Behavioural Design, Attention & Change

Pay attention to what you’re paying attention to

How do we design for attention in a distracted world? Nir Eyal has some answers to provide the focus we need.

Behavioural designer Nir Eyal has spent the last decade looking at how we can draw attention. His first book, Hooked, was all about how to capture attention and keep people engaged. Suffice to say, anyone who’s exposed to modern communications tools understands that ‘hooked’ is an understatement. His latest book, Indistractable ,is somewhat of a counterpoint and looks at distraction and how to avoid being hooked more than we want. This is all about behavioural design (how to shape behaviour with our creations).

Eyal’s been making the media rounds to promote this new book and has three major messages.

Small Changes to the Extreme

To change behaviour, change it progressively to the extreme suggests Eyal. Focus less on substituting one behaviour for another and on small things you can eliminate entirely.  This approach is an alternative to the popular ‘substitution’ approach where we take something we like and might not be good for us (e.g., cookies on your break) and substitute it for something else (e.g., walk around the block).

Know Your Triggers

How to be indistractable — a look at the behaviours you can engage in to protect yourself from yourself (and technology). This interview with Gretchen Rubin looks at the roots of distraction and how many of our ‘triggers’ for behaviour are internal, not just external. Our discomfort with something and the need to escape or avoid it is partly why we seek solace in binge-watching videos, social media, or food as ways to avoid working on the more important, but challenging things. It’s natural to feel this way, but also problematic and Eyal provides some recommendations on how to make changes to become less distracted.

Anticipate Distraction

Anticipating distraction rather than avoiding it will help you address it. One of the issues that Eyal raises is that we don’t prepare for distractions to take place even when they happen all the time. Approaching your day with the expectation of distraction will help you recognize those moments when your attention is diverted, allowing you to better seize the moment to return to your best work. It also allows you to make better choices in what to avoid — those internal and external triggers that can prompt a distraction.

Attention might be our most valuable commodity and maintaining and protecting it is one of the best things we can do.

Speaking of attention, if you want more of this directly to your inbox subscribe to the Censemaking Innovation Newsletter and get these stories and more every 2-3 weeks. I think you’ll find it’s worth your attention.

Cameron D. Norman

I am a designer, psychologist, educator, evaluator, and strategist focused on innovation in human systems. I'm curious about the world around me and use my role as Principal and President of Cense Ltd. as a means of channeling that curiosity into ideas, questions, and projects that contribute to a better world.

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