The most powerful skill in the digital era is focus.
Where you focus your attention determines the quality of your life. The problem is we distract ourselves from meaningful and hard activities, like notetaking and studying. We live in a society where everything is trying to grab our attention.
But we don't know how to navigate these distractions.
Not learning this skill can lead to a lot of problems:
- Forgetting our learnings inside and outside class because of poor notetaking and studying
- Less time for relationships and the other parts of college
- Failing to complete the goals we set out for ourselves
- Working on things without meaning
- Do poorly in our classes
I know because I experienced all of these problems myself.
As a kid, I was addicted to video games and YouTube like a fish is addicted to water.
Every day after school, I would sprint to my room faster than Usain Bolt and boot up the computer. Sometimes, I would play for upwards of seven hours a day. I distracted myself from school, relationships, and more. However, in college I learned to temper distractions. Now, I suckerpunch distraction, creating content on psychology, notetaking, and Obsidian for the past 2.5 years while being a full-time student.
One of the best books I read that helped me along my journey was Indistractable by Nir Eyal.
In this article, we will explore 3 key lessons from the book to conquer college distractions, take notes, and study.
By the end of this article, you will be like Master Chief, unwavering in the face of distractions and obstacles.
Not only Indistractable in your notetaking and studying, but in all of life.
What Makes Us Get Distracted In The First Place?
To learn how to conquer distraction, we must first understand what causes distraction in the first place.
In the book, Nir Eyal explains every action is either a traction or distraction. Tractions are actions that pull us toward meaningful goals where as distractions pull us away from meaningful goals. Someone who learns to choose tractions most of the time is what Nir Eyal terms, Indistractable.
So what makes us fall for distractions over tractions?
Simply put, we distract ourselves to relieve discomfort.
This could be the discomfort of studying, taking notes for class, or doing a homework assignment. To avoid this discomfort, we distract ourselves with video games, social media, and even other people.
In effect, distraction becomes a habit.
The more we normalize distraction as an okay response to discomfort, the easier it is to do.
So how do we become Indistractable? The antidote to distraction is forethought. Forethought lets us ingrain the best mindsets, methods, and tools to fight against distraction. We can craft our environment to minimize distracting internal and external triggers. Forethought also allows us to build the character we need to avoid distractions, even if they come up.
Using forethought, we can implement the 3 lessons from Indistractable to conquer college distractions:
- Lesson 1: Gamify Your Real Life
- Lesson 2: 3-Step Process For Overcoming Internal Triggers Toward Distraction
- Lesson 3: Reframe Your Limiting Mindsets
Let's hop right in!
🎮Lesson 1: Gamify Your Real Life
The first lesson from Indistractable is to gamify your real life so you don't want to distract yourself in the first place.
Video games are more engaging than real life. Why do you think I played for upwards of 7 hours a day as a kid? This is for six main reasons:
- Games Have More Epic Goals Than Real Life
- Games Have Clearer Goals And Rules Than Real Life
- Games Generally Promote Failure More Than Real Life
- Games Have A Tighter Feedback System Than Real Life
- Games Have More Voluntary Participation Than Real Life
- Games Have a More Addictive Gameplay Loop Than Real Life
Luckily, we can make real life more engaging by applying these principles.
Find ways to gamify your real-life tasks to become more engaging, fun, and playful. We tend to see fun, games, and play as things only for children. But everyone should be playing games! Games are the ultimate cure for boredom. They create artificial constraints that break through monotony and discover hidden beauty.
Ask yourself to make any activity more engaging: "How can I make this into a game?"
There are four things you must do to make something into a game:
- Create goals
- Create rules
- Create a feedback system
- Create a gameplay loop
For example, a few days ago, I struggled to read a personal finance book called Money Master: The Game. I want to learn more about managing money effectively now that my product Obsidian University is doing well, but the book was SO LONG, and jargony. So I asked myself, how can I make this into a game? I challenged myself to listen to as many chapters as possible in two hours. Then, summarize them for my brother Skye so he can become a financial wizard like me 😉. I turned my audible book listening into a game.
And I sped through those chapters without distraction!
🥜Lesson 2: 3-Step Process For Overcoming Internal Triggers Toward Distraction
The second lesson from Indistractable is overcoming the internal triggers that draw you toward distraction.
Internal triggers like hunger, pain, boredom, etc. It's triggers like these that "conveniently" come up right when we start to do something hard like notetaking in our PKM system. Hunger, particularly if you see this:
I really like peanut butter. You'll become painfully aware of this the more of my content you consume.
Nir Eyal teaches a four-step process to overcome internal triggers to distraction:
STEP 1: Identify Internal Triggers Preceding Distraction
Is it hunger, pain, boredom, or something else?
STEP 2: Record These Triggers
By recording the internal trigger, when it happened, and what you were doing before it happened, you can spot consistencies when you feel an inclination toward distraction.
This does two things. First, it gives you the forethought to design your environment to make the distraction less likely. Second, it prepares you mentally to resist the internal trigger when it does come up.
STEP 3: Explore Your Sensations
Get curious about the sensation.
For example, do your fingers twitch when you're about to be distracted? When you think about taking notes, do you get a flurry of butterflies in your stomach? One of my favorite methods for navigating these sensations is the "leaves on a stream" method. When feeling an internal trigger toward distraction, imagine you are seated beside a gently flowing stream. Imagine leaves are floating down the stream. Place each thought in your mind on each leaf. It could be a memory, a word, a worry, an image. And let each of those leaves float down that stream, swirling away, as you sit and just watch.
Often times, this makes the internal trigger flutter away, distraction free.
BONUS Warning: Beware Of Liminal Moments
Liminal moments are the transition periods throughout your day.
When you go from breakfast to your first class. To your dorm room at the end of a school day. Waiting in the coffee line.
It's during liminal moments we are particularly susceptible to distraction.
One of the best techniques to avoid doing something distracting during these times is the 10 minute rule. If you want to do something distracting, tell yourself you can, if you wait 10 minutes. This is long enough time to overcome the urge but short enough that our instant gratification monkey brain doesn't fall for the craving.
Another great technique is to always have defined small tasks for these small time windows.
This is what I call productive downtime.
For example, while waiting for coffee, I often answer text messages, read a short article, or contemplate my existence's meaning (that last one is brutally true, lol, but I do it for Stoicism).
Following this 3 step process can help you overcome the internal triggers leading to distraction in your notetaking, studying, and life.
🧠Lesson 3: Reframe Your Limiting Mindsets
Our mindsets have profound impacts on how we behave.
They're so powerful that slightly changing our mindset can drastically reduce distraction. There are three main mindset shifts Nir Eyal discusses in the book to avoid distraction.
Adopt A Flexible Identity
Rigid identities keep us resistant to positive change.
If we label ourselves as someone that "doesn't enjoy reading," "doesn't study over the weekends," "or doesn't take notes," then we are likely to act in alignment with those beliefs.
Adopting a more flexible identity can help us change our behavior. For example, in Atomic Habits, James's Clear describes a situation in which two people are trying to quit smoking. When asked if they would like a cigarette, one of them responds, "No thanks, I'm trying to quit." The other, responds, "no thanks, I don't smoke." The second person no longer has the identity of a smoker.
Therefore, they are much more likely to align their actions with the belief.
Subtle word choice, massive difference.
How can you apply this yourself? Adopt more flexible identities. Label yourself as someone who enjoys doing hard things and learning intrinsically, and you will be more likely to act according to these beliefs.
Adopt A Growth Mindset
Another huge mindset reframe in life is adopting a growth mindset.
Carol Dweck talks about the growth mindset in her book, Mindset. In it, she describes how people with a fixed mindset believe their skills are fixed and shudder from failure and challenge. However, people with a growth mindset believe they can improve their skills through hard work and failure.
Luckily, we can ingrain a growth mindset even if we don't have right right now.
Start thinking of your life more like a video game. See every failure as a stepping stone to success. Like every death in Super Mario Bros helps you get farther on the next run.
If you want to learn more about adopting a growth mindset, you should check out my video Seven Powerful Tips For Cultivating Intrinsic Motivation In College-From Burnout to Bliss.
Stop Believing In Ego Depletion
Nir Eyal exposes the common myth of ego depletion in Indistractable.
For those that haven't heard of it, ego depletion is the draining of willpower over the course of the day from making decisions. Turns out ego depletion isn't real. It only exists if you believe it does. If you believe your willpower reserves are limited, they will be limited.
That's the power of mindset.
Instead, start believing that action creates motivation.
You don't need motivation to do hard things. In fact, you often won't. I can't count the number of times I have sat down to take notes or study without the motivation to do so right away. But after 5 minutes, the motivation comes.
Action creates motivation.
TL;DR 3 Conquer College Distractions To Take Notes And Study With 3 Lessons From Indistractable
- Lesson 1: Gamify Your Real Life
- Lesson 2: 3 Step Process For Overcoming Internal Triggers Toward Distraction
- Lesson 3: Reframe Your Limiting Mindsets
Hopefully, as promised, you can now become like Master Chief in college. Conquer distractions with determination.
Now act on this advice!
Here's what I would like to share this week.
📸News From The Channel!
📺Latest On De YouTube - School Is A Matrix, Here's How To Get Out: School is a matrix. Our culture, schooling, parents, friends, boss, and more unconsciously shape our perceptions and goals. Without awareness, we are trapped following the default path that society lays on us. Learn to break free by watching this video.
💡My Best Insights:
📖Book - Money Master The Game: I have been trying to learn more about investing and personal finance recently. I'm starting to make decent money from Obsidian University, so it's something I need to learn. This book breaks down the needlessly complicated world of finance into layperson terms. After reading this book, you will have clarity on achieving financial freedom. You'll create a plan for getting autonomy in when and how you work, with whom you work, and what you work on.
📺YouTube Video - Life Is A Video Game (You Can't Escape The Matrix): In this video, Dan Koe explores how life is like a video game on a series of four different metrics, Psychology, Metaphysics, Business, and Biology. With this understanding, how can we make our real-life more engaging?
✨Quote Of The Week - "The antidote to impulsiveness is forethought." - Nir Eyal Indistractable