Nir Eyal: How To Be Indistractable | E34

#34: How To Be Indistractable with Nir Eyal

Master your habits and become indistractable! This week, Hala interviews Nir Eyal, a leading export in behavioral design and popular author of “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” and “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.” Tune in to learn about Nir’s 4-step hook model to build habit-forming products and strategies to become indistractable to lead more productive and happier lives. Get marketing services like logos, whiteboard videos, animation and web development on Fivver: Learn new marketing skills like graphic design and video editing on Fivver Learn:…rand=fiverrlearn

#34: How To Be Indistractable with Nir Eyal

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[00:01:21] You're listening to Young And Profiting Podcast, a place where you can listen, learn and profit.

[00:01:28] I'm your host Hala Taha. And today we're speaking with Nir Eyal a leading expert in behavioral design, which lies at the intersection of technology psychology and business near is a popular author who wrote the book, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products". And he has a new book coming out called Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.

[00:01:48] And this episode, we'll dig into his four-step hook model to build healthy habits. Why people are so distracted in today's day and age and how we can become indestructible to lead more productive and happier lives.

[00:01:59] [00:02:00] Hey Nir, you're welcome to Young And Profiting Podcast.

[00:02:03] Nir Eyal: Thanks Hala. It's great to be here.

[00:02:05] Hala Taha: So you are a bestselling author, a speaker, a popular blogger, a professor, and accomplished investor, an entrepreneur with two sold companies under your belt and more so that's super impressive, but a lot of different titles to carry. So in your own words, can you tell our listeners about yourself and what you do and your purpose in life?

[00:02:29] Nir Eyal: No, I like the way you say all that I needed an ego boost today, so I appreciate that. Maybe you could tell my kid how cool you think I am. That'd be great. So my job as a behavioral designer and what I do is study and consult and teach about how technology, primarily shapes human behavior. And I got started in this field back in 2012, I had helped start a company that was acquired and I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next.

[00:02:57] And I had this thesis, that

[00:03:00] habits were going to really matter. That as interfaces shrink as we go from desktop to laptop, to mobile devices, to wearable devices. And now to these auditory interfaces like Amazon, Alexa and Google Home, I believe that habits will become more important because there's just less real estate to trigger people to action.

[00:03:19] So that kind of started this fascination with how different products change human behavior. And I really saw what I thought would be tremendous potential. Change people's lives for the better using the same techniques that we see companies like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and WhatsApp and Slack.

[00:03:33] I was in Silicon Valley during the rise of these companies, and I knew many of the people who helped these companies get as big as they are today. And what I wanted to do with my first book hooked was to democratize, these techniques was to figure out how we can take these tactics that make a social networks, games, products like YouTube, et cetera.

[00:03:52] How could we take those same exact tactics and the same psychology of how these products are made to be so habit forming and [00:04:00] engaging? What if we could use that for good? What if we could use that for helping people exercise more or eat healthier or save money, be more productive at work? So that's really the idea behind my first book Hooked.

[00:04:11] Now I wrote that book back when you know, the problem that tech companies had back then. Was nobody using their technology, right? Like these startups would build these amazing products and nobody would use them. They'd have really low engagement rates. And so that was the problem back then now fast forward five years since I published Hooked, came out in 2014.

[00:04:32] So now that we've had some time and perspective, now we see a different problem. Now we see people overusing some of these products and services. My next book in Indistractable is really about distraction at large. How do we do what we say we're going to do? How do we keep promises to ourself?

[00:04:48] That's really the subject matter of this next book. And of course that does have a heavy bent on technology because that seems to distract so many of us, but it's really about all distraction, right? We know what we're going to do, right? There's billions of dollars spent [00:05:00] on self-help books, but, fundamentally we know common sense tells us basically, how to get the things we want if you want be healthy.

[00:05:07] Then you need to exercise and eat, right? If you want to be more productive at work, you have to do focused work and, come up with novel solutions to problems. If you want to have a good relationship with your family and friends, you need to spend time with them and be fully present.

[00:05:19] It's not rocket science. We all know what to do. Why don't we do it. Yeah. And so that's really the question. I'm trying to answer when it comes to this next book in Indistractable.

[00:05:27] Hala Taha: Awesome. During this interview, I hope to cover both facets. So your first book is really about helping businesses, build addictive products, that form habits, like you said, for good purposes.

[00:05:37] And your second book is really the opposite side of the spectrum. Helping people stop being lured into these habits in the first place. So there'll be less distracted. Hopefully we'll get to cover both of those topics, but first I want to talk about behavioral design. So from my understanding, you really invented this field.

[00:05:55] You're the father of behavioral design. Can you provide more context [00:06:00] into what this exactly is?

[00:06:01] Nir Eyal: Yeah. I dunno if I can say I'm the father of behavioral design, but I appreciate.

[00:06:05] I've been dumped. Yeah. There's a lot of people who have influenced the field. And so I appreciate that, but yeah, there's a lot of folks in the book that I credit their research as well. I think what I've done is to take a lot of, very old consumer psychology research. That's, 50, 60, 70 years old and applied it to a new field, because what we've seen is now possible through these devices that we carry around with us every day in our pockets.

[00:06:28] Is that technology has become so persuasive in the same time that has become so pervasive. And so that means that, this formula has resulted in the opportunity to change people's behavior and to change our own behavior. And so behavioral design is really understanding. How to shape our behavior through our technology.

[00:06:47] How can technology facilitate behavior? Now I wrote Hooked for two reasons. I wrote Hooked number one because I wanted to help entrepreneur. I've been a two-time entrepreneur. I'm not some academic, that only does research studies. I've been in the field, started two

[00:07:00] companies. I know how hard it is to get people, to change their behavior and use a product like the ones that, I'm sure many of your listeners are making that would truly benefit them.

[00:07:10] If they only use it. That's such a big problem. And so that's really what fascinates me so much about this field is, what, if we could use technology to help people do the things they want to do, but for lack of good product design, don't do, wouldn't it be great if we could design the kind of products that didn't depend upon?

[00:07:27] Spammy advertising and expensive marketing. What if people use the products because they wanted to, not because they had to and they use them on their own. Not because you were sending them more spammy messages. So that's really the goal of behavioral design is to help people do things they want to do, but for lack of good product design, they don't do.

[00:07:44] Got it. And

[00:07:45] Hala Taha: so just to recap for my listeners or to, define it, it's really the intersection of technology, psychology and business. So very interesting.

[00:07:52] Nir Eyal: And it's important. You mentioned a word that I just want to clarify. The book I wrote Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, is not called how to build addictive products.

[00:07:59] And

[00:08:00] so we never want to create addiction. Addiction is not the same thing as a habit. And addiction is a persistent compulsive dependency on a behavior or. That causes harm to the user. So we would never want to addict people. Addiction is unethical. Now it is also sometimes the unfortunate consequence, unfortunate by-product of any product that is an analgesic, any product that solves pain.

[00:08:24] We'll be addictive to somebody if it's used by a sufficiently large number of people, but that should never be our intent to addict people. That's an unfortunate, by-product our goal as product designers, as behavioral designers is really about helping people form healthy habits in their lives.

[00:08:38] Hala Taha: Got it.

[00:08:39] Okay. So let's start off with your hooked model. I think in order to provide some context to my listeners, can you first define what a habit exactly is?

[00:08:48] Nir Eyal: Yeah. So a habit is a behavior done with little or no conscious. That's about half of what you do every single day in and day out is motivated through these habits.

[00:08:57] And this is very evolutionarily,

[00:09:00] beneficial, right? The fact that our brain can switch onto autopilot and help us do so many things. At the same time or with little or no conscious thought helps our brain think about other things and solve other problems. While we're driving in traffic or walking to work or washing the dishes.

[00:09:14] We do these things habitually with little or no conscious thought. And so if we can use that power if you can use the power of habit to help people. Shaped their lives in ways that improve their lives and improve your bottom line. That's very good.

[00:09:26] Hala Taha: Okay. So speaking of bottom line, why are habits good for business?

[00:09:31] Nir Eyal: Yeah, that's a great question. So there are many reasons that habits are good for business. So one of them is that habits increased customer lifetime value. The longer someone uses a product, the more frequently they use a product, the more valuable each and every customer becomes to the company. Another reason is that habits supercharged growth.

[00:09:47] That when you think about what makes a product go viral, it's not good enough that a product is just spread from one person to the next, because if that doesn't happen quickly, if you don't have, what's called a short viral cycle time and meaning the amount of [00:10:00] time that elapses between the transmission of one person telling another about the product, if that doesn't happen frequently.

[00:10:06] Then you're never going to have viral growth because you're constantly churning customers as well, right? People are also stopping the use of your product. And so in order to get that escape velocity and get exponential growth, you need the product to be transmitted frequently enough, which means that only the kind of products that are used habitually, these kinds of daily use type products.

[00:10:26] Those are the kinds of products that ever have a hope of spreading and growing. And then third and perhaps most importantly, habits are a barrier to competition, that it's a huge competitive advantage to have a habit around a product. Now your business needs have some kind of barrier, some kind of moat, because if you don't, what happens is you're constantly competing on price and features and price and features.

[00:10:48] And you're beating up the competition on these two factors. But when a product has some kind of sustainable competitive advantage in this case, a habit. That's no longer the case because people will use a

[00:11:00] product or service out of habit and they won't even consider the competition. I'll give you an example.

[00:11:04] When any times, when I had to give a presentation in front of a large audience, I will ask the crowd to raise their hands. If they search with Google. In the past 24 hours and 99% of the room's hands will go up, and then I'll say raise your hand for me. If you search with Bing, the number two search engine who searched with being in the past 24 hours, and maybe one hand will go up typically Microsoft employees handle, if they happen to be in the room.

[00:11:28] And so why is that is because those geniuses in mountain view have such better technology. The algorithm is so much better. Nobody can replicate it. No, it's purely a habit because when we Google something, we don't sit and ask ourselves. I wonder if Google makes the best search engine? No, we don't even give the competition a chance.

[00:11:44] We just use the product with little or no conscious thought. So if you form a habit with a product it's very difficult to get you to switch because you don't even consider the alternatives, you don't consider the competitors. And so that becomes a huge, competitive.

[00:11:57] Hala Taha: Thank you. That was so well broken down.

[00:11:59] [00:12:00] And so interesting. So previously mentioned in your book, you describe a four-step hook model. The components are trigger action, variable reward, and investment. Can you describe the hook model at a super high level? And maybe we can dig deeper into each step after that?

[00:12:18] Nir Eyal: Absolutely. Yeah. So the four steps.

[00:12:21] Really quick at a high level here. And this is basically the outline of hooked is working through these four steps of the hook model for any business, frankly, any business that's used with sufficient frequency. That is a prerequisite that I should mention if a product is a one-time use product or as if it's a product that's bought, but not used.

[00:12:37] So if you sell some kind of server software that nobody. Knows exists in less, server's on fire or something, then you don't need to have it. That's a, one-time the customer doesn't need to use it to benefit from it.

[00:12:48] Hala Taha: Like a fancy vacation.

[00:12:49] Nir Eyal: Yeah, exactly. So shopping for a vacation when you're in market can become a habit.

[00:12:53] Lots of people will, check travel deals every day, habitually when they're in market. But yeah. Going on the vacation doesn't occur with [00:13:00] sufficient for you. So assuming you have a product that it's used with sufficient frequency. Now, by the way, we can also talk about, what do you do if your product is not used with sufficient frequency, what do you do then?

[00:13:09] You can both on habit for me, experiences, you can bolt on a content consumption habit, right? You can bolt on a community habit into a product that is not used with sufficient frequency, but we can get more into that later on, but just to outline the four steps of the hook model, the first step is trigger is some kind of cue.

[00:13:27] That tells us what to do next. And these triggers come in two forms, external triggers and internal triggers. External triggers are things in our environment that tell us what to do next, the pings, the dings, the rings, anything in your environment that tells you what to do. The next type of trigger is called an internal trigger.

[00:13:45] An internal trigger is where the information is stored as a memory or an association inside the user's head. And this typically takes the form of an uncomfortable emotional state. So all human [00:14:00] behavior is motivated by the desire to escape this comfort. All human behavior. We used to think that it's about pleasure and pain.

[00:14:05] It's actually not. It's just pain all the way down, that all behavior, whether it's using your product, whether it's getting a snack, whether it's putting on a coat, whatever it might be is motivated by the desire to escape discomfort, it's called the homeostatic response. So that means that all products and services in order to be used habitually, they have to attach themselves to that uncomfortable sensation.

[00:14:26] So when you're lonely and you check Facebook, when you're uncertain, You Google, when you're bored, you check YouTube stock prices, sports scores, Reddit, lots of different products and services cater to boredom. So that's probably one of the most important things that you can do if you're building a habit, forming products, probably the very first step is to understand, what internal trigger you're going to attach your products used to.

[00:14:50] The next step of the hook is the action phase. And the action phase is defined as the simplest behavior done in anticipation of a reward. So it's the simplest thing that user can do [00:15:00] to get relief from that psychological discomfort, a scroll on Pinterest, pushing the play button on YouTube, a quick search on Google.

[00:15:08] All of these things are very simple actions. Done in anticipation of an immediate reward. So your goal as a product designer, is to figure out how to reduce the friction, reduce the steps to get the reward, which leads us to the third step of the hook, which is the reward phase, the reward phases, where the itch is scratched, whether user gets what they came for.

[00:15:29] And not only is this a reward where we give the user where they came for. The reward tends to take the form of a variable reward. So some type of mystery, some type of uncertainty, some type of variability, keeps us checking, keeps us engaged, keeps us wanting more. So some products want to insert variability, right?

[00:15:48] If you think about why people use a product that caters to boredom. It's because it introduces uncertainty. When you watch a good movie, you read a good book, see a good video on YouTube, scroll your feed. There's [00:16:00] uncertainty around that experience. And it's really good at catering to the internal trigger of boredom.

[00:16:04] Other products, want to take inherently variable. And give the user agency and control. So for example, with Uber or Lyft, and the fact that you can check the interface while you're waiting for your cab, and it tells you how far away that Uber cab is, gives you a greater agency and control over something.

[00:16:23] That's already variable. There's already uncertainty, right? Can you get to where you're going on time? Are you going to make your flight at the airport based on when your Uber driver arrives? So some products want to insert variability, other products, operating conditions of uncertainty, and want to give the user greater agency and control.

[00:16:39] But all of these products have at their core. The engine is this variable reward. This uncertainty that scratches the user's. But it leaves them wanting more. And finally the last step of the hook, and maybe the most overlooked is the investment phase. The investment phase is where the user puts something into the product.

[00:16:57] In anticipation of some kind of

[00:17:00] future benefits, some kind of future reward. It can take the form of data, content, the acquisition of a skill, reputation, followers, anything I put into the product that makes it better and better with use. And this is really an amazing property because what this means is that for the first time in the history of business. Product the more it is used, the more it appreciates and value.

[00:17:23] That's a really big deal. If you think about it, everything in the physical world, depreciates with wear and tear, right? The more you use it, right? Your desk, your clothing, your car, the more you use it, the less valuable it becomes, but habit forming products. Do the more data, the more content, the more followers, the more reputation, the more we use a product, the more we accrue these elements and the product becomes more and more valuable.

[00:17:47] The more we use it. That's revolutionary. So that's the point of the investment phase is that it improves the product with use through stored value. The other thing it does, the investment phase increases the likelihood of the next pass, [00:18:00] through the hook by loading the next trigger. So something that the user does to bring themselves back.

[00:18:06] So for example, when I send someone a message on Slack or WhatsApp or any number of other messaging platforms, when I send someone that message. There's no immediate reward, right? Nothing really happens that second, what I'm doing is I'm investing in the platform because I'm likely to get a reply. And that reply comes coupled with an external trigger in the form of a notification that brings me through the hook.

[00:18:30] Once again, trigger action reward investment. So that's why there's this loop that through these four steps, this is how customer preferences are formed, how our tastes are shaped and how these habits take hold.

[00:18:41] Hala Taha: Awesome. So how is this hook model different than traditional feedback loops or habit loops such as the model that was popularized by the book Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

[00:18:55] Nir Eyal: The biggest difference is that the traditional three part.

[00:19:00] Habit loop is really about behavioral habits in our day-to-day lives, but there's a great deal of difference between a habit loop that's applied to your life, versus one that's applied to your user's life. So the hooked model is really made for product design.

[00:19:17] It's not about personal behavior changes for product designers. And so there's a lot of aspects that you have to consider, in terms of how would you design a habit for someone else as opposed to for yourself, for example, considering people's internal triggers and that's nowhere in Charles's book, by the way, Charles is a journalist.

[00:19:33] So both he and I. Credit to the academics who actually did this research. Neither of us came up with these steps, we're reporting and popularizing the hard work of many academics. So external triggers, how do you send a notification, for example, that will be acted upon there's some real insights there about, how do you appropriately send a notification to make sure it's acted upon.

[00:19:54] And it feels like it's magic versus something that feels like spam. And so that takes an understooding the

[00:20:00] internal triggers in order to send the external triggers. The minute the user feels their pain point, their itch, their internal trigger. And when it comes to the action phase, now the insights around making the action as easy as possible, designing your user interface in a way that saves the user as much friction, and effort as possible will increase the likelihood of them doing the behavior.

[00:20:19] Variable rewards are nowhere in anybody else's habit loop. But of course, when we see products that we use everyday. Like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Slack, they're full of the slot machine, like variable rewards. Every single one of them has this element of mystery variability. The Skinnerian mechanic of bringing us back through opera and conditioning.

[00:20:38] And then finally the investment phase also that doesn't appear in anybody else's habit model. That is this idea of putting something, into the product to make it better and better with use. This is where big data artificial intelligence machine learning, really becomes very valuable for this exact reason, because for the first time products of all sorts can get better with use, right?

[00:20:57] Even companies that were traditionally not thought of as tech [00:21:00] companies, today are every company is a tech company today. Because if you're collecting user information, if you're customizing the experience, which you should be, everybody should be doing this. If you're customizing the experiences is someway.

[00:21:12] Then you are using this piece of the hook model to improve the product with use.

[00:21:16] Hala Taha: Got it. And so in addition to internal and external triggers, I know you also talk about paid and earned triggers. Could you just break that down for our listeners?

[00:21:28] Nir Eyal: Sure. So there's many different types of external triggers.

[00:21:30] Remember external triggers are these things that tell us what to do next, some piece of information that prompts the next action. And so when you think about, earned triggers versus paid at triggers. An earn trigger is something that you yourself own. So if you have earned the customer's trust in a way that they want to hear from you in the future, for example, if you make an app that reminds people to exercise or meditate or save money or learn a new language, and the user welcomes that

[00:22:00] notification, that ping that ding, that ring that tells them what to do next.

[00:22:02] You have earned that. And so you essentially own that trigger in the customer's mind now, as opposed to a paid trigger. If you buy the notification from somebody else, if you have to go through Facebook or Google or an advertiser platform to send an external trigger, while you're basically renting that user's attention, you don't own the user's attention.

[00:22:24] You haven't earned the right to message them. You're basically renting it from someone else. Now that's not necessarily a bad thing. It just happens to be really great when you don't have to pay someone else to access your customer. So the idea is that we want to take those paid triggers. Quickly convert them into no longer requiring, us to send these external triggers by creating our own habit, by creating a product that people want to use on their own without needing these notifications.

[00:22:50] Certainly not the ones that we have to buy from someone else.

[00:22:53] Hala Taha: And in regards to the action step, why is it important to make sure that the product is really [00:23:00] easy to use.

[00:23:01] Nir Eyal: Right. So one principle that we've known for decades now it's called Lewin's equation is that behavior is a function of a person in their environment.

[00:23:08] And so this goes back over a hundred years and it's pretty much common sense, right? That what you do is a function of the environment around you. If you see a donut on the kitchen counter, when you go into your kitchen for breakfast, whereas if you have, the healthier option, the eggs in the fridge, but the donuts right there ready for you.

[00:23:24] And it's easy to go ahead and eat the doughnut and you're in a rush. So you're super motivated to eat the doughnut quickly, as opposed to having to fry up an egg. You're going to eat the donut because it's easier to do that behavior. So the environment shapes our behavior and we see this all over the place, right?

[00:23:39] That the environment is a huge factor in people's behavior. We like to think that we are fully in control our, of our behavior, and it's not that we can't take steps to control our behavior, but without forcing. We are very much at the whim of our environment. So that means that if you are designing a product, that is helping people do something that they themselves want to do, but they're not

[00:24:00] doing it, then it's only because of one of three reasons.

[00:24:02] And this comes out of the work of BJ Fogg at Stanford, who says that behavior is a function of motivation ability and a trigger. So we talked about those triggers earlier. Motivation is the energy for action. How much we want to do something and ability is how easy it is to do that behavior, right? The capacity to do that behavior, because the easier something is to do, the more likely we are to do it.

[00:24:26] So whether, it's because something is easy because it is physically easier to do or because it's mentally easier to do, or because it's less costly, any of these factors of ability make a behavior more or less likely to occur based on how easy or difficult to behavior and so even my new changes, right?

[00:24:44] Seconds of low time in your app, a website that's too crowded with too many triggers and confuses the user, not building enough trust and causing the user to have to think. And second guess whether they want to do business with you, all of these factors decrease the user's ability

[00:25:00] and therefore make it less likely that the user will do what they, and you want them to do.

[00:25:05] Hala Taha: And when you were talking about rewards, you mentioned the fact that they really need an element of mystery or a degree of novelty. And in your book, you also talk about how rewards come in three different types of tribe, hunt, and self, I believe.

[00:25:21] Nir Eyal: That's right.

[00:25:21] Enough people there? That's great.

[00:25:24] Hala Taha: Can you unpack that and just describe these different types of rewards. Cause I thought this was one of the most fascinating parts of your book.

[00:25:30] Nir Eyal: Sure. So I talk about variable rewards as this engine of the hook model. I'll tell you the story of how this was discovered so to speak. SoB. F. Skinner was a psychologist, the father of behaviorism, and he was the father of operant conditioning and he did some really fascinating experiments back in the 1950s and sixties where he took these pigeon.

[00:25:48] And he put them in a little box and he gave them a disc to peck at. And every time they picked up the disc, they would get a little food reward, a little food pellet, and so very quickly he could train these pigeons to Peck at the

[00:26:00] disk whenever they were hungry. Now, mind you, he wasn't creating automatons, right?

[00:26:04] He wasn't creating little puppets. He could only get the pigeons to peck at the disc if they were hungry. Meaning, there had to be an internal trigger of hunger in order for the pigeon to be motivated to peck at the disc. Just like with us, people aren't puppets on a string. We can't make people do something they don't want to do.

[00:26:19] They have to have some kind of internal trigger, some kind of needs, some kind of itch in order to do that behavior. Okay. But then Skinner found something very interesting happened when he ran out of the food pellet. So one day he literally ran out of them. He didn't have enough food pellets. And so he couldn't afford to give the food pellet every time the pigeon peck at the disc, he could only afford to give it to the pigeon once in a while.

[00:26:41] And that meant that if the pigeon peck at the disc, sometimes they would get a reward. But then if the pigeon pecked at the disk, again, they wouldn't receive a reward. And to Skinner's amazement, he saw the pigeons, increase the rate of response. They would Peck at the disk more often when the reward was given on a variable

[00:27:00] schedule of reinforcement.

[00:27:02] And so it turns out that in all sorts of experiences, that you find most habit forming, most engaging the things that capture our attention and won't let go. You will find this element of mysteries, this variable reward, and these variable rewards come in three types rewards of the tribe, rewards of the hunt and rewards of the self.

[00:27:20] Rewards of the hunt or things that feel good, that have this element of mystery and come from other people. So cooperation, partnership, competition, all of these things feel good, come from other people and have this element of mystery. So what makes social media so engaging stack overflow, if you've ever used that for any engineers listening, right?

[00:27:38] It's this social Q and a site, Cora, a lot of companies use this social reward. We see that all of this. The next type of variable reward is called rewards of the hunt. And this is about the search for material
possessions or information. So when you think about what makes the news, so habit forming, and why do people read the news every day? Nobody wants yesterday's news, right? That's

[00:28:00] old news. That's not fun. The first three letters of news is new. It has to be what we don't know, the uncertainty that searched for information. That's what the rewards of the hunt is all about. I can also be of course, the search for money.

[00:28:13] When you think about variable rewards, you think of gambling slot machines, right? What makes a slot machine so engaging? Why can nobody stop watching a spinning roulette wheel because there's uncertainty around what's going to happen. And so that same psychology is what keeps us scrolling and scrolling on the internet.

[00:28:30] And then finally rewards of the self rewards. The self are about the search for these variable rewards that feel good, but don't come from other people. And aren't about these material or information rewards. These things feel good in and of themselves. They're what's called intrinsically pleasurable, the search for mastery consistency, competency control, best example, online.

[00:28:49] When you play candy crush or angry birds or any number of these other games, you're not winning anything in terms of material possessions. At least you're not even playing with other people, many of these games, but there's something

[00:29:00] fun about getting to the next level, the next accomplishment, the next achievement.

[00:29:03] So when you think about checking. Email is probably the mother of habit forming technology. It uses all three types of variable rewards. It's comes from other people. So you have to rewards the tribe. It's about rewards of the hunt, right? What's the, in each email's a good news is a bad news. And then there's this element of finishing, checking your inbox, right?

[00:29:20] So looking at each one of those unread messages, opening it, clearing them away. These are examples of rewards of the self sense of mastery control competency.

[00:29:29] Hala Taha: That's very interesting. So to recap this section of the interview, can you just describe some of the questions, that we should use when we're thinking about developing a product that forms habits?

[00:29:42] Nir Eyal: If you're building the kind of product that needs to build a habit, if your business model depends upon bringing people back on their own, then you have to ask yourself these five fundamental questions. What's the internal trigger. What's the user's itch that your product is addressing and does it occur with sufficient frequency to bring them back and form a habit?

[00:29:59] Second,

[00:30:00] what's your external trigger? What's the information in their environment that prompts them to action. The third question is in the action phase of the hook. What's the simplest thing the user can do, to get relief from their psychological discomfort with your product. Fourth what's the variable reward. Does the product scratch the user's itch and yet leave them wanting more.

[00:30:22] And then finally the investment phase, what's the bit of work the user does to increase the likelihood of the next pass through the hooked.

[00:30:31] Hala Taha: Awesome. Let's shift gears to your new book. This is namely on distraction. It's called in Indistractable. It's out on pre-order now. I believe it comes out in September. You must be very excited.

[00:30:44] Nir Eyal: I am very excited.

[00:30:47] Hala Taha: I'm sure it's going to be a smash hit like your other one.

[00:30:49] Nir Eyal: Thank you. Thank you. I hope so. From your mouth to God's ears.

[00:30:54] Hala Taha: So first help us understand the breadth of this distraction problem. Why are

[00:31:00] people so distracted? Why did you decide to write this book?

[00:31:03] Nir Eyal: Yeah this book came out of my own personal struggle with distraction.

[00:31:07] I noticed that after I had written Hooked, I was finding myself with some bad habits that I didn't like. I remember one particular occasion I was with my daughter. And she's an only child. And she's the love of our life. And we had this book of activities, that daddies and daughters could do together.

[00:31:24] And one of the activities was to ask each other this question, if you could have any superpower, what superpower would you want. And I wish, I could tell you what she said, but I can't because I was busy on my phone. When she was answering that question. And the next thing I knew, I looked up and she was gone.

[00:31:43] She had gotten the message that she was less important, than whatever I was looking at on my phone. And so I'm embarrassed to tell you that, but that's what happened. And I decided to look, I need to figure this out because if I understand. How these products hook us, I wrote the book on it and I'm struggling.

[00:31:58] Then I'm guessing lots of people

[00:32:00] out there struggling. And so at first I wanted to write a book about technology distraction, right? Why technology is the problem. And I originally thought I was going to call the book unhooked, but then the more I dove into the problem, I realized that it wasn't technology.

[00:32:14] That was the real problem. That technology is what's called the proximate. Cause it's the surface level. Cause the real cause the root cause was much more complex and much more fascinating. That it turns out. I intended to write a book about technology distraction. It turns out I ended up writing about the psychology of distraction is really the topic of the book.

[00:32:34] What I learned about. It's not just about the technology is the tool, but it turns out there's so much more going on in terms of the deeper psychology. And so with when it comes to in distractable, I have another four-part model. I'm very fond of four-part models and it uses many of the same psychology. That I learned writing Hooked to try and help us put technology in its place.

[00:32:53] And so the idea here, every book I read on the topic, when I did research about this problem of why don't we do, we say we're going to do.

[00:33:00] Every book basically said the same thing. Like just get rid of the technology. The technology is the problem. Go on a digital detox or 30 day plan or whatever, and it doesn't work and I'll tell you why it doesn't work.

[00:33:10] I did all this stuff, I should've known it wouldn't work because I used to be clinically obese at one point in my life. And I remember when I was obese, I would go on all these fad diets. No fast food for a whole month. Guess what happened on day three? I'd eat like crazy.

[00:33:22] I'd make up for lost time because I wasn't getting to the root of why I was overeating. And as anybody who's struggled with overeating knows, it's not about. It's not about the food itself. It's about the emotional need and it's an icky, sticky truth. We don't like to talk about. We like to blame the tech companies for addicting us.

[00:33:39] And I wanted to do that too. And I wanted to warn people about look I know from the inside of this stuff is addictive. And it turns out I can't say that because the science doesn't support it. The science tells us, that we use an overuse and sometimes abuse these products because we're filling emotional.

[00:33:57] It's back to these internal triggers that we talked about earlier.

[00:34:00] That, let me tell you, if you can't sit with your daughter without looking at your phone, it's not the phone, that's the problem. There was stuff going on inside me, that I didn't want to face that I didn't want to look at that I was trying to escape and I didn't have the tools..

[00:34:16] To deal with those uncomfortable sensations in a healthier manner.

[00:34:20] Hala Taha: Yeah. And to that point, you talk about how this is not a new problem and how 2,500 years ago, Socrates and Plato, we're talking about this concept. Can you just explain the history behind some of this?

[00:34:33] Nir Eyal: Yeah, absolutely. This is one of the things that fascinated me.

[00:34:35] We think that Facebook invented distraction and it is not a new problem. Literally 2,500 years ago. Socrates and Plato we're talking about across the, of this tendency that we had to do things against our better interest. It is part of the human condition and it's part of being an adult is that, we live in a world today that has so many good, interesting, fascinating things vying for our attention.

[00:34:58] A good thing. Do we want

[00:35:00] Netflix to make more boring shows, right? Should we call up Netflix, say, Hey, can you stop making your show so entertaining? That would be great because they're distracting me. No, part of being a grownup is learning, how to put this stuff in its place. And I think what disturbed me about the popular narrative that I bought into at one point.

[00:35:15] We slough off responsibility and we expect it to be fixed for us. got news for you. This stuff ain't going away. It's always been a part of the human condition and it always will be part of the human condition. If anything, technology is only going to make things more distracting, not less. And so if we don't learn how to become indestructable now, if we don't teach our kids how to become a distractible, then I really do think the world is going to buy for Kate, into people who know how to manage their behavior, who know how to manage their attention and do what they say they're going to do.

[00:35:43] And people who just get tugged around by other interests, because the fact is, I can tell you from the inside, if you don't take steps to become in distractible, these companies are going to get you. They're too sophisticated. They're too good that if you don't take steps to put this stuff in

[00:36:00] its place, not only, the frivolous social media or gaming companies, I'm talking about the workplace technologies, Slack and email your phone.

[00:36:07] It's going to get you unless you understand how to put it in its place. And so half the book is about things that you yourself can do, right? This four-part indestructible model. The other half of the book realizes that you operate in an environment, right? That your behavior is dictated many parts by other people.

[00:36:22] So the second half of the book is about how do we have an indestructible work? How do we create a culture that doesn't make people desperate for distraction? It turns out that what I learned in this, and we can talk about this more, but, I learned that distraction at work is not about the technology.

[00:36:37] It's about a dysfunctional company culture. Then I also talk about how to raise indestructable. And finally, I talk about how to have an indestructible relationship. What do you do when you sit around the table and some of your friends, decide it's a good time to take out their phone when you were hoping you would have quality time together, or what do you do if your spouse or your significant other is on their device instead of, coming to bed, what do you do in those circumstances?


[00:37:00] So I really try and look at these many different facets of this problem of distraction and give a holistic. And yet tech positive and empowering solution. I'm not one of these chicken little alarmist that tells you technology is melting your brain. I love technology. It's great. I couldn't have written my books.

[00:37:15] I couldn't have benefited so many ways in my life. Had it not been for the amazing power of technology. Look at us talking right now with these amazing technologies, let us do all these things we do. And so it's a tech positive book and it's also an empowering book that helps people get the best out technology.

[00:37:30] Without letting it get the best of us.

[00:37:32] Hala Taha: Yeah. And I think it's the perfect time for something like this, because as you said, companies are only getting more sophisticated, and I don't think people realize how complex it is behind the scenes. And how much they're targeted.

[00:37:45] Nir Eyal: Yeah. And we can use it for good. I still believe that, by and large, I don't want to live in a world without what you're building.

[00:37:51] I think it's great .That you have the option to have great products that engage us. We want the products we use to be engaging. That's not a problem. That's progress.

[00:38:00] We want awesome products that help us. I think it's going to be up to us though, unless you are a child. I think children deserve special protection.

[00:38:07] I think that people who are pathologically addicted deserve special protection, but for the rest of us, it's up to us. It's going to be our responsibility. To learn how to deal with these things helpfully.

[00:38:18] Hala Taha: You have called in distractibility a superpower. Why do you think that is the ultimate secret weapon of today?

[00:38:25] Because one could argue that creativity or emotional intelligence or being able to adapt is more important today.

[00:38:34] Nir Eyal: I would argue that all the creativity in the world, all the adaptability, all the leadership skills, don't get you very far. If you don't execute on your dreams, and so you can't execute on your dreams unless you do the work.

[00:38:50] And so, it's not good enough just to have desire and aspirations. If you want to make a difference in the

[00:39:00] world, you have to get your butt in the chair and do the work. And that's hard, it's hard and it's not comfortable. And we haven't been taught how to focus, how to stay on task and do what we say we're going to do.

[00:39:15] Not only that. It's so much more difficult these days when we have so many good things to distract us, right? Oh, I just want to watch YouTube for a minute or let me just Google something. Or even the most insidious things are, those tasks that feel like work, we call it pseudo work, right?

[00:39:30] Like I'll just check email for a minute because that's something I need to be doing. It's feels productive. And this is why we had this explosion of messaging today. Not because people need to send these messages with a Harvard business review found that 25%. Emails that the average office worker receives they should not have received.

[00:39:46] And about 25% of the emails they send, they should not have sent. The reason we had this deluge of emails is because people are using technology, to fulfill their voids, to fulfill these uncomfortable, emotional sensations

[00:40:00] of having to do the work. The solution is it's two big solutions. The solution is do pseudo work or call a meeting.

[00:40:07] That's what we do. When at the end of the day to really move our life and the world forward, we have to do focus. We have to come up with novel solutions to hard problems. Guess what? You can't do that unless you have focused time, but we don't have any focus time in our days anymore. We're constantly reacting and we have no time to reflect.

[00:40:30] And so that's what I want to change is I want to give us the skillset, to put our ideas into action. The reason I call it a superpower is imagine for a second, what your life would be like, if everything you said you would do, you did. Imagine in the domain of your life, right? When it comes to taking care of your body, your health, getting enough sleep, reading books that can improve your life, think about it in the domain of your relationships. How much closer would you be with your significant other, your kids, your friends, if you were

[00:41:00] there for them and you were fully present. You made time for these people in your work, how much more effective would you be at work?

[00:41:06] If you actually finished everything on your to-do list every day, instead of moving it to the next day, right? Unbelievably different what our life be. If everything we said we would do, we actually did. That's why I think, it's a superpower.

[00:41:18] Hala Taha: Yeah, that is powerful. How can we stop being distracted?

[00:41:23] What are your top tips for that?

[00:41:25] Nir Eyal: So much tips and tactics as it is a strategy. I do give a lot of tactics, a lot of things that you can do today. Very quick hit tips. That's not the most important aspect of the book. The thing I want you to remember are these four parts of the indestructible model, because if I give you the strategy and that is seared into your brain, you'll come up with a tactics for yourself.

[00:41:44] The strategy here is to understand. That all action is either traction or distraction, right? You notice both those words end in the same word. They both end in the word action. Traction is any action that you do that moves you towards what you want in life.

[00:42:00] Okay. It's things that you do with intent. The opposite of that, the opposite of traction is distraction.

[00:42:06] Traction is any action that you do that moves you off track. So think about a number line to the right is traction to the left is distraction. Okay. Now what spurs action. What makes us do something, that is either traction or distraction? Think about two arrows pointing towards the center of that number line.

[00:42:25] Those two arrows represent either internal triggers, or external triggers. And of course, we talked all about this. When we talked about Hooked, how all our behaviors are spurred by either internal triggers or external triggers. So now we have four parts. We have internal triggers, external triggers, traction and distraction.

[00:42:44] So all we have to do to become in distractible is work on these four basic elements. First, we have to master these internal triggers, understand the discomfort that drives us to seek escaped. Through distraction as opposed to traction. And so there's

[00:43:00] really only two things we can do about mastering our internal triggers.

[00:43:02] We can either fix the source of the problems, figure out why we feel bad, why we are looking for escape in this manner. Or if we can't fix the source of the problem, we have to learn ways to cope. With that discomfort. And so I give many different ways to do exactly those two things. How do you either fix the problem or learn tactics to cope with that discomfort?

[00:43:23] There's a lot of myths out there in folk psychology. That need to be overturned like the ego depletion myth, this horrible myth, that people run out of willpower that it's like a gas tank. It turns out that's totally not true. Unless, you believe it's true. And so it's really harmful. I do a lot of turning over of apple carts in this book because there's a lot of untruths out there that people need to know are not true because these untruths are really hurting them.

[00:43:46] Like this idea that you run out of willpower, it's not true at all, unless you believe it is. So that's the first step we have to master these internal triggers. Next, we have to make time for traction, right? We talked about traction versus

[00:44:00] distraction. We have to make time for traction. That means we have to make time on our calendar.

[00:44:05] For the things that we need to do so many people, they don't even know the difference between traction and distraction, because they didn't plan what they wanted to do. So here's the thing I want your listeners to remember is that you cannot call something a distraction unless you know what a distracted you.

[00:44:21] You can't complain about all these things, distracting you, the television, the radio, or YouTube, whatever Facebook, unless you know what it is you wanted to do, in that time. So this comes down to putting on our calendars, what we want to do, and then more importantly, so that's basic. You've heard that advice before.

[00:44:38] What people don't do is that they don't synchronize their schedules with the various stakeholders. A lot of us, we talk a good game. We say we value certain things, but if I can't see your values on your schedule in terms of how you spend your time. Just vaporware. It's just talk. So to walk the walk, we need to actually make time for our values on our calendars.


[00:45:00] Turn our values into time. The third thing we do is that we need to hack back these external triggers. So external triggers are these things in our environment, that either leads attraction or distraction. So we have to ask ourselves this critical question. This is my version of the Marie Kondo.

[00:45:14] Does it bring you joy question? The question that I want people to ask is for every external trigger in your life, is this trigger serving you. Or are you serving it? If it's serving you? Terrific. That's great. If you have a notification that tells you, Hey, it's time to go to the gym or, it's time for this meeting.

[00:45:30] And that's what you plan to do with your time terrific. But if that external trigger is leading you to distraction, you have to figure out how to hack back, how to remove it from your life, not just in your technology, but I also give you insights on how to do this during meetings. How to do this in the workplace as well.

[00:45:48] One of the greatest sources of workplace distraction, more than our technology is other people's. And open floor plan offices. You have people stopping by your desk and say, Hey, how's it going? Why don't you chat? Yeah, I do, but not right now.

[00:46:00] So actually, I have in the center of indestructible, there's a card stock insert, that you can rip out and fold to put on your screen.

[00:46:10] That's a big red sign that says I'm in distractible right now. Please come back later. That tells your coworkers that you are in distractible. Please don't bother me right now, in a polite way. So there's all of these tactics that you can use. But what I really want you to understand is this large strategy of is the trigger serving me or my serving it.

[00:46:27] And then finally, the last step of the indestructible model is to prevent distraction with packs and packs. Are these ancient technique? We have the Ulysses pact is probably the oldest example of Ulysses in the Odyssey, written by Homer 2,500 years ago, he uses this pre-commitment. He binds himself to the mast of his ship to make sure, that he's not tempted to do something he doesn't want to do.

[00:46:52] And so we can use these same type of packs. We have three types, price packs, effort, packs, and identity packs to help us prevent.

[00:47:00] Us from doing something, we don't want to do something we'll later regret. And so I give you all kinds of techniques for how to do that as well. And so those are the four steps to becoming an distractible, master internal triggers, make time for traction, hack back external triggers, and finally prevent distraction with packs.

[00:47:14] So that's, this is the tip of the iceberg. There's a lot more to say about it, but I want to give you at least the four.

[00:47:18] Hala Taha: Thank you so much for that preview of your book. I'm sure it's going to be great when it comes out. So when does it exactly come out?

[00:47:25] Nir Eyal: So September 10th is when it's available.

[00:47:28] And if you're hearing this before September 10th, 2019, then you can actually get on my website. If you go to, I managed to negotiate this with my publisher. If you live in north America, so US and Canada, you can actually get the entire. Text of indestructible in a PDF. If you pre-order it, if you pre-order it today, you won't get the physical book until September 10th, but you will get a PDF emailed to you immediately.

[00:47:53] If you pre-order by entering your order number into, you also get all kinds of other goodies, like a distraction tracker, a [00:48:00] schedule maker, or a workbook, a video mini course, all kinds of other goodies. My list of recommended tools and resources as well. So lots and lots of stuff at

[00:48:09] Hala Taha: Fabulous. And where can our listeners go to find out more about you and everything that you do?

[00:48:13] Nir Eyal: Yeah. Thank you. So my website is called and Nir is spelled like my first name. So it's NIR and My first book is hooked how to build habit forming products. And for the second book you can go to

[00:48:27] Hala Taha: Great. Well Nir you have a brilliant mind, and I really enjoyed this conversation. Thank you.

[00:48:32] Nir Eyal: Thank you. My pleasure. This is a lot of fun, Hala. Thank you so much.

[00:48:36] Hala Taha: Thanks for listening to Young And Profiting Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, don't forget to write us a review onApple Podcasts or wherever you listen to the show.

[00:48:44] Follow us on Instagram @youngandprofiting and check us out at Now you can chat live with us every single day on YAP Society on Slack, check out our show notes or for the registration link. You can find me on Instagram @yapwithhala or LinkedIn,

[00:49:00] just search for my name, Hala Taha. Big thanks, to the YAP team for another successful episode this week, I'd like to give a special shout out to our international team members, Christian and Kayla.

[00:49:10] Kayla writes our show notes each week and Christian updates our website with the latest content. They make a great duo and we appreciate all that they do for YAP. Keep up the good work. This is Hala, signing off.

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