“My Life-Changing 30-Day Digital Detox”
“10 Signs You’re a Smartphone Zombie”
These are headlines you might see if you search the interwebz for digital “addiction.”
It’s no secret that people use their smartphones, social media, and various apps more than ever before.
The benefits of this technology are obvious, but there’s also a downside. We end up distracted, spending too much time on things that don’t matter, with less time for things that are important to us, like our health, families, and life goals.
But are these modern technologies really a new, unique problem? How can we navigate a world filled with limitless distractions?
To help shed some light on the topic, I invited Nir Eyal onto the podcast. Nir knows both sides of this coin intimately.
His first book, Hooked, is all about how to build habit-forming products. He’s helped numerous companies (including the New York Times) build “addictive” products that can do good in your life and he’s even taught a course on the subject at Stanford Graduate School of Business.
But by being so intertwined with the inner workings of habit-formation, Nir also knows how to break habits and make these apps and services serve us rather than the other way around.
That’s why Nir wrote his latest book, Indistractable, which is what this podcast is all about. In this interview, Nir helps us understand …
- The root causes of distraction and how productive tasks can still be distractions
- Why you shouldn’t try to be satisfied or happy all of the time
- How to “surf the urge” and supercharge your willpower
- Why you should timebox your day
- How to discover your values and find what resonates with you
- And more …
So if you want to take back your life and not feel so addicted to apps and services, listen to this podcast.
8:13 – You went from writing a book about getting people hooked on products, to a book that is intended to help people avoid that. How did that happen?
16:38 – What is the difference between external and internal triggers?
22:20 – How do we get better at embracing discomfort?
49:33 – How does time boxing work and how do you use it?
53:04 – What are your thoughts on finding your personal values?
Mentioned on The Show:
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Mike: Hello, fellow Earthlings. I’m Mike Matthews. This is Muscle for Life. Welcome to another episode, and what are we gonna talk about today? So many things we could talk about. We’re gonna talk about distraction, why it is harmful and what we can do to become less distracted. And this is becoming a hotter and hotter topic these days for good reason.
You have a lot of. News and media outlets talking about digital detoxes and how people are becoming smartphone zombies, and there’s some truth to that. Of course. It’s no secret that we use our smartphones a lot, that most people use them. More than they probably should. And especially for things that are not helping them, much like social media and games and other do dads and trinkets, other apps that you can play around with and fritter away your time with.
And of course, the. Benefits of this technology are tremendous and are obvious, but there are downsides and one of the major downsides is distraction. If we don’t take special measures or at least deliberate measures to stay out of the distraction traps that are all around us, then we can wind up generally.
Distracted and just spending too much time on things that really don’t matter and find that we don’t have enough time to do things that are important to us, like improving our health or spending more time with loved ones or friends, or pursuing career goals or other life. Goals, you know, the things that give you real long-term satisfaction.
And so being able to avoid distraction and being able to focus our attention and our energies for extended periods of time, both in the day-to-day and in the bigger picture, right, are crucial skills to being able to make it in the modern. World to not just survive, but to thrive and to flourish. And that’s why I invited Near Isle onto the show.
And he is uniquely qualified to talk about this. And he has a lot of great insights because he really knows both sides of the coin intimately. You may have heard of his book Hooked. This was a very popular book published years ago. It’s still popular, still sells well, I’ve read it and I’ve recommended it.
And it was all about how to build habit. Forming products. It’s mostly geared towards software products, but the principles he talks about in the book can be used with other types of products and services as well. And so that was NI’s first book, New York Times best selling book. And he has worked with many companies like the New York Times, for example, to help them make their products and their services stickier or more quote unquote addictive.
Right. And in the book near talks about that. Uh, there are ethical implications of course, and this is information that can be used for good or bad. And he himself tries to use it for good and he hopes that the people reading the book mostly use it for good. But that is not always the case. And of course, you have, social media is a good example.
These apps, there has been a tremendous amount of resources spent to make these apps more addictive to make. You more hooked to them to make you spend more time in them. And you could argue that some time spent in these apps can be positive because of the connections that you make. And especially right now, I guess, I mean, states are opening, so the quarantine is, is starting to end, but it’s not over for a lot of us, and we haven’t probably had much social interaction face-to-face in the last couple of months.
And social media is. Probably a better alternative than just not interacting with people at all. However, if you spend too much time on Instagram, for example, nobody argues that there’s a point where, all right, you are way beyond diminishing returns, and now you’re just wasting time. And it’s reflected in how it makes us feel if we sit.
On social media for hours and hours and just consume content. How do you feel? Do you feel energized and optimistic and enthusiastic? Do you feel like you want to get into action and go do something that matters? No, of course not. We feel like vegetables often, if we vegetate for. Too long. Right. And so near then wanted to create a book to address that because he saw that the information in his first book was contributing to a problem.
It was also doing a. Good things as well, but it was contributing to a problem and he wanted to try to address that problem. And so that’s why he wrote a book called Intractable. And that’s what this podcast is gonna be all about. The information in that book and in the interview near is gonna help us understand things like the root causes of distractions and how productive tasks.
Can actually still be distractions. He talks about why we actually shouldn’t try to be satisfied or happy all the time. He talks about how we can learn to quote unquote surf the urge as it’s called, and how this is a great way to strengthen and boost our willpower. He talks about time boxing and that’s something I do personally and it helps a lot with my work.
Near talks about discovering your values and discovering what really resonates with you and more. Also, if you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my health and fitness books, including the number one best selling weightlifting books for men and women in the world.
Bigger, leaner, stronger, and thinner. Leaner, stronger, as well as the leading flexible Dieting cookbook, the Shredded Chef. Now, these books have sold well over 1 million copies and have helped thousands of people build their best. Body ever. And you can find them on all major online retailers like Audible, Amazon, iTunes, Cobo, and Google Play, as well as in select Barnes and Noble stores.
And I should also mention that you can get any of the audiobooks 100% free when you sign up for an Audible account. And this is a great way to make those pockets of downtime like commuting, meal prepping, and cleaning more. Interesting, entertaining, and productive. And so if you want to take Audible up on this offer, and if you want to get one of my audiobooks for free, just go to www.buy Legion, that’s b u y legion.com/audible and sign up for your account.
So again, if you appreciate my work and if you wanna see more of it and if you wanna learn time proven. And evidence-based strategies for losing fat, building muscle, and getting healthy, and strategies that work for anyone and everyone, regardless of age or circumstances, please do consider picking up one of my best selling books, bigger, lean or Stronger for Men, thinner, lean or Stronger for Women, and the Shredded Chef for my favorite fitness friendly recipes.
Hey near, thanks for, uh, taking the time to do this. My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me. Yeah, yeah. Quickly, just people listening, this is kind of funny. I was just telling you this offline, so I was putting together a list of people I wanted to have on the podcast this year and he was on that list cuz I read his book sometime ago, a couple years ago, called Hooked and I liked it.
And then he has a new book that we’re gonna be talking about and maybe seven or 10 days later, I don’t remember if it was uni or somebody who works with you, but I got an email. From near someone on his team saying, Hey, he would like to come on your podcast. What do you think? And I was like, well, that’s easy.
That’s convenient. Exactly. The universe is telling us something. Yeah. Yeah. Synchronicity. So we’re here to talk about your newest book, intractable and just the topic of distraction and where do distractions come from, and not just the obvious, like, oh yeah, your phone buzzes every two seconds. But, uh, you talk about in the book internal triggers as opposed to just the external triggers that people might.
Associate with distraction and why should we care about this? What can we do about it? And my first question for you is, it’s interesting that you went from writing a book on how to get people hooked on products, which was really good. And as someone who has a a workout app, one of my little side shows, I found it enlightening and.
You know, had good ideas to implement, but it’s interesting that you went from that to a book that is intended to help people get away from that type of stuff among other things. But how did that happen?
Nir: Yeah, so, you know, the beauty of what I do is that I understand both sides of the. Equation. So I help companies build habit forming products to get hooked to all sorts of healthy things.
I’ve worked with healthcare companies for patient adherence, you know, help making sure that people take their medications or adhere to some kind of healthcare regimen. I’ve worked with, uh, media companies, the New York Times as a client of mine who I helped get people hooked to reading the news every day.
I’ve worked with education companies like Kahoot, the world’s largest educational software to get kids hooked onto in-classroom learning fit BOD uses the hook model, talk about exercise apps. Uh, they use the hook model to get people hooked to the gym. So there are many ways that we can use what I’ve taught in my book, hooked and in the class that I taught at Stanford around this topic to build healthy habits.
That was always the goal. But of course, I also understand the flip side, right? Because I am in the belly of the beast and I understand how products are designed to hook you. I also understand the Achilles heel of how to break bad habits. So if hooked is all about how to build good habits through the products and services we use, then intractable is about how do we make sure that those technologies don’t get the best of us, that we can still use them in such a way.
That serves us as opposed to us feeling like we are serving them. And so it’s really about understanding the deeper psychology of distraction, not just when it comes to our digital devices. I think a, a lot of people think, oh, you know, that distraction started with the iPhone, it started with Facebook, and of course, nothing could be further from the truth that in fact, distraction is an age old problem that Play-Doh talked about Acacia in the Greek.
The tendency that we have to do things against our better interests. He talked about this 2,500 years ago, right? 2,500 years before the iPhone, people were complaining, man, isn’t the world so distracting these days? New, new
Mike: toga’s coming out every week and exactly
Nir: right. There’s this new thing called the written word that, uh, is distracting everyone.
Like literally, we joke about it, but that is exactly the problem, you know, had it not been for Play-Doh recording this stuff, you know, Aristotle act, I mean, no, sorry, Socrates. Hated the written word. He said that it would, in feeble men’s minds, this new technology of the written word. And so whether it’s the written word, the novel was supposed to make women very lascivious and you know, also melt their brains.
The radio was going to turn everybody’s mind into mush because they were gonna listen to radio all day. The television, of course, rock and roll music, comic books, and now social media on our cell phones. Now that’s the latest devil that’s apparently hijacking our brains. And it turns out, I hate to tell you this, It’s an excuse.
It’s not true. It’s never true that our human beings are very good at adapting. And the smart ones figure out ways to put these things in their place while still getting the best of these tools. And so I’m here to tell people that it’s not technology’s fault that you can use these tech tools in a way that really does benefit your life.
And here’s the thing, the advice that we hear these days. About, go on a digital detox, do a 30 day plan, right? That stuff doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for the same reason that fad diets don’t work. So my backstory, I actually used to be clinically obese and I would always go on these 30 day diets, and this is very similar to what we hear today in the digital distraction realm, right?
Like, you know, just stop using your cell phone so much, right? And it turns out when you do that, when you go on some kind of 30 day plan, whether it’s a diet regimen or a digital detox, We all know what happens on day 31, right? You eat like crazy. You’re making up for lost time. And so that was certainly my experience when I went on, you know, 30 day no sugar, 30 day, no fast food, 30 day, whatever.
I never got to the root cause of the problem of why I was overeating. I wasn’t overeating because I was hungry. I was overeating because there was some complex things going on in my head, not in my stomach, that were causing me to overeat.
Mike: Yeah, that reminds me of something you mentioned in the book of, so I have a, a buddy who, he’s doing the digital detox thing right now, getting rid of a bunch of apps that are distracting for, I guess, 30 days.
I know that he has situations, he’s just not very happy in. He’s not happy with his work and in some ways he’s happy. He’s happy with his family life and he has definitely has a lot of things going for him. But what is weighing heavily on him right now? His work, and he’s not sure exactly what he wants to do and what he should do.
And so that then drives him, and this is kind of a segue into these internal and external triggers that you can talk to, and it drives him to search for distractions because it’s either. Focus more time on this drudgery, and I don’t really even know why I’m doing this and I guess it’s money, but I don’t even really need the money, so why am I here?
Or dive into my phone and get lost in 42 different apps.
Nir: Yeah. Now this is a great lead into, I think what I discovered. I wish I had discovered this earlier in terms of the root cause of distraction, so, Maybe Actually to back up for a minute, let me kind of describe this model that I use as the framework.
Actually, this is what took me the longest in this five year process of writing and distractable, was understanding this mental model, this framework that now I use to understand why I get distracted and make sure I can stay on track. So here’s what I want you to do. First, I want folks to understand what is distraction.
Let’s go ahead and define what this really means. So the best way to understand what distraction is. Is to understand what distraction is. Not that if you ask most people what is the opposite of distraction, they’ll tell you the opposite of distraction is focus, but that’s actually not true. The opposite of distraction is not focus.
If you look at the origin of the word, the opposite of distraction is traction. That both words come from the same Latin root tahare, which means to pull. And if you notice both words end in the same six letters. They both end in A C T I O N that spells action. So traction is any action that pulls you towards what you want to do, things that you do with intent.
The opposite of traction is dis. Traction. Anything that pulls you away from what you plan to do, things that you are not doing with intent. Now, this is really important for two reasons. Number one, anything can be a distraction. So if you sit down at your desk like I used to do before I embarked on this line of research and changed my life with these techniques, you know, I would sit down at my desk and I’d say, okay, I’ve got this big long to-do list.
Let me sit down at my desk and do the hardest thing first. Right? I’m gonna do that thing that I’ve been procrastinating on. The thing that I know I should be doing. I’m. Finally gonna sit down. I’m gonna do that hard project. Here I go. I’m gonna get to work. But first let me check email, right? How many times does that happen to us?
Let me do that easy thing on the to-do list real quick, cuz that’ll give me momentum, right? I would argue that that is just as much of a distraction. It may be even worse, so than playing a video game or going on Facebook. You know, if you’re putzing around on Facebook at work, That’s clearly a distraction.
That’s clearly something that you’re not supposed to be doing at work. So it’s pretty obvious. But that’s not the kind of distraction I worry about. That’s not what gets us, what gets us is when we think we are being productive. When we say, oh, let me just check email cuz that’s a productive thing to do.
I gotta do that anyway. Right? That turns out to be a much more pernicious form of distraction because in that case, we’ve allowed distraction to trick us into prioritizing the urgent at the expense of the important. So anything can be a distraction if it’s not what you plan to do with your time. And conversely, anything can be traction.
So I don’t buy this ridiculous narrative that, oh, candy Crush or video games, that’s evil Facebook. That’s a waste of time. But me watching football on tv, that’s okay. No, there’s
Mike: this one study that showed that it gets your heart rate up and so it’s kind of like exercise actually.
Nir: Well, I don’t know.
Playing football. Sure.
Mike: Watching football on tv. It’s, there was, somebody had sent me, uh, there actually was a study that was arguing that because it does raise average heart rate, that it’s, well, you know, it’s actually maybe kind of good for you. Like we’re talking about five hours to get maybe what you would get in 10 minutes of actual exercise, but you know.
Nir: Actually get enough off your butt. But I would argue that there’s no difference that anything you plan to do with your time, there’s no reason to vilify this technology. It’s wonderful. These tools are fantastic as long as you use them according to your values and your schedule. So anything can be traction, anything can be distraction.
Now what drives us. Towards these actions. Two things. We have what’s called external triggers and internal triggers. External triggers is what we tend to blame. It’s the pings, the dings, the rings, all of these things in our outside environment that leads us to either traction or distraction. Now we’ll get back to how, what do we do about those external triggers?
They can clearly take us off course, but it turns out that we look at the average person’s day. The number one source of distraction. The things that tend to lead us off track are not the external triggers. It’s not the things outside of us, but more so what is going on inside of us. It’s the internal triggers more than the external triggers.
What are internal triggers? Internal triggers are uncomfortable emotional states that we seek to escape from. So if we are going to answer Plato’s 2,500 year old question of why do we do things against our better interest, why do we get distracted? We have to actually start a layer deeper. We have to start from first principles and ask ourselves.
Why do we do anything and everything? What’s the nature of human motivation? And most people will tell you, well, motivation is all about carrots and sticks, right? We’ve all heard this before. This is called Freud’s pleasure principle. He said that everything we do is about the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.
Turns out neurologically, that is not true, that it is not the case. That everything we do is about the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain, but rather everything we do, everything you do, you do for one reason, and that is to avoid discomfort. It’s pain all the way down. Even even the pursuit of pleasurable sensations.
If you think about it, even the pursuit of pleasure is psychologically destabilizing, the hunt, the pursuit, lusting. There’s a reason we say love hurts because neurologically that is exactly what’s going on. So everything that we do is about the desire to escape discomfort. If you think about it.
Physiologically, this is pretty obvious. If you go outside and it’s too cold, your brain sends you a signal that says, Hey buddy, this is uncomfortable. Put on a coat. And so you do. If you walk back inside, now it’s too hot, the brain says, this is uncomfortable. You’re overheating. Take your coat off. And so everything we do physiologically is about the desire to escape discomfort.
Even if you say, well, why do I go to the gym and sweat it out? That’s not comfortable. It’s because the discomfort of the guilt of not doing it is more uncomfortable than the pain of doing that exercise. So everything is about the desire to escape discomfort. Physiologically, we know this to be true psychologically.
It’s also true if you think about when we’re feeling. Lonely. We check Facebook when we are uncertain. We Google when we’re bored. We check sports scores. We check Reddit, Pinterest, the news. Oh my goodness. Why do we check the news? Is it because we want to be informed citizens? No, it’s because we like to forget about our own problems.
By watching somebody else halfway across the world’s
Mike: problems and argue with strangers on
Nir: Twitter. Right, exactly. To avoid having to do our work right, to avoid having to examine our own lives. We’d rather examine the lives of politicians who are in trouble or just, you know, talk about celebrity gossip than to have to look at our own lives and do something about our own troubles.
So everything we do is about a desire to escape discomfort, which means, and this is the real takeaway here, if everything we do is about a desire to escape discomfort, what that means, therefore is that time management is pain management. That it doesn’t matter what gurus techniques you’re using, what the latest life hack fads might be.
None of that stuff works if we don’t, first and foremost, understand. What discomfort we are looking to escape from. If we don’t understand how to deal with discomfort, we will always get distracted by one thing or another. So that is the first place to start to become intractable. It’s about understanding how to master those internal triggers.
Mike: If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my health and fitness books, including the number one best selling weightlifting books for men and women in the world, bigger, leaner, stronger, and thinner. Leaner, stronger, as well as the leading flexible dieting cookbook, the Shredded Chef.
Do you find that as something that you just condition yourself to get used to? If we have this biological programming, obviously we can override it or we wouldn’t be able to do much of anything. Wouldn’t be able to plan much long-term and accomplish much. How do we get better at embracing discomfort?
Nir: Yeah, so it’s really about harnessing that discomfort. One of the things that I really gets my goat about the, uh, self-help industry is that there’s so many people out there that tell us that we’re supposed to be happy all the time. What, uh, sack lies? It is so untrue. And, and if you think about it, just use common sense here for a minute, think about it from a evolutionary perspective, that if there was ever a group of homo sapiens that was happy all the time, that was satisfied with life, that always thought things were great.
That group of homo sapiens likely was killed and eaten by our answers, right? That would make no sense. From an evolutionary basis, we have this gift of always being uncomfortable, always wanting more, always striving to improve our lot in life, and that dis quietude is what gets us to invent, to hunt, to create, to invent.
That is the source of all these great things that our species can do. Because we are never satisfied. Now, I’m not preaching against happiness. Happiness is wonderful, but it is a fleeting sensation. What we can do therefore, is utilize that discomfort to help power us towards acts of traction rather than distraction.
If every time you feel uncomfortable, Your habit is to seek escape by going online too much, by drinking too much, even working out too much. I mean, hey, we all know that person who works out way too much because they go to the gym to avoid what’s happening in the rest of their life. That is a, a known phenomenon.
We all know that person, so anything can be a distraction if we are using it. As a ation device to not have to deal with our feelings. And that is just as much of a problem. So what I do in the book is teach you a set of skills that this is really the skill of the century, the power to harness that discomfort, to lead you towards traction rather than dis distraction.
And so all kinds of tools that, that you can use, that I describe in the book, uh, all of it is, is research backed. You know, I, I, I hate these self-help books that are, are all about, well this is my pet project, this is the technique that works for me. Sample size of one. It’s. Totally gonna work for you. No, no, no.
I, I hate that stuff. Everything is backed by peer reviewed studies. There’s 30 pages of citations in the book. Uh, and so that was very, very important to me. And they also really do work. Let’s talk about
Mike: some of those tools and those skills.
Nir: Yeah. So there’s a few things you can do. So, and, and by the way, just to set the stage here, we are only talking about step one.
So I’m happy to give you some tactics, but I want everyone to know. That this is step one of four, that the first step to becoming intractable is mastering the internal triggers. Step two is to make time for traction, which we can talk about in a minute. Then we have to hack back the external triggers and I’ll show you exactly how to do that.
And then fourth, the final step is about preventing distraction with pacts. But let’s dive into, just cuz you asked this question, what can we do about mastering these internal triggers? So there’s three big tactics
Mike: because I guess if you don’t do this, the rest doesn’t really matter. Right.
Nir: That’s absolutely right.
This has to be the first step. So none, none of the other stuff works unless you first and foremost understand how to master internal triggers. So let me just give you kind of the tip of the iceberg. I’ll give you one of my favorite techniques. There are three big techniques that I talk about. You reimagine the trigger, reimagine the task, and reimagine your temperament.
But let me just give you one sample. There’s a bunch of other techniques, but this is just one technique that I use almost every single day. And this has to do with how do we more healthfully. Deal with these internal triggers in a way that leads us towards traction rather than distraction. Part of the common knowledge is that if you don’t wanna get distracted by something, if you wanna avoid doing something, then just say no.
Right? Just like Nancy Reagan told us in the 1980s about drugs, just say, no. We see how that worked out. If only you were that easy. Yeah, exactly. If only that easy. So why doesn’t abstinence work? Well, abstinence typically doesn’t work. There are some instances where it does work, but for the most of us it doesn’t work because.
When we tell ourselves a strict no, okay, strict abstinence. Here’s what tends to happen, particularly when it comes to these triggers that we can’t escape, right? If so, if you’re recovering from, uh, methamphetamine addiction, well, you can actually change your circumstances, change your environment so that you won’t be triggered with these temptations.
But how do we. Get rid of technology in our life. How do we get rid of food in our life? You can’t. You can’t escape these things. So strict abstinence doesn’t work, and here’s why it’s called rumination. So if I told you I am going to ask you for the next few seconds to not do something that you have not done all day long.
Okay, not, you haven’t done this all day long, so how hard can it be to not do what I’m about to ask you not to do? Okay. You ready? For the next three seconds With all your might. I want you to not think about a white bear. Don’t think about a white bear. Don’t do it. Of course. What are you doing? You’re thinking about nothing but a white bear.
And so when we tell ourselves, don’t do it. Don’t do it, don’t do it. Don’t do it. This actually leads to what, what’s called rumination, and it’s almost like pulling on a rubber band. So when you pull on a rubber band, You pull it, pull it, pull it, pull it, pull it, gets tighter, tighter, tighter until you can’t pull it anymore.
And then when you finally let go of that rubber band, it doesn’t just go to where you started to pull it from. No, it ricochets across the room. And that’s exactly what happens to us when we tell ourselves to adhere to strict abstinence. So when you say, don’t have that piece of chocolate cake. Don’t eat those carbs.
Don’t smoke that cigarette, don’t check email.
Mike: The 30 day diet, the 30 day detox.
Nir: Exactly, exactly. You’re pulling that rubber band. More, more, more, more, more, more, more. And then when you finally can’t do it anymore and you let yourself go, that relief of the tension of telling yourself not to do something is registered in the brain.
That relief of the pain of saying no is registered in fact as pleasure. It’s almost like if you really, really have to go pee and then you finally go pee, oh, it feels good to just relieve that tension of holding it in. That’s exactly what happens when we tell ourselves a hard no and use this technique of abstinence, which so oftentimes, Backfires.
So what do we do instead of strict abstinence? Well, there’s a technique that comes from acceptance and commitment therapy. Well study technique in the psychology community, which is called the 10 minute Rule. And the 10 minute rule says, That you can give in to any temptation, whether it’s that piece of chocolate cake, whether it’s that urge to not go to the gym, whether it’s that urge to check email when you should be working on that big project, or check Facebook when you really wanna be with your family.
You can give in to that temptation in just 10 minutes of doing what we call surfing the urge. Surfing The urge acknowledges that these internal triggers are like waves. They come and then they subside. And so your job for those 10 minutes is to simply surf that urge, to be with it, to acknowledge it, to understand what’s going on inside of you.
That prompts that urge with curiosity, not contempt, but curiosity for just 10 minutes or get back to the task at hand. So many times I’ll, this is how it works. You take out your phone, you say, set the timer for 10 minutes. You put the phone down and I’ll just sit there and contemplate this sensation.
Really feel what is going on. Is it stress, anxiety, uncertainty, fatigue, loneliness? What is going on in my head? I explore that sensation with curiosity instead of contempt until that time runs out, in which case I can give into the distraction. Or nine times outta 10, you’ll find that by the time the clock runs out, you will have actually gotten back to work because the sensation will have subsided.
It will have gone away in time for you to get
Mike: back to work. Yeah, I’ve written about that. And it can go the other way too, where if you are really dreading doing something that you should be doing, working out, working on a big project, tell yourself, okay, I’m gonna do it for 10 minutes enough. I still want to quit.
I can quit. And more often than not, you’ll get into the groove of it. You’ll start getting into that. Flow state and after 10 minutes has passed, you’ll want to keep going, right?
Nir: So it can work the opposite way as well. Another wonderful technique has to do with re-imagining our temperament. This really takes, I know the book is full of me overturning a lot of apple carts, that there’s a lot of, uh, folk psychology out there that really does hurt people.
One of the most common myths that we still encounter, that people haven’t heard isn’t true is this idea of ego depletion. And even if you don’t know the term, you probably know what it means, which is this idea that willpower is a limited resource, that we run out of willpower. That it’s like a muscle that when it gets tired, there’s none left.
It’s like a gas tank when you run out of gas, there’s no more gas left that you just can’t anymore. And before I even knew this term, I would definitely exemplify, uh, how, what this looks like in my life. You know, I’d come home from work and say, oh boy, I’ve had such a tough day at work today. I deserve a break.
I am. Quote, unquote spent. Give me that, Ben and Jerry’s, I’m gonna sit on the couch and I’m gonna watch Netflix. Right? So we use that kind of language every single day. Well, it turns out that it’s not true that studies have found that this idea is just not so, it’s a myth except in one group of people.
That. In fact, there is one group of people who really do exemplify this property, this phenomenon of ego depletion. They really do run out of willpower like gas and a gas tank, and I know everybody listening is like, oh, that’s totally me. He’s gonna say it’s me, it’s me. It turns out it’s not any racial group or gender specific or socioeconomic class.
It turns out that people who really do run out of willpower like gas in a gas tank, Are only people who believe that willpower is a limited resource. That’s it. So if you believe that you’re spent, you are. And so why this is so relevant in so many circumstances in life is that we have these ideas of our temperament.
I am this kind of person, this is who I am. I am lazy. I have a short attention span. I am a morning person. I’m this, I’m that. And it turns out that many times these beliefs are really self-limiting. One of the most pernicious beliefs that I hear, unfortunately the media loves, is telling us that we are all addicted to technology.
That it’s hijacking our brains that we’re all being remote controlled by technology. What this is doing is making people believe that that is the case, and this is called learned helplessness. It’s like a self-fulfilling
Nir: That’s exactly right. And so that’s a big reason why I run to write this book is to let people know that they are much more powerful than these tech companies.
There’s much more that we can do than most people realize. We are much more powerful than any distraction if we believe we are. If you don’t. Then you’re not,
Mike: that goes back to something you had mentioned earlier, which is the underlying why are people who are highly distracted, if they’re spending a lot of their time in distraction, why what’s going on?
It’s not that their brains are just being completely hijacked by the Facebook app on their phone, or like there’s some direct interface here that’s brainwashing them. What’s going on that is driving them to want to spend time there as opposed to elsewhere. And that connects to what you’re saying about happiness, right?
That’s this, I think particularly among younger people, it’s pretty common for, for them to just have this idea that, you know, I just need to find, I just need to find happiness as if that just comes to you one day as opposed to maybe I need a goal that. Matters. I need something worth dying for. Like take the other extreme, but that’d probably be a, a more productive, I can empathize.
If you put yourself in that situation where your first principles for a living are all scrambled and your operating system, so to speak, is just kind of mixed up in terms of like, What am I supposed to do and why? Why does any of this matter? And that makes it very easy. Then to turn to now you have so many options, you’ve listed so many of them.
It’s so easy. Instead of maybe sitting down and trying to really think this through, and maybe that’s gonna require learning some new ideas that the person hasn’t come across and really actually figure out like, alright, I need to build a functional system. To put my time and energy into so you can confront that whole mess.
Or you can just dle around on Instagram all day, you know? Yeah. So this is actually a
Nir: really great lead in to the second step to becoming intractable, which is all about making time for traction. So we talked about traction is the opposite of dis distrac. It’s about the things, the actions that pull us towards what we really want.
But of course, the question there is, Well, what do I really want? Right? To your point, and where I see a lot of people going down the wrong track, I think is by trying to create these goals or values that are, you know, these long-term plans. Uh, I’m gonna create a vision board. What’s my five year plan, what’s my regrets of the dying?
And it turns out that that stuff is really hard for people to do. And in fact, there’s a lot of, of, uh, studies that actually find that visualizations. Can really backfire. You know, many people believe, well, if I just visualize how good it’s gonna feel when I lose 30 pounds, how great it’s gonna feel when I’m buff.
How amazing it’s gonna feel when I finish that book I’ve been writing. Or when I make a million dollars, if I just visualize how great that’s gonna feel, it’s gonna come to me. Right? It’s. The law of attraction, which is a bunch of bullshit, and it turns out that people don’t realize how it can backfire because it turns out, when you visualize those kinds of things, you’re actually giving yourself a dose of pleasure.
It’s pleasurable. To think about how great life is going to be to go into La la land and dream about that stuff can be pleasurable. And it turns out that that actually can reduce our motivation to actually do something, to get that stuff. So we don’t wanna visualize the end results. What we wanna do is to visualize the.
Actions that will get us those results. So for example, if you’re trying to lose weight, don’t spend your time dreaming about how great it’s gonna feel when you lose the weight. What you need to visualize is what’s called a deci point, so that what are you going to do the next time you’re at a dinner party and someone offers you that piece of chocolate cake?
Visualize what you will say, what you will do. That’s the kind of visualization that works concurrently. There’s a technique I talk about in the book. Which is incredibly ineffective. It’s one of the best things you can do if you want to be the kind of person that becomes intractable. This is called making an implementation intention.
You know, I interviewed hundreds of people in the past five years for this book, and one of the things that across the board, every single person I interviewed who was not able to do what they say they’re gonna do every day, the kind of person like me who had a to-do list, And yet never finished everything on the to-do list, which is most people, by the way, I call this the tyranny of the to-do list.
This is why I’m not a big fan of to-do list. Most people do not use them correctly. They do nothing but reinforce your identity that you are incapable of doing what you said you were gonna do, right, like you finished your day. You still got a bunch of things on your to-do list. You didn’t do them loser yet.
Another day you weren’t able to live with personal integrity and do what you said you were gonna do. So instead, what we want to do is to understand that if we don’t plan our time, somebody else is gonna plan it for us. I’d say if we
Mike: don’t plan, and that that extends to our lives too. That’s something I’ve spoken about.
If you’re not living deliberately, you are living according to some sort of plan, and our society has many ways of shaping that for you. If you’re not gonna think about it much yourself. Absolutely.
Nir: Whether it’s your boss, whether it’s the news, whether it’s social media, whether it’s your kids, even somebody is going to tell you what to do with your time unless you decide in advance what is traction and what is distraction for you in your life.
Because remember, you have no right to complain that you got distracted if you didn’t decide what you got distracted from. If your calendar is blank. Then everything is a distraction. Don’t cry to me about how distracting Facebook is if you didn’t plan what you wanted to do with that time. And so that’s why we have to plan out every minute of our day.
And I’m gonna give you a link for the show notes. I built this tool. It’s totally free. Anybody can use it. You don’t have to sign up, you don’t have to gimme any email addresses. It’s totally free. It’s on my website. It’s a tool to help you timebox your day. And the reason this is so important is that for the first time, it will help you turn your values into time.
And so I coach people through these three steps in the book, these three life domains as I call them, that you have to turn into time. So the first life domain is you. You are at the center of these three life domains. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of other people. So the first step is to ask yourself, what are my values?
For me, what do my values are defined as attributes of the person I wanna become. So what’s important to you when it comes to yourself? If your health is important to you, if that’s one of your values, do you have time in your calendar where you will invest in proper nutrition, proper sleep, proper exercise, meditation, education, whatever it is that’s important to you?
I’m not telling you what your values should be, only you can decide that. But if those are your values, Is there time regularly scheduled on your calendar to invest in those
Mike: things? And if there isn’t, what does
Nir: that say then? That’s right. It means you’re talking a good game, but you’re not living out those values.
I mean, if you think about it, right? How much do we spend in terms of protecting our stuff? We have our security systems on our homes, we have our alarms on our cars. We put our money and vaults inside a bank. But when it comes to our time, The one thing that everybody every day gets the same amount of the one depletable resource.
You can’t create more of. Yeah, sure. Come on over. Take as much of it as you want. Right?
Mike: Yeah. There’s a quote I think from Seneca on this. How, basically how quickly people are, how majorly they are with their things, but how generous they are with their time.
Nir: Right. The one thing that they should be stingy with.
Yeah. Right. That’s exactly right. And so we have to make that time for ourselves. We have to make our time for our relationships. You know, part of what we see happening today is we know that this country is suffering through a loneliness epidemic, that people today are more lonely than ever. And it turns out, you know, a lot of people like to blame social media for this.
That’s not true. This problem actually started in the 1990s. Robert Putnam wrote about this in the early nineties in his book Bowling Alone, where he talked about the source of this loneliness is that, Civic institutions, the bowling league, the Tijuana Club, the church group, the things that used to hold time in our calendars are disappearing from American life.
And so what we have to do is to bring these things back. It’s okay if you don’t wanna join Tijuana’s Club or your church club, but make sure you have. I don’t
Mike: even know what the Kiwanis Club is, but it sounds cool.
Nir: Key Club, you know, like the, you know, whatever, like you know the Shriners, yeah. Many people don’t know these anymore, but this used to be like everybody used to belong to some kind of club, some kind of league, and that doesn’t happen anymore.
And so we have to bring that back. If your friends are important to you. Do you have time on your calendar to invest in those friendships? How many time have we heard, oh, we should totally get a drink sometime. Let’s get coffee. Come on, bs. It doesn’t happen. You have to have that time scheduled or it’s not going to happen in your life.
And then finally, with your work, I give many talks to audiences and, and I’ll always ask people, how many people in the room need time to think to do their job well? Right? Need time to concentrate, need time to focus on their work? Every hand goes up and then I say, well, how many of you have that time?
Scheduled and protected on your calendar. Maybe one person’s hand goes up and that person is usually the rockstar of the room because it turns out if you want a competitive advantage in the modern workplace, make time to think. In your day. Nobody does it. And everybody’s running around like crazy reacting to stuff.
And only the winners are the ones that have the time to reflect on where they’re going in life. So that is a very important thing to make sure you have protected in
Mike: your day, and I totally agree. And also just reflect on the work that you’re doing. It is very easy to just get lost in the machine and never step back and ask, could this machine be made any better?
Could it be made more efficient, more productive? Because all we have is. Is our time and the effort that we can put into our machine. And it’s mostly probably, well man, maybe it’s part, it’s partly quantitative, partly qualitative because to the topic that we’re discussing, if you’re focused and you are in a, let’s say, a state of traction, that effort is gonna be more effective than if you are kind of distracted.
Don’t really know what, why you’re doing it, but still take work. And this is something that I’ve. Spoken with the guys who work with me a number of times and made this point that I want them, cuz it feels kind of unproductive, right? If you’re sitting there, because what if you have a little thinking session and you don’t really come out with any good ideas.
You think, ah, well maybe I should’ve just gone and done some email or something. At least that, that would’ve, uh, felt more productive. But it’s to that point you brought up earlier where that that can just be busy work and okay, so you put some time into reflect. On your job and reflecting on, again, what’s the system here and how can I make this system better?
And you might not have a good idea every time, but if you do it consistently, you will have good ideas. And if you implement those ideas, eventually you will find some winners. You know, similarly, you’re a writer, I’m a, I’m a writer. It’s like when you’re doing research and you’re looking around for things, time can go by where you’re like, I didn’t do anything because you just didn’t find it yet.
But then when you do it all is worth it, right? Right,
Nir: exactly. And so having that time to actually reflect is just a huge competitive advantage. We all need that in our day. A huge waste of time is running really, really fast, being really, really efficient about doing the wrong things. And we find many, many people do exactly
So you’d mentioned time boxing. How does this work exactly? How do you do it?
Nir: Yeah. So time boxing is when we look at our, our calendar. So for most people it’s a week’s time and they look at how do I make sure that I make time for my values throughout my day? So we talked about these three domains of you, your relationships, your work.
- You need to timebox all of these tasks that are important to you so that the week ahead is a reflection of your values. So don’t do the five year plan. Don’t worry about the vision board right now. Just give me what your ideal week looks like in the week ahead. Realistically, not when you retire, but what does your week next week look like for you in order to live according to your values?
In these three life domains. So I find that instead of, you know, asking, Hey, what are your values? Ask it, it’s much more beneficial, much more productive to say, how can you spend your time to live according to your values if you have kids? How much time per week do you think you wanna spend with your kids to live out the value of being a devoted parent?
If physical health is important to you, if that’s one of your values, how much time should you invest in that in your week? That’s a much. Easier way to understand what your values are is how much time are you willing to invest in them. So you want to take this weekly template. Again, I’ll give you the link for the show notes where you basically fill in an entire week’s calendar with what you want that week to look like.
And the reason this is so important is that for the first time, you’ll be able to look at that week. And understand for every minute of your day what is traction and what is distraction. Again, you can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it distracted you from. So it’s only when you decide in advance how you wanna spend your time.
By the way, it’s totally fine if that time includes time for fun things. You want to watch Netflix, great. Put it on your calendar. You wanna watch the football game? Put it on your calendar. You want time to meditate, to pray, to go on a walk, to be bored and do nothing, no problem, but have that time carved out.
Remember, the time you plan to waste is not wasted time. Anything could be traction as long as you plan for it. Then where this gets really amazing is that when you have that time box calendar, not only do you understand what is traction and distraction for you in your own life, You can also share that calendar with important people in your life.
So where this really, it will improve your sense of wellbeing, productivity, sense of, of accomplishment is when you can take that time box, calendar and show it to the various stakeholders in your life, the people you owe time to. My wife and I would constantly get into fights about household responsibilities.
We never do anymore because I know exactly what needs to get done and when I promise to do it, and we synchronize our schedules every week. It takes 15 minutes. We never have those kind of disagreements anymore. We’ve been married for 18 years. We’ve never been happier.
Mike: I went through the same experience with my wife where I’d be just like, just tell me specifically what you want me to do and when, and then I’ll know to do it.
I’m not perfect, but it definitely helped to get. Very specific. Yeah. Okay, good. On this day, at this time, this is what I’m gonna be doing, and this is why it’s,
Nir: it’s so much better. As opposed to what I used to do, which was, Hey honey, if I forgot to do something, just tell me Right. What’s the problem? Just tell.
What I didn’t realize is that I was giving her yet another job, which is to be my babysitter. Yeah. To be your calendar. Exactly. Whereas now we sit down 15 minutes a week. I know exactly where are my responsibilities, what I owe her as a partner. Part of my values is to be in an equitable marriage. I owe it to her to pull my weight in the relationship in the workplace.
This is a game changer if you sit down with your boss for 15 minutes and show your boss, Hey, here is my week ahead. Here’s how I plan to spend my time. Here’s where I will accomplish the things that you’ve asked me to do this week. Now you see this other piece of paper over here? Here is where I’ve written all the things I couldn’t fit into my week.
Help me reprioritize. One of the worst pieces of advice that you hear said all the time these days, there’s an article written about it every single day. If you want to have more productive time in your day, learn how to say no. Give me a break. What a platitude, right? Who’s gonna look at their boss, the person who cuts their checks and say, Nope, I’m not gonna do that for you, boss.
Yeah, gimme a break. You’re gonna get fired. Instead, what you want to do is don’t be the one that says no to your boss. Have your boss be the one who tells you what not to do in your day by showing them, here’s how I spend my time. Here’s the things I won’t have time for. Please boss, help me reprioritize what’s important.
They will worship the ground you walk
Mike: on. Very true, very true. Especially also if you include, like you were saying, include some time where you say, Hey, this is the time where I’m gonna step back, take a look at all the stuff that I’m doing and see if I can gain some efficiencies or cut out some waste.
Or maybe some of these things can be done completely differently. Cuz that’s also rare. It’s just rare to find people who want to do that. It’s odd. I don’t know. And
Nir: very few managers have any idea how their employees are spending their time. If you work for somebody, I promise you, They’re probably wondering what the heck you do with your time all day.
Right. You know you’re busy, you know you’re working hard, but you, because we don’t do this practice, many people don’t do this practice of schedule syncing. There’s no transparency. So managers keep lobbing over task after task after task because they don’t know how you’re spending your time. And employees are thinking, man, why do I keep getting so much work?
Doesn’t my boss realize how busy I am? No, because they have no transparency into your calendar. Totally.
Mike: And oftentimes work groups aren’t working off of clear plans that can be broken down into individual tasks, and so it can get pretty
Nir: messy, which is where Timeboxing is so effective because, you know, the reason I want people to stop believing in this Messiah of the to-do list, you know, everybody’s been told that the secret to productivity is keep a to-do list.
This is how we get things done. Malarkey. It doesn’t work and you know it doesn’t work because everybody out there who keeps a to-do list, if you’re anything like I was, half of that to-do list gets recycled from one day to the next, to the next, to the next because we’re all obsessed with output. That’s all a to-do list is it’s a wishlist of output, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize you can’t get output input.
What’s the input time? So your goal should never be to finish anything. What? What does that mean? Your goal should not be to finish a task. A to-do list is a wishlist of things you want to finish, but that doesn’t work. We know that we’re terrible at estimating how long things take us. Instead, when you use this technique of time boxing that I talk about in the book, intractable your only goal.
Your only goal should be not to finish the task, but to work on what you said you would work on without distraction for as long as you said you would. That’s it. And it turns out that people who do that, that simply work on a task for as long as they said they would without distraction, they are way more productive at completing the output than the people who just put it on this magical wishlist to-do list.
Mike: That’s a great tip and, and funny, something I was talking about with the guys who work with me that we’re talking about deadlines more in that context, but it’s the same point of exactly this where I have, so I’m working on. Two books right now. One that I wanted to have done and then another that I’m on like a may deadline for.
And that’s a true deadline because I’m, that one’s gonna be traditionally published. So, I mean, obviously I’d give you more time if I need it, but I wanna meet it. But in general, I try not to set hard deadlines exactly for that reason. Cause I’ve learned that even if I estimate the amount of time and money I think it’s gonna take to bring something to fruition, I then double it.
That’s my standard and I work off of that and it often takes even more. And it’s not because I’m lazy or because I’m too distracted, I just don’t put in the work. It’s just anybody who you know exactly what I’m talking about, Ruth writing a book, the scope just creeps and creeps and creeps until eventually you have to decide like, okay, I need to actually stop.
Nir: and everybody has this problem, by the way, it, we know that study after study finds that people are really bad at estimating how long tasks will take. That’s why the best thing you can do is to not, you know, most people, they put under their to-do list. You know, finish chapter one. Well, they have no idea how long that takes.
So day after day after day, they can’t, you know, check out and then they
Mike: start feeling worse about themselves. Oh, now I was, I was supposed to be through chapter seven by
Nir: now. Exactly. And what do you do when you feel crappy about yourself? When you feel guilty and shameful, you look for distraction to take your mind off of how crappy you feel.
It’s back to those internal triggers, and so it’s very counterproductive instead. You can reinforce that identity that you are intractable by simply saying, I am going to write this book for one hour today. I am going to be in the gym for one hour today. I’m gonna spend time with my kid for one hour today and do nothing else.
That is all I’m going to do with that time, because then at the end of that time, block, by the way, it can be 15 minutes, it could be 30 minutes, it could be an hour, it could be three hours. Doesn’t matter. What you wanna do is at the end of that time block to say, yep, I did it. I reinforced my identity that I am intractable.
I do what I say I’m going to do. Yep. And
Mike: then that becomes a, a positive feedback loop, where then it just encourages more of the right action. And sometimes that means that it takes as long as it takes. Like that’s how long it takes to get the book done,
Nir: and that’s okay. But if you have faith in that process that the real goal is to not finish a task in any particular block of time, but rather to work on it without distraction.
If you have faith in that process, you actually will be much more productive than the person who just keeps stuff on a to-do list and somehow believes that magically that time is gonna appear in the day it doesn’t appear. We know what we do with that extra time we puts around, we do busy work, we prioritize the urgent, and we don’t do the
I totally agree. And you’re gonna also get along with, uh, lower blood pressure too. That’s right. I know I only have a few more minutes, but I have one last question for you. Just curious as your thoughts. So for people who are wondering, like they don’t know what their, what are their values, what, what exactly does that mean?
What are your thoughts on maybe finding some things that really resonate with, cuz what resonates with you may not resonate with me or, you know, other people. Yeah.
Nir: Yeah, so that’s why I think time is the right filter for your values as opposed to, you know, sit down and write down all your values. That’s very hard for people to do.
Instead, it’s how much time do you need in your day to live out your values? Again, values being the attributes of the person you want to become. So, What are the attributes of the person you want to become? You know, how much does the person you wanna become, spend their time on the various aspects of your life, right?
When it comes to these three domains of you, your relationships, your work, how would the person you want to become spend their time? So the constraint of looking at seven days of the week, looking at that calendar and fitting in the activities that help you fulfill your values, that help you live out your values is where you should start.
Mike: Interesting. That’s an interesting way of looking at it. I like it. Well, hey Ni, this was a, a great interview, very informative, so I really appreciate you taking the time. Again, the book is intractable and is there anything else you wanna wrap up with here in terms of where people can find you, your work, anything new and exciting you want them to know about?
Sure, yeah, I
Nir: appreciate it. So if you go to my website, near and far.com, near a spell, like my first name, so that’s n i r and far.com, near and far.com. There’s actually an 80 page workbook. We couldn’t fit it into the final edition of the book. But you can download it for free. It’s [email protected].
It’s an 80 page workbook to help you become intractable if you do end up buying the book. This is a special tip. Make sure if you buy the book on Amazon or your local book seller, doesn’t matter. Keep your order number. If you enter in that order [email protected], you will get access to a video course that’s also complimentary, as well as a list of resources, tools, all kinds of goodies.
You wanna make sure you can get ahold of. All of that [email protected].
Mike: I love it. Bonus goodies. Always fun. Thanks again Ni, this was great. My pleasure. Thank you so much. All right. Well, that’s it for this episode. I hope you enjoyed it and found it interesting and helpful. And if you did, and you don’t mind doing me a favor, please do leave a quick review on iTunes or.
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