The Psychology of Experiences and Creating Habits with Guest Nir Eyal

Kendall Pennington

Episode 1 kicked off the DNA of an Experience podcast with guest Nir Eyal breaking down the psychology of distraction and what it actually takes for human beings to form good habits. 


How Nir Got Here

After having worked on a few product design-centered projects early in his career, Nir Eyal became fascinated with the psychology of users. Highlighting his particular interest in behavioral engineering played a key role in the course he taught at Stanford, which he later used in writing his best-sellers, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.

The thought process behind this is quite simple- we already know that gaming companies and social networks know an exorbitant amount about our psychological tendencies and what keeps us coming back for more.  Essentially, Nir just took this methodology and applied it to business. This sort of topic tends to skew negative, but Nir makes the case that utilizing this sort of psychology to engage users can absolutely be used for good.  It's about us figuring out how to "get the best of technology without letting it get the best of us."


Defining Distraction

In this episode, Nir asks the compelling question, "Why do we do things against our better interest? When you know you want to do X, but you do Y, why is that happening?" Defining this first conundrum is tip 1 from his book on how to disconnect.

Another important step is to define distraction.  Contrary to what many might think, the opposite of distraction isn't actually focus, it's traction.  Traction is any action that pulls you towards what you want, distraction is its antithesis.  This makes taking time out of your schedule to make time to contemplate what your "tractions" are, crucial to your personal success. 

It can be easy to blame being distracted on the seemingly endless external triggers that surround us all daily- from Slack notifications and IMessages to something as simple as it being a nice day outside; but Nir says this is not actually the root of the problem.  Rather, our internal triggers are what prompt us from within to give in to these external forces, which are merely indulging in psychological pacification. 


Forming good habits: 

Once we master our internal triggers and realize that the root cause is actually "bad feeling" (Nir says that all human motivation is prompted by the desire to escape discomfort), we are no longer powerless to the whim of every person or thing asking for our attention. "If you don't take control of your time, somebody else will."

Nir breaks down the steps to forming habits into 4 points:


Step 1: Master internal triggers

Step 2: Make time for traction

Step 3: "Hack back" external triggers

Step 4: Using techniques to prevent the initial distraction


Strategy vs. Tactic is another point Nir breaks down. "Tactics are what you do, Strategy is why you do it."  This is why we should be careful to just quickly adapt someone else's tactics or quick fixes, as oftentimes this is neglecting the variance in our core motivations.  


What this means for you

Towards the end of the episode, Joe asks Nir to apply this thinking to the brand side. How does this affect those building a product?

According to Nir, every successful product requires 3 things:


1. Growth

2. Engagement

3. Monetization 


He says to focus the most on engagement.  You can always buy growth (via ads, etc.), but far too many overlook the importance of engagement for long-term success. In SaaS or the enterprise space if customers don't use your product frequently they won't renew. It’s as simple as that. Getting the customer engaged and having something that compels them to return to your product is going to lead to success in both other capacities.


We should all be striving to be building the kind of products and services that are habit-building. Making something that people use because they want to, not because they have to- that's when they're Hooked.

Listen here to the episode.

Join the Discussion