HEALTHY BITE | The Hook Model and Becoming Indistractable

If you're a person who has ever struggled with focus, staying on task or prioritising your life, this Healthy Bite is for you. Listen to this week's Healthy Bite where I reflect on my conversation with Nir Eyal and his model of becoming indistractable.

HEALTHY BITE | The Hook Model and Becoming Indistractable

In this week’s episode, we explore how we get hooked on things that we are constantly exposed to, particularly online, but how we get hooked and also how to become indistractable. Indistractable.

My guest this week is Nir Eyal and Nir has written two books, coincidentally referred to be called Hooked and Indistractable. Now in hope for anybody who is developing online programmes or any programme for that matter and wanting it to become more engaging. Nir shares some great insights there with us about what that is and what he calls The Hook Model.

Four Phases of The Hook Model

There are four phases to The Hook Model, and I’m going to read an extract from the book because we didn’t go into it in a lot of detail in the podcast. But I did think this was particularly important. The first part is the Trigger. And I’m reading from Nir Eyal’s book, Hooked. 

“A Trigger is the actuator of behaviour — the spark plug in the engine. Triggers come in two types: external and internal. Habit-forming products start by alerting users with external triggers. 

For example, suppose Barbra, a young woman in Pennsylvania, happens to see a photograph in her Facebook newsfeed taken by a family member from a rural part of the state. It’s a lovely picture and because she is planning a trip there with her brother Johnny, the external trigger’s call to action (in marketing and advertising lingo) intrigues her and she clicks. By cycling through successive hooks, users begin to form associations with internal triggers, which attach to existing behaviours and emotions. When users start to automatically cue their next behaviour, the next habit becomes part of their everyday routine. Over time, Barbra associates Facebook with her need for social connection.”

“The next phase is Action. Following the trigger comes the action: the behaviour is done in anticipation of a reward. The simple act of clicking on the interesting picture in her news feed takes Barbra to a Web site called Pinterest, a “social bookmarking site with a virtual pinboard.”. Once Barbra completes the simple action of clicking on the photo, she’s dazzled by what she sees next.”

“The next phase is the Variable Reward. What distinguishes The Hook Model from the plain vanilla feedback loop is the Hook’s ability to create a craving. Feedback loops are all around us, but predictable ones don’t create desire. The unsurprising response of your fridge light turning on when you open the door doesn’t drive you to keep opening it again and again. However, add some variability to the mix — suppose a different treat magically appears in your fridge every time you open it — and voila, intrigue is created.

Variable rewards are one of the most powerful tools companies implement to hook users. Research shows that levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine surge when the brain is expecting a reward, although dopamine is often wrongly categorised as making us feel good. Introducing variability does create a focussed state, which suppresses the areas of the brain associated with judgement and reason while activating the parts associated with wanting and desire.” Sounds familiar.

“The final phase is Investment. The last phase of the Hook Model is where the user does a bit of work. The investment phase increases the odds that the user will make another pass through the cycle in the future. The investment occurs when the user puts something into the product of services such as time, data, effort, social capital, or money.

However, the investment phase isn’t about users opening up their wallets and moving on with their day. Rather, the investment implies an action that improves the service for the next go-around. Inviting friends, stating preferences, building virtual assets, learning to use new features are all investments users make to improve their experience.”.

I think it’s a really interesting one because in case you’re ever wondered about the psychology that goes into the development of these technologies and let’s face it, we are living in an attention economy that’s constantly our attention is being wired for and all of these free offerings that we have thrown at us constantly. 

Well, there may not actually be free because what we provide is in return data and there’s a cost-benefit relationship there. To be honest, a lot of the time it’s a really positive exchange. I mean, I use Google a lot and I know there may well be data gathered from my searches and that will certainly lead to algorithms that might promote certain ads cropping up on my Google searches. I’ve noticed that.

That’s the payback, if you like, that people mining our data equipment, our data about what it is we’re interested in, then throws up things which are for sale. And that’s how Google and Facebook, obviously, that’s their business model.


It is very interesting to gain insight. Also, if you are creating something in this field, it’s a great instructive book about that. And it’s certainly one that I’m reading and have read and I find a really interesting insight into how that attention economy works from the developers’ side. That was one thing. But Indistractable is the, I don’t know whether it’s the flip side of the same coin while you are being hooked. 

You should also be aware of how to become indistractable. I think there is one thing we can agree on, and that is the technology that we are exposed to is all pervasive. It’s there all the time and the whole idea of internal and external triggers explores that theme. I guess one of the biggest internal triggers is this one of fear of missing out and the need because you have just received a text or an email that you must immediately respond to that. It’s natural that we should be very social creatures. It’s actually the biggest strength we have as species, our sociability and our ability to collaborate and communicate.

In fact, that’s the part of the topic of my next book, which is called Evolution Bites Back (Evolution Bites Back: How Those Things That Have Made Us Strong As A Species Is Coming Back To Bite Use). But I digress. Our ability to communicate is an important feature of our species. But of course, when we get devices that allow us to communicate with people instantaneously from anywhere in the world to anywhere in the world, it kind of becomes almost a habit that you respond to that straight away.

Learn how not to be distracted and Nir puts the alternative, the opposite side of being indistractable is traction. The opposite of indistraction is traction. Doing stuff that we want to do, that we have set ourselves to do, that we find meaningful to do and this is where the conversation goes in an exploration of values and the importance of scheduling. 

Three areas of Values

When he talks about values, I thought it was great. There are so many pearls in this. It really is worth a listen because when he talks about values, he identifies three areas of values that I think we can all relate to.

One is a Personal Value. You yourself, what is important to you in your life in terms of your health, how you live your life, how you lead your life, the things you will do, the things you will consume, how long you sleep, and all of those things that relate directly to you.

The second part of values that he asks us to explore is Relationships. And of course, we’ve talked about this many times before when we’ve been referencing the work of Martin Seligman in conversations that I’ve had with the wonderful Dr. Suzy Green from the Positivity Institute, where we talk about The PERMA Model of being P-ositive, E-ngaging, R-elationships, M-eaning and A-ccomplishments. 

Of course, the last one that he’s added his Health. P-E-R-M-A and relationships are key. The longest study that has ever been done on health and wellness from Harvard Medical School over 75 years shows that relationships are the biggest indicator, the biggest predictor, the best predictor of our longevity, health and well-being. If you are fortunate enough to have a significant other, that’s great. But it involves whatever connections you have with friends, with family, with clubs, with churches, with choirs, whatever would work, of course.

The third value that he explores that he asks us to explore is Work. I thought it was great when he referred to work as being reactive or reflective and if you have ever sat down at your desk and started the day by checking your emails and found yourself going down a rabbit hole that has suddenly swallowed up two or three hours, if not the whole day, then that is a very reactive way of working.

The Importance of Scheduling

A reflective way of working is, working on something that you considered to be important, that you’ve set yourself tasks to perform and you work through those work situations. The key to all of that is setting aside time, scheduling through the day and I thought that was really important and interesting because scheduling is not something we are all drawn to. He’s very disparaging about to-do lists and I don’t blame him. To-do lists tend to grow longer and longer all the time. 

I think the to-do list, once somebody once said to me, if a to-do list is on a post-it note any bigger than this, and I’m holding up something that is marginally bigger than a postage stamp, then it’s not going to be very effective. You shouldn’t be creating long to-do lists, which you are setting yourself up for failure.

Scheduling your values into a working day is important. It’s an interesting way of organising your life and dealing with all of the potential distractions in our modern world. So it was such an interesting podcast, such an interesting interview. They are two very excellent books, which I think in this modern world or almost. A must-read. 

I certainly think the Indistractable one is one that we should all be engaging with because technology is not going away any time soon and the distractions are only going to become greater and greater as technology knows us, gets to know us better as individuals.

I talked to Nir about the work of Yuval Noah Harari, who makes the point that one of the biggest challenges in our relationship with technology is that, technology will actually know us better than we know ourselves and you might think, well, how might that be? But if we’re making decisions about what we like to do, what we like to buy, what we like to eat, what we like to see, where we like to travel, our memory is only so good. 

With all of the data that’s been entered into our technology, arguably given remembering what movies we saw, what restaurants we’ve eaten, not all of that information is embedded in the data we’ve shared, then it’s quite possible that technology would end up knowing this better than we know ourselves. Nir makes a very compelling argument for that not being the case and for us actually, to stand there and assess what values are important to us and to take control of it and I think that is going to be our biggest challenge.

Our Biggest Challenge

I look at my grandchildren and I look at how they interact already at the age of three and five with technology and I have to say one of the biggest challenges for parents growing up, well, and yet parents grow up with their children, I certainly did with mine. Parents going forward is how to responsibly interact with technology and to guide them through that process. 

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a three or five-year-old or a 20-year-old or a 60-year old, that is a challenge for us all. So having some kind of structure and some kind of framework around which to work through that together well as an individual, but together as a family is really important.

I thought it was a terrific, terrific conversation on a very, very important topic. When we talk about being stressed, technology has so many positives attached to it, but it has the potential for so many negatives. We’re certainly seeing how easily distracted people are. You only have to be sitting in a restaurant and you will often see couples or families sitting there and they’re actually each on their own devices. You’ll be busy in any public place and you will see people with their heads down on their devices.

We are becoming more and more connected with the world out there, but we’re not connecting with the person next to us and the people that are important to us. As if we haven’t learnt one thing well, we’ve learnt many things in this pandemic. One of the most important lessons I think we can all agree on is that connection with real people is what makes us human. Anyway, I thought I would just share that with you, encourage you to check it out. I hope this finds you well. Until next time.


This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.