Over the years, I used my email to signup to a Gazillion websites and services. Many using my Google account on the same email. Over time, those apps and websites email me things. Whatever they want to email me. At some point recently, I’d be getting literally dozens of emails every single day. Most of them are repeat things from sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, random things like Quora, Reddit, etc.
Recently I decided, what if I do the necessary work to get rid of all this junk? Not to empty my inbox of thousands of unread email by now, but to stop receiving these emails I don’t want. So I decided that the moment I get an email, I will immediately open the email to unsubscribe from it permanently.
So now, whenever I get an email, I immediately spring into action, like a machine is taking over me, and open the email, scroll to the bottom, click the unsubscribe link, close the tab that just opened in Safari to unsubscribe, and go back to my life. The whole thing takes only a few seconds, and by the time the few seconds are over, I will never receive recurring emails from them again. I’ve spent only a few seconds to free myself of potentially hundreds of emails I don’t want or ever read.
What I learned from this is how habits form. There’s a lot of good books on the topics of habits, most popular of them is Atomic Habits by James Clear. It’s a good book, I liked it, it had really valuable things to share. What I learned from this experience is that you can’t form a habit out of anything. Habits aren’t magic solutions that fix something in your life without real effort. No such thing.
Habits are there to solve specific problems. The solution of the problem has to have certain characteristics to it that make it eligible for a habit. There also has to be something in your life that brings your attention to the problem that you’re trying to solve. Here are the characteristics I learned are required for forming an effective habit:
- A clear trigger for starting the habit.
- The solution has to be in the form of a clear sequence of behaviors that you can easily do.
- The behaviors must require at most only minimal attentiveness.
- There has to be a very clear end in sight.
The trigger for me is receiving an email notification on my phone from a website/app/service that I don’t want to receive emails from.
The solution for the problem of unsubscribing from an email contains the following sequence of behaviors:
All this behavior is entirely internalized, I don’t need to put any effort into remembering the next step. I don’t think of it as a sequence, because the entire sequence is made automatic for me. I don’t have to think about it, it’s all easy. The only attentiveness that is only sometimes required is that some sites require me to fill a form of checking/unchecking boxes to finish the unsubscribing process. Most don’t though, I’m automatically unsubscribed just by opening the link in the email.
The clear end in sight is the webpage that opens when I unsubscribe telling me I have unsubscribed. They make it clear.
(Fun fact: I got an email from Tumblr and unsubscribed while writing this hehe.)
What this means is that not everything can be solved in the form of a habit. Meditation for example doesn’t work this way, because you need to pay attention in meditation, your mind has to be present with the experience. You can form a habit to start the meditation, but the meditation itself cannot be an automatically operated habit. So in this case, a habit can take you to the water, but you have to do the drinking yourself.
I hope this insight can be of some use to you in some way some day. I think I was only able to form this habit around emails because I learned a lot about habits over the years, and internalized the lessons and insights and principles, that my mind just came up with this solution immediately.