Being an indie hacker is the ultimate responsibility: If you don't get things done, nobody else will. It's up to you consistently execute well, day after day. But how exactly you do that? Nir Eyal (@nireyal) joined me on the podcast to answer that exact question. After years of research into what separates those of us who execute on what we commit to doing vs those of us who get distracted or lose motivation, he's broken down his findings into a process any founder can use to become "indistractable."
Nir Eyal, welcome back to the Indie Hackers podcast.
Thanks. Great to be here, Courtland.
It's good to have you back. You were last on the podcast, I think two years ago, around July of 2017. We talked about your book, "Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products," which has since gone on to become a Wall Street Journal bestseller and at number one, in the products category on Amazon.
And it's also one of my favorite books. It's given me a couple of useful mental models that I use on a regular basis. Today you've written a new book, it's called "Indistractable". Why don't you tell us a little bit about it and what it means to be Indistractable?
Yeah, so the definition of becoming Indistractable, by the way, it's a made-up word and so the benefit of having a made-up word is that you can define it any way you like. So I define Indistractable as a person who strives to do what they say they're going to do. It's about personal integrity.
You know, none of us would think it's acceptable to lie to our friends, to our family, to our colleagues. We would never do that, and yet we lie to ourselves all the time. We say we're going to do one thing. We don't, right? We say, we're going to work out. We don't. We say, we're going to eat right. We don't.
We say, we're going to sit down at our desk and do that hard project that we've been putting off. We don't. We say we're going to be fully present with our kids and family and friends, but we're distracted. And so that's really what the book is about. How do you become Indistractable? How do you become the kind of person who lives with personal integrity, who does what they say they're going to do?
Obviously, this stuff is important for everybody, but as an Indie Hacker, especially as the founder of a very early stage tech business, it's doubly important. If you're not able to do the things that you've committed to doing. If you can't do the things that you've told yourself you're going to do, then nobody else is going to step in and do it for you. You don't have a bunch of coworkers, there's no system in place.
You don't have a bunch of employees. It's really just you. And so if you consistently don't get things done, then your company's not going to progress. And you know this well near you started and sold a couple of tech businesses yourself. How can becoming indistractable help us to become better founders?
One of the hardest things about running a company is prioritizing properly and then executing on those priorities. Because when you're in the fog of war, that is a startup, there are so many things coming at you all the time.
And so it's absolutely critical to know what to work on and then to actually execute on those tasks. As a founder, that's pretty much your only job. That's your job in a nutshell, just prioritize and execute. That's it. That's all you gotta do. But that's, of course, extremely challenging. And many times what we see is it is one or the other.
We see a lot of founders. I do a lot of angel investing. So you see folks who are really bad at prioritizing or really bad at executing. Of course, we need both. Where distraction comes to play is if you are constantly distracted.
We used to call this the shiny pony when I was at my last startup, I've helped start two companies and we used to call this the shiny pony of like, "Oh, there's a new idea," right? Oh, "Let's all do that." It would be strategically -- we'd have shiny ponies distracting us and we'd also have during the day, whether it's office gossip or the latest thing trending on Twitter or a flurry of emails that something's important and now everything else has to come to a halt.
Being able to do what it is you say you're going to do. This is a macro skill. This is the skill of the century. I believe that the world is becoming a potentially more distracting place. And we're bifurcating into two groups of people.
People who let their time and attention in their lives be controlled and manipulated by others and people who say, “No, I choose to take control of my life by taking control of my attention and making sure that I do what it is I say I'm going to do.”
To your point, Nir, about there being two different types of people, the indistractable kind and the kind who aren't. I meet a ton of different founders who progressed wildly different rates. I've met people who discovered Indie Hackers and two or three weeks later they've got an app and they've built it and they've got a paying customer or two.
I've met people who've been telling me for the last three years that they can't wait to get started on their business. They just need to sit down one day and come up with an idea. They just need to spend a little bit more time learning, acquire a little bit more knowledge. How do you think about the differences between people at these two extremes?
Well, I think the problem that most folks face, not only in business, but also in life, is not a problem of knowledge, right? It is not a knowledge gap. We all know what to do basically, right? If you want to have a good-looking body and lose weight, then you have to guess what? Exercise and eat right.
If you want to have good relationships with your family, your friends, and you have to be fully present with them. And if you want to be successful in business, you know what? You have to do the goddamn work, especially the stuff that's not so fun to do. You have to, you have to grind. And so that means that if the problem isn't a knowledge gap, what is the problem?
If we know basically what we need to do, why don't we do it? And that's really the central question of indistractable. Why don't we do the things we know we should? And why do we do the things we know we shouldn't? Part of the problem is that we allow distraction to trick us.
Maybe it's helpful to actually give the definition of what I mean by distraction. So distraction, the best way to understand distraction is by understanding the opposite of distraction. The opposite of distraction is not focus. The opposite of distraction is traction. So both words come from the same Latin root, trahere, which means to pull.
Both words end in the same five letters A-C-T-I-O-N that spells action. So traction and distraction are actions that we take, not things that happen to us, but actions that we take. So traction is any action that pulls you towards what you want, things that you are doing with intent. The opposite of traction is distraction.
Anything that is pulling you away from what it is you decided to do with your time. What oftentimes happens is, you sit down at your desk and this is what happened to me all the time before I learned this methodology. I'd say, “Okay, I'm going to work on that big project right now. I'm going to do that thing that's hard work that I to focus.
I need to concentrate and do this project, right after I check email. Right after I do some research on Google. Right after I check that Slack channel. We don't get to doing the hard work. I can't tell you how many companies fail because nobody is making time to think. Just think. Sit down and think strategically. Almost nobody puts this time in their schedule.
We are much worse off for it because we do nothing but react all day long. We react to meetings, we react to emails and we have no time to reflect. But that reflection time is critical, especially if you are a founder. You need to spend time thinking critically about the future of your business. Where are you going?
And to just react all day long, you know, banging out emails and going to meetings. You're not spending the time that you need to think strategically and reflect on the business in order to provide the strategic guidance for the company. So it is a crucial skill for founders.
It's funny you mentioned this because I actually take the time to schedule self-reflection into my calendar. I've got a weekly recurring event for it, and that little event is the first thing to get eliminated anytime anything pops up. Like something happens on the Indie Hackers forum that I need to take care of, hop over my calendar, press delete, perfect.
Now I've got an open slot for whatever it is I want to handle. You've got a whole framework and your book that explains why we get distracted and what we can do to avoid distractions and do the things that we originally planned on doing. Give us the basic overview.
We talked about traction and distraction. So you can think about that. Like if you think about a big plus mark. You've got the four points of the plus mark It's almost like a compass, right? North, east, south, and west. So you've got on the horizontal axis, on one side you have traction. Let's say in the east. The east point.
On the west side you have distraction. And now I want you to think about the vertical line as two arrows pointing towards the center of this big plus mark. Those two arrows represent the two things that move us towards traction or distraction. What moves all of our behavior are just two things, external triggers and internal triggers.
External triggers are things in our environment that tell us what to do next. These are the pings, dings, rings, and things that prompt us to either traction or distraction. It's not that these things are always sinister. If a buzz on your phone tells you, "Hey, it's time to go workout," or "It's time for that meeting," and that's what you plan to do, well, terrific.
That's moving you towards traction. But if you are in the middle of a meeting and you get some notification on your phone and now you're not paying attention because you're distracted well then that's not a good thing. That's moving you away from traction. We have to understand that external are one source of triggers that move us towards traction or distraction.
But there's one more, even more common source, which are what I call internal triggers. And if you read "Hooked", you'll be very familiar with these internal triggers. Internal triggers spark us to do pretty much everything. An internal trigger is an uncomfortable emotional state. So when we feel lonely, we check Facebook.
When we're uncertain, we Google. When we're bored, we check the news, a Reddit, stock prices, sports scores. All of these things cater to this uncomfortable sensation of boredom. And so what we have to realize is that we get distracted because most distractions start from within. We are using these tools as emotional pacification devices. They are emotional pacifiers.
And so that means if we want to grow up, if we want to get rid of our pacifiers, like babies, we have to learn how to cope with that discomfort. Which means that time management is pain management. The reason we procrastinate, the reason we get distracted by and large is not because of our devices. Stop blaming technology. It's because of what's going on inside of us.
It's the uncomfortable sensations that we do not know how to deal with in a healthy way. And so basically, we can conquer distraction and become indistractable with four basic steps. Step one is that we master the internal triggers. Step two is that we make time for traction. Step three is that we hack back the external triggers.
And step four has to be done last. We prevent distraction with pacts. It is with these four steps that we can make sure we do what it is we say we're going to do. This is how we become indistractable.
Okay, so let's walk through this. Step one is to master your internal triggers. Your internal triggers, as you said, are these uncomfortable sensations that you have internally that you want to alleviate. So you're hungry, you want to satisfy your hunger. You're curious, you want to alleviate your curiosity.
You're bored, you want to do something exciting. We're constantly bombarded by this voice telling us to alleviate these uncomfortable feelings. I know a lot of people who subscribe to some form of Buddhist philosophy where they're very focused on the fact that desire is the enemy, that no matter what you want, it's kind of a bad thing because the act of wanting something means that you are in pain from not having it right now.
So they're very focused on, “How do I basically eliminate desire?” It's ironic. They desire to get rid of desire. You take a very different approach in your book. You're not saying that we should get rid of our desires altogether, but at the same time you're admitting that, “Look, there is no such thing as being happily ever after. There is no such thing as never having any of these internal cravings.”
Right? You're never going to be completely satisfied, but that doesn't mean you should eliminate desire. What that means is that you should figure out a way to get around these cravings. In your book you have, it's pretty cool. I don't know how to describe it. It's almost like a psychological judo move that you're advocating, where you take a lot of these negative internal triggers.
You take these cravings, you take these desires and this dissatisfaction, and you actually flip it around and you use it to motivate you to get things done and move yourself towards traction. How do we do that, exactly?
This is where I take issue with, I think, where we've swung too far into one direction. I only mentioned meditation and mindfulness one time in the book where I say, “I will not be talking about meditation and mindfulness for the rest of the book.” Because it's overdone. We have swung too far into thinking that meditation solves all our problems.
While meditation can be very useful for some problems, it's not what we do for every problem. I know for the hackers and founders out there, you want to do something, you want to fix the problem, which is the right thing to do. I do agree with the Buddhist approach that suffering is part of the human condition.
I do not agree with the western self-help industry telling us that if you're not happy, if you're not satisfied, that you're not normal. I think that's ridiculous. Our species evolved to be constantly dissatisfied. The question is how do we channel that dissatisfaction for good, for healthy behaviors as opposed to hurtful behaviors?
And we can in fact channel that. And the way we do that is by understanding that we should change the situation or the circumstances that we can change and learn ways to cope with the circumstances we can't change.
It's all about mastering your internal triggers, which is about finding the source of those internal triggers, finding the source for the stress, the uncertainty, the loneliness, the fatigue, whatever it might be that you are trying to escape with some kind of distraction pacification device. When you can change the source of that discomfort, do it.
Stop meditating and go fix the goddamn problem. But when you can't fix the source of the problem, when it's just part of day to day life. There's this just the ennui of being a human being is that we feel these uncomfortable sensations. So there, the answer is learning techniques to cope with discomfort.
And it's only by coping with that discomfort that we can make sure that we channel it towards traction as opposed to distraction. There are all kinds of techniques I give you in the book for how to do that. How do you cope with discomfort in a healthier manner? So these techniques include re-imagining the trigger itself, re-imagining the task and re-imagining our temperament.
And so it's with these techniques, knowing when we should change the circumstances versus knowing when we should learn methods to cope with those circumstances. That's how we master our internal triggers. But that has to be the first step because, you know, as much as we've heard in the media these days that technology is melting your brain and it's hijacking your brain.
It's doing this and that to you. Even if you get rid of all the technology, as I did, I followed, you know, the 30-day detox plans and the minimalism and all the books that tell you to get rid of the technology. It doesn't freaking work. It doesn't work because of two reasons. One, we need this stuff for God's sakes, we're hackers, right?
Like we need this technology, we can just stop using it. Our livelihood depends on it. So it's very easy for some professor to tell us to stop using social media when they don't use it. What about us who need social media for our livelihoods and email and slack channels? This stuff is how we work. So that's not a practical solution for that reason.
And then second, it doesn't work because these temporary approaches are just as bad as a fad diet. So I used to be clinically obese for a good chunk of my life. I would constantly go on these fat diets of 30 days, no junk food or 30 days this or 30 days that. And that's exactly what people are saying to do today when it comes to digital distraction.
It doesn't work for the same exact reason because when you go on a 30-day diet, what do you do on Day 31? Right? And you know, blah, blah, blah, blah. You eat everything. As I did, time and time again. So the reason fad diets don't work are the same reason that these 30-day plans don't work for digital detox or whatever.
Because you're not getting to the real source of the problem. The real source of the problem is that we have to learn to deal with discomfort in a healthy way. That time management is pain management. That has to be the first step before we can move to step two.
Well, I've always thought of you as someone who's been working on becoming indistractable for quite some time. I remember the last time we spoke, you had some sort of physical device hooked up that would automatically shut off your internet router every night at a certain time.
Since then, you've obviously done a ton of research. Not just for the sake of the book, for your own sake. So you can become a better researcher, a better writer, a better author, a better dad. What are some of the other things that don't work? What are some things that people are commonly trying that you have found through your research aren't effective at making you --?
Oh my God, where do we start? There's so many. Gray scaling your phone or – even some of these techniques that do work, don't work in the wrong order. One of the first techniques that I uncovered, I didn't invent it, of course. It's an ancient technique. This is called using a pre-commitment device.
And pre-commitment devices have been used for at least 2,500 years. The first telling of the use of a pre-commitment devices in the Odyssey by Homer. There's been a ton of research that shows how effective a pre-commitment device is. And a pre-commitment device is just planning ahead to make sure you don't get distracted. Some kind of contract with yourself.
For example, a 401K that has stiff penalties if you withdraw your money before retirement, that's a pre-commitment device. What you mentioned, this internet timer, that really saved my sex life. I've been married for almost 20 years and I'm just happy I have a sex life after 20 years. A few years ago before I figured out the entire indistractable methodology my wife and I just had this real rut in our marriage where we were not having any sex.
And the reason was is that we would fondle our iPhones and play with our iPads as opposed to being intimate. So I went to the hardware store and I got a $5 outlet timer and I plugged it into the wall and this outlet timer will turn anything you plug into it off at a certain time of day or night. At 10:00 PM in my household, the Internet shuts off.
We don't use the internet timer anymore. Now we actually have a router, the Eero router that comes built in with this feature. It used to be a problem because we have smart home devices and they would all turn off. So that doesn't happen anymore because you tell the Eero router to only turn off some devices and not others.
This is an example of a pre-commitment device and it works great. What I didn't know at the time is that if you use a pre-commitment device in the wrong order, it can backfire. A pre-commitment device is the fourth step. And there are three types of pre commitments. There are effort pacts, price pacts, and identity pacts, which we can get into with more detail.
But what's very, very important to know is that this is the last step. If you don't first deal with the internal triggers, if you don't first make time for traction, if you don't first hack back the external triggers, the pre-commitment devices won't work. So it's really important to do these four steps in order.
Cool. So that's step one. Assuming you master your internal triggers, you move on to step two, which is to make time for traction. This is one I think should resonate with a lot of early stage founders, especially people trying to start a company on the side of their full-time job. It's hard to make time when you have a family, you have kids, you have all sorts of hobbies and interests and friends and responsibilities outside of work. How do you make time for traction?
This really comes down to this fact that most people out there don't keep a calendar. About two-thirds of Americans keep no calendar whatsoever. And I had this experience, I used to not keep a calendar. And I remember I had a friend who I interviewed for the book who told me about how terrible distraction is and how technology is melting her brain because she can't concentrate on anything.
Everything so distracting and what's going on in the news and her boss and her kids and she can't get anything done. And so I asked her a simple question. I said, “Wow, that's really tough. Can you tell me what it is you got distracted from today? Show me your calendar.” So she took out her calendar, kind of sheepishly, and she opened the calendar app on her phone, and she let me have it and it was blank.
Courtland, there was nothing on it. It was blank. And two-thirds of Americans go through their day complaining about distraction when they have no idea what the hell they got distracted from. So we have no right to complain about distraction unless you know what traction is for every minute of your day. You're not just going to build that business when it comes to you.
You're not going to spend time with your family, your friends, your kids, when it happens. You're not going to journal or write or whatever it is that you want to do that's hard work. That requires dedicated time unless you make time for it on your calendar. This is called turning your values into time. I should be able to see on your calendar what's important to you. Blocked out.
It's amazing. While two thirds of Americans don't do this, there was one group of people who all do this. Every C level executive that I interviewed in the research that led up to this book, every one of them did this. They all use this time blocking technique to make a template for what their ideal day looks like, where they're supposed to be, when they're supposed to be there for every minute of the day.
And a lot of people cringe at this say, "Oh, I can't do that. You know, I need to be spontaneous and I don't want to plan every minute of our day." Tough. This is the price of living in our age of all of these modern devices that connect us seamlessly with people all over the world for free, is that people can access you anytime they want.
If you don't plan your day, somebody else will. Your family, your boss, whatever Trump says, the media. Somebody is going to capture your brain and your attention unless you decide for yourself in advance how you want to spend your time.
If there's one mantra I want people to tattoo on their arms to remember from my book. It's that the antidote to impulsiveness is forethought. That human beings can do something that no other species on the face of the earth can do is that we can see the future with higher fidelity than any other animal.
We can predict what's going to happen, which means I don't care what algorithms Facebook is making to distract you. I don't care what's happening in the news. I don't care what what's going on. If you plan ahead, this is how we fight distraction.
We take steps now to make sure we don't get distracted later. The antidote to impulsiveness is forethought.
I used to be very anti calendar. It was part of my Indie Hacker pride, like I don't wake up to an alarm. I don't have a calendar. Then I started a podcast and that changed all that. Now I have a calendar that's very full. Let's say I've got a calendar. Let's say I'm scheduling my tasks. Things still happen. I still get distracted. I still get emails.
I still get phone calls and Slack chats. I still get little emergencies that pop up that can really easily throw my day in a disarray. How do I deal with those distractions despite having a calendar?
So that's the perfect lead in to step three, which is to hack back the external triggers. The external triggers are exactly what you described, the pings, the dings, the rings, all of these things that prompt you to either traction or distraction. So, newsflash, we turn them off.
And there ain't nothing that Zuckerberg or Tim Cook or anybody else can do when you turn them off. Now I'm not saying turn them off forever. What I'm saying is during the time in your schedule, when you have time to do focused work, right, to just focus on one task at a time, those notifications need to be turned off.
If you don't know how to use do not disturb on your phone, you don't deserve to have a phone. And don't give your kids a phone until they know how to use it, too. And people say, "Well, what if there's an emergency? What if my house is burning down, someone needs to contact me right away?”
First of all, very rarely is there an actual emergency. I know emails are urgent, but almost no emails can't wait 30 minutes, 45 minutes while you have your focused work time. Second, there's features that come built in with our phones that very few people use that are amazing. For example, this feature called do not disturb while driving. It comes on every iPhone with the latest IOS.
All you have to do is turn on do not disturb while driving. And if someone texts you or calls you, they will receive an auto reply that says, “I'm driving. I can't talk to you right now. If this is urgent, text me with the word urgent.” Now you can go in there and customize that message. So now it's not just do not disturb while driving, it's do not disturb while indistractable.
So when someone texts me while I'm doing my focus work time, they'll get a message back that says, I'm indistractable. If this is urgent, please text with the word urgent. Now if it really is urgent, they just text the word urgent and now I get that message. By the way, this never happens, right?
Because nothing is usually that urgent that it can't wait for 30 minutes or 45 minutes while I do my focus work time. And so that's really part of the answer, is adjusting these notifications settings. By the way, that's the easy stuff. The easy stuff. I hate people who complain about their phones being so distracted. Did you even try? Two thirds of Americans don't even change their notification settings.
So we've got to take those 10 minutes to just change the notification settings first and foremost on our phones and our laptops. That's easy stuff. The harder stuff has to do with the, the external triggers that people don't recognize. For example, statistically one of the most common sources of distraction in our workday is not our phones, not our computers, it's our coworkers.
Particularly when we work as many startup founders and employees do, in open floor plan offices. So that's been shown to be one of the greatest sources of distraction. And people say, “Well, I put on my headphones and then that's how I zone out.” Not really. It doesn't really work that well because nobody knows if you're listening to a podcast or watching a YouTube video or whatever.
So here's the solution. The solution is that in every copy of my book, you can also get this for free. If you go to indistractable.com you can print for yourself a screen sign. So in the book it's printed on this nice card stock that stands up real nice. You pull it out of the book, you fold it into thirds, and you put this bright red sign on your monitor that says, “I'm indistractable at the moment. Please come back later.”
Okay. And this signals to your colleagues that you are not to be disturbed right now. Now I know when people are thinking, "Oh, that would never work in my company. My company called would never allow that." Exactly. Because the source of distraction is not the technology. The source of distraction is crappy company culture.
And there's a whole section in the book, half the book is about things you can do yourself. Half the book is about how we change the context within which we work. It turns out that symptoms of distraction are an indication that you have crappy company culture, that there is no correlation between how much tech a company uses and how distracted people are.
In fact, one of the technologies that I heard the most complaints about when I was researching this book was Slack. Everybody complains about Slack, the largest group chat app. People say how distracting Slack is and it constantly tethers them to the office all day long. Well, here's the interesting thing. If it's the technology that's doing it to us, well then, the people who use Slack most should be the most distracted, right?
And who uses Slack more than the employees of Slack? So they should be the most distracted people on earth. But that's not the case. In fact, Slack doesn't have a problem with distraction. If you go to Slack, the company headquarters, it's cleared out by 6:00, 6:30 everybody's gone. Nights and weekends nobody's using Slack at Slack. Why?
Well, they embody these three principles of a healthy company culture. And those three principles are number one, they enable psychological safety. Now there's been many studies on this concept of psychological safety, which simply means that you can raise problems and concerns without fear of retribution. That's psychological safety.
Two, they give a forum for employees to be heard out by management. And it's interesting. At Slack, they actually use Slack channels. They have these channels, like there's one called beef tweets where people can just post beef about the company and upper management will use Emoji, like the eyes Emoji to tell people that they've seen the problem and they're working on it.
So that gives people, you know, first psychological safety, then the forum to air concerns and three, and most importantly, management needs to exemplify what it means to be indistractable. So when you walk into Slack company headquarters in San Francisco, you will see a big sign in pink letters that says, “Work hard and go home.”
Not something you typically expect to see in a publicly traded Silicon Valley Company of the size of Slack. So why do they do that? Because it is part of the company culture from Stewart Butterfield, the CEO on down. This is part of the company culture. And of course, the company is rated as one of the best places to work in America.
They have very, very low churn rate and they make an awesome product. And that's largely in part because they have a healthy company culture as opposed to a company culture that we see, all too often, companies where people can't raise concerns because they're afraid of retribution. Where management isn't listening to people.
Where management is exemplifying the opposite of being indistractable. They're constantly spun up in this cycle of responsiveness that makes everyone miserable.
So I have a question about procrastination, which seems intimately related to everything that we're talking about here. A lot of people want to start a company, they want to get started, but that first step is just the hardest. There's something about it. Even if they're really motivated, they might really hate their job.
They might really have all the skills. They might be really inspired by stories that they've heard or even friends who've gotten started. But when it comes time for them to get started, they just can't quite get over the hill. There's something about that first step. They're just never quite ready and it never happens.
So what I want to know is how to apply the techniques you're describing specifically for procrastination. Are these techniques just for avoiding distractions or is there a way we can use them to help us do the things that we're putting off for weeks or months or even years?
Yeah, so procrastination is one form of distraction, but not all distraction is procrastination. So procrastination is when you put off something that you want to do, but you know, not all distractions, procrastination. If you're in a meeting, right? And you're having a hot and heavy discussion and then someone takes out their phone and starts checking email in the middle of that meeting, crazy annoying. Drives me crazy.
That's not procrastination. That is distraction, right? You decided you were going to go to a meeting and here you are, distracted on your device. By the way, there's a whole chapter on how to hack back meetings. I mean, meetings are such a waste of time at most companies, because most companies don't do them right.
They don't follow these simple rules of how to have a good meeting, which I described in the book that prevents people from getting distracted in these meetings. So that's a, that's one of these eight environments that we need to hack back the external triggers. So when it comes to procrastination in terms of how we get started, it really comes down to identifying our values.
I think it starts with what values are important to us. Not just, I want to have – a lot of people want to have built a company. A lot of people want to have written a book. A lot of people want a good looking, healthy body, but they don't want to put in the work to do it. And so part of your value system needs to be, you know, values are defined as the attributes of the person you want to become.
And so it's not about having the things of a person you want to become. It's about the attributes of the person you want to become. So I would ask folks, if you've had a project in mind, a product you want to build, something you want to hack together, the first question is to ask yourself, "Why do you want that?"
And then if it's about, "I want to be the kind of person who innovates. I want to be the kind of person who pushes limits. I want to be the kind of person who constantly tests themselves to see what they're capable of learning and doing," well then great. Then I love it. Now we're talking values.
Next step is to put those values on your calendar, to turn your values into time. Which means that the antidote to procrastination is simply putting a little bit of time, right? It can be 30 minutes, that's fine. 30 minutes to do something, anything related to this task that you've been putting off. That's how we do it. We put time on our calendar.
This is called an implementation intention. Also hundreds of studies – and by the way, nothing in my book is this folk psychology stuff that you see in a lot of other books. You know, this worked for me. I took cold showers and hey, that changed my life. Great. Well that it's got no data. There's been no studies that show that's the case for everyone else.
Everything in my book, it comes from peer reviewed journals. And this technique of setting an implementation intention is one of the most well studied techniques that we can use to make sure we do what it is we say we're going to do. It's just a fancy way of saying, planning out what we're going to do and when we're going to do it.
Then we can use these other techniques like the pre-commitment device, the pacts we discussed earlier to make sure we do it. So for example, let me give you a very personal story of procrastination. So I've been researching indistractable for four years and I finally have this breakthrough with the model, and I knew what I wanted to say, and I had all the research.
I've been doing it for four years and most importantly it works. I've finally discovered the right four steps to actually help us conquer distraction. And now I needed to actually write the book. So I use this stuff on myself. And one of the things I did to prevent procrastination and to actually get me to write the book is I used a pre-commitment device that I call a price pact. And a price pact is simply where we inflict some kind of financial costs to not doing what we want to do.
So in my case, I made a bet with my friend, Mark, that if I didn't finish my manuscript by January, I would have to pay him $10,000. Guess what happened? Do you think I lost my money? Of course not. I kept my money and I had my finished manuscript. So this is a really simple technique that we have to ask ourselves.
If you really want to do something, put some skin in the game, right? You really want to finish writing that blog post? You really want to finish that code? You really want to do whatever it is you want to do? Put some skin in the game. See what happens when you actually put a painful amount of money at stake. Guess what? You'll do it.
Now, most people don't want to take that bet. Why? Because they know they'll actually have to move their butts and do the work. But isn't that exactly the point? Right, so if that scares you, I would back up a step and ask yourself, “Wait a minute, if I'm not willing to put money down, if I'm not willing to take some risk here, then what am I escaping from?”
Because, of course, if you do the work, you get the benefit of your work as well as your money. You keep both. So why would we pay Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig and all these folks money to get something that we could essentially get both. We can keep our money and get the results we're looking for. And that applies to food as well as distraction.
But, again, those pre-commitment devices, I have to warn. I have to say this again, has to come last. It's the fourth step. If you don't do the other three first, it can, in fact, backfire.
I love this idea of not wanting to be the kind of person who has written a book, who has started a company, but wanting to be the kind of person who is actively working on it. If you're going to be jealous of somebody, don't be jealous of the person who's succeeded.
Be jealous of the person who's in the middle of it, because that's a step that's in front of you. There is no option that just magically leads towards success. The only option is, get started. So that's what needs to be exciting to you. And a pre-commitment device is not only a good way to actually get started, but it's also kind of a good litmus test.
Like if you're not willing to put up a little bit of money to get started on this thing, then do you really want to get started?
If you can't make a bet that, "Hey, I'm going to fly to the moon with my own two arms." Okay, well that's, you know, that defies the laws of physics. But if it is a task you can do, if it is humanly possible, why not take the bet? Take the bet. You're going to get what you want out of the bet, which is to keep your money and have the output.
And if you're looking for someone to pay all that money to in case you don't reach your goals, [email protected] I'll take any of your bets. Happy to be on the receiving end of that. Nir, thank you so much for coming on the show. It's been a pleasure talking to you, as always. Can you tell listeners where they can go to read your book, Indistractable, and become better founders?
Absolutely. So my blog is Nirandfar.com. Nir is spelled like my first name, N-I-R, so that's Nirandfar.com. My first book is "Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products" and my next book is called "Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life." And in "Indistractable" there's tons of free resources and tools like a schedule maker, as well as a distraction tracker, a free 80-page workbook that I couldn't fit into the actual book, but I give out complimentary on my website. That's all at indistractable.com. That's spelled I-N the word distract, A-B-L-E, so Indistractable.com.
All right. Thanks so much, Nir.
Thank you very much.
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