My girlfriend doesn’t own a TV; a fact that puzzled me when we first met. What does she do for entertainment, I wondered. How does she get the news? Doesn’t she get bored? How can she live without Seinfeld?
I didn’t ask her those questions directly though, because I really didn’t care. In fact, on a deeper level, I respected and envied her for that choice.
There was a time when I watched 5-6 hours of television every day. As evening approached after a long, hard day, I’d plant myself on the couch and vegetate till I fell asleep around midnight. Eight hours later, I’d wake up with the TV still on and me still feeling tired.
If you do the math, at that rate, it works out to around 2000 hours over the course of a year. That’s about three months. THREE MONTHS. In front of a TV. Hypnotized. Tuned in, but zoned out. Disconnected from the real world. Ahh yes, life was grand.
Actually, life wasn’t grand. In truth, it was quite the opposite, and TV had become a full-blown addiction; an escape mechanism. Medication for the deeper wounds and issues I refused to deal with in my life. For me, TV filled the void of an otherwise empty life; a life barely lived by a soul knocked to his knees and struggling to get back up.
“In its easy provision of relaxation and escape, television can be beneficial in limited doses. Yet when the habit interferes with the ability to grow, to learn new things, to lead an active life, then it does constitute a kind of dependence and should be taken seriously.”
Robert Kubey & Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Scientific American (PDF)
There’s more to the story, of course, but that’s for another time. For now, it’s enough to say that – although my legs are still a bit wobbly – this soul is back on his feet and moving forward; due in large part to a commitment to gradually wean myself off television.
What To Do With Two Extra Months Each Year
I’m three months into the weaning process, and I still watch television. After all, the Red Sox are back in action, and I need my occasional Seinfeld fix. But I’ve drastically reduced my TV time. In fact, as I look over the past week, I probably spent 10 hours in front of the tube versus 35 hours at the height of my addiction.
Effectively, that means I’ve gained 25 hours each week, which works out to nearly two months over the course of a year. Yes, that’s huge, but it’s not the real victory here. The real victory lies in the activities and habits I’ve developed to more productively and purposefully invest that extra time. Here’s a short list of some of those activities, habits and their benefits.
1. Early to Bed, Early to Rise
“It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.”
Nowadays, I’m usually asleep by 10pm, and I wake up around 4am. For me, there’s something magical about rising that early. It gives me a head-start on the day, and morning tends to be my most creative time.
Plus, I just feel more on-purpose with a schedule like this. In short, it’s good for the soul (see also How to Become an Early Riser).
2. I Read More Books
As a web worker, I do a ton of online reading. Reading from a monitor gets tiresome though, so I’m starting to enjoy books again. I melt into a comfy chair or the couch and get lost in the book. I jot notes in the margins and highlight key passages. I make notes and outlines in a notebook and collect ideas for my own book that I’m researching.
For entertainment, I’ve tried to read some novels but have yet to find one that grabs me. I’m okay with that though. I’ve always been a non-fiction guy anyway. In the end, reading more books makes me feel smarter and supports my goal to be a better writer (see also The 26 Major Advantages to Reading More Books and Why 3 in 4 People Are Being Shut Out of Success).
3. I Write More
Although not apparent on this blog, I write nearly every day. One of my morning rituals is morning pages, a daily writing practice in which you simply produce three hand-written pages of stream-of-consciousness writing. Nearly every writing book on the market tells you the best way to improve your writing is simply to write more. The morning pages ritual allows me to write without having to worry about actually publishing what I write. As I continue to practice in this way, I feel my writing starting to improve and flow more freely.
4. My Love Relationship Has Greatly Improved
Without the TV as a distraction, my girlfriend and I are much more engaged with each other. Sometimes we just sit and read together, sharing interesting passages from our respective books as we do. Other times, we bat ideas back and forth and discuss various projects we’re working on. As a Yoga teacher, she’s as much into personal development and optimal living as I am, so it makes for a really collaborative relationship. And of course we do occasionally watch a movie together, but it feels much more balanced and natural than before.
5. My Life Feels More Purposeful and Meaningful
I’m sure this is implied in the previous four items, but it needs to be stated directly. For whatever reason, there are times in our life when we feel lost at sea; out of control, floating directionless and forever buffeted by the pounding waves of life. Much of last year was like that for me, and I believe my TV addiction was part cause and part symptom.
Several months ago, a long-time coaching client recited a quote that went something like this: “most people are living shorter and dying longer.” The words hit me like a bucket of ice water in the face, because that’s close to how I was feeling at the time. When I chose to break my TV addiction, I made a clear, purposeful statement to myself and the universe that it’s time to stop dying and start living again.
Life is meant to be lived. Bigger. Brighter. Bolder.