Nir Eyal on How to Finally Stop Procrastinating and Become ‘Indistractable’

Nir Eyal on How to Finally Stop Procrastinating and Become ‘Indistractable’

Nir Eyal, trainer of Mindvalley's Becoming Focused and Indistractable Quest

Nir Eyal, the best-selling author of ‘Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life’ shares with Vishen Lakhiani the 4 powerful strategies to help you be productive while working from home.  

With the current economic uncertainty, money issues have become the number one concern.

Some of us are affected by the situation more severe than others, but even those who are fairly secure find themselves having moments of doubt.

But even in hardship like this, you might be surprised to learn just how much control you have over the situation. 

Ask yourself: what can this period mean for you? Is it possible to turn a challenge into an opportunity?

What if instead of worrying and agonizing, you could use this time to be better off and even the best version of yourself?

What if you could walk out of this lockdown a completely transformed person — and crush it when you get back to the real world?

It is possible — but you must be able to spend this time productively.

In a Zoom conversation with Mindvalley students, Vishen, founder of Mindvalley asked what their main concerns were at this unusual time.

Unsurprisingly, 29% of the audience said money.

But what he didn’t expect, was that another 29% of the students said they suffered from procrastination and a lack of focus.

Fair enough… After all, we’re dealing with the stress, uncertainty, and anxiety from what’s happening in the world today.

And on top of that, we are stuck in our houses — can’t you possibly imagine a better environment to be constantly distracted?

So how can you regain focus and stop procrastinating?

Vishen posed this question to Nir Eyal, best-selling author of Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, whose advice is to use four powerful techniques to regain control of your attention and consequently, your life.

High-Intensity Exercise Session at MVU Pula 2019
High-Intensity Exercise Session at MVU Pula 2019

4 Powerful Techniques To Regain Control Of Your Attention And Your Life

1. Identify Your Triggers

To understand what “distraction” is, first you have to understand what distraction is not. Here’s the biggest trap that most people fall into;

Most people think that the opposite of distraction is focus.

The opposite of distraction is traction. 

— Nir Eyal, author of Mindvalley’s Becoming Focused and Indistractable Quest

If you look at the source of both words — traction and distraction — they both come from the same Latin root, which means to pull. And both words end in the same six letters that spell ‘action.’

So traction is any action that pulls you towards what you want to do, while distraction is any action that pulls you away from what you plan to do.

And with this understanding, it becomes clear that anything can be a traction or a distraction — it all depends on what you want to achieve.

Most people believe that motivation is about the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain (what Freud called the pleasure principle), but it turns out this isn’t actually true.

What’s happening inside our brains is not about the desire to pursue pleasure and avoid pain, but rather the desire to escape discomfort.

So what causes discomfort? Your internal and external triggers. 

External triggers are all about the pings, the dings, the rings — anything in your outside environment. This could be your phone, your computer, your kids – any of these can either pull you away or towards your task.

As for internal triggers, well, they’re slightly more complicated, mainly because they come from within you. These are uncomfortable sensations in your body or feelings that cause you to look for a distraction. When that happens, your mind wanders, your attention wanes, and your focus is all over the place.

The internal trigger is that prompt of worry, stress, fatigue, and uncertainty.

— Nir Eyal, author of Mindvalley’s Becoming Focused and Indistractable Quest

Having those unpleasant feelings of discomfort or internal triggers is completely natural. What’s important to understand is that they happen outside of your control.

Woman writing down her triggers

2. Master Your Triggers

You have only two potential choices when it comes to triggers:

  1. Change the source of the discomfort if you can. For instance, if noise becomes the source of your discomfort, you can go to a quieter place.
  2. If you can’t change it, then learn how to cope with that discomfort healthily.

This means dealing with that discomfort in a way that doesn’t cause you to procrastinate.

And the next point is one of the most effective ways on how to do this.

3. The 10-Minute Rule

When you want to focus on work but get tempted by a distraction, tell yourself, “I can give in to that distraction in just 10 minutes. Just 10 minutes.”

Because while you might think that completely restraining yourself is better, it can actually backfire on you.

When you limit yourself with a ‘hard no’, it’s like pulling on a rubber band – eventually, it’ll snap and come back on you hard. 

Self-restraint is a good idea for certain things, but when it comes to food and technology, you can’t remove these things from your life once and forever. 

Instead, it’s much healthier to learn how to manage these sensations. The good news is that they don’t last long.

Internal triggers are much more addictive than the nicotine in the cigarettes or the algorithms behind the apps.

That’s why the 10-Minute Rule has been shown to be much more effective. 

When you feel that temptation or that itch, set a timer for 10 minutes. 

For example, the next time you feel the urge to watch Netflix, take out that egg timer, set it for 10 minutes, and don’t touch the app until the timer is up. 

If after 10 minutes you still feel like watching it, then… go right ahead.

But you might be surprised to learn that 90% of the time, you won’t feel the urge anymore.

Sensations are impermanent in nature. They come and go in waves, and if you can just ride it, you’ll get to the other side.

Creative activity at MVU Pula 2019
Creative activity at MVU Pula 2019

4. Make Time For Your Distractions

Here’s another quite unusual tip — make time for your distractions.

Whether it’s Netflix, playing video games, painting, whatever — schedule it in! What used to be a distraction is now traction, which you can enjoy guilt-free. 

Another piece of advice… forget about to-do lists!

Most of the time you simply can’t finish all the tasks that you’ve listed. What happens instead is that the list gets recycled from one day to the next, week after week, month after month, year after year… you get the picture.

Eventually, you either become comfortable with unfinished tasks, or you blame yourself for not keeping to your own promise.

Instead, try this… timebox your calendar.

Studies have shown people are terrible at predicting how long a task will take. Instead, it’s far better to simply block out a time to work on that task.

Work on it as long as you said you would, with no distractions, regardless of whether you even finish. 

The way to use this technique is like a scientist — make a hypothesis on how much time you’ll need to complete the task, and then experiment.

Studies show that people who use this technique are actually more productive than the people who keep to-do lists. 

Don’t focus on the outcome, but rather focus on the process of carrying out the task without giving in to any distraction.

By practicing these four tips, you’ll be able to harness the power of productivity and be able to spend this time elevating yourself.

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Written by
Nir Eyal - Quest Trainer