the habit of not avoiding doing the work. You get into the habit of finding ways to to do a little something to make your partner happy. That's one thing. And the second thing, what if what if you disagree? That's when when you want to do something nice. But what if you really something's really important to you? You know, we've gone through a lot of turbulence in our in our marriage.
We're from different racial backgrounds, different religious backgrounds. We have a lot of differences between us and this system of scoring. How important something is. It comes in handy because when we have a disagreement, small or large, it can be like, hey, which place do you want to go for lunch or how? How strongly do you think that our daughter should be home schooled versus not? We use a score of one to 10 and just taking that pulse check of, you know, you can argue about something, but then when you actually ask the other person, well, how important is this to you on a scale of one to ten to two or it's an eight?
Oh, well, that tells you something right away. And particularly for me, I would get into the habit of arguing about something for the sake of the discussion and without actually revealing to her how important I really thought it was. Or sometimes if you let the emotions get the best of you, you'll you'll argue almost for the for the sake of of of of the momentum you've built in the discussion as opposed to like. OK, but really how important is it.
Oh it's a three. OK, well I'm a six. Can we just go with this. OK, sure. Fine. Whatever. And so you can't always do this. And by the way you can cheat. So if your partner takes advantage of this too much, it doesn't work because your partner could always say or you could say, I'm a ten all the time and I always need to get my way. Well, of course, that's not going to work.
There still has to be give and take. But it's an instant way to kind of get to the when you're done talking about a decision, hey, I feel like Thai food. No, I feel like pizza. Well, how much do you want Thai food? I'm kind of a six. Oh, pizza. I'm a two. OK, let's go for time.
What do you do when you're tied?
We're almost never tied.
Are you like six point seventeen?
I don't know, flip a coin or something.
I love that.
And I've mentioned that often to friends of mine who struggle with sort of like this constant fighting. I'm like, have you ever tried to gauge how much you actually care about things? And they're like, no. And then they try it and they're like, this is like so revolutionary.
Oh, I'm so glad. I'm so glad. That's great. Thanks for telling me that. I didn't know. I didn't know. It's spread.
It's been a great conversation.
I want to sort of end we've been I've been experimenting with this question at the end, which is like when you're ninety, what do you want people to say about you?
That is a really, really good question. When I'm ninety, what do I want people to say about me? I hope I don't care what other people say about me when I'm 90. And that's really hard for me to do. I think I do care and. Every time I have succeeded in life, it's been what I don't care what other people think about me when I do care. I don't I don't do my best work, I, I don't enjoy what I do like, I'll spin myself up about will anybody like what I'm writing and will they buy this book?
And is this does anybody even care? And then I hate writing. I don't like what I do for a living. And when I started to to companies and same story, like when I care too much, I couldn't make proper decisions. And and so I hope when I'm 90 that I have learned how to not care so much about what other people say about me.
That's a brilliant answer. Thank you so much for a wonderful conversation.
Oh, my pleasure. This is great Shane.
So good to see you again
. Good to see you, too. Hey, one more thing before we say goodbye, the knowledge project is produced by the team at Furnham Street. I want to make this the best podcast you listen to, and I'd love to get your feedback. If you have comments, ideas for future shows or topics or just feedback in general, you can email me Ashin F-stop blog or follow me on Twitter at Shein.
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