Welcome to Pushing the Limits, the show that helps you reach your full potential with your host Lisa Tamati, brought to you by lisatamati.com.
Lisa Tamati: Hey, everyone. Lisa Tamati here. Welcome back to Pushing the Limits this week. Before we get over to our wonderful guests in our call, show, the interview, just a reminder, we have our BoostCamp webinar series coming up. Now, this is starting on the first of September 2021. So if you're listening to this later, we will be holding this regularly so check it out. This is all about upgrading your life, boosting your life. It's all about improving your performance, your health, your wellbeing, teaching you about health fundamentals, how your biology works. It's about resilience. It's about mindset. It's about longevity and anti-aging strategies, a whole lot of stuff that you're going to get a huge benefit out of, and it will be a great little community as well.
This is a live series. We're doing it once a week. It will be a 90-minute session. So if you can spare some time to come and hang out with Neil and myself, I'd really enjoy that, and you'll get a heck of a lot out of it. The amount of information we'll be able to give you in this series and help create some change in your life to boost your life. So come and check that out. Go over to peakwellness.co.nz/boostcamp. That's peak wellness p-e-a-k wellness.co.nz/boostcamp with an ‘S’. Just on that note, if you're into longevity and anti-aging, make sure you check out nmnbio.nz.
It is my company that I've joined forces with molecular biologist Dr Elena Seranova. Check out the podcast episodes with her. This is all around nicotinamide mononucleotide and what it can do to help you upregulate your sirtuin genes, your longevity genes, help with autophagy, upregulate metabolic pathways, and a whole lot more. Check out all the science over on the website at nmnbio.nz.
Now, today's guest is Nir Eyal. Nir is an incredible person who's sold two big tech companies in the last 20 years and helped with many, many other big players in the world. He is at the intersection of psychology, technology, and business. So he's a behavioural design specialist. You might think 'What the hell is that?' Someone who knows why and how we tick, and how to create good habits, and how to understand behavioural economics, and some neuroscience in there as well.
He's worked in the video gaming and advertising industries. Also helps with some of the big platforms that we interact with. He helps companies create behaviours that benefit the users while educating people on how to build healthful habits in their own life. He's an active investor, and he puts his money where his mouth is by backing habit-forming products.
So he's been involved with things like Eventbrite, and Kahoot!, and Anchor.fm, and Marco Polo, and Byte Foods, just to name a few, and a whole lot of others as well. He's a graduate and he has an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He has also been a lecturer at Stanford, and he's also written two books. One is called Hooked and it's all around how to build habit-forming products. His second book is called Indistractable. Something, I think, we all need in this day and age is to learn how to become indistractable because there's so many cool things out there that can take our attention away from the things that we're actually working on.
He teaches in the session a little bit about how to become indistractable. It's a really hard word to say. And how to keep people hooked on your business if you're growing as an entrepreneur and building positive habits among your community. I hope you enjoy this session with Nir Eyal.
Hi, everyone and welcome to Pushing the Limits. Super excited to have you with me again today. I have uncovered another superstar for you guys. I think you're going to be absolutely fascinated by the statement and the work that he's done and the information that he's going to share with us today. Welcome to the show, Nir. You're are over in Singapore.
Nir Eyal: That's right. Great to be with you, Lisa.
Lisa: Oh, thanks for coming on. Now Nir, I want to dive into your background because when I read all about you and what you've done, I was like, 'Wow. That's pretty impressive.' Can you give the listeners a bit of background who don't know you, where you came from, and how you got into the stuff that you're doing now?
Nir: Sure thing. I'm what you call a behavioural designer. So I help companies build the kind of products and services that build healthy habits in people's lives. I taught for many years at Stanford Graduate School of Business and later, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford where I taught courses on how to use the psychology of what we call behavioural design to build good habits in people's lives. For example, getting people to make a habit out of exercise with a fitness app like FitBod or helping kids stay engaged in the classroom with an app like Kahoot! We can use the same psychology behind what makes Facebook, and Instagram, and WhatsApp, and Slack so sticky to help people form good habits in their lives.
So that was the subject of my first book called Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. My second book, more recently, about two years ago, I released a book called Indistractable where if Hooked is about how to build good habits, Indistractable is about how to break those bad habits that so oftentimes can lead us off track. So I wanted to take a deeper dive into the psychology of 'Why do we do things against our better interest? Why do we get distracted?' I think that becoming Indistractable is truly the skill of the century. Because what we find is that people generally know what to do. They just don't do it. Right?
We all basically know how to get in shape. We know how to have better relationships. We know how to be better at our job. We know how to save money. We just keep getting in our own way. I really wanted to get into this deeper psychology of why is that, which is the subject of my second book.
Lisa: Wow. Well, let's start with the second book because I think that is so fascinating. As someone who coaches a lot of athletes, and works in the company, and I'm definitely keen on understanding all the Hooked stuff because that's definitely fascinating as well. But let's start with the Indistractable. We live in a society where we are constantly bombarded, and it's going to get worse. There’s virtual reality, and augmented reality, and things that come online and make everything even more addictive.
Apparently, our attention spans are down to seven seconds or something, ridiculous, when we're scrolling around on social media networks. How do we fight against this? I, myself, know from my own behaviour that I have shiny object syndrome. From a business perspective, I'm very easily distracted or even taken off on some cool new technology or some cool new thing that my business partner is constantly trying to bring me back on track. How do we do that? How do we stop going on social media and just ending up down some rabbit hole that we never want to?
Nir: Yeah, so the best place to start is to understand what this word even means, distraction. It's so important to start with our definitions. The best way to understand, if you really know what the term means, is to ask yourself, 'Do you know what is the opposite of that term? What's the antonym?' So if you ask most people what's the opposite of distraction, they'll tell you it's focus, right? 'I don't be distracted. I want to be focused.' But that's not exactly right. The opposite of distraction is not focus. If you look at the origin of the word, the opposite of distraction is traction.
You'll notice that both traction and distraction end in the same six letters, a-c-t-i-o-n. That spells action, reminding us that distraction is not something that happens to us, but rather it is an action we take. So both traction and distraction come from the same Latin root, 'trahere' which means 'to pull.'
So traction, by definition, is any action that pulls you towards what you said you were going to do. Things that you do with intent. Things that move you closer to your values and help you become the kind of person you want to become. Those are acts of traction. The opposite of traction is distraction. Distraction is any action that pulls you further away from your goals, further away from your intent, further away from living out your values and being the kind of person you want to become.
So this is not just semantics; this is really important. Because I would argue any action can be traction or distraction based on one word. That one word is forethought, okay? Forethought. Let me give an example. I want to show you how any action can be a distraction.
One of my biggest distractions that I didn't even realise was distracting me was that every morning, I would get to work and I would sit down at my desk and I'd say, 'Okay. I've got that big thing to do on my to-do list. That thing that I've been procrastinating on. Today's the day. I'm not going to delay. I have to do that thing that I've been putting off. I'm going to do it right now. Nothing's going to get in my way. No distraction. Right now. I'm going to get started but first, let me check some email.' Right? 'Let me just scroll that Slack channel. Let me just do a couple of those things on my to-do list that are kind of easier to do, just to get started, right? Just to get the ball rolling here because that's not distraction. That's a work-related task. I got to do email at some point today, right? I'm still being productive.' What I didn't realise is that that is the most dangerous form of distraction.
We talk about social media, and video games, and television being the source of distraction. Uh-uh. If you look at the percentage of time that people waste doing things that are not what they intended to do, overwhelmingly, it is the things that they think are productive but really aren't. Checking email many times a day. Exactly. It's these things that trick us into prioritising the urgent work and the easy work at the expense of the hard and important work that we have to do to move our lives and careers forward. So just because something is a work-related task doesn't mean it's not a distraction. In fact, that's the most dangerous form of distraction. So that's point number one. Anything can become a distraction if it's not what you plan to do, and conversely, anything could be traction.
I am not one of these Chicken Little tech critics that says, 'Oh, social media, Facebook, Instagram, oh, they're melting your brain. They're addicting you.' Rubbish. It is not true. It is not scientific. We need to stop using this disempowering language that, in fact, I think, my conspiracy theory is that these companies want you to believe you're addicted. They want you to believe there's nothing you can do about it. Because you know what people do? It's called learned helplessness. People think they're addicted. Guess what they do. Nothing. They stop trying.
What I want to do is to empower people. To say, 'Look, you want to play video games? You want to go on social media? You want to use YouTube? Awesome. There's nothing wrong with any of that stuff as long as you use it on your schedule and according to your values, not the tech companies’.’
So there's nothing wrong with the tech. The tech is wonderful. Look. You're in New Zealand, I'm in Singapore, people are listening all over the world with this amazing technology. We are so blessed. What are we complaining about? 'Oh, it's distracting me. I can't concentrate. My phone is so great. I want to use it all the time.' Shut up. There's nothing wrong with this stuff. As long as we use it with intent, we are much more powerful than the tech companies are. So I want to liberate people from this mind prison that we put ourselves in thinking that we're powerless. We are not powerless. There's so much more we can do.
Lisa: This is coming from a behavioural designer who knows how to...
Nir: I wrote the book. I know how these companies get you hooked. I literally wrote the book on how they do it. I'll tell you: Their techniques are good. They're good. Not that good, right? This is not mind control. This is not...
Lisa: You're not on cocaine, and you're stuck.
Nir: Exactly. We're not injecting Instagram. We're not snorting Snapchat. We're not freebasing Facebook. Give me a break here. This is ridiculous. Unless we believe we are powerless, that's when we become powerless.
Lisa: I've been guilty of propagating that because you do hear how addictive it is, and you do notice in your own behaviour, that you’re shall we say, not always doing what you set out to do. You're giving us the tools and the power back and saying, 'Here is how you keep a control on things.' because we are at the mercy, sometimes, of our own neurotransmitters. As an athlete and as a coach, I'm like, 'Motivation follows action and not the other way around.' Okay, so if you don't feel like going for a run today, for example in my life, which happens quite often. I don't feel like it. I just take some little step of action and I create motivation from that little step. Invariably, I end up doing my training.
Nir: You bring up a really good point. Sorry to interrupt you but there's a critical word you said that I think we should dive deeper into. The word you said was 'feeling,' right? When you think about why don't we accomplish our goals, what's the number one reason people don't accomplish their goals? The number one reason people don't accomplish their goals in any aspect of life, whether it's relationship goals, with forming a tight bond with your spouse or your children, whether it's your career goals, whether it's your physical fitness goals, the number one reason people don't accomplish their goals, common sense, they quit. We stop.
Yeah, well, what's the number one reason we quit? Why don't we do what we say we're going to do? Because we don't feel like it. We say it all the time. We don't actually pause to think about what does that mean, exactly?
So this is a really great point to talk about the two other parts of my Indistractable framework so now you can kind of visualise. Think of an arrow to the right which represents traction. Think about an arrow to the left which represents distraction. Now, I want you to think about two arrows bisecting, pointing to the centre of that number line that you just created vertically from the top and bottom. Those represent external triggers and internal triggers.
External triggers, these are all the pings, the dings, the rings, anything in our outside environment that can lead us towards distraction. Now, that's what we tend to blame. Okay. We tend to blame 'Oh, I was concentrating when my phone rang.' Or 'I got some notification.' Or 'My boss interrupted me.'
We think about things in our outside environment leading to distraction, but studies find that is only 10% of the time that you get distracted. Are you distracted because of an external trigger? 10%. So it's part of the problem but it's clearly not the real source. The real source is that 90% of the time that we get distracted, nine zero, 90% of the time. It's not because of an external trigger; it's because of what we call an internal trigger. What is an internal trigger? An internal trigger is an uncomfortable emotional state that we seek to escape: boredom, loneliness, fatigue, stress, anxiety, uncertainty. Anytime we feel these uncomfortable emotions, we look to escape them, oftentimes, with distraction.
So if we don't understand this cardinal rule that time management requires pain management. Let me say it again: Time management requires pain management. That all of our distraction, our procrastination, anytime we don't do what we say we're going to do, it is because we have not learned how to deal with that discomfort in a healthy way that drives us towards traction, and we try and escape it with distraction. So whether it's too much booze, too much food, too much news, too much football, too much Facebook, it doesn't matter. We will always find distraction somewhere unless we know how to cope with discomfort in a healthy manner. So that's the first step to becoming Indistractable is mastering those internal triggers or they will master you.
Lisa: Wow. That is just mind-blowing, Nir. I'm just like, 'Wow.' This is cool shit. This is really cool shit. Do you know the work of Steven Kotler? He's at The Flow Collective. Yep, The Flow Collective was the name of his company. He's an expert and author around flow. What he studied for the last 30 years, you'd love him, the dynamics of flow. What is it that makes somebody an elite athlete that can do triple spins on a skateboard or an elite performer in some sort of way? What is it that they all have in common? It's the releasing of these neurotransmitters in our brain, basically, to get us into this flow state.
So for example, if I sit here and I'm busy doing my really stressful work and then I go over to my artwork which sits next to me here and I'm doing some art, I'm not going to be creative. If I'm trying to force it and I've just come from a very... I need to go out into nature and stare at the horizon for a little bit, have some time, and fresh air, and nature. This is my practice, if you like. Then, I can come back and I might be able to tap into creativity because I'm starting to control my neurotransmitters and what's being emitted. Is that what you're talking about? How do we manage this cocktail of chemicals that we've got going on in our brains or lack of?
Nir: Not really. I'm not a big fan of tossing around neurotransmitters. There's a stupid joke in the neuroscience community, it's not very funny but I'll tell it anyway: Which is what is the role of dopamine in the brain? The role of dopamine in the brain is to confuse neuroscientists. People toss around these neurotransmitters, dopamine, serotonin, all these neurotransmitters, and I think, for the most part, they're full of shit.
Lisa: Really? Wow.
Nir: Yes, because it's a self-limiting belief. When you say, 'Oh, I'm unable to because I don't have enough of this neurotransmitter.' Or 'See, see. I'm doing this because of the neurotransmitter.' This is a very old belief going back thousands and thousands of years, going back to the idea of spirits controlling us in some way. The modern equivalent, the secular experience of angels, and spirits, and ghosts is now neurotransmitters. It's a very dangerous belief because what we find is that when we have a certain model of how we should behave, that something is controlling us, we tend to conform to those beliefs, and we make it the case. We make it true. To help people stay in focus like, 'I have a short attention span.’ ‘I have an addictive personality.’ ‘I'm a morning person.’ ‘I'm a Sagittarius.'
Wait, wait, wait, wait. Hold on. Hold on. Turns out these differences, there could be differences for sure. We know that there are at least... The only really validated personality tests are these big five personality traits. But the differences between folks, when it comes to the level of performance, is quite minor, right? We tend to think of effect and affect but we don't consider effect size. Something can have an effect on your performance but you have to consider also the effect size, right? So before you go say, 'Oh, I have an addictive personality. I have a short attention span. I'm a this; I'm a that,' first, do the things I tell you to do.
Before you say, 'Oh, there's some limiting thing here that's keeping me from accomplishing what I want to accomplish.’ I hear this, by the way, for years now. 'Oh, you don't understand my situation is special. I'm different. I need this. I need that. My brain is wired this way or that.' First, do what I say to do, okay? That's going to get you 99% of the way there.
Now, the small minor differences of 'Oh, I like to do this a little bit differently.' Okay. That's on the margins. But by and large, what I did over the past five years, was to delve into the psychology research around what really works. What helps people stay true to their goals? What helps them do what they say they're going to do? These four tried and true strategies work for the vast majority of people if they actually do them before they start looking for excuses.
I'll give you one very good example. So a few years ago, there was this idea in the psychology community that we call ego depletion. Ego depletion is this idea that you run out of willpower, and many people still believe this. That willpower is a depletable resource. There was a researcher who actually did these studies and found, lo and behold, that people run out of willpower just like they would run out of gas in a gas tank or battery charge on your phone. They run out of willpower. So people started using this. Many of us still do saying, you come home from a hard day of work and you say, 'Ah, I feel “spent.”' Right? 'I have no more willpower left. What a hard day. Give me that pint of ice cream. I'm going to sit on the couch and watch Netflix.' Right?
What we do in the social sciences when a study sounds too good to be true, we replicate the study, right? We do it again. Yeah. What studies found, macro studies, so studies of studies, found that this idea of ego depletion is just not true. It does not exist. There is no such thing as running out of willpower like someone who has run out of gas in a gas tank except in one group of people. That Carol Dweck, a wonderful researcher at Stanford, wonderful book you probably read Mindset that she wrote.
She found that in fact one group of people really did experience ego depletion. They really did run out of willpower like someone would run out of charge on their phone. Those people, only those people, what made them unique, it was only the people who believed that willpower was a limited resource. Those are the only people that exhibited ego depletion.
Lisa: Yeah. So again, and again, you're bringing up the things of not using things as excuses and you're not helpless against the stuff that's in there. Do you also believe that dopamine — we’ll take dopamine, because we're talking about it — does not have an effect on the way you act? I studied genetics. I know there's differences in the way they're motivated or the way they act and so on.
Nir: Yes. For sure, it has an effect. Absolutely. We know that when Parkinson's patients are on dopamine therapy, they are more likely to have addictive behaviours, some things you have to be careful. But this is typically cases of extremes, right? Really, exhaustion. Really extremes. For the average person. It's irrelevant, right? It's really... but effect size is what matters. To what impact? It can be a drop in the ocean. Is a drop in the ocean adding water to the ocean? Yes, but it's imperceptible.
Lisa: Right. So you're talking about let's go for the low hanging fruit stuff but let's not worry about the stuff that's on the edges of, yes, there will be people who are outliers on this. Let's look at what can help the most of us control our lives better so that we can reach our goals. So what are the big things we can do?
Nir: I think in your industry, you see a ton when it comes to athletes trying to prove... When I go to the gym, I always see these guys standing in the corner comparing notes on the best kind of protein. 'What kind of creatine should we take? Are you using this? Are you using that?' At the end of the day, you got to do the workout, right? That's gonna make the biggest impact. It's not what kind of protein you're taking. There's a whey protein, egg protein. Come on, do the workout. That's gonna make the biggest difference.
Okay. What do we have to do here? So now, we have this model in our heads: traction, distraction, internal, external, right? Now we know that the four big parts of the Indistractable model. So now, we work our way around these four steps like the points on a compass. The first step is to master the internal triggers. You have got to have tools in your toolkit, arrows in your quiver, if you will, so that you know what you will do when you feel discomfort. I'm sure you know this, right? As an ultra-endurance athlete, you have to have a plan in place to know what you will do when you experience the discomfort that is screaming at you to do something else. How important is that, right?
Lisa: Oh, huge. You don't do ultra-endurance full stop if you can't overcome those.
Nir: This is where visualisation comes into practice. Many people visualise incorrectly. Many people think that 'Oh, I'm gonna make a vision board. I'm going to make a dream, and then the universe will bring it to me.' Don't do that. That's a big mistake. We actually know studies have found that when we envision the outcomes, it makes us less likely to go and do those things because we actually do feel good from the visioning.
Lisa: You feel like you've done it.
Nir: Exactly. It makes us feel we've done it so when we think 'Oh, I really want to write that book.' Or 'I really want financial independence.' Or 'I really want that beach body.' Thinking about, envisioning it actually makes us less likely to act rather than the right kind of visioning. It's to envision what you will do when you are tempted to go off track. So let's say you're trying to lose weight. Don't envision how great you're going to look on the beach with your shirt off. Instead, what I want you to do is to envision what will you do when you're offered that piece of chocolate cake on your diet. That's the right way to vision something. It's to practice what you will do when you are tempted by something that will lead you off track.
There are many, many, many techniques. I cite from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. My book is full of 30 pages of peer-reviewed studies. I don't like these books where people just make up stuff. I actually combed the psychology for five years to show ‘Okay, here's what the studies find is effective.’ So there's many different techniques. So that's step number one: Master the internal triggers. Have a plan in place to know what you will do when you experience the discomfort that makes you want to not do the thing you said you were going to do. That's step number one.
Step number two is make time for traction. Make time for traction. Again, traction are these actions that we take that move us closer to what we said we were going to do. One of the big mistakes that people make is that they do not plan their time. Big, big mistake. If you look at people's calendars, the vast majority of people have nothing planned.
Maybe they have a to-do list and to-do lists, it turns out, are one of the worst things that you can do for your personal productivity. That running your life on a to-do list rather than a schedule is very counterproductive, it turns out. There's another thing that I learned that I was shocked to find. That it's actively harmful to run your life on a to-do list. I used to do this too. I was a to-do list devotee for years and years. We could talk about why to-do lists are so counterproductive rather than...
Here's the rule. Here's what I want you to remember: You can't call something a distraction unless you know what it distracted you from. You can't call something a distraction unless you know what it distracts you from. So we can't say, 'Oh, I got distracted because of Twitter. I got distracted because of this or that or the other' unless we know what we plan to do with that time. Because if you don't plan what you're going to do with your time, you can't call something a distraction. Everything's a distraction unless what you want to do in advance. So that's about making time for traction. There's lots of different techniques we can talk about there.
The third step is to hack back the external triggers. The external triggers, again, are these pings, dings, and rings in our outside environment that can lead us towards distractions. This is where we go systematically through email, newsfeed, kids, right? How distracting can kids be in our environment if you're trying to get work done, if you're working from home. Can be very, very distracting. Our colleagues, all of these things can lead us towards distraction. So we can hack back all those external triggers.
Then finally, the fourth step is to prevent distraction with pacts. A pact is a pre-commitment. It's a promise we make in advance that we use as a firewall, as a last line of defence against distraction. So it's really about using these four techniques in concert. There's no one magic bullet but when we do one thing from each of these four steps, this is how we become indistractable.
Lisa: Holy shit. That's amazing. Really, really powerful stuff.
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So okay let's dive into some of the weeds there. Like the visualisation one, that was gold. Just to give examples, because I’m always trying to take this into my life and see how can I use it. When I was doing ultramarathons and I would get to a point where I just can't, you've got this big mess of battle going on your head like, 'I just want to quit. I want to quit. I want to quit.' It gets louder, and louder, and louder, and louder. ‘I'm stuffed, I'm exhausted.’ On the other side, you've got the sparkle of a line who's telling you, 'You can. You've got this and keep going.' I would make sort of visualisations beforehand and during the events as if someone's life depended on it. ‘Would you quit?’
Nir: Oh, this is good. So good. It's so funny you say that because I actually... Many times, when people tell me that they can't do something. 'I can't get up in the morning. I'm not a morning person.’ Right? I asked him I said, 'You know, what if your life depended on it? What if your kid's life depended on it, right?’ Let's turn it down. Let's say you had a meeting with your favourite celebrity at 7 am sharp. Oprah Winfrey or Michael Jordan. I don't know. Somebody super famous you've always wanted to meet said, ‘I will have breakfast with you but it will only be at 7 am tomorrow.’ Are you going to wake up? Of course, you're gonna wake up. You're totally capable of doing it.
This is, again, one of these self-limiting beliefs that many people carry around with them, which really limits what they are able to do. It's interesting that you kind of made that same scenario in your head of what if my life depended on this or someone else's life depended on it?
Lisa: It’s something my listeners know my story with my mum. I brought my mum back from a massive aneurysm. So a major brain damage at the age of 74 where the doctors were saying she would never ever do anything again. I was just like, 'I'm not listening to anybody who tells me I can't. I'm going to find people who tell me I can and to tell me the next step or one step in the process. I will only listen to those, and I'll focus on those.'
I just don't ever believe in limiting my beliefs. Because in the medical world, what I see happening, it’s a bugbear of mine, we're so busy covering our asses and also not giving false hope that we take away all hope. The doctor would say to you, 'Look, there's no hope. She's got massive brain damage in our case. Put her in an institution. She's never going to do anything.' It took me two and a half years to get her back to full health.
I was sitting with her having a coffee yesterday, actually. The doctor who had written her off and the hospital happened to see her just walking around on her own outside, going to get a coffee and coming back to the thing. She was just like, 'Oh my God. Your mother's doing amazingly well.' Inside, I was going, 'Yeah, no thanks to you.' She told me, this was a year into her rehabilitation, 'Your mother is below the level of a worst medical patient and she wouldn't... There's no reason for us to have her in the program. She's too sick, basically.' My mother was sitting next to me. At that point, she had already been a year in rehabilitation. My mum was starting to come back. She was starting to think, and she was doing some things.
She was so intimidated by the system and the people and that system doing these tests on here and so on. They didn't even realise she could speak. I stood around to my mom and I said, 'How does that make you feel, Mum?' and she said 'I was feeling really empowered until I heard that. Now, I'm very depressed because I feel really disempowered.' I went, 'Yeah, thanks and we don't need your system anymore. See you later. I'll go. We'll go and do it ourselves.' We did and I wrote a book about it.
So I'm very big on not putting these limitations and that's just one example of many limitations upon ourselves. But you've just pointed out to me in these 20 minutes we've been talking already, already I've got some preconceived ideas of limitations that I didn't even think ahead. Because I'm a very much I-can-do-things and definitely a head through the wall person.
Nir: I love so much of what you're saying. One of my life mantras is: 'Consistency over intensity.' I think that's how we change. We underestimate what we can do in a year. We overestimate, sorry, what we can do in a year, we underestimate what we can do in five. I think that’s Bill Gates, I'm paraphrasing here. But it's so true, just consistent action, consistent forward momentum. It took you two years or longer with your mother.
The healthcare industry is all about intensity. 'Here's a pill. Now you’re fixed.' When that doesn't work, they quit. Whereas consistency over and over the person who comes to the gym and says, 'Oh, my New Year's resolution: I'm finally going to get into shape.' You see them for two weeks before they quit but they're sweated out for two weeks, and of course, that accomplishes nothing. It's about consistent action.
So people ask me how did I have my two best sellers. I didn't sit down and said, 'Oh, I'm gonna write a book right now.' No. I sat down and committed the time. Just two hours a day of writing. That's all it takes. If you sit down for two hours a day of writing, or even less, in the course of a year, you have a book. You know how this works, right? But you have to do it consistently a little bit every day. That's why learning to manage distraction is so important. Because many people, they run their life on to-do lists, and they have all these life goals they want to check off. If those goals aren't checked off, and they think they're failures, that's not how we should measure ourselves.
We should measure ourselves not by what we finished. Because we don't always control how long these things take, right? You didn't know how long it would take for your mother to recover or how long it would take you to write a book. What you can control, what you do know is how much time you will put forth towards that effort. That's why it's so important to just measure ourselves by the input, not the output, but the input. There are two things we can control always, which is our time and our attention.
Lisa: Wow. That just blows my mind because I think the biggest thing to take away from that mum's story... and sorry to harp on about that but I work with a lot of people who are coming back from these sorts of journeys: strokes, and brain damage, concussions, and dementia, and God knows what. The factor that decides that person's success, mostly, and I can tell pretty much at the beginning if I'm going to have success with that person, is are they willing to put the hard yards and day in, day out when they see nothing for it.
Right behind me is a hyperbaric chamber which was a core piece of mum’s rehabilitation. She's had hundreds of sessions on there. People come and they want to use the hyperbaric chamber and they expect that within three sessions, they are going to be fixed. It does not work like that. As an athlete, I know that that doesn't work. Biology does not work that way. There is no magic pill for the cancer you've got although whatever. It's not a one thing. It's very much a multi-pronged approach and it's very much every day.
I often get insulted or told off by people for being so relentless, which is the title of my book on with my mum. She has to train every single day: birthdays, Christmas, doesn't matter what it is. I don't care. She's training every single day unless she's sick. The reason for that is if she doesn't, if I let up a little bit, we will slide backwards. I don't want to let that happen and I know that, as an athlete, you have to keep this continuing. If I want to get to a hundred and be able to do the splits, or do some yoga, or stand on my head, which I think is absolutely doable, I have to do those things every day to get there. Pretty much every day.
Nir: Isn't it amazing though how we hate that? This is where you get all these charlatans selling pills, or magic potions, or crystals, or whatever. The stuff that you can always tell something that you should be sceptical about in terms of how quickly it will work, right? If somebody wants to sell you something that's going to get you quick results, watch out. They’re pretty rare.
We want that instant relief. We want that instant solution. Look, the things that are worth having in life, they take time. You want great relationships with the people you love in your life? You have to invest consistent action. You have to be fully present with them. You want to excel at your job? You have to show up and do the hard work that other people don't want to do. You want to be an incredible athlete? You got to put in the reps, right? You have to do the work. It takes years. I've been working out here. You mentioned standing on your head. I've been working on handstands now for two years.
Lisa: I'm still not there either.
Nir: It's really a long time. I wish it was as simple as just getting a pill. But there is something to be said about knowing what to do but the good news is that maybe in past generations, maybe our grandparents could say, 'Well, I don't know what to do.’ Right? Like, 'I didn't have access to the book to tell you what to do.’ Today, all on the internet, right? Just Google it and it will tell you how to do what you're...
Lisa: We are so blessed. Honestly, with my mum's situation, I wouldn't have been able to heal her because I wouldn't have had access to the greatest minds on the planet, and I do now. Doctors haven't really worked that one out. That we have that access. They tend to like, 'Oh, Dr Google.' On the internet are the best professors, the best clinical studies, the best everything is available to us now. We're so lucky that we have access to people like you through this podcast. What are the chances of me being able to talk to a teacher at Stanford and a best-selling author? What are the chances when I'm sitting in New Plymouth, New Zealand?
Nir: It’s really amazing. Here we are, talking with each other over these video phones. Like if you told me we could do when we were children, right? I would have said impossible, right? That is like science fiction, and here it is. Of course, the downside is like sometimes, when we live in a world with so many great things, with so many ways to spend our time, this can lead to distraction. Which is why if you are looking for distraction, distraction you will find, right? I think this is why the world is bifurcating into people who allow themselves to be distracted, who allow their time and attention to be controlled by others.
Because look, if you don't plan your time, somebody is going to plan it for you. There are plenty of people out there with a vested interest to capture your time and attention. That's how they make money, right? That's how the newspapers and the cable TV networks and, of course, social media all make money the same way. They turn your attention into revenue. They monetise your eyeballs. There's nothing wrong with that business model. We just have to be very aware that that's what's going on and make sure that we use these products as opposed to them using us.
Lisa: Understand that our attention is the money. Where we’re putting our eyes is exactly where the money is going. Every aspect in that the world is changing so rapidly. We have an ancient DNA. We're basically still cavemen and women from our DNA perspective, and we're being thrust into the ever-converging technologies: the AI, the VR, all those robotics stuff. The stuff that’s coming in the next five years is astronomical. How is our ancient DNA going to cope with this? This change, this rapid change that we have to be so flexible? How do you see it? It's very easy because you're an extremely intelligent man. You're going to be able to adapt. How is it for the ones who aren't so...
Nir: You can talk to my wife about that extremely intelligent part. She might have a different opinion on that one. I'm pretty optimistic. I'm pretty optimistic. Let me tell you why. One of the things that makes us such an amazing species is that we are infinitely adaptable. This is why the human race is the only species on Earth that can live in any climate. We can even sustain ourselves in outer space because we adapt. Now, does that mean that there aren't going to be unfortunate consequences? Of course. Paul Virilio said, 'When you invent the ship you invent the shipwreck.’ So of course, there will be shipwrecks along the way so to speak, right? There will be unforeseen negative consequences to every type of technology.
But by and large, I'm very optimistic. That just because something is new or, let's say unnatural, doesn't mean we don't adapt. Humans are very, very adaptable. There's lots of things that we do that are unnatural. Look, we toilet train. That's not natural, right? Our ancestors had gone a thousand years ago wherever they wanted to, right? We learned over time that we're going to have indoor plumbing, we hold it. If we can do that with our bodily functions, I think we can get control over Facebook too. I'm pretty sure we can do it.
So again, back to if we try. It's so much easier to say, 'Okay, just give me the instant solution.' Right? Just tell me that Facebook is controlling my brain; therefore, I have no personal responsibility and agency. Therefore, I don't have to do anything. That's a quick fix. As opposed to saying, 'Look, guess what? The price of progress, the price of living in an age where you have so many amazing things,' As much as the media tells us that the world is a terrible place, right? You always hear that. That's their business model, right? They don't tell you about all the good things that happened every day. So we got all the terrible things. Why? Because they know that's what will get people watching.
But if you look at every metric that you could possibly track, the world is getting better. If you don't believe me, there's a wonderful book called Factfulness by Hans Ronsling, which I recommend everybody read. It's a required reading about all these various metrics about how we're getting better and better. Of course, that doesn't mean there's not problems, of course, there are problems. But we have to be realistic about the scale of these problems and optimistic that we can fix these. Because when we become pessimistic, when we believe we are going to hell in a handbasket, we don't do anything about it.
What's going to lead us out of our problems is not running away from these problems, not throwing up our hands and giving up. But rather, engaging with these problems, right? Doing something about it just like you do with your mother. Not believing the people who say nothing can be done, but rather taking things into our own hands and doing everything we possibly can.
Lisa: On the facts that we are improving. Coal mines, everything will pass very soon, a battery technology, and there’s solar. It's going to be like we're gonna have so much power that we're going to be able to deal with a lot of the major issues that we've got happening. The technology is just mind-blowing. It blows my mind every day. What's coming and how we can actually heal the planet. There's things like, getting off-topic, but these drones that are going around now and firing seedlings into the ground hundreds of thousands per day and reforesting places that have been deforested. We're coming up with some pretty cool solutions: bags that eat plastic and goodness knows.
Nir: Those stories don't get anywhere really as much coverage, right? You only hear about the bad stuff but there's some amazing developments in the areas that we think are most problematic. You'd be surprised how things are, in many ways, going in the right direction.
Lisa: I agree with you totally that if we focus on the negative, then we're going to get the negative. We're not going to change our behaviour because you feel powerless. That's why I do not watch the news. It's forbidden in my house. If it's a big enough story, someone will tell me about it if I need to know. I want to fill my brain with positives, exciting, the new, that sort of thing.
Nir: I think it's important to focus your attention on what you are able to do something about. So let's say if the environment is something you care passionately about, public health is something you care passionately about, education is is something you care passionately about. The problem is we spread ourselves so thin, right? We spread ourselves so thin, caring about everybody else's problems and all the things that are going wrong in the world that we don't do anything about the one thing we can do something about. Go deep on a topic, right?
Don't spend your time worrying about people's problems thousands of miles away. What can you do in your local community to improve the world? Don't complain and moan about all the things that are happening thousands of miles away because what's probably happening is you are escaping those internal triggers, right? You're using your news, you're using your strategy to escape having to do the things that you actually have agency over.
Lisa: You're speaking to my soul. I think that was a really good message for me, personally, because I'm changing my mission in life a little bit at the moment and going more into public health and to changing things in the medical world, for obvious reasons. It is about, ‘What do I focus on first?' That's a question that I need to spend time on, pondering on. This is what we all need to be doing. It's not about me but it's about diving deep into the one area that really interests you and that you think you can make a difference in in this world. I think all of us or most of us who are responsible citizens want to get to the end of their lives and think, 'I did something positive in this world. I made this world a better place because I existed.' Having a positive impact.
We're not all going to be Elon Musk or God knows whatever but we can still have a massive impact in our little community, in our bigger community, in our country, and internationally. You know what is exciting me at the moment is thinking big and learning from people like Peter Diamandis. I don't know if him but thinking that maybe because I'm, again, limiting beliefs: 'I live in New Zealand. I can't therefore do this. Who am I? Got no resources to. I can't affect the big things.’ Then you start reading about some of those stories, and his books, and his works, and you start thinking, 'Well, maybe I can. If some guy in Africa who didn't even have two cents to rub together can do something, maybe I can. What the hell am I moaning about?'
Nir: Absolutely. Maybe where I can give my two cents for how to think through this and I think this might be... this has helped me in my life as well. When I think about 'Okay, where's my human capital best allocated?' There's a framework that we use along two axes. So one is to ask yourself, 'Where can I have the biggest impact?’ Okay. So put that on the x-axis. ‘Where can I have the biggest impact?’ Then on the y axis is ease. ‘Where is it easiest to make an impact?’
Okay. So what you're going to do is then take a bunch of different ideas. 'Okay, I can go spend my time working on environmental issues, or education issues, or public health,’ or whatever the case might be. Put those things on that chart, Right? Put little dots for each of those ideas. 'How much of an impact could I have and how easy would it be for me to do something about it?' Right?
So even if you say, 'Oh, my goodness. It's so terrible what's happening with the Syrian refugees.' How easy is it to actually have an impact? I can't do very much, right? I don't know how to help those people right now. So that's going to be very low on the ease scale. But ‘Could I make a big difference in my local community? Could I spend my time helping my family members? That would be an easy thing that I could do that could have an impact.' Then, of course, do the things that are in that the upper right-hand quadrant.
Lisa: Wow. Finding what your passion and your curiosity is for and marrying these two together, where your expertise is so, yeah.
Nir: Because that's where you'll be able to sustain the effort. Again, back to this mantra that I have of consistency over intensity. If you're super passionate about something, 'Oh my gosh! We need to do something about it.' But you only do it once, right? That doesn't move the ball forward. That doesn't actually help the world very much. If you just get super passionate about it and quit. You want to do something that you can chip away at a little bit, a little bit, a little bit every day to make that situation better. That's where we find the Peter Diamandis crowd of people who actually make huge impact. They work on it a little bit consistently over a long period of time.
Lisa: Consistency over intensity is my new mantra. I love it. Let's pivot a little bit, if I may, and talk about your first book, Hooked. We're looking at psychology because a lot of people listening to this are entrepreneurs like me. They're trying to understand how to best serve their communities, and how to create engagement in their communities whether they're online or offline communities.
What are some of the tools that we can grab from that book and maybe apply in our lives so that we create. Something we struggle with constantly is how do you... when you don't have a huge resource, you don't have thousands of people working for you, and you can't make anything happen, how do you actually get people really engaged in the workforce sense and in the entrepreneurial sense?
Nir: Yeah, so to build a habit-forming product there's a few preconditions. One is that the behaviour has to occur with sufficient frequency. So only products that are used within a week's time or less have an opportunity to even form a habit. It's very, very difficult. There are some exceptions but it's very difficult to form a consumer habit unless that behaviour occurs within a week's time or less. So that's one precondition.
Then, what we want to do is to make sure we have what's called the Hooked model. The Hooked model is kind of the basis of my first book where we have these four steps. I'm partial with four-step models, as you can tell. In this four-step model, the first step here, again, starts with these internal triggers. By understanding what is the uncomfortable emotional state that my product will attach to.
So if we're trying to build a healthy habit, let's say it's fitness, or education, or saving money, whatever the case might be, what's that internal trigger, that emotional itch that every time the user feels that itch, they utilise our product or service? So think it to yourself, what's that uncomfortable emotion that whenever they feel, my product is the solution to that discomfort? That's a very, very important first step.
The next step is to make the action as easy as possible to do. We know that the easier something is to do, the more likely people are to do it. So we think about what all the points of friction, as we call them, that would prevent somebody from doing something. Is it time? Money? Physical effort? Cognitive cycles? So the more thinking someone has to do, the harder it is to understand, the less likely they are to build a behaviour. So we think about all the ways we can reduce the friction.
The next step, the third step is called the variable reward phase. This is where we find that habit-forming products are always have some element of mystery, some bit of uncertainty, some kind of variability. So when you think about what makes it fun to watch spectator sports? Why do we all become obsessed with some ball bouncing around a court or a pitch? It's variability; it's uncertainty. Why do people like watching movies or reading books? It's about getting to the end. It's about what's going to happen.
How are things going to resolve themselves? Slot machines, right? Why do people enjoy gambling? Because there's uncertainty. There's variability. So they're scrolling social media. It's all about variable reward. Habit-forming products always have to utilise one of three types of variable rewards. We call these rewards of the tribe, hunt, and self. There has to be at least one of those three types of variable rewards.
Then finally, and perhaps most importantly, is that a habit-forming product gets users to invest in that experience. So unlike things that are made up of atoms, as opposed to made out of bits. When you think about your car, your furniture, your clothing, all these things lose value with wear and tear. They depreciate. Habit-forming products do the opposite. This is really what makes them so revolutionary. They appreciate in value, meaning they get better and better the more we interact with them because of what I call stored value. So the more you interact with Pinterest, or Facebook, or Twitter, or YouTube, their algorithms are learning about your preferences and making the product better for you, more engaging for you the next time around.
So you can do this with your business as well. It doesn't have to be a super technological algorithm. It's something as simple as when I go get my haircut, my barber remembers my name, and my daughter's name, and what I do for a living. Every time I see him, they remember how I like my haircut. They have invested in our... Sorry. I have invested in that relationship by divulging some of my personal data, my information about myself that builds that loyalty with that business, right? With that barber. Let me tell you, I used to have a different barber who didn't remember a thing about me, I stopped going to him.
Lisa: Wow. So it's not just on the online world?
Nir: No, no. It can be in any business and so many businesses, we think, 'Oh, here's the product. Take it. Goodbye.' Right?
Lisa: Can I just ask you there? Because how do you do this from a business perspective? It's a bit of a conundrum when you don't have the manpower. Take for example, Running Coaching. We train hundreds of athletes, and one of the problems we have is the accountability factor and the community engagement factor. Because we're only a small team, we can't check in every day with our athletes personally. Everybody wants to work with me, which is also a bottleneck. How do we get around that with technology? It's a freaking big question if you ask me.
Solve my problems. But what are some of the things I could be thinking about in that direction so that you create a better platform for people and more accountability without having a huge team to be on the phones and actually engaging one-on-one?
Nir: Well, I'll give you a few ideas. I call these the three C's. The three C's are content, community, and conversation. So content is we find that you can add this variable reward of finding interesting content. So for example if you... and these I'm just tossing out. I'm brainstorming here with you.
Lisa: Absolutely. Yeah.
Nir: If you curated interesting articles, for example, that's very scalable. You could say, 'Hey, here are Lisa's top articles for the week. You must read.' You can put that out on a platform. Maybe it's an app you build, or a website, or even an email newsletter. You don't need any technical skill to do that. It's very, very easy. That would be a way to build engagement through content and, of course, it's variable, right? There's that variable reward of 'What's in the content? What did Lisa recommend this week? What does these articles say? What am I missing if I don't read these articles?'
Lisa: The podcast.
Nir: Exactly. The podcast. Exactly. That's number one. The first thing is content creation. Very, very scalable. Another way is community. So empowering people to communicate with each other, right? That becomes very scalable when you have a community of like-minded people. This is what we call the each one, teach one model. So if you can have people who learn from you, right? They learn from Lisa, and then they can help other people utilise your practices. Now, you're scaling what you know by empowering others to teach others. We know this actually has a very profound impact.
If you look at religion, every religion, every major religion has this aspect of proselytising, right? Why do they do that? Why does every religion have that? It's not just about growing the flock. It's also about reinforcing the believers’ identity. When I teach someone else how to do something, I am teaching myself. I'm really enforcing my own beliefs and my own self-image as someone who uses this practice. So that would be community.
Then the third one is conversation. So this is where you engage people one-on-one as opposed to a community of many to many. This is where it's either one-to-many or one-to-one. So if you can empower some way of using technology to disseminate your wisdom in some way, sometimes it's not as scalable if you're having these one to one conversations with both because those are the three potential ways to do it. Content, community, and conversation.
Lisa: Okay. That's some gold for me to go dig around and think about. When you're super technical, and we use a whole lot of platforms, and apps, and God knows what. But it's still creating that real Hooked-ness, to use the title of your book, that eludes us. That's something that we need to keep working on. I think a lot of businesses that are struggling with it because it's a little bit of a new way of thinking. It's not 'I'm buying a loaf of bread and thanks. Here's your money. See you later.' Gone. Which used to be the sort of the old model of doing things.
Now, in this information technology world, it's keeping people coming back, and you have to keep... As an entrepreneur who's wearing a hundred hats because you don't have a massive team behind you, you've only got a few people. You run out of resources pretty quickly to actually engage.
Nir: The good news is that it's getting easier and easier, right? It's getting easier. There are all kinds of no-code solutions these days where anybody who's even not technical can utilise all kinds of platforms that you can just plug in and start utilizing. It's definitely getting a lot easier than it used to be a creator in this space.
Lisa: Yeah that's fantastic. Nir, I want to be respectful of your time. Thank you so much for coming on the show, for sharing your incredible wisdom with us. I've got lots to think about. I'm going to listen to this three or four times and read your books. So where can they find you and your books and all the work that you do?
Nir: Sure. Thank you so much. So my website is nirandfar.com but Nir is spelled like my first name. So that's nirandfar.com. My books are: The first book is called Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and the second book is called Indestructible: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.
Lisa: Wonderful. Do you have a newsletter list that you also get on?