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

Nobody on their deathbed ever wished they’d spent more time watching television. Life is short, and there are too many things that are more important and fulfilling than sitting in front of a television for hours on end. That’s not to suggest you should stop watching TV altogether, but I’ve come to see it as something best placed at the edge of life, rather than the center.

I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, there was a time in my life when I wasted nearly six hours of my day watching television. As evening rolled around, I’d plant myself on the couch, turn on the television and vegetate till I fell asleep near midnight. Eight hours later, I’d wake up with the TV still on, feeling no more rested than when I went to sleep.

When you do the math, it’s rather shocking. Six hours per day adds up to 2190 hours over the course of a year, which equates to 91 days. THREE MONTHS! per year. Sitting in front of a television. Hypnotized. Tuned in, but zoned out. Living in a make-believe world while the real world passed me by.

“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.”

From “Television Addiction Is No Mere Metaphor”
— By Robert Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi —

Coming to Terms With My TV Addiction

Although I failed to recognize it at the time, it’s clear now that watching television had become a full-blown addiction for me. An escape mechanism that I used to distract myself from the problems, fears and challenges I was refusing to deal with in my life.

I used television to distract myself from the shame, embarrassment and stress I felt about some irresponsible financial decisions and their resulting fallout. I used it to avoid facing my fear of stepping out into the world more fully, connecting with others and pursuing the higher purpose to which my soul was being called. I used it to cope with boredom and fill the void of an otherwise empty life.

In short, my life was a mess, my self-esteem was shot, and while TV may have provided a short-term escape from that reality, it ultimately kept me locked within it. Said another way, instead of using my time and energy to deal with my problems and improve my life, I was wasting it on television.

“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

— Mary Oliver —

First Steps on My Journey to Recovery

Fortunately, I met Ellen, my life partner for the last several years. When I met her, she didn’t even own a television. This puzzled me. What does she do for entertainment, I wondered. Doesn’t she get bored? How can she stand the silence? I didn’t ask her those questions directly, because I didn’t really care. In fact, on a deeper level, I respected and envied her for that choice.

In Ellen, I saw a person living a mindful, purposeful life that revolved around the things that matter most – her health and well-being; her family, friends and community; and her life’s work as a Yoga Therapist. In her, I saw a potential life-partner, and an inspiring example of the kind of person I wanted to be and the type of life I wanted to live.

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t thank the Universe for bringing Ellen into my life. She provided the inspiration, encouragement and support to help me see beyond the challenging circumstances of my life at the time. Besides the inspiring example of how she was living her life, I remember an article she published for her Yoga students, in which she wrote:

“Where do you see yourself in five years, one year, one week, or one day? This can be a difficult question to answer, but it is imperative that you hold vision for your life. Without vision, your life shifts into idle.

“When you have an idea or vision for what you want to manifest in life, the wheels are set in motion. It is as if you’ve shifted out of ‘park’ and into fast forward. All your thinking, creativity, active and passive energy begins to consciously and unconsciously direct itself toward that which you want to create.

“It is really quite simple. Without a vision nothing happens. There is nowhere to direct your thoughts or energy. Without a vision, growth and movement comes to a halt. With vision, life becomes a course of ongoing expansion, opening doors to infinite possibility.”

Ellen Shaeffer

I remember that article, because it described my life so perfectly at the time. I had no vision for the future. I was locked in my misery, and my life had essentially come to a halt.

How I Conquered TV Addiction

Soon after I read Ellen’s article, I sat down and wrote out an inspiring vision for the life I wanted to live and the person I wanted to be. As you might imagine, my vision didn’t include watching six hours of television every day.

Still, my addiction was well-established. So, while my heartfelt vision statement was a great place to start, I knew it was going to take more than words on a page to begin turning that vision into reality. Here are several things that worked for me.

1. Monitor and Track How Much Time You Waste on TV

“You cannot manage or improve something until you measure it. Likewise, you can’t make the most of who you are – your talents and resources and capabilities – until you are aware of and accountable for your actions.”

From The Compound Effect
— Darren Hardy —

When I first started on the road to recovery, I kept a daily, written log to document the number of hours I spent watching television each day. This helped me see exactly how much of my life I was wasting. It also helped me see where I could eliminate some TV time and replace it with more purposeful activities.

At the time, it was a revelation to realize I could turn off the TV at 9pm instead of midnight, get a good night’s sleep, and wake up at 4am. This freed up a good 3-4 hours in the morning that I could use however I wanted. I still live by this schedule, and my early-morning time is the most productive and creative part of my day.

2. Develop a Sense of Purpose and Mission for Your Life

“Human beings are teleological creatures. We are hard-wired to live purposively, to have direction. Without a target to shoot at, our lives are literally aimless. Without something productive to do, without positive goals and a purpose, a human being languishes. And then one of two things happens. Aimlessness begins to shut a person down in spiritual lethargy and emptiness, or the individual lashes out and turns to destructive goals just to make something happen.”

From The Art of Achievement
— Tom Morris —

Besides my ever-deepening relationship with Ellen, the thing that’s been most critical to my recovery is the deep sense of purpose and mission I’ve developed about my life. When you feel this deep sense of purpose and that you have a mission in life, it’s much easier to let go of anything that distracts or takes time away from it.

For me, purpose is about working each day to become the best human being I can be. It’s about cultivating and strengthening the values that are most important to me – peace, love, creativity, excellence, perseverance and service. Life purpose, for me, is more about being and becoming, rather than doing.

Mission, on the other hand, is about doing; it’s about using my time, energy, skills and other resources to serve the world. Specifically, my mission is to help you – and others like to you – create a happier, healthier, more prosperous life through my writing, teaching and coaching.

This deserves repeating – when you feel a profound sense of purpose and mission in your life, you don’t want to waste your time and energy on television. Instead, you’re driven to use your resources wisely, and in service to that purpose and mission.

3. Realize That Television is Stealing Your Life

“Every single hour of television watched after the age of 25 reduces the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes.”

— Gretchin Rubin, Get Up. Get Out. Don’t Sit.

As I said at the beginning, I believe there’s a small place for television in life. Very small though, because when you really think about it, aside from some short-term relaxation and entertainment value, what do you get out of it?

If you watch 3 hours of TV tonight, will you be any happier tomorrow? Will you have more friends or more love in your life? Will you be any smarter? Will you be any healthier or wealthier? If you watch 3 hours of TV tonight, will it improve your life in any way tomorrow?

To paraphrase author Annie Dillard, how you spend your days is how you spend your life. I don’t know about you, but I’d hate to wake up many years down the road and realize I’d wasted much of my life watching TV.

4. Find Alternatives to Watching Television

“Too many vacations that last too long, too many movies, too much TV, too much video game playing – too much undisciplined leisure time in which a person continually takes the course of least resistance gradually wastes a life. It ensures that a person’s capacities stay dormant, that talents remain undeveloped, that the mind and spirit become lethargic and that the heart is unfulfilled.”

From The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
— Stephen Covey —

Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. With nothing else to do with my time, it was far too easy to get pulled toward watching television. Certainly, there’s something to be said for cultivating the ability to simply sit in silence with only your thoughts, but that only goes so far. I had to find other ways to use my time.

When I’m not working or spending time with Ellen, I read a good book or write in my journal. In fact, that’s how I spend my early-morning hours. Back when I started on my recovery, I created a morning writing ritual known as Morning Pages. This is the writing practice made popular by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way. I pour myself a hot cup of coffee, sit down at my desk and write in the early-morning silence.

You don’t have to spend your free time reading or writing, although a daily journaling practice might do wonders for you. You can use your free time however you like.

  • Get outdoors and go for a hike.
  • Take up drawing, painting, dancing or some other creative activity.
  • Start an online business or launch a new blog.
  • Find some Meetup groups to join or start one of your own.
  • Clean out those closets or the basement, and sell or donate everything you no longer need.

Go to bed earlier. This probably isn’t a valid alternative if it’s the middle of the day. But if it’s 8:00 in the evening, and you have nothing else to do, instead of watching TV, why not just go to bed. Throw on the jammies, brush your teeth, grab a good book and head for the bedroom. You can make it a nice little pre-slumber ritual that, in time, you’ll come to love and look forward to. You’ll sleep better and wake up earlier, feeling fresh and ready for the day ahead.

The alternatives to watching television are limited only by your imagination and willingness to move out of your comfort zone.

5. Exercise Consistently

In her book, The Willpower Instinct, Dr. Kelly McGonigal calls physical exercise “the closest thing to a wonder drug that self-control scientists have discovered.” Why, because multiple research studies have shown that when people begin exercising more consistently, other areas of their life improve as well. Exercisers tend to reduce their smoking, drinking and caffeine intake. They eat less junk food and more healthy food. They spend less time watching television and more time on productive activities. They save more money, feel more in control of their emotions and procrastinate less.

In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg calls exercise a “keystone habit” that triggers widespread change in our life. I can attest to this. One of the first steps I took on my road to recovery was to re-initiate my exercise routine, and I’ve managed to stay consistent with it for the past several years. I don’t do it every day, but often enough that it’s an integral part of living a healthier, happier, more productive life.

The Journey Continues

I still watch television, but I’ve created a healthy relationship with it. Instead of wasting six hours per day, as I did at the height of my addiction, Ellen and I now watch less than 10 hours per week. And since we don’t own a television, we only watch movies on DVD or from an online service, such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Video.

Effectively, that means I’ve gained 32 hours per week, which works out to roughly two months per year. Think of what you could do with an extra two months per year.

Of course, life still has its problems and challenges. Its ups and downs. That’s just how life is. The difference now is that, rather than medicate myself with television, I find healthier, more purposeful ways to invest my time and energy.

There are 191 brilliant comments

  1. I honestly don’t know what to do, I’ve tried so many different techniques and this addiction is insurmountable for me – I just cannot imagine ever overcoming it. I am wasting my time on earth, secluding myself in my room and it’s negatively impacting every aspect of my life. Is there a support group or 10-step program or some more formal way I can try to tackle this with the help of others who have overcome it in the past? I’ve tried therapy with doctors who are not trained in this specific addiction and it doesn’t seem to work at all.

  2. I nearly started to cry after reading this. This hit so close to home. Every day after work I plant myself on the couch and waste several hours on the TV. I realize now that I have a full blown addiction to television.
    I have had substance addictions in the past that I thankfully got out of. The television is now my only remaining addiction but I am unsure how I can kick that. The only thing that probably would help is to throw out the TV but that feels excessive. I’m not sure how to go about it. The TV has been with me literally my whole life.
    Thanks for this great article. It really opened my eyes.

    1. Thanks for the comment Alexander. Getting rid of your TV is not excessive. That said, if you’re not ready to do that, I’d suggest you start with the suggestions I offered in the article.

  3. Thank you for such a well-written article. There is so much information there.

    I have been pretty successful at overcoming my own tv addiction. I still watch tv sometimes.

    My kids deserve better. TV really takes away from time that they deserve to have. They need interactions to develop their brains and their personalities.

    Thank you for the article. I wish I could figure out how to help my wife with her tv addiction, but you know how difficult that road can be. Each individual has to make their own choices about how to spend their time and attention.

  4. The only difficult part of the article is that a woman (or life partner) suddenly shows up and makes him want to be a better person. This is the kicker for me, that I just don’t have that (and so many people say that happened to them to pull them out of their bad situation). I have a boyfriend who is epileptic from brain cancer; not a miracle person who shows up and guides me (which if I were in that position, of course setting up some new lifestyle would even be doable). Not like how I am now, which feels hopeless without guidance, love I need and many other things. I feel like if I was in his position (someone just showing up, bringing new light to my life like that), it would be SO MUCH easier. I almost feel like the article is null for me because of this. I just hear of so many people finding the one that makes them want to be a better person. There are many of us left out of that club.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Kara. I can’t say that I totally disagree with you. It is easier to make positive changes when you have people in your life who exemplify and inspire those changes. That said, what we’re ultimately talking about here is motivation for change – your big “WHY” for making change in the first place. Without a compelling reason (aka motivation) to change your behavior, it’s unlikely to happen.

      My motivation for change was the desire for a better life – the sort of life that I described in the vision that I crafted for myself. Yes, that life included a long-term relationship with Ellen, and she stood as an excellent example of how I wanted to live my life, but she – specifically – was not my compelling reason to “be a better person.” Instead, it was the compelling future that I created for myself when I sat down and wrote out my vision.

      So, the starting point of any positive change is to answer the question, “why do I want to make this change?”

      I hope that’s helpful. Feel free to follow up with any other questions you might have.

    2. Are you really saying that if one doesn’t have a significant other that” makes them want to be a better person” one is doomed? What about you and your internal sense of what you want in your life? It’s a cop out to not take responsibility for your life because you don’t have someone to inspire you. YOU inspire you.

    3. TV is one of my addictions. I have had this miracle Person apperaing and inspiring me and being just a personal development God, if I may say it like this: fearless, living in the moment, learning, going his way. For a while he was taking me with him, many wounds were healed but after a while it became to scary for me, ‘losing’ my old self as I knew it. Not to go on about the relationship, what I wanna say is: when one isnt ready the one appearing in your life wont do it for you. And the other way around: when one is ready the one might appear or , rather the way I see it now, one might realize that he or she is his or hers own one and start trusting one’s own inner guidance.

  5. Hi Michael.
    Great article! As this year ends I am starting to reflect how I spend my time and energy. This is definitely an area where I think I can make some improvement. Your article is very helpful because it explores the different aspects of tv addiction. Thank you an merry christmas 🙂

  6. Thank you for this insightful article Michael. I came across it this morning when I decided to look into how best to get the reins on my habit. Your writing is lovely and it is so nice to have an example in you of how to overcome this. Now I’m going to focus on making the perfect loaf of bread which could take me an entire lifetime 🙂 My TV timer starts today.

  7. I am just stunned right now. For some reason I just thought of him as a couch potato …. but into this relationship for 5 years now, it is so odd I want to pull my hair out. This is almost worse than being married to a drug addict or whatever. I cannot wrap my head around this anymore. The more he does it, the less I clean (don’t want to interrupt his show)…etc. He is self employed. Gets up at dawn with the tv…works 2-3 hours a day (makes a great living, kid you not) and then comes home by 11 am -noon and watches Tv until at least 10 pm. He eats in front of the tv even if I made a 5 star meal, which I can. It’s insane. so he eats in front of tv, and I drink wine and research his shit on the computer while I eat my meal and now look at me. Horrible. Now I drink too much.

  8. Thank you for this. It was hard to me to recognize that I have an addiction. I really want it to stop.
    It is good to know that someone out there overcame this.

      1. I wanted to let you know that this article really opened my eyes. I feel as thought i’m never paying attention to the world around me, I turn on Netflix at breakfast, dinner, lunch, while i’m working at home, when I wake up and right when I’m going to bed. The only time i’m off of it is at work when I actually can’t. I am very aware of my health, I have been vegan for 3 years and eat healthy most of the time, because vegan food isn’t always healthy. But TV is getting in the way of exercise, being social, seeing my family, everything else I haven’t appreciated for a long time. I’m cutting back on TV still watching my favorite shows to reward myself, I Am Hardworking. Also, what do you mean by life partner? Haha

      2. Thanks Molly. I’m glad to hear the article was useful for you. That said, be careful using TV as a reward … once you start watching, it’s difficult to pull yourself away.

        Also, google the term “moral licensing (here’s a good article).” It may not apply to you in this case, but it’s something to be aware of.

        As I used it in the article, life partner = girlfriend. But I’m at an age and mindset where that term doesn’t work for me … makes me feel like a high school boy.

  9. Gosh, so glad I came across your website. I’ve been driving myself crazy for the past few years, letting every holiday drift into tv watching unmotivated stupor and thinking I’m the only one who’s dumb enough to be doing this. Tv has been my go to downtime at night once the kids are in bed for a long time, but as they’ve started to grow up, every holiday I found I had a bit more time on my hands, I would let all my good intentions ride and just end up wasting time in front of the box.
    This holiday I’ve resolved to change. Thank you for your advice and recommendations. It was really encouraging to read that you write ‘morning pages’ as this is something that I started to do again three days ago, after a break of several years. Morning pages has helped bring me some clarity, getting some of my negative thoughts out onto a page rather than rattling around and around in my head. You also mentioned Steven Covey’s book, which drew my attention whilst I was out shopping last week. These coincidences make me feel excited, that I can change my life for the better.
    Praise, thanks and best wishes to you. 🙏

  10. Well i m 17 and i waste like 10hrs a day in watching tv series. I want to improve, to recover and your article has helped me a lot. I am starting to fight this addiction from now onwards. Thanks for the motivation Michael.

  11. Great article. This was part of my inspiration to curb my own TV watching, though it took me so many tries to finally master it. I love my evenings now and I love that I can pursue my passions instead of vegging out. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Thanks Ashley. You hit the nail on the head when you say “it took me so many tries to finally master it.” Most people underestimate how long it takes to make a behavior change like this. It takes some time for the brain to re-wire itself.

    2. I as a grown woman have an addiction problem with anything I do. I’m so happy to come across this website! I myself would eat 10 hours of tv a day so depressed. I think I can help myself by coming across this website. Thank you🤔

  12. Thanks , nice article I was impressed with kind of books you have read , I am not TV addict but when ever I am in problem or distress I do turn towards TV ( Escapism). Your article was reminder to me that life should have a goal , this is very descriptively explained in “Mans search for meaning” by Viktor Frankl. Thanks for reminding life is really important and we need to contribute in positive way. Regards

  13. I read your article it is inspiring but i think you forgot the first stage. Because thats where am having problem with my husband. The acceptance that if is an addict. If he has not agreed that he is then how do we cure

    1. Thanks for the input Fatima. The article is targeted to folks who suspect or believe they may be dealing with TV addiction. In other words, the believe they have a problem.

      Does you husband believe he has a problem with the amount of TV he watches? If not, unfortunately, there may not be much you can do to convince him.

      See my responses to similar questions here:
      https://www.michaeldpollock.com/how-i-overcame-tv-addiction/#comment-80253
      https://www.michaeldpollock.com/how-i-overcame-tv-addiction/#comment-80351
      https://www.michaeldpollock.com/how-i-overcame-tv-addiction/comment-page-1/#comment-80495

  14. I just hit rock bottom with TV addiction today. Just spent 5 hours of pointlessly watching tv and kept telling myself I’ll quit in an hour and do what I’m supposed to do. But I didn’t. I guiltily kept watching to further avoid the long list of things I need/should be doing. My TV habit is preventing me from moving forward in my life and achieving the goals I want to accomplish. I decided enough was enough and started researching how to kick the TV habit. I haven’t gone a day without TV in over a year. I haven’t gone a week without TV in over 8 years at least. I use TV to avoid various responsibilities and a cure for boredom and it goes hand-in-hand with food (of course!). I’m glad I bumped into your article because yours was the first to address it more seriously and look deeper into the problem and provide longer lasting outcomes. So, thank you!

    I just took my TV power cables and gave it to a friend and told her I can’t have them back for at least two months on penalty I have to give up my new tv I just got. I have plenty of options to replace it with and I’m going to enjoy them. I think it’ll be hard the first week as I have several triggers. But I know what they are and hopefully can redirect myself.

  15. any addiction does harm more than good. I’m not a fan of tv but i’m addicted to smartphone. I can’t live without my smartphone. I have 2 smartphone and a power bank. I can live without my wife but smartphone. I think i would learn something from your post.

  16. Very interesting article Michael. I am so glad that you wrote this it is because you share how to control. I appreciate the depth of your openness and vulnerability. this is a great post! Thank you so much!!!

  17. I thought I was the only one with problem. A little about me is that I was been bullied a lot in school and was always rejected by so many people. As a result I have developed social anxiety. Since I don’t have very many friends, I see TV as an only way that I could enjoy myself. I’ve been having this problem ever since I graduated high school and I’m like thinking to myself that I want to be normal and do stuff other people my age do. It makes me sad to see how people my age have already moved on with their lives and are already having great careers. While I’m stuck at home watching TV with nowhere to go in life. Though I’m studying nursing but still I’ve been in and out of college for the past 5 years. Anyways thanks for this article!

    1. Thanks for the candid feedback Aciel. We all have our own journey to travel in life, and judging yourself in comparison to others is counterproductive at best. That’s not to say that you can’t use other people as inspiration for creating a vision of the type of life you want to live and the type of person you want to be.

      In the first scenario (judging yourself), you’re saying, “wow, my life really sucks compared to that person.”

      In the second case (inspiring yourself), you’re saying, “wow, that person is doing some cool stuff with his/her life, and if he/she can do it, so can I.”

  18. Thank you for this post Michael. I have been so unmotivated with no direction for my life for so many years and I feel so stuck, trapped by my own choices. It’s like there’s two of me, one who wants to change and push forward and the other who wants to curl up on the couch and turn off. For some reason I have been allowing the latter to overpower me. Your blog has given me the motivation to take back those 2 months of my year, and more importantly be an active participant in my own life. Thank you for sharing your story with the world.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.