The book Indistractable is about how to deal with distractions. It doesn’t express any judgement on what distractions are, but rather what one can do about them. It sounds simple but we all have some things we don’t manage quite right. Mine, for instance, is sugar.
A good question to ask yourself about something you enjoy is “do I like the fact that I’m enjoying it?”. In my case, I love sweet snacks, and cakes, and candies. However, I dislike these cravings, for obvious health reasons.
The next question to ask yourself is,“what am I going to do about it?”. A sovereign individual doesn’t just rant about how sweets are too hard to resist and then complains about being unhealthy and fat. We know it is designed to be addictive. We have to take responsibility for ourselves and find tools and techniques to take control over our own distractions and fight these urges back.
Here, I’m going to describe the ideas I used from the book that helped me reduce my sugar intake.
The first idea is the effort pact: "An effort pact is a kind of precommitment that involves increasing the amount of effort required to do something you don’t want to do. Adding additional effort forces you to ask if a distraction is really worth it and usually you decide that it isn’t".
To increase the amount of effort required to eat sweets, I’ve decided not to keep any at home. This way, when I have a sugar craving, I think about how I have to leave my place, go down the stairs, and walk to the supermarket to buy something, which is way too much effort just to soothe a craving… so I end up eating almonds instead.
The idea of the effort pact is really powerful. It can also be described as moving the inertia point where you want to be pulled so that you effortlessly do the right thing. You could have some sweets at home and not eat it, but why make your life harder? It’s a trap to think you’ll have enough willpower to resist, because even if at one moment it's clear in your mind you don't want to do it, you cannot predict what state of mind you'll be in tomorrow. By making the choices easier for yourself, you increase your probability of success. Ulysses understood this and tied himself up to the boat to be able to listen to the mermaids without jumping into the ocean. In software design, a similar idea is the pit of success.
Another idea I’ve been using from the book is the identity pact : “Your self-image has a profound impact on your behavior. By taking on a new identity, you empower yourself to make decisions based on who you believe you are. Consider how people who call themselves “vegetarians” don’t have to expend much willpower to avoid eating meat”.
I picture my ideal self as someone who thinks long-term and doesn’t fall for the easy immediate pleasure. Hence, whenever I crave sweets, I know it will make my future self suffer and therefore I tend to avoid it.
I think it’s okay to cut loose from time to time. For example, I’ve decided to allow myself to eat dessert when I go out, which I believe is fine because it’s a conscious choice. I’m making a compromise with myself to enjoy good things in a reasonable way. Remember, being indistractable is about doing the things you want to do.
These are the pragmatic techniques I use for what are described in the book as the hacking of external triggers. These are the triggers that make you act based on external distractions. It could also be interesting to look at internal triggers but for this, we have to understand the depth and nature of distractions.
We are often distracted as an escape from discomfort. When we feel stressed or bored, an easy and pleasurable distraction can release the tension we’re feeling. By being mindful (meditation can help), we can become aware of the feeling of discomfort. Instead of trying to appease the tension right away, we can breathe deeply and try to understand where the discomfort comes from. Most of the time, the impulse will just go away.