Sarah Blakely said, “Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure you do things differently from everyone else.” And Tim Ferriss said, “Focus on being productive instead of busy.”
Sometimes, you are intimidated by something you don’t know about, but you don’t have to know everything. You just need to focus on your strengths and on being productive. Eventually, you will get to your goals, even if you have to do things differently from everyone else.
My guest today is Nir Eyal, a motivational speaker and consultant who teaches about the intersection of psychology, technology, and business, which he refers to as behavioral science, a subject that encompasses user experience, behavioral economics, and a dash of neuroscience. In this episode, he will talk about how to form habits and what we misunderstand about them, how to gain control of where your attention goes, why to-do lists are bad for you, and what Nir suggests instead. It’s a great conversation about evolving towards optimum productivity by simply changing our habits, so brace up for another exciting episode of The School of Greatness.
Nir Eyal is an investor, writer, and lecturer in marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he also completed a Master of Business Administration degree despite receiving most of his education and an advanced degree from The School of Hard Knocks. He also taught at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. His writing on technology, psychology, and business was featured in the Harvard Business Review, The Atlantic, TechCrunch, and Psychology Today.
For most of his career, Nir Eyal worked in the video gaming and advertising industries where he acquired the skills and techniques he used to motivate users. As a writer, he worked for several companies, writing about behaviors that benefit their users while educating people on how to build healthful habits.
Nir Eyal is a bestselling author of two books. The first one, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, talks about how successful companies create products people can’t put down. His other bestselling book, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, provides a framework that will deliver the focus you need to get results. Both books dwell on habits. His second book, Indistractable, talks about how to break bad habits, while Hooked talks about building good habits. His books have sold more than 300,000 copies, and they are used in various industries. Kahoot, a game-based learning platform, uses the Hook model to get kids hooked onto learning, while a fitness app, Fitbod, uses the Hook model to get people hooked to their fitness programs. In this episode, Nir Eyal will give us a synopsis of the Hook model, and how we can apply it to create habits that will make us more productive at what we do.
People nowadays go to Google if there’s something they don’t know about. If they don’t know the definition of a word, they “Google” it. If they want to buy something and they don’t know where to go, they “Google” it. And if they want to do gardening in their backyard but don’t know how to, they’ll go to Google to look for advice. In effect, Google created a habit among its users for certain needs.
“If you can create that kind of habit with your customers, it’s a massive competitive advantage, and it’s a way to help people form good habits in their own lives.” – Nir Eyal
By creating a habit in its users, Google was in alignment with the Hook model, which is a 4-phase process many companies and businesses are using to create products and services that will become habitually used by its target customers. At its core, the Hook model creates habits by connecting the customers’ needs to the company’s services, products, or solutions, with enough engagement.
The 4-step process of the Hook model starts with 1. trigger, 2. action, 3. reward, and eventually reaches 4. investment.
The actuator of a behavior is the trigger, which works like the spark plug in a car that sets the motion and starts the engine.
“There are two types of triggers. We have external triggers and internal triggers. External triggers are the pings, the dings, the rings, everything in our outside environment that tells us what to do next.” – Nir Eyal
To alert and capture potential customers, companies create external triggers like text messages, phone calls, ads, and emails. These triggers catch your attention in usually unexpected ways.
“An internal trigger is an uncomfortable emotional state that you seek to escape from. And the solution to that discomfort is found with the products you use. So fundamentally, … you have to understand that your behaviors always originate from discomfort.” – Nir Eyal
Discomfort forms a behavior. How about you? What causes discomfort in your life? By knowing what your discomfort is you will better understand your behavior. If you are bored, you will turn on the TV and watch movies or play video games. And every time you are bored, you will keep on doing the same things, eventually forming a habit. Companies create habit-forming products from the discomfort of their target market. By creating a solution to their discomfort, customers will keep coming back, forming behavior and creating a habit.
Every time you click on those ads that appear in the newsfeed of your social media accounts, you succumb to the triggers of the advertisers. The same is true when you open the emails or read the text messages of these companies — you are acting on these triggers in anticipation of rewards.
When you finally click on the ads, you will be redirected to their websites or landing pages where you will be rewarded with the information you are looking for. If you are satisfied with the rewards, you are reinforcing the cycle of behavior that creates a habit.
This is the stage where you are being set for the next trigger. When you subscribe to a Facebook page or a YouTube Channel, you are investing time for future updates or triggers.
Every time you sign up for an opt-in email subscription or turn on the notification to a post, you are giving your consent to receive future updates and get alerts for new posts. But have you thought that your actions will cause more distractions in the future?
Distraction is a constant struggle today, especially in the digital world where we live in the “always-on” culture. We are always connected by our mobile phones and laptops through the internet, causing endless distractions. In the end, we lose traction due to distraction, making it hard for us to focus and become productive, unless we start managing our time by planning our activities ahead and schedule certain tasks.
So many great things have come with the evolution of internet connectivity, which allows us nowadays to easily and quickly connect with anyone, anytime, and anywhere — even with a person on the opposite end of the globe! In fact, it provided resiliency in times of a global crisis like the pandemic that locked millions of us in our homes by providing the platform for a work-from-home setup.
However, it also created an “always-on” culture that tips the scale of work-life balance, causing distractions in our personal lives and professional careers. So, how do we manage distractions? To manage distraction, we must first understand what distraction is.
“The best way to understand what distraction is, is to understand what distraction is not. If you ask most people, ‘What is the opposite of distraction?’ They’ll tell you it is focus. … [But] the opposite of distraction is not focus. … If you look at the origin of the word, the opposite of distraction is traction. That both words come from the same Latin root ‘traho,’ which means ‘to pull.’ And they both end in the same six letters, A-C-T-I-O-N, and that spells action. So traction, by definition, is any action that pulls you towards what you say.” – Nir Eyal
Traction is actions that pull you towards your goals. On the contrary, distraction is anything that pushes you away from your goals.
“[In traction] you’re going to do things that you do with intent, things that pull you towards your values and help you become the kind of person you want to become. The opposite of traction is a distraction. Distraction is any action that pulls you further away from what you intended to do, further away from your values, and becoming the kind of person you want to become. So the difference between traction and distraction is one word, and that one word is forethought.” – Nir Eyal
Forethought is when you plan in advance. Playing video games can be a non-distraction as long as you planned it in advance with intent and you added it to your schedule as part of your forethought process. But it becomes a distraction if you play games unplanned, causing you to lose focus on what you should be doing by that time.
Some people make to-do lists to stay on track of what they should be doing for the day, thereby minimizing distractions. But Nir Eyal believes that the to-do list is a thing of the past.
“We can talk about why to-do lists are terrible for your productivity. … You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it [is that] distracted you from. So if you’re kind of floating through life saying, ‘Oh, I got a million things on my to-do list. I’ll just get to them when I get to them.’ You know what’s going to happen? You’re not going to get to them. It has to be scheduled on your day. So that’s interesting traction and distraction.” – Nir Eyal
Instead of a to-do list, you have to make a schedule. On the to-do list, you are easily distracted by urgent things at the expense of more important tasks. You get pulled off track by distraction — something you easily succumb to without realizing it’s happening. You will run through things faster for the sake of getting things done without realizing that you are traversing in the wrong direction.
But if you schedule using a schedule builder to make a weekly timeboxed calendar, you are planning in advance on how you intend to spend your time. It’s one way of knowing the difference between traction (what you said you would do) and distraction (anything else).
By being a calendar-builder, you can hold time for relationships, which is more important, and for investing in yourself. In the end, you are more focused and more productive.
My conversation with Nir Eyal is packed with habit-changing lessons on becoming a productivity master by getting rid of distractions. Listen to the full episode for more wisdom, and don’t forget to share it with your friends and with someone who needs to hear it: You could make someone become more productive at what they do best.
Follow Nir Eyal on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more valuable insights from him. Subscribe to his YouTube channel for updates on his latest videos and for free resources on self-improvement. Visit his official website to get access to his books, or if you want to book for an engagement with him.
I want to leave you all with Nir Eyal’s definition for greatness:
“My definition of greatness is living out your values. That to me, is my definition of greatness. And those values are defined by you with intent — with forethought.” – Nir Eyal
Live your values with a forethought and every moment will be productive and time well-spent. — That is greatness. So be productive every day, and you’re on the path to greatness.