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Nir Eyal writes, consults, and teaches about the intersection of psychology, technology, and business. The M.I.T. Technology Review dubbed Nir, “The Prophet of Habit-Forming Technology.”

Nir founded two tech companies since 2003 and has taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. He is the author of the bestselling book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.

In addition to blogging at NirAndFar.com, Nir’s writing has been featured in The Harvard Business ReviewTechCrunch, and Psychology Today.

Nir is also an active investor in habit-forming technologies. Some of his past investments include Eventbrite (NYSE:EB), Refresh.io (acquired by LinkedIn), Worklife (acquired by Cisco), Product HuntMarco PoloPresence Learning7 CupsPanaKahoot!Byte FoodsFocusMate, and Anchor.fm (acquired by Spotify).

Nir attended The Stanford Graduate School of Business and Emory University.

  • DH

    Dani Hart

    4 months ago #

    Hi Nir,

    So awesome to have you here for an AMA! Been a fan of yours for a long time and really appreciate your work.

    A few questions...

    1. How do you suggest products help their customers build habits without addicting them to something that may harm them? Basically, how would you recommend that teams avoid/plan for the negative unintended consequences of building habits that might be destructive to their well-being?
    2. Are there any times that you advise *not* building habits?
    3. What are some of your favorite examples of companies building habits that improve the well-being of their customers?

    I could go on, but I'll leave some questions for the rest of the community. ;) Thanks so much for doing this.

    Cheers,
    Dani

    • NE

      Nir Eyal

      about 1 month ago #

      Thanks Dani. Let me answer rapid fire...
      1. How do you suggest products help their customers build habits without addicting them to something that may harm them? Basically, how would you recommend that teams avoid/plan for the negative unintended consequences of building habits that might be destructive to their well-being?
      NE: There's a misunderstanding of "addiction" out there. You can't "addict" anyone to any thing. Can you imagine getting people "addicted" to enterprise software? Hard to conceive of. For the vast majority of businesses out there, they shouldn't worry about addicting anyone. Their problem is not that people are too engaged with their products but rather that they are not engaged enough.
      For more on what addiction really is, see my article "The Addictive Products Myth: Who Is the Culprit Here?": https://www.nirandfar.com/addiction/
      However, there are some businesses that should be careful. Which leads to your next question...

      2. Are there any times that you advise *not* building habits?
      NE: From a business perspective, it's nearly impossible to build habits for products that are not used with sufficient frequency. One-time use products don't need repeat behavior so it may not be worth trying to build a habit.
      From an ethical perspective, any business that knowingly prays on addicted users, (meaning people with the pathology, not just people who like to use it a lot) is playing a dangerous game. There's a difference between a product some people overuse and abuse as an unfortunate byproduct versus those who knowingly seek out what they call "whales" the people who are likely struggling with addiction. That's why I will not work with alcohol companies, gambling companies, or some online games.

      3. What are some of your favorite examples of companies building habits that improve the well-being of their customers?
      NE: Fitbod, Kahoot, Marco Polo, Byte Foods to name a few I've either written about or invested in.

      1 Share
  • NB

    Nishanth B

    2 months ago #

    Big fan! Here is the question,
    In making users sticky, I understand habit formation around the product is a solution. What are the best methods to achieve this?
    For instance, in Producthunt, the user is given a challenge to like products once a day for 7 days in a row.
    In our product which is about note streaming for learners, would asking them to create and publish a note once a day for 7 days in a row work as well?

    Thanks in advance.

    • NE

      Nir Eyal

      about 1 month ago #

      I'm not sure I understand your question. Can you clarify? If you've read Hooked, perhaps you could coach it in the context of the Hooked Model so I can better understand. Thanks!

  • SN

    Sophia Nike

    about 2 months ago #

    How to be an indistractable even use social media channels?

    • NE

      Nir Eyal

      about 1 month ago #

      I think you're asking, "how can I be indistractable and still use social media?" Is that correct?

      If so, here's a confession: I used to struggle with distraction. I’d tell myself to tackle a project, then hours later, I'd find I'd done anything but. I’d promise to avoid my phone, then give in to the glow of the screen. I wanted to know why I was so easily distracted, and why so many of us are. And more importantly, I wanted to change these habits.

      It took five years of research and experimentation, but I think I’ve cracked the code on why we get distracted and what we can do about it. It turns out science can tell us a lot about how to increase our focus and deal with distraction, and that science helped me change my work and life. Today, I can get things done and spend more meaningful time with my family and friends—and I don't feel guilty all the time because I didn't do something I said I would.

      Today, I call myself "indistractable"—a label that was hard for me to earn, and one that I made the title of a book that documented this journey. My experience as an industry insider was part of what helped me "un-hook” myself from distraction—without having to do some crazy digital detox or give up technology for a month. There's hope for people who love their devices but don’t want them to run their lives.

      Becoming indistractable is about using tech with intent so that we get the best of these tools without letting them get the best of us.

      1 Share
  • MH

    Max Hodges

    3 months ago #

    In a recent blog post you wrote, "All behavior is prompted by discomfort." That seems like a very dumbed down model of human behavior. It pains me to see someone with your influence spread naive theories. Are we really to believe everything we do, from petting cats, drawing pictures, and doing sit-ups, to building a company, helping the elderly, and writing a novel is entirely explained by a need to "avoid discomfort"? Nonsense!

    • NE

      Nir Eyal

      about 1 month ago #

      I understand it can be a jarring idea but it's one Epicurus first posed 2,500 years ago. He did not conceive of pleasure in the feel-good way we do today. Rather, “By pleasure,” Epicurus wrote in his Letter to Menoeceus, “we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul.” Modern science has confirmed what Epicurus postulated.

      You may be thinking of "discomfort" too narrowly. Discomfort doesn't only mean physical pain necessarily. It can also mean anything that is psychologically destabilizing. Wanting, craving, and desire, are neurologically uncomfortable and this is how the brain gets us to act. In fact, we know the brain has a separate "liking" and "wanting" system and studies have shown we don't need to like something in order to act. All we need is wanting.

      As Dr. T. Dalton Combs, a neuroeconomist, told me, "We don't do things because they feel good, but because they felt good." That is to say, it's not the act itself that drives us, but the craving for a positive sensation we once felt, and may by chance feel again. Once the brain discovers something it values, the discomfort of “wanting" compels us to repeat the behavior, even if those behaviors are sometimes against our best interests.

      The root cause of all distraction is that at one point in time we found relief from discomfort in doing some other thing we didn’t really want to do, and now our neural circuitry tells us to do it again and again.

      By understanding our pain, we can begin to control it, and by recognizing our self-imposed cages, we can plan our escape.

  • PA

    Phill Agnew

    3 months ago #

    Hi Nir!

    In your book, you explain how 79% of smartphone owners check their device within 15 mins of waking up and one-third of Americans would rather give up sex than lose their phones.

    Have companies like Apple, Facebook and Google created unhealthy additions rather than simply habits? And if so, do they need regulating?

    Cheers!

    • NE

      Nir Eyal

      about 1 month ago #

      They do need regulating but not because they make products we like to use a lot. One of the sections I cut from Indistractable was on addiction.

      There's a myth that addiction is caused by the product or substance being abused. We think drugs cause drug addictions. We think gambling causes gambling addictions. But Addiction is more complex than that. There's a confluence of three factors that lead to addiction: 1) the person 2) the product 3) the pain the person is otherwise unable to cope with. We need a more nuanced and scientific view of addiction and need to be careful about our use of the word. If we don't understand what addiction is and use the term to explain things we "like a lot," we risk disrespecting people who have real addictions and need real help. Furthermore, we give away our agency and our ability to deal with the problem when we say we are all "addicted."

      But that whole series of thoughts ended up being a few pages too many for the book, and I wanted to make sure people got through it without, well, being distracted. (I did, though, put a lot of that thinking up online, in case people want to go deeper. See: https://www.nirandfar.com/addiction/)

      1 Share
  • UB

    Ulf Büren

    2 months ago #

    What’s the single thing retention focussed B2B-companies should be doing more of?

    • NE

      Nir Eyal

      about 1 month ago #

      They should find ways to get users to "store value" and "load the next trigger." These are the two functions of the "Investment Phase" of the Hooked Model I describe in my book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.

  • PL

    Panos Ladas

    2 months ago #

    Hi Nir,

    I'm a big fan of yours and I find your work really thought-provoking.

    Just 2 questions (for now):
    - How do you personally manage distractions?
    - What is your daily schedule like? Do you use blocks of time to work on things?

    • NE

      Nir Eyal

      about 1 month ago #

      I manage distraction by using the four strategies I discuss in Indistractable.
      1 - Master Internal Triggers
      2 - Make Time for Traction
      3 - Hack Back External Triggers
      4 - Prevent Distraction with Pacts
      I use these techniques every day and I'm more productive and happier than I've ever been.
      As for my daily schedule, I use a timeboxing technique to make an ideal template for the week ahead. I describe how to do this and even built a free tool to do it here: https://www.nirandfar.com/schedule-maker/

      1 Share
  • SC

    Seth Cobbs

    2 months ago #

    Thanks for doing this, Nir. I'd love to know what your #1 productivity tip is?

    • NE

      Nir Eyal

      about 1 month ago #

      It would be to learn to identify our internal triggers with curiosity instead of contempt. So many of us beat ourselves up when we get distracted and think there’s something wrong with us (or blame the tech), but this only makes us feel worse and ironically leads to more distraction to escape discomfort. Instead, we can learn to identify the preceding emotion that leads us astray so we deal with them more healthfully.

      For instance, we can use a “distraction tracker” to simply write down the emotion we felt when we got distracted. Were you feeling lonely, bored, or stressed, when you wandered over to Facebook for that half-hour? Were you anxious when you decided to go down a Wikipedia rabbit hole instead of writing your research paper? Putting the feeling down on paper can empower you--and more importantly, you can discover root causes. After you’ve done that, we can use tactics like the “10-minute rule” which says we can give into any temptation after just 10 minutes. Most of the time, you’ll get back to the task at hand after just a few minutes of reflecting on the emotion and the root cause of the discomfort you are seeking to escape with a distraction.

      But remember, this is only step number one of four to becoming indistractable! There are three more steps to help you destroy distractions.

  • PA

    philip artenberg

    2 months ago #

    Hi Nir,
    How do you change the behavior of patients who are treated as a commodity by 3rd party payers to an active consumer? Empowering them with information is the most obvious in my mind, do you agree?

    • NE

      Nir Eyal

      about 1 month ago #

      Actually, I think we focus too much on information to motivate people. Instead, per the work of BJ Fogg, we should focus on their *ability* to do the behavior.

      I've worked with many health care companies and almost always the answer to patient adherence problems is not that people don't *want* to do the behavior, but rather that the behavior is too hard to do, or comes with too many costly side effects. Most people will do whatever their doctor recommends as long as it's cheap, easy, and painless.

      Unfortunately, the health care industry tends to blame the patient. It's sort of how techies in the 1990s blamed users for being "dumb" because they couldn't figure out how to use their software. That is, until companies focused on UX came along and showed that users weren't dumb, but rather the tech was unnecessarily difficult to use. I'm hoping a similar revolution occurs in healthcare as well soon.

  • AL

    Arsene Lavaux

    about 2 months ago #

    Hi Nir,

    You probably don't remember me, but it was a pleasure meeting you in person at the Growth Marketing Conference in Brooklyn a couple of years ago.

    At the time, you had asked me if I thought a lot of the B2C growth thinking and doing could translate into the B2B world because you were asked that question often by the audience.

    I'd be curious if since then you've had a chance to dig deeper into this and if you have drawn any conclusions so far?

  • NL

    Nick Lender

    about 2 months ago #

    Hey Nir,

    What would you consider to be the lowest hanging fruit in marketing right now?

    • NE

      Nir Eyal

      about 1 month ago #

      Applying principles from consumer psychology and behavioral design, of course! :)

  • SA

    Stoica Alexandru

    about 2 months ago #

    Hello, Nir

    From a small business ecomm stand point, what areas do you recommend to dig into for improvement in order to grow sales( or conversions)?
    Thanks alot

    • NE

      Nir Eyal

      about 1 month ago #

      These days, if your ecomm business isn't creating a habit, it's very likely to be commoditized. It's much more cost-effective to keep a customer than to keep fishing for new ones. I'd find ways to build a habit.

      This doesn't mean that buying the product will be the habit, it almost never is. Rather, I'd recommend finding ways to build a habit around the product. Remember, monetization is a result of engagement, not the other way around.

      See this article "How Two Companies Hooked Customers On Products They Rarely Use" for more on how to build habits around infrequently bought products: https://www.nirandfar.com/hooked-customers/

  • NS

    Nitesh Sharoff

    about 1 month ago #

    I'm a big fan Nir!

    I'm curious to know your take on early adopters and mass market - specifically around the tipping point and your recommendations around ensuring people retain your brand.

    I'm from an ecommerce background and most recently I'm working with luxury fashion brands, I'd love to know if you were to start out in this highly competitive industry how you would approach it and explain how you'd make your brand sticky.

    Thanks in advance!

    • NE

      Nir Eyal

      about 1 month ago #

      Please see my response to Stoica Alexandru's question in this AMA

  • IS

    Ishita Sharma

    about 1 month ago #

    Dear Nir,
    I am a big fan of your work. As a marketer, it gave me numerous new perspectives.
    My question is that how can we apply the B2C Growth hacks to B2B sector?
    Especially in niche industries with very long sales cycles and multiple stakeholders.
    Any specific hacks that are more relevant than others?

    • NE

      Nir Eyal

      about 1 month ago #

      Thank you!
      Firstly, sales will never be a habit. Sales in B2B are generally a one-time or very infrequent thing. What *can* become a habit is the use of the product itself if it is designed to be something people do frequently and with little or no conscious thought. Of course, with many SaaS products sold into the enterprise, if the product is not used, the customer will eventually stop paying for it.
      Remember, you can always buy growth -- just run more ads or hire more salespeople. What you can't buy is customer engagement and retention. That has to be built into the product.

  • HM

    Hakan Ma

    about 1 month ago #

    Are Google Ads a good choice for B2B?

  • JM

    Jacob Miller

    about 1 month ago #

    1. After writing Hook and Indistractable what is something you wrote about in those books that you may have a different perspective on today?

    2. What was the moment in your life where you realized that you wanted to dive into behavioral science and design? Was it a specific moment or did it kind of unfold over time as you saw opportunities to better understand how people interact with products?

    3. If you weren't doing this for a living, what would you do? If money wasn't an issue.

  • AM

    Anupom Mollick

    about 1 month ago #

    Hello Nir,
    Nice to see you replying questions here.
    I am planning to pursue Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) at Institute of Business Administration (IBA) in University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. My dissertation topic of interest is growth hacking.
    Can you point out few problems that can a great research topics for the dissertation?
    Also, if there are relevant doctoral thesis on growth hacking, can you refer me to those?

    Would highly appreciate your help regarding this.

    Thanks
    Mark Anupom Mollick

  • JM

    Josh Morales

    about 1 month ago #

    Hi Nir,

    Big fan of your books. Which other books related to the topic do you recommend reading?

    Thanks!

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