Book Review: Nir Eyal's Indistractable
How I reclaimed my agency using tips from Silicon Valley's attention guru
For a long time, I’ve felt that something was wrong with me. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had trouble making commitments to and accomplishing my goals. Be it academically, in personal projects, or in terms of physical fitness, I’ve been plagued by procrastination, anxiety, and eventually a cycle of ritual goal abandonment that has stemmed from a feeling akin to embarrassment for breaking my covenant with myself.
In my search for agency and discipline, I have been to therapy, consulted with mentors, and even had a short stint in military school. Indistractable is the first time I have really felt understood. After getting over the uncomfortable feeling of being seen, I was hooked on Indistractable’s unique take on attention, and quickly raced through the book, fueled by the manic desire to plan my new system. It’s only been a few weeks, but let me walk you through how Indistractable has helped me change my life.
One of the biggest points Eyal makes in Indistractable that I have not seen in other self help style books is that distraction is not the product of a device or the fault of some external being, rather, Eyal puts forth that distraction comes from within, and to identify and address it, we need to find it’s root cause. These are called internal triggers. By being conscious of these triggers, and addressing them with curiosity rather than negativity, we can grow ourselves out of them.
For me, my distractions root themselves in impostor syndrome and insecurity. For a long time, I’ve worried that my work is just not good enough, and that by extension, I was not good enough. This has caused me great pain and anxiety, and as a result, when faced with work that has a high barrier to success and therefore a perceived high risk of failure, I seek out distractions to avoid this pain.
What Indistractable has helped me do is put together a system of behaivours to address this response and channel it into something productive rather than destructive. As Eyal points out, a large reason why so many people feel this way about failure is because when we wandered the savannah as homo sapiens, failure in a hunt could mean death. That’s a much higher stakes scenario than hopefully any of us will face in the modern world, and working over one’s plan of action over and over again probably paid a lot higher returns in the savannah than today. Specifically, I took action by sketching out flowcharts of my plan of action, so that instead of replaying an anxious loop in my head, I could refer to my plan, and be reassured. I also implemented thankfulness into my sleep routine, so that rather than obsessing over the rate of change of my happiness (a product of hedonic adaptation), I could truly appreciate the absolute measure of my well being. On days where I experienced setbacks, I used a similar method, silver lining meditation, to focus not on what birds had been left in the bush, but on those which I held in my hand. This helped me escape a lot of my root cause of distraction, by combating a phenomenon known as negativity bias.
Internal triggers were a huge revelation to me, but Eyal also addresses external triggers, these are the things we think of more conventionally as saps on our attention. To take back control over these usually requires a structured action. One external trigger that Indistractable inspired me to take control over was my circadian rhythm. I regularly experience S.A.D., which stands for seasonal affective disorder. Essentially, variations in sunlight have large and profound effects on my mood, sleep pattern, and productivity, especially during winter. So, rather than be beholden to the sun, which has a ton of variance even in summer due to weather, I now use a full spectrum light over my workstation, which allows me to soak up those rays of goodness when I need them. I also switched from a phone alarm and conventional window blinds to a sunrise lamp, which has not only allowed me to feel more ready to wake up, but has also kept me safe from intrusive morning notifications and bed time doom scrolling, as I now fully power off my phone and charge it away from the bed.
A uniquely useful and captivating book, Indistractable stands out in the self-help genre and will retain a place on my shelf for many a year to come. I plan to use it and the bonus companion resources to continually defend my attention from threats without and within.
-Connor, Of All Trades
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If you’d like to take back some agency for yourself, Indistractable can be found on Amazon