How I Overcame TV Addiction, Reclaimed My Life and Gained Two Extra Months Per Year

When I first met her, my girlfriend didn’t own a television. This puzzled me. 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 frankly, I didn’t care. In fact, on a deeper level, I respected and envied her for that decision.

TV addiction

There was a time when I watched 5-6 hours of television every day. As evening approached after a long 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 more than 2000 hours over the course of a year. Nearly three months.

THREE MONTHS!

Sitting in front of a television. Hypnotized. Tuned in, but zoned out. Disconnected from the real world.

Ahhhhh yes. Life was grand.

Actually, life wasn’t grand. In truth, it was just 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.

Television Addiction: More Than a Metaphor

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 and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Scientific American

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 Instead of Watch Television for Two Months Out of the 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.

Update: Many folks have asked what I actually did to overcome my TV addiction (after all, that is the title of the article). While I intend to write a longer piece on the topic, I did offer some tips that helped me break my TV addiction in the comments below.

I realize you may be looking for more than that, and I plan to offer it soon. If you subscribe to my newsletter to the right, I’ll let you know when it’s ready.

1. Early to Bed, Early to Rise

“It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.”

Aristotle

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.

Additional TV Addiction Links & Resources

16 Comments

  1. Couldnt agree more with u… life’s definitely better without TV… why watch an experience, when u can live it!

  2. I have lived without a TV since 2011 when I started living alone. I get all my TV shows on DVD or as files shared with others on thumb drives. Without TV, I schedule my favorite shows to my free times, such as in the late mornings, when I am through with work, and have a whole hour to zone out. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Kwena. Thanks for the comment. Lately, I’ve also been considering getting rid of the TV altogether. Ellen and I usually watch less than 10 hours per week, and it seems like maybe it’s time to let it go.

  3. Thanks for these words. I know this is a big problem for me. I was able to use television as a kid to escape but I’m not a kid — far from a kid — and I’m still using it to escape. I have so much more to do and offer but all I do after work is plop into a chair and watch TV. I am making a commitment to get out of this cycle. Your words have helped. Thanks again.

  4. I have a crippling TV addiction. This is perharps the most important year of my life , i am going to give my medical entrance exam and i just cannot bring myself to study for it . The course load the so much , the compettion is too much and i understand that if i dont study now life is going to get tough but all i do is tune out reality and sit watching that idiot box

    1. Sounds like there’s a lot of pressure on you, Aakanksha. I know television can often feel like a stress management mechanism, and in moderation, I think it can be. Based on what you wrote though, it seems you are using it as an escape mechanism. I’d like to offer you a silver bullet to help you resolve the issue, but unfortunately, there isn’t one.

      1. Thanks for the support though.. When i tell people about my problem they basically laugh at me!!!! The past few days i have been trying to develop a sort of day planner to minimise the distraction and increase productivity. Its nice when someone is or has faced the same situation . Sharing things helps me get back on the track !! : )

        1. Good for you. When I was weaning off TV, I kept a simple spreadsheet to track how many hours I watched per day/week/etc and would set goals for myself. Tracking your behavior – especially a behavior you want to change – is a great first step. There’s actually a good deal of research that backs it up to. Will have dig that out and write an article on it.

  5. Hey, great blog! There’s really not enough about TV addiction out there. I just started a TV detox myself, but I went the cold turkey route. The weening route just didn’t work for me because I kept lapsing back into binge watching. I definitely felt a crazy amount of withdrawl symptoms at first, but now, 2 months in – the draw is still there but not as strong. Hopefully it goes away altogether soon! Like you, I’m definitely reading and exercising more, as well as listening to audio books and practicing my craft (I’m a songwriter/piano teacher). I thought about weening TV back into my life after the “cleanse” but I’m honestly not sure if that’s even wise. Like for AA, former alcoholics are reminded to forever say “I AM an alcoholic” so they never start down that path again. I’m inclined to say it’s the same for TV addicts, but of course much less serious consequences. But anyway, I thought I’d share my basic two rules of thumb in case you might have some thoughts or it proved useful to anyone.

    1) The only programs I can watch on my own are short documentaries, Ted Talks, or career related videos. For whatever reason, I don’t binge watch those.
    2) I can watch anything with friends or loved ones, but they have complete control over when the TV goes on and off. (I can’t even touch the remote!) Luckily for me, of course, my boyfriend, family, and friends are not addicts – so I think this step would be harder for those who live in a TV addict household.

    1. Thanks for the kind words and the great info Mandy.

      Ellen (my partner) and I recently eliminated cable TV service altogether (saving about $1200 per year). We only watch movies from Redbox or Netflix now. I’d guess we’re down to less than 8 hours of TV per week. It’s a wonderful thing.

  6. I’m currently struggling with this addiction. It’s debilitating. I can’t seem to stay focused on anything else. My school work falls to the wayside. My girlfriend points out how much of a negative effect it’s had on my life, something I realized long ago but haven’t taken any steps to resolve. I keep telling myself one more episode but it never stops with just one or two or three. I don’t want to continue with this kind of life. I used to be able find a balance between work, school, exercising and t.v., but I’m sure I no longer have that balance. T.v. is what I look forward to everyday. It’s what I wake up to and when I leave the house I can’t wait to get back to watch the next episode. Sometimes I don’t even wait. I watch Netflix on my phone while driving. I realize that danger but I rationalize by saying i’m a good driver and I can pay attention to both. I am envious of those who watch little to no t.v. Hopefully i’ll be able to take what you’ve done and do the same for myself. Can you tell me how you began to ween yourself off of t.v.?

    1. I’m sorry to hear of your intense struggle with this Richie. There are several things I did over a long period of time that helped me create a healthy balance with television. Currently, I watch less than 10 hours of TV per week, and that’s only Netflix or Redbox movies. We no longer subscribe to any cable television service.

      Here are some things that helped me:

      1. I started monitoring how much TV I watched per day. I kept a simple written log and wrote down how many hours of tv I watched the prior day. After a week of doing this, I set a goal to reduce my tv time by a certain amount each week.

      2. I realized how much of my life I was wasting watching television. I mean really, what long-term gain is there from watching another episode of whatever. It might make you feel good in the moment, but tomorrow, you’re no further along the path to creating a happier, healthier, more prosperous life than you were yesterday.

      3. I realized I was using television as an escape mechanism, and I started looking at what I was trying to escape from. Ultimately, I realized I was trying to escape from life and the larger, more meaningful role I wanted to play in the world. I was afraid to step out into the world and do what I could to make a difference.

      4. I learned as much as I could about addiction, including the social, cognitive and physical underpinnings of the addictive process. Much of the problem lies in your brain chemistry (physical), but also how you think about yourself and the world (cognitive), as well as your social life (or lack thereof).

      I have more to say about this, but I’ll stop here for now. I hope you find it helpful.

  7. Thanks so much for writing this diary because I can totally relate. I spend 4-5 hours a day watching tv, and I’m currently studying a Law degree and do not have enough time in my day. So I have decided that I defiantly need to change my ways. Would you be able to go into more details about how you reduced your watching hours. Surely it’s not as easy as turning off the T.V.

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