“Nearly everyone I know is addicted in some measure to the Internet,” wrote Tony Schwartz in a recent essay in The New York Times. It’s a common complaint these days. A steady stream of similar headlines accuse the Net and its offspring apps, social media sites and online games of addicting us to distraction.
There’s little doubt that nearly everyone who comes in contact with the Net has difficulty disconnecting. Just look around. People everywhere are glued to their devices. Many of us, like Schwartz, struggle to stay focused on tasks that require more concentration than it takes to post a status update. As one person ironically put it in the comments section of Schwartz’s online article, “As I was reading this very excellent article, I stopped at least half a dozen times to check my email.”
By the looks of his laptop, Robbert Van Els could be mistaken for a secret agent. His screen is an explosion of urgent files — a master control center for managing clandestine operatives. The man of mystery persona is typified by a side-sliding sports car winding through an onslaught of Word docs and Jpeg files. Just looking at his desktop can raise your blood pressure.
But Van Els is not a secret agent. He’s a mess.
In fact, Van Els’ LinkedIn profile says he is in the “custom made earplugs” business. Apparently, there is no correlation between the mayhem on one’s laptop and the adventure in one’s life. Anyone can find themselves drowning in desktop clutter and research suggests this digital detritus costs us time, degrades performance, and kills concentration.
There’s a saying that you should never trust a skinny chef. By that logic, you should never trust an out of shape behavioral designer.
Over the past four years, I’ve discovered many incredible ways to hack my habits and improve my life. I have taught myself to love running, dramatically improved my diet and found the focus to write a bestselling book. Understanding how the mind works and using it to affect my daily behaviors has yielded tremendous dividends.
However, there is one goal that’s nagged at me for years that despite my best efforts, I’ve never been able to achieve — going to the gym consistently. I hate lifting weights. Hate it. I disdain the strain, the sweat, the smells — all of it. The only thing I like about working out are the results. Unfortunately, there’s no way to enjoy the benefits of going to the gym without, you know, actually going to the gym.
Dear Loyal NirAndFar Reader,
Sorry I haven’t written in a while. Here’s why as well as a few quick updates …
1 – Why haven’t I written much recently?
Writing on this blog is one of the most enriching experiences of my career. I love connecting with readers and seeing how behavioral design can improve lives. The number of blog subscribers has exploded this year and I have you to thank!
But recently I had to take time off my writing schedule to focus on teaching a course at the Stanford Design School. Now that the quarter is almost over, I can finally get back to writing.
I have several topics I’m excited to dive into over the next few months and I can’t wait to share new essays with you. As I get back into writing mode, I’d love to hear from you.
In the new film Ex Machina, a reclusive billionaire invents a robotic artificial intelligence. To test whether his invention is indistinguishable from a human being, he helicopters-in a young engineer to see if he falls in love with the robot.
Today, making machines and humans indistinguishable from each other is no longer science fiction, it’s good business. In fact, a wave of startups are part of a new trend that promises to radically simplify our lives by making it harder to determine whether we’re communicating with a person or computer code.
In my last post I discussed how I use some of these services and in this post, I’ll go deeper into what this trend is all about. I’ll look into how pairing new technologies with human assistants will result in tremendous new products, which promise to enhance our lives — that is, until the robots completely take over and destroy us all. *insert nervous laugh here.*
Whenever I feel uncomfortable writing about a topic, that’s when I know I should write about it. So here goes. This article is about how a new way of designing apps changed my life. But to explain the power of this trend, I need to tell you about poop. That’s the uncomfortable part.
For the past five years or so, I’ve struggled with intestinal discomfort. (I’ll spare you the gory details.) I spent countless hours crawling the web searching for a possible diagnosis and tried dozens of different remedies and diets. Nothing seemed to help.
Finally, I saw a gastroenterologist. He listened for all of five minutes while I described my symptoms and quickly jotted down a prescription for antibiotics. They worked for a while but soon the symptoms returned. I went back to the doc. A few tests were done and more antibiotics were dolled out. But the problems came back. Then again. And again.
If your new product or service isn’t gaining traction, ask yourself “What’s my California Roll?”
I’ll admit, the bento box is an unlikely place to learn an important business lesson. But consider the California Roll — understanding the impact of this icon of Japanese dining can make all the difference between the success or failure of your product.
If you’ve ever felt the frustration of customers not biting, then you can sympathize with Japanese restaurant owners in America during the 1970s. Sushi consumption was all but non-existent. By all accounts, Americans were scared of the stuff. Eating raw fish was an aberration and to most, tofu and seaweed were punch lines, not food.
Then came the California Roll. While the origin of the famous maki is still contested, its impact is undeniable. The California Roll was made in the USA by combining familiar ingredients in a new way. Rice, avocado, cucumber, sesame seeds, and crab meat — the only ingredient unfamiliar to the average American palate was the barely visible sliver of nori seaweed holding it all together.
I recently presented a new talk about how to manage digital distraction using the Hook Model. I hope you enjoy the brief video below.
Also, I’ve been thinking of writing more on this topic. Let me know what you think.
Is this an interesting topic? Do you struggle with digital distractions?
Tell me more about what might help or what questions you’d like me to tackle so I know what direction to take my research and writing.
Changing habits is hard. But what if there was a way to dramatically improve your odds of quitting even your worst habits? What if this method was shown to be over 8 times more effective than traditional methods at helping people quit a stubborn addiction like smoking? Would you try it?
As I discussed in part 1 and part 2 of this 3-part series, the technique involves a wager. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that when people put money down, they were much more likely to accomplish their goals. In this case, people who risked $150 of their own money to win a $650 bonus prize were dramatically more likely to quit smoking than those who used traditional smoking cessation methods. Surprisingly, this group also beat out those who were offered an $800 reward with no deposit for staying smoke-free.
Diets don’t work. Studies show that temporary fixes to old habits actually make people gain weight. Essentially, the dieter’s brain is trained to gorge when off the diet and inevitably the weight returns.
In my previous essay, I shared the story of my father’s struggle with bad eating habits. He had put on weight over the last few decades and despite several attempts, he had trouble taking it off. In his late 60s he faces pre-diabetes and a daily ritual of taking a handful of pills.
But over the last five months, something has changed. He’s found a new way to resist the temptation of the food he’s been trying to stop eating for years.