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Being ‘Indistractable’ (onezero.medium.com)
224 points by kiyanwang 37 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 99 comments

In my opinion, based on my personal observations, reading and listening to smart people of the past and present, the most important skill, even meta-skill, for every time and epoch is self-discipline - the ability to do things you need to do tolerating discomfort and suffering. Suffer now to thrive later.

The epoch one lives in and their social position will dictate critical skills an individual requires to survive and move up - be it martial prowess, persuasion, focus. People with strong discipline can grow those skills quicker and farther.

A good inspirational example for me was in David Goggins’ book “Can’t Hurt Me”, where he vividly describes his inner fight against his mind that always wants comfort now; he shares that the main reason he tortures himself with physical challenges is not to become physically strong, but to grow an armored mind, one that is prepared for real life struggles.

Self discipline is one of the psychology things which might not actually be a thing though. Often cited in this sort of discussion is the "marshmallow test" which has been found to be BS. Maybe there's something to willpower, but the discussion is stinky right now because of the replication issues. Same for "flow" which is another smell this article and related discussions have.

I find that I can be incredibly self disciplined when I setup my environment so that I don't have to fight myself. How do I fight distractions from my phone when I'm out with friends? I don't bring my phone. And yet somehow I always manage to meet with people at the time and place we decide on. I know not everyone can do this, I'm just using it as an example.

A feeling of a lack of self discipline is a symptom, much like procrastination. It's a mess of things all clumped together like a rats nest of wires. Everyone has their answer to procrastination (the book is in progress!) but beating procrastination isn't a skill because it isn't the root problem. Much like a headache could mean that you are going to die from cancer or you might just need some rest. If you feel you have procrastination problems, it's because something broke upstream and now you are blaming it on procrastination.

ETA: Herding my own actions is about preparation and personal story telling. If I setup a clear path for the next day and get good sleep, then it will work. If I get a bad night of sleep and I'm unorganized, then it's going to be a disaster and I'm going to complain about procrastination. If I see a cake which looks good and I have a weak reason not to eat it, I'm going to eat the thing. If I manage to convince myself to join the cult of low-carbs, then I wouldn't be caught dead with a piece of cake. If I'm working with people who are laid back, then I become laid back. If I'm working with people who are ultra-competitive, then I become competitive. It's all about pouring the kool-aid and then convincing myself to drink it. ;)

I learned a couple years ago that there is a much broader spectrum of sensory processing abnormalities besides autism and aspergers that shows up as a kind of hypervigilance. Some think it may be as high as 10% of humans and explained by evolutionary fitness (when a minority of a tribe has the genes, the tribe fares better than when all or none have it).

One of the consequences of this is that people get worn down during the day, and their behavior and judgement becomes dysregulated. They start making bad decisions, especially where interpersonal issues are concerned. On reflection, they are not happy with their behavior. A lot of people who label themselves as introverts experience this to some degree.

If 10% of people have an experience that is not neurotypical, then you will be surrounded with anecdotes. Also 10% is more than enough to mess with the statistics for a double blind study, especially if they get over or under-represented in the participants.

One of the theories of cocaine as a "thinking man's drug" is that it addresses the symptoms of ADHD, which is another group that can be over-represented in some circles IF they can develop adequate coping mechanisms, including but not limited to self-medication. Same could probably be said about depression (cynicism is good in places like QA, security consulting, disaster planning and investigation).

The root of the problem is not enough caffeine. I don't have the energy to discipline myself until I have enough of it. I tried quitting caffeine. It resulted in three months of staying in bed.

It's just too easy to play music and read stuff all day when you don't have the energy to get out of bed.

Caffeine is just an antagonist of adenosine receptors. In other words, it supresses feeling of fatigue, but the fatigue itself didn't go away actually.

Counterexample to your person experience is my personal experience :) -- my body comes to a norm within 1-2 weeks after switching off caffeine.

Yet caffeine disturbs my sleep and hence my work. It's almost like we are all individuals.

A usual advice here on HN is to check on ADHD with a good doctor. You can decide then if you want to jump on medications, but I can share that it improves the lives of many people.

Medications can help temporarily, but then tolerance appears and you need to up the dose. I think they are mostly helpful in the range of a few months up to a year, as a crutch to help someone sort their life out (professionally and/or academically), and also in terms of setting up efficient organizational techniques, developing helpful practices for focusing (meditation, exercising, diet). It helped me a lot in this way, I was then able to quit ADHD meds while retaining a much improved focus ability.

I'll throw my own anecdote into the ring here. As a person who's been on ADHD meds for 20+ years I've noticed that although tolerance does build up, it doesn't build up to the point that medication is ineffective, just less effective. Also, fairly short periods of no medication (a few days) can go a long way towards resetting tolerance to a meaningful degree. Despite being on these medications for decades, being on or off them continues to be huge factory in my day-to-day ability to execute tasks of any kind.

In your experience, do ADHD meds improve your brain functioning in a long term? I heard that amphetamine can stimulate and heal some deficiencies in the brain of people with ADHD. Did you notice something like that considering your 20+ years of med.

I'm 36, got diagnosed with ADHD when I was 25 or so. I took meds when I first got diagnosed but hated them and went off after a couple of weeks. Since then, I've never taken any amphetamines for ADHD.

I've also noticed an increase in functioning and ability to succeed and manage the symptoms of ADHD as time has gone on. I'm less inclined to think it's the drugs and more leaning towards it being the person learning to manage their symptoms more effectively as they get older.

You sort of just learn to live with how your brain works and processes things. No idea if uppers help that process or not. It wasn't necessary for me.

> I'm 36, got diagnosed with ADHD when I was 25 or so.

I was diagnosed at 7, and am currently 30.

> I'm less inclined to think it's the drugs and more leaning towards it being the person learning to manage their symptoms more effectively as they get older.

Why do you say that if you were only ever on those drugs for a couple of weeks? Moreover, while your ADHD wasn't severe enough that your life wasn't negatively impacted in a significant way by not medicating it, why do you think that experience is likely to align with others' experiences? What if others stay on those drugs because the quality of life impact is greater than the downsides of those drugs?

I don't enjoy taking drugs for ADHD. I take them because my ability to be a functioning and productive member of society is greatly impacted if I don't. Perhaps I could learn to live without them, but that's not something that would happen in a day, or a week, or even a month or more, and during that time my ability to perform at my job and take care of my own well-being would go out the window.

> No idea if uppers help that process or not.

My understanding of the neurological underpinnings of ADHD (or at least some varieties of it) is that it is caused by poor operation of the "executive function" system of the brain. This is the system that allocates cognitive resources to tasks and the difficulty encountered by those with ADHD getting and staying on task is due to the system failing to allocate the necessary resources. So stimulants work because they ramp up that system. Note that the "hyper-focus" that many with ADHD experience is also a result of poor performing executive function in that it is an over-allocation of cognitive resources.

Do note that what I've written is a medical knowledge informed, but ultimately still layperson, understanding of the brain.

> You sort of just learn to live with how your brain works and processes things.

I agree in the sense that you can learn to accept any chronic condition, including its detrimental effects. However I see that as giving up, at least as far as my own quality of life is concerned.

Considering I went on ADHD medication during childhood it would be very difficult for me to know if (though I assume it has) and in what specific ways that's altered my cognitive development.

The phenomenon of self discipline is known and discussed way before modern psychology is born.

Do we all know that some people surrender quickly to physical or mental challenges, and some last longer? Our brain cries at us to stop doing challenging things, stop pushups, stop working on a hard problem. Self discipline in my definition is how you react on those brain calls. Can you shut them down for a while, or will you find an excuse to stop?

Currently I am experimenting on myself, by reflecting and talking to my brain under stress (the best exercise I found for it is the plank).

You should have a strong inner reason why you want to tolerate suffering. Kool-aid, external motivation helps, but up to some point. When I am suffering trying to keep plank it helps to clearly remind myself why I am doing that.

Yet hear you are, procrastinating with all of us.

You comment actually touches some interesting points.

First, one procrastinates only if they decided they should be doing something else at this moment. I am now relaxed and interested in spending some time on HN - you can actually learn something here as well.

Second, being constantly busy, optimising, and improving is a new fashion and decease. It's an unrealistic demand that causes anxiety. You also need to relax, reflect, play, do nothing. https://youtu.be/3qHkcs3kG44?t=1102

Third, it also depends on what is your life goal - be happy, be super successful. I am happy to spend some time on HN, and I do not stress myself over it.

>much like procrastination. It's a mess of things all clumped together like a rats nest of wires.

This is such an important point. I struggle with procrastination and learning the underlying causes are what helped me make huge progress. I cannot recommend "The Now Habit" enough to anyone who struggles with procrastination and guilt that surrounds it. It really was life changing for me. One of, if not the, most important books I've read.


Thank you so much for the recommendation. I had checked this audio book out this summer, but procrastinated ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ on listening to it. Just checked it out again.

It matches my experience much better than the « self-motivation » theory. If you have self-motivation, it’s because you are in the correct chemistry, brainwise. Maybe you are loved, maybe you eat well, maybe you live in a building that has proper O2 venting. But being able to motivate yourself for work and sports and friends is the result.

When one says « Motivate yourself and all will be better! », they are just saying that they are in a fortunate situation and they don’t see why others wouldn’t be. It’s similar to a rich man telling a poor man: « Spend and you will be rich, that’s what I do all the time! » No, you are not « able to go through tough times because of the strength of character» but because you are still well despite temporarily being disappointed.

Example: > Self discipline in my definition is how you react on those brain calls. Can you shut them down for a while, or will you find an excuse to stop?

Ok, this guy is healthy. Probably loved, probably has expectations for the future, he probably has reasons to work hard, because he gains hard when he works hard.

> Currently I am experimenting on myself,

« Currently I am feeling good, so I can spend this extraordinary energy into something that will make me even healthier »

> by reflecting and talking to my brain under stress

I assure you this is not how the brain works. Basically he has hope for the future, so he can sell hope to his brain.

It is extremely important for the future of USA, because USA is currently experimenting a « Boy Crisis » (from the title of the book) where men can’t get motivation, and they spiral into drugs. Particularly in the mid-west, but it’s a trend in the whole Western world. That’s why some experts are screaming at the dangerosity of having anti-white-male policies in pretty much all areas (work, NGOs, etc), it’s because, I don’t know whether this is the root cause, but at least it increases and compounds the problem.

And finally, that’s why a psy is also able to evaluate what your remaining resources are, and use those to make yourself start a project where you will receive more love and hope (or exchange more love), but that is entirely different from the « be more motivated so you have more energy » advice.

>> it’s because you are in the correct chemistry, brainwise.

Well, we all are born different, physically and mentally. Your argument sounds to me a bit like that one doesn't have a choice. Basically, I am born lazy, so I cannot change myself, it's my destiny to stick with low goals.

>> I assure you this is not how the brain works. Basically he has hope for the future, so he can sell hope to his brain.

Can you please elaborate more on that? I do not think we have a right clear picture now how our brain works, motivation, willpower, discipline, whatever. I can agree that if you decided that you are limited by nature, and also if you think you cannot find your goals and sell to your brain - you will stay where you are. In the end, we are what we think we are.

I think people who have more energy (ala endurance athletes) look more disciplined.

Also what kind of energy you need to be a President, Chess Grandmaster or a Tennis Grand Slam winner is different. They all are called displined though.

People with disabilities and mental health issues who do well are usually those with high energy levels or are in environments that produce energy more than drain energy(distractions/triggers etc play a role here).

You can also see it in areas of poverty. People who do well are usually called more driven, ambitious etc which basically again goes back to energy levels.

Stephen King definitely has more energy than GRRM. But Martin has proved you can be as distracted as you want and still suceed if you have an imagination and are social.

I think you summed it up pretty nicely, I might have even used the same words.

But in a sense, procrastination is "natural" as much as the taste of sugar is natural, but if you allow yourself to be carried out by it then it becomes a problem.

Which wouldn't be a problem if sugar was still scarce. It's the abundance of food and distractions which messes us up.

Correct, that's the reason why discipline is important, which absolutely does not mean shutting yourself completely from those things

Yet that just doesn't work for many (most?) people. Even for those that claim it does I'm sceptical.

I work at home for myself, every morning I sit at my desk and start coding. I could claim I'm disciplined however it seems far more likely to me that I just built a habit of coding in the mornings.

I agree, there are a lot of people who have difficulties handling it (and a lot of crappy advice)

Isn’t setting your environment an act of discipline in itself?

Again, the idea of self discipline right now is stinky for the reasons I mentioned above.

Self discipline is more about going against what your monkey brain wants to do. It's not about just any action. If you don't want to get out of bed and you do it anyways, then a book writer might call that "self discipline" and write an article about it. On the other hand, maybe you have been laying in bed so long that you need to get up to avoid bed sores. In that case, getting out of bed isn't self-discipline.

So, I guess you would have to assume that "setting your environment" is something you don't feel like doing. Like I said, if that's the case then there is likely something off further upstream. Like maybe your schedule says you should get out of bed but really you should stay in bed because an idiot (you) didn't pencil in enough sleep in the free template.

>the "marshmallow test" which has been found to be BS.

Has it? Is the same true of all the other studies of willpower and ego depletion? The studies of judges with low blood sugar, undergrads being tempted with cookies before doing math problems, all of it? I thought it was pretty settled science. What's the critique of that area of research?

The marshmallow test is among the many which has been caught up in the replication crisis. Link below, maybe not the greatest source, but I'm getting distracted from work. ;)


The marshmallow test is weird anyway. The other day we happened to have a bag of marshmallows so I asked my daughter if she’d like one marshmallow now or two after doing a chore. Surprise surprise, she gleefully did the chore and got two marshmallows. What does that mean? That she’s a hard worker? That she understands the value of waiting to have a bigger reward in the future? I don’t know.

That's not actually the marshmallow test.

The marshmallow test is to see if she can wait 15 minutes alone in a room with a marshmallow without eating it in return for 2 marshmallows.

Nothing to do with hard work (in fact, it's about having no distractions at all), its purely about self discipline (setting aside whether it's valid psychology or not..)

But then they discovered it is in fact not purely about self-discipline, but rather the degree of trust the child has in the marshmallow promiser. In an uncertain life, it makes sense to take whatever marshmallow is actually here now.

Right. I understand. I was making an admittedly hasty and not very clear commentary about how weirdly artificial the marshmallow test is. If I want to put off gratification in the real world, I busy myself with working on something else.

I’d personally take the one marshmallow, then go do something else, and hope my daughter would too. My time is too valuable to be sitting around waiting for marshmallows.

Test it on 30-40 kids instead and then get back to us.

You sample size is too small :-)

I agree 100%. This is going to sound weird, but bear with me.

I grew up as a skateboarder and am still super into the scene. What separates the pros from the wannabes isn't just talent. It's dealing with adversity, discomfort, and inconvenience. These pros are skating in places that are not comfortable to skate. The ground is very rough and/or has inconveniently placed cracks. There's a puddle in the way. The ground is dirty with tiny pebbles. They also fall A LOT. By the time they make this crazy trick, they're bleeding from a couple of places and half their board has gotten wet with yucky water. The kind of things that mean "end of the session" for 90% of skaters. The skaters that can deal with these inconveniences/discomfort are the ones that "make it."

Sometimes young skaters to go to famous spots and they are blown away by how rough the ground is, or how close traffic is zipping by at 40 MPH.

THAT's what separates the men from the boys. Grit.

I really enjoyed Rodney Mullen's autobiography. He talked about how when he was a kid he would get home from school and skateboard for six hours. Every single day. Trying new things, inventing tricks that nobody else could do. And then he'd go to competitions and completely dominate because he was doing things nobody had ever seen before. That's the dedication it takes to be a pro.

My first taste of grit was on a skateboard too. I would daydream about landing cool new tricks far outside my skill level. I was young, I didn't really know how to acquire new skills, I just repeatedly made the decision to try again every time got it wrong. Eventually I looked back and realized I had surpassed those old daydreams.

I consider myself really lucky to stumble across this at such a young age, the discovery that discipline pays off. I used it when I learned to play music and taught myself programming. The only tasks that excite me in my current phase of life are long term grit-required projects, like language learning, distance running, etc.

Phil Liggett, The Voice of the Tour de France for decades and decades, is fond of complementing cyclists by saying they "know how to suffer." It is, as near as I can tell, his highest complement to say that you really know how to suffer.

I second David Goggins’ book “Can’t Hurt Me”, inspirational read.

I found the parts where he describes his inner fights very valuable. It raised my awareness of those fights in my brain under discomfort / suffering. I am trying to both reflect on and fight those thoughts.

This made me think of "focus" from Vinge's "A Deepness in the Sky" where individuals are converted to narrow their entire life down to a particular subject area so that they can be used as components in distributed systems.

Edit: One of the reasons for requiring this kind of approach is that they don't have "real" AI for reasons that would only be apparent if you have read the earlier novel.

Literally, weaponized autism.

I seem to remember that there is a discussion at the end of the book where characters discuss whether focus is worth it as a tool for society and perhaps even something that individuals would choose willingly.

I suspect if focus was available as a medical procedure there are people who would choose it - not something that you would be able to regret.

Edit: Greg Egan's excellent Quarantine also has the protagonist using "neural mods" to prime him into a state where he was a more effective policeman - but at least they could be turned on/off rather than being semi-permanent like focus.

Alastair Reynolds also has characters who are mentally hyper-specialised in order to operate certain technologies, to the extent that they are effectively a part of the machine

So... accurate description of long-time Googlers?

> “I suspect if focus was available as a medical people

What does this mean?

Apologies - I wasn't focusing enough on my comment and wrote nonsense! ;-) Fixed now.

Must have been a slip of the tongue. Post-human.

Does anybody feel like these kinds of posts over-rationalize life? I feel like these complex logical guides can be replaced with a simple “put your phone away while spending time with your daughter”. Life should be simpler than having to think about all this stuff so hard. Life shouldn’t be an optimization of resources problem.

Part of the problem that I realized after hearing the author promotin this book in a podcast is that many people not only want to solve problems but also put their own spin/branding on it, even if it’s not actually much different from existing solutions.

But that slight difference in the new solution being promoted taps into our brains just in the right ways that it makes existing solutions seem inferior, thus the productive porn.

> Part of the problem that I realized after hearing the author promotin this book in a podcast is that many people not only want to solve problems but also put their own spin/branding on it, even if it’s not actually much different from existing solutions.

Yes, but they also have to do it in order to have a branding. You cannot "non-brand." Take for example Microsoft. Thy wrote a version of CP/M and called it PC-DOS. So what? Would it have been better to call it MS-CP/M?

I think many people crave an authoritative voice that tells them what they need to do. It's why the self-help industrial complex works.

It can get much worse than a navel-gazing/over-thinking-it post on medium.

These kinds of blog posts easily segway into books/media, then courses, then workshops, then, before one knows it thousand dollar hotel conference room shindigs where people end up with binders and get a hard sell on ever more expensive "help".

Not saying the author is one of these snake-oil people at all. But it's a slippery slope from, say, Tim Ferriss to Ramit Sethi to Tony Robbins to (what's that "bitcoin genius"?) James Altucher.... and worse.

Yeah, I completely agree. Not only these kind of posts, but 99.9% of self-help books too. The answer, in general, comes down to: get good rest, meditate, drink enough water, and get some damn work done. Coffee as needed.

Gets distracted. Thinks long and hard about distraction. Has an insight on how not to get distracted. Writes a book about it. Writes a blog post to market the book. Future book reviews complain that you could have just read the blog post.

Some of this seems to be a rehash of GTD. Sometimes your distractions are something which you really need to do. Write it down so that you can feel at ease forgetting about it again. Then when you are doing your GTD thing, you can take care of your list.

The rest just doesn't sit easy for me. It seems like he's over-rationalizing a certain slice of life and it feels strange, like a bad aesthetic.

There's work time and then there's personal time. In each case, distraction is okay, it's just that you need to herd the distractions so that you are seeing more of X distractions and less of Y. A client walking in the door may be a valuable distraction. Getting a FB notification while working may be a costly distraction.

Personal time is also all about the right distractions. Interesting things are distractions. In the author's example, the child asking a question is a distraction. We can argue semantics, maybe an interesting thing which captures your attention is called something other than a distraction, but it's still the same thing. Your brain is pointed in one direction and something comes along to redirect that attention to something else.

This is just more productivity porn. Schedule fun time. Look, it's fun time on my calendar. I will enjoy it. I'm having fun... for 20 minutes.

> This is just more productivity porn. Schedule fun time. Look, it's fun time on my calendar. I will enjoy it. I'm having fun... for 20 minutes.

I've long since accepted that I am not the type of person who can work from a strict hourly schedule (or time-boxing in general). Yet somehow I manage to have quite good output, especially if I look at what I've accomplished personally and professionally over the last month or the last year.

I think the real story with productivity is that you have to figure out how you work best as an individual, and figure out a system which helps to take advantage of that. I think it's worth reading up on how other people approach the problem because often it can lead to useful insight, but prescriptions and magic bullets rarely hold much weight with me.

I also think its worth writing blog posts like this as a way of clarifying your own thoughts.

In life, its worth being active at the risk of being silly. “Productivity porn” is merely silly. Passively feeling a lack of agency over your own time is tragic.

"Sometimes your distractions are something which you really need to do"

The key is to be able to determine the validity of the distraction, without getting distracted, meaning without even diverting your mind a bit to think about the distraction. I don't think you can. You need to context switch a bit, examine what the distraction is and then switch back. Easier said than done. It leads to a trail of IFTTTs since every distraction has it's own context and lifespan. If someone has ways of accomplishing this, I'm all ears.

I'm getting into personal anecdote territory which I hate because it likely only works for me, but here I go...

When I'm working in front of my computer, I manage this stream by keeping a log of what I'm doing in an editor. When I step into something, I make a quick note of what I'm about to do. I may annotate it with what I DID rather than what I'm about to do. It's fully shooting from the hip. The point of it is that I can always bring it up and see the last thing my brain was on and the stream leading up to that point. I call that section "stream."

I'll add other "sections" for other items I need to take down. Maybe I think of a todo, then I'll make a section for "Todo" and maybe even multiple lists for multiple projects. This document is only meant for things which collect in my head as I'm trying to do this other thing. It's not meant to be storage space for project management.

The starting of a disaster day is finding myself getting bogged down in reading a pile of browser tabs in the morning during my "putter" time. In that case I'll open a blank editor tab to start the "stream" and create a section for reading. I'll jot down the items which interest me the most, bookmark those items, then clear all tabs. I'll NEVER get back to reading those things, but I took care of the problem in my head and then I get back to "streaming."

It's all about one of the core GTD ideas of clearing your space and writing things down to comfort your brain. The main stream section then keeps me on task. I have also trained myself that this is the most important rule and if I don't have this document open in an editor, then I'm asking for trouble.

what works for me is that i got into the habit of never answering a message immediately. in one way it's a form of ignoring distraction, but for me it's actually about not letting others control my time. i don't want to give others the power to make me jump and do what they need whenever they request it. so even if i see the message, i'll push it away so that i can remain in control of the moment, and i'll get back to it when i choose.

the key here i think is to hold on to the focus that i had before the distraction came in as good as i can. it depends on what you are doing, but in the example the author gave, i'd have said: "hold on for a moment, i just want to get rid of this distraction", and then do the absolute minimum necessary to get rid of it before returning my focus to the activity at hand.

"fun will now commence"

And yet, here we are, posting comments on HN.

By the way is not being able to hear your daughter screaming for attention because you're deeply focused on your phone being distracted, or not?

Sounds like laser focusing to me. Which means that it's not a matter of being 'indistractable', but one of prioritising what's worth your attention.

On a side note, I don't like when people make up words like 'indistractable', but that's personal taste.

We all have multiple roles in life we’d like to play. And limited time/attention/energy. So we look back on our time and ask “was I the person I want to be in that moment?” And hear our intuition sigh “no...”.

But we were. In that moment reading an article on your phone, you were the well-informed citizen living the life of the mind, which is something you aspire* to be. But you couldn’t simultaneously be the caring father. And the regret of that moment stings more sharply than the satisfaction of thinking about the article you read.

One theory I have for how to be more focused: narrow or combine your set of things you aspire to. This is hard. If you aspire to be both a caring father and a moderately-skilled hobby carpenter, you might find your daughter is interested neither in woodworking or in having a treehouse. And so in any given hour, you must choose.

(* assumption I’m making about you just so I can write less abstractly)

> On a side note, I don't like when people make up words like 'indistractable', but that's personal taste.

It's likely that the success of this book will rely entirely on this word. After all, Cal Newport wrote recently on the same subject, so I'm not sure what this book brings new, other than the catchy/annoying word.

I loved Cal Newport's book. It's insightful, and full of takeaways, drawing from years of writing about the topic on his blog. While reading it, I was constantly looking on the Internet for the references and pieces of research that he was mentioning, the kind of reading you are meant to do when you are doing research on a certain topic, and him being a researcher has that kind of style that for the interested reader is full of depth.

On the other hand, you have an annoying, made up word and the work of someone whose sole purpose at work is, and I quote, "help tech companies build products to keep you clicking".

Now if I skip the mumble jumble of #likes4likes that you usually find on Amazon five star reviews, I can find a 3 star review that weighs the pros and cons. Pros: He knows a lot about distraction. Which makes sense; he does that for a living. Cons: the solutions.

> Make a contract with yourself, he says. Make a money contract. If you fail to keep the contract you have to set fire to a hundred dollar bill.

That's it.

I'm choosing Cal Newport's "Deep Work" every single time.

Eliminate all notifications from your phone with a 1-second 'empty' .mp3

I set this empty.mp3 as my notification (android) for emails, texts, applications, etc etc. The only thing that makes a sound in my phone is phone-calls and alarms. Eliminate the "top bar" notifications too. If you want to find out about emails, open the app. To find out about instant messages, open the app.

For me this has been absolutely great. I don't have social media installed (reddit, facebook, twitter, etc), so that helps.

Yet the phone doesn't "suck me into it". I hope somebody finds this useful!

When I'm doing something that's both interesting and challenging I can happily ignore literally everything else until I'm done. I think most people are very similar; phones and games and Slack messages are only a distraction if you're just not that into what you're supposed to be doing. If it happens a lot you might need to address that problem.

This sounds similar to what people on the spectrum of autism or adhd call "hyper-focus". The problem with hyper-focus is that you rarely have control over it. It's heavily skewed towards the interesting part, not what you need to be doing or how challenging it is. You'll often see absurd levels of complexity for the sake of making it challenging, only to support working on something interesting.

It's ironic that the author who introduced a ton of tech people to psychologically manipulative product design with his book "Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products" is now selling the solution to the problem that he helped create.

Here's how he described his last book:


How do successful companies create products people can't put down?

Why do some products capture widespread attention while others flop? What makes us engage with certain products out of sheer habit? Is there a pattern underlying how technologies hook us?

Nir Eyal answers these questions (and many more) by explaining the "Hook Model" -- a four steps process embedded into the products of many successful companies to subtly encourage customer behavior. Through consecutive “hook cycles,” these products reach their ultimate goal of bringing users back over and over again, without depending on costly advertising or aggressive messaging.

Hooked is based on Eyal’s years of research, consulting, and practical experience. He wrote the book he wished had been available to him as a startup founder – not abstract theory, but a how-to guide for building better products. Hooked is written for product managers, designers, marketers, startup founders, and anyone who seeks to understand how products influence our behavior.


To top it off he's trying to growth hack his new book by putting a branded red "do not disturb" sign in the book, that he expects you to put up on your desk for all of your stressed out colleagues in your open office to see. (https://youtu.be/XVbH_TkJW9s?t=906)

In fact he notes this "irony" in the first paragraph of the linked article!

> or over a decade, I’ve helped tech companies build products to keep you clicking. In fact, I wrote the book on it. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, which came out in 2014, was written to help companies build healthy habits in their customers, like regularly going to the gym and eating right. But in the process of researching the book, I found that some products drew some people in too much. Including me.

He always claims it's for "healthy habits" but we all know that it's mostly used for gaming, social media and marketing products. It's equivalent to Juul claiming that they're selling a product to treat smoking addiction.

Here's his bio from the book:


Nir Eyal spent years in the video gaming and advertising industries where he learned, applied, and at times rejected, techniques described in Hooked to motivate and influence users. He has taught courses on applied consumer psychology at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and at Fortune 500 companies.


Ironic? It makes sense to me that someone who understands the mechanisms of addiction would know how to break the cycle.

It's ironic in the "we'll sell you opioids and then help you treat the addiction" sense, not the "we know how to make oxycontin so we're experts in addiction treatment" sense.


I read Hooked and Nir Eyal obviously knows what he's talking about, I'm not questioning his authority on the subject.

I am a master at being 'indistractable' - my brain-CPU does not support interrupts.

P.S my manager calls me 'uncooperative'.

Just skimming the post, it seems to be highly convergent with what is used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)[1], or more generally of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

The article doesn't seem to point to such a connection, but people interested with the topic might like to have a look at these well documented methodologies. Analyzes and critics of these methods and their claimed results are also widely available.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acceptance_and_commitment_ther...

See also: Cal Newport's Deep Work [0]

[0] http://www.calnewport.com/books/deep-work/

Right now, I am being distracted by reading the comments to this blog post on HN...

As someone with attention defecit disorder, I can only applaud the further development of attention-as-a-skill, be it by introspection (e.g. meditation) or technological (e.g. parmacological) enhancement!

I hope not. Many people in open-space offices with smart phones have attention span of a chipmunk. That makes it possible for remote workers to compete :-)

Off topic to the article, because I can't read it. I blocked Medium's annoying pop-up and now there is no way for me to click somewhere to open the article. Ah well, I'll just see this as a step towards being indistractable by medium articles.

I think this would be the single most important differentiator for wealth creation. The world would be divided between creators and consumers. The consumers are increasingly trained for only consuming with a singular goal of generating wealth for the creators.

I'd say that title goes to intelligence, which can't be trained so people are going to consistently have either a lot or a little their whole working life. Technology is progressively taking away the ability of low IQ people to do anything productive at all and giving it to a shrinking pool of people smart enough to do the remaining not-yet-automated things.

weird, he literally wrote the book about making websites and apps addictive through grabbing as much attention as possible. now he's got a book on how to avoid getting distracted by those sites/apps

Meh, people are allowed to change their minds about things they've done once they've seen the effects of their prior work. At the start of this post he uses that as evidence that he's qualified to write this book; I don't disagree.

I know it's off-topic, but fuck Medium. No, I don't want to join. From now on, I will not click links to Medium!

(I'm tired of deleting their stupid cookies just to read a goddamned blog post.)

TLDR: a guy can't just turn off his phone for a couple of hours and creates a whole new philosophy out of it.

While shamelessly self plugging his book.

Don't let that distract you.

his previous book is on how to construct websites and apps with maximum distraction ability

I was distracted by this headline. now.

:closes HN tab:

Is “indistractable” a proper word?

I'm shooting for indestructible, myself.

what's a proper word?

A word recognized in the English lexicon


The Pomodoro Technique has helped me a lot staying focused on my work and studies. Sure, it's not a silver bullet solution to manage distractions but it's a good starting point.

This. The Pomodoro Technique has revolutionized my life. I set it for 30 minutes and tell myself "You just need to make a little progress on task X for 30 minutes... You can do it!"

What very often happens, however, is that since I have focused so well during that period, I actually end up completing the task, usually with a few minutes to spare. Feels a bit ridiculous, but, at least in my case (anecdotal, for sure), just giving my brain the 'peace' in knowing that it will only have to focus deeply for 30 minutes seems to help it immensely. Human beings are so strange.

I have a 30 minute egg timer I use for this, and it's pretty decent. Mainly serves as a reminder to get up and walk about.

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