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. Hi Michael
    Thanks for the great article u have written.I too face the same issue .Being an introvert in my 22’s i sometimes want to escape so watch tv and suffer from procrastination.I feel bad lately as how i have been wasting time.I’ll surely follow ure tips.Thanks again .

  2. Thanks for this really nice article. I am planning to come back to it time to time and revise the steps. As you said, I watch TV to hide from my worries and problems. And I can’t manage to limit my TV time because my TV is, in fact, my laptop, where I work. So you see, since things are easily accessible, it is hard for me to stop. But not impossible. I will try it your way. After all, we are here for a reason and that reason cannot be ‘laughing at the jokes of the episodes of Big Bang Theory’.

  3. I just turned 24, and since I was 19, I’ve been spending ALL my free time on Youtube (think vlogs and buzzfeed). Everything else feels like a waste of time. I don’t even find YT fun. I just sink into this vegetable state so I don’t have to deal with regret, and if I don’t do it, I start going out of my head with loneliness.

    I can barely derive pleasure or relief from hobbies I used to like, that are A. not supported by anyone, or B. don’t have the potential to make me worth something to other people. The only ‘hobby’ I have is drawing, which I hate, but do sometimes because I’ve believed, for years, that it’s almost the only way to convey what I feel to “other people”, and become worth something to them.

    I just can’t see a future, and regret & hopelessness is drowning out any effort I make to improve myself now. I’ve been trying to upgrade some high school courses, so I can get a particular degree, eventually.. But I’m not getting anywhere, because I’m stuck on an unending loop of: study hard, burn out/zone out. If you have any advice, I’d appreciate it. Counselors/therapists have been useless, so far.

    1. Hi Emily. I’m sorry to hear that you’re feeling the way you are, but I’m glad that you reached out to me. I am not a trained psychotherapist, and I don’t know any more about your situation than what you shared, but the “regret and hopelessness” part of your comment sounds like the words of someone who is clinically depressed. If that’s the case, it’s likely related to your use of online video as there’s a good bit of research showing a connection between depression and excessive television/video watching.

      See, for example:
      https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-01/ica-fol012615.php
      https://www.bsfrey.ch/articles/459_07.pdf (PDF)
      http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2012/01/why-does-tv-make-us-unhappy

      Without knowing more about your specific situation, it’s difficult to offer any advice beyond what I suggested in the article, but one thing I strongly urge is that you continue working with a licensed therapist who’s experienced in treating depression. If the one you have currently is not working for you, maybe it’s time to find someone different.

      Like millions of other people, I’ve been through a couple bouts of depression in my life, so I know how hard it is to be in that place. You have hardly any energy, motivation or drive to really do anything to pull yourself out of the situation. I’m not sure if that resonates with what you are feeling, but if it is, here’s a resource with a lot of good information: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/depression

      Beyond that, one thing that helped me greatly the last time I was depressed (as mentioned in the article) was that I created an inspiring, long-term vision for my life – a mental image of where I saw my life heading in the future. This was, of course, only the first step for me, but it was an important step because it gave me a new direction and something to focus on instead of my crappy situation at that time.

      Have you ever done anything like that? Have you ever envisioned and written out how you want your life to be a year from now or 3-5 years from now?

      Also, if you are not exercising regularly, that should be near the top of your to-do list as there’s a lot of research that shows regular exercise does wonders to improve depression symptoms.

      See for example:
      http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-and-depression-report-excerpt
      http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression#1
      http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495
      http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/03/for-depression-prescribing-exercise-before-medication/284587/

      I’d love to hear what you think about those ideas.

  4. I easily connect this article to my current situation..i am using tv as as a short term escape from depression..being alone i find tv as source of people voices which make me feel somewhat better ..i am totally astonished by this article, reading your past tv habits is my current situation..i am madly addicted to tv I watch tv more than 8 hour..my day starts and end by watching television…I HOPE THIS ARTICLE WILL HELP ME

      1. The emotional toll it takes on your partner is sad. It tells her that she is less important , less interesting, and that she must be a boring person to be around. My other half turns the TV on around 11:00 am and watches nonstop until around 11 or 12 pm. If you tell him how it affects you it turns into instant anger and the usual response of “what do you want me to do” or “there isn’t anything else to do”! I’m so lonely, I have none to talk to and feel life passing me by without someone to share it with.

    1. i am a senior who is addicted the last YEAR…i lost my husband a few years ago THEN i lost our ONLY child ( an adult man ) NOTHING can come close to this kind of pain .. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING…so even after a couple of years i have kept to myself and never turn the tv off…. my life is “yuck” … i have noone i can share with since all those i know have children … noone has experienced such a loss!!!!

      1. Hi Lillian. Thank you for your candid comment, and I’m so sorry for your losses. I can hardly imagine the grief and pain you’ve been experiencing, and it’s understandable that you’d want to escape via television or other means. Unfortunately, as you’ve likely discovered, once the escape mechanism is gone – i.e. once the TV is turned off – the pain and grief flood back in.

        I realize you didn’t ask for advice, but I’m going to put it out there anyway. I’m sure there are people out there who have experienced loss similar to your’s, and I encourage you to connect with them somehow for mutual support. I did a quick google search for online grief support groups and found several groups – e.g. onlinegriefsupport.com – that you might explore. In any case, I wish you well and hope you eventually find happiness again.

  5. Hi Michael,
    Really eye-opening article for me. I realize I’ve been addicted to tv for the past 6 years since Grieving alot of deaths in my immediate family. I am a young senior and was caregiving for family member for quite some time. I am still transitioning from my caregiver role. Frankly, alot of time was taken from my life in my fifties. I had to give up many opportunities at that time. I’m an artist and have alot of talent but haven’t been able to retrieve the desire to do it anymore. Anyone who is a caregiver will get what I am talking about. Also, the digital world has completely changed the business world and the earth itself. I am not sure anymore what direction I desire to go in. To top it off, there is a global energy shift happening with the earth shifting on it’s axis. This is causing alot of chaotic changes for people’s minds and bodies. Many of us are going crazy! So, sometimes for me, tv is soothing and safer than dealing with the heavy energy on the earth presently.
    But, I know tv watching is a time waster and I need to cut it down.

    I do suffer from depression and have had problems since child hood. I guess as an artsy person it goes with the creative territory. But makes life way harder to deal with. Often, mental health has biological issues with brain chemistry problems and medication can be helpful. But, your article is alerting me to possible brain changes which I do not want. Thanks for writing this. Other issue which is affecting myself and humanity now is the extreme lack of sense of community, especially in Southern California. I live in Orange County, Ca and it is very difficult to make good connections with people. I’ll be leaving here and moving elsewhere, in near future. It can cause extreme isolation. People do not want to get to know eachother. If you have any ideas of places where there’s more normal interaction and connectiveness with people, I ‘d be interested in hearing about them. Also, as a creative, intuitive person, and an Hsp (highly sensitive ), any ideas where to meet less heavy stimuli? Thanks again for your article.
    Noreen

    1. Hi Noreen. Thanks for the kind words about my article. I’m glad to hear it had a positive impact on you. I hear that you’re wanting more human connection in your life, and I strongly encourage that. I’m an east coast resident, so I can’t offer any specific suggestions regarding communities to explore on the west coast. I’m sure a google search can point you in the right direction though.

      See, for example: https://www.google.com/search?q=spiritual%20towns%20in%20southern%20california

      You might also explore churches and other spiritual communities in your current area. If you’re looking for more loving, human connection, that’s always a great place to start. Also, check meetup.com. With the dense population of Orange County, I’d guess you can find several meetup groups there. You just have to be willing to move out of your comfort zone a bit, and initiate connection from your end. That is always the challenge for people like us. Be well.

      Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal. Walk out of your house like a shepherd.”
      – Rumi

    2. Hi Michael, thank you for your article. That is just what I needed to hear (read!) at this time. I have turned into a TV addict lately. I waste away my evenings when i have much better things to do. I tried cutting out TV watching altogether, but that didnt work. After reading your article I’ve realised that I dont need to cut it out altogether; I could just limit it to an hour a day. I’m going to give it a try tonight. May I also respond to a question that Noreen has asked you…

      Hi Noreen, I just read your comment. I know of a church in Orange county that I think you will like. If you love the arts, you will love this place. I live in Australia but I never miss a program that comes from this church in Orange county. It looks to me like an amazing community. If I ever get to visit Orange county that’s definitely a place I’d go. I just looked up the address. Perhaps you want to give it a try. The program I watch is called ‘Hour of Power’ and it comes from this place:
      Shepherd’s Grove
      12921 Lewis St.
      Garden Grove, CA 92840
      (714) 971-4000

  6. Dear Michael,
    Thank you for the insightful article. Lately, I’ve been feeling like a loved one might be suffering from television addiction. Since moving away to college my lifestyle dramatically changed because my particular living situation did not provide cable, and this forced me to cut television out of my life. Until then I was a lot like my family member and would spend many hours watching television on the couch, but being at school forced me to exercise, create artwork, socialize and challenge many unhealthy habits. Now that I’ve returned home, it has become apparent to me this person is addicted to television because they (just like in your article) watch tv the moment they arrive home until they fall asleep on the couch at night.

    My problem is that I’m not quite sure how to breach the topic with my loved one. I sense that TV is probably one of the only outlets in their life giving them a sense of relief from stress and anxiety. Their job makes them very unhappy, and I also sense that they don’t have any future goals they want to reach after they retire. Because this family member has helped pay for the opportunities I have in schooling I also feel a sense of guilt addressing the issue. Also, to make matters worse, being in the unhealthy environment is starting to effect the way I live as well, and I am returning to the person that spends way too much time with my technology instead of accomplishing my goals.

    Do you have any advice for addressing this type of issue with a loved one? Is it impossible to address someone’s addictions without hurting them?

    1. Hi Susan. I’m sorry to hear about the situation with your loved one. That’s a hard place to be, I’m sure. You are not the first person to ask me this sort of question – i.e. how to deal with a family member’s TV addiction.

      See, for example some of my responses 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

      I hope you find something useful in those responses. If you have further questions after reading them, give me a shout.

  7. Hi Michael, thank you for a refreshing post!

    I know this all too well… Netflix has its benefits but as a college student, I have a major issue. Thankfully I have walked away with a 3.5 GPA last semester but I cannot tell you how much TV consumed my time and fueled my social anxiety issues. I am going to school out of state and while I have made some friends, I feel really out of my comfort zone sometimes and bingeing on 24 and Vampire Diaries seems a lot more comforting than to not socializing. I realize that I will only be this young and in college once but I get so insecure about how people will see me.
    Additionally, I have done some acting roles and I must say this article has kind of discouraged me not to pursue TV acting anymore. If anything, I will just go for movies. Cinema is a lot more valuable than TV in my opinion.

    Best
    Xoxo

    1. Thanks for the message, Elizabeth. I can relate to the social anxiety issue. I am an introvert by nature, and I have to really push myself to get out the house and do stuff with other people. It does get easier the more you do it though, so keep pushing the edges of your comfort zone 🙂

  8. Hello, I’m Mona. I’m an Egyptian and I’m a med student. I suffer the same thing you described but I’m so obsessed with a particular Tv show I saw on a summer vacation and I don’t mind saying that this show is a mediocre show of CW called Supernatural. Problem is it’s 11 seasons, more than 230 episodes and I keep watch it again and again and that is ruining my life you know. And it’s not just that. It’s when I binge on watching a series I Od it and don’t rest until I reach its very end and when I do I look for another one and the story goes by!

    At school, I used to be that perfect student who can consider losing a mark like the hurricane or something! But now my marks are deteriorating in the first semester of college i got an A+ then the second A then the third is B+ and god know what I will do in the fourth by this degree. Every time i get a low mark I get mad at first and decide to change but I keep succumbing to the same thing for my misery to repeat itself.

    Problem is I don’t have anything else to do with my free time because I don’t play sports and I don’t play music plus here in Egypt there is not much freedom or places where you can go and this is the only thing that makes me feel happy and if I don’t do that I feel sad and like I carry the weight of the world on my chest and the time i spend studying is minimal and when I do i feel that i’m not at full or even half power because my heart and mind are set on something else.

    What do I do?

    1. Hi Mona. I’m sorry to hear about your struggles. You are not the first student I’ve heard from regarding this problem. College is a challenging and stressful time, especially for people like you who’ve set such high standards for yourself. I can certainly understand how television can provide some much-needed relaxation and escape from the pressure you’re feeling.

      That said, ultimately, you need to ask yourself if this TV program – or any TV program – is really worth jeopardizing your long-term goals. Are you willing to give up your future as a physician just to watch a few more episodes of this program? Assuming the answer is NO, you need to take responsibility for this behavior, and do something about it.

      I’m not saying that you can’t or shouldn’t watch any TV at all, but you have to set some limits for yourself. That feels difficult, I know, especially when one episode comes to an end and another is waiting for you.

      Here are a couple ideas:

      1. Re-read the 5 suggestions in my article, and start implementing some of those ideas. They work if you work them, maybe not immediately, but over time.

      2. Connect with other students for support. No one says you have to do this alone, and there are certainly other people in your situation.

      3. Block or limit access to your viewing device. If you watch on a computer, install some sort of blocking application such as https://freedom.to/freedom. If you watch a television in a dormitory, spend less time there.

      4. If you are not doing it already, you need to be exercising consistently. I can’t stress this enough. You need to blow off steam and de-stress, and this is the one of the best ways to do it. Perhaps get involved in intramural sports or some sort of team sport where you can connect with others. It doesn’t matter if you are not an athlete. You can learn.

      5. Be patient. This will not happen overnight, but if you set some small, daily or weekly goals for yourself (example: no more than 2 hours of TV per day), and add some new, healthier activities to your lifestyle, you’ll be well on your way to a fulfilling medical career.

      I wish you well.

  9. I’m a very technology-addicted guy that is very much addicted to watching shows (not necessarily on TV) as it is my only hobby. I used to be addicted to gaming till I managed to cut it out of my life, but watching shows is still a huge pain in my side.

    Sure, I could do more productive/beneficial things; do more chores, organize stuff, learn new things. But at the end of the day, these don’t relax me or give me any pleasure other than to remove whatever stress I have for putting off such things earlier.

    My question is, what do you do when watching shows is the ONLY thing that you find doing that is pleasurable. If I had another hobby like playing music, the answer would be simpler – play more music. Sadly, I do not have such an alternative and I still need to stimulate my pleasure receptors with shows somehow. Only problem is I keep overdoing it, time and time again till it takes over my day. And yes, I’m an indoors kind of guy, so my computer is my life. What better alternatives can I use my computer for other than watching shows? Writing blogs and stuff to me are alternatives that don’t value add to my life either unless I profit off of it and is just another form of an addiction other than shows. I don’t want an alternative, it’s something that I genuinely enjoy to de-stress, I want to reduce my reliance on it somehow without making the alternative another addiction. Any advice?

    1. Hi Shaun. I can’t say for sure, but it’s possible that your excessive/addictive use of technology over the years has made it difficult (impossible?) for you to experience pleasure or joy from anything other than the object of your addiction. The current understanding of addiction is that it’s a brain disease in which the addiction “hijacks” the brain’s reward center.

      See: http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/how-addiction-hijacks-the-brain.

      And: http://www.helpguide.org/harvard/how-addiction-hijacks-the-brain.htm

      Again, I can’t say that’s what’s going on with you, but based on what you wrote, it seems to make sense to me. How about you?

  10. After a harrowing incident that almost destroyed my life, I turned to television for escape. I lost my incredible job, my confidence and my passion for drawing. It wasn’t long until my partner soon followed.

    From a kickass graduate working at a prestigious studio, to a waiter whose highlight of the day is that new episode of whatever and partying away at the weekends to forget my sorrows in a strangers bed. I knew I had a problem when the feeling of emptyness hit me after an episode ended. I haven’t grabbed a pencil in so long and my Wacom tablet has accumulated so much dust that I often wonder if I’m ever going to get back to normal.

    I finally decided to reclaim the things I lost after 3 years of wallowing when a friend of mine propositioned me with a job at a big studio. I declined politely but it was then when I decided I’m going to shake this off and beat this. It’s not going to be easy but I want to be able to see my friends, hold my head up high and not feel like a loser.

    Thank you for this inspiring post. It means the world to me. I felt ashamed that out of all things I was addicted to television, I mean, that is pretty pathetic. I’ll take it day by day. Week by week. I’ll be ok.

    Thanks again,

    Aiden

  11. I can’t tell you what it means to know that this issue I have with TV isn’t only a real problem, but that others have suffered through it and come out the other side. My issues with TV are intense. For so long I would tell myself that everything was fine and I just really liked my shows. But now, now it’s gotten to the point where I wake up and turn the TV on and it does not shut off until bed time. I have a problem and this has helped me immensely to not just understand, but to start moving forward. Thanks so much more than I can say. Thank you.

  12. I wanted to say thank you for writing about your struggle. I know I am addicted to TV and I felt like maybe I was weird for it. No one I know has this struggle so thank you for making me feel less alone about this issue! God bless!

      1. Om if you just came from school on a vacation during the winter and i live near Niagara falls so pretty cold to go outside.I try to play games like chess and do match after after 2-3 hour i get bored and start watching tv or start playing league of legend.

  13. Hi Michael I know that watching tv is a waste of time but for a person like me it doesn’t seems to work. What you wrote is conditional it can only work for people who actually have the option of going for recreational activies and all that you mentioned but when you are a student you don’t have any option rather than living a life where your parents keep on pestering you to perform well in your exams though you know that it is for your good but in such case they expect you to be sitting in front of your books studying for hours together then you have option left except to grab a phone watch a tv series to relax and take a break. In such a condition where you are to spend your whole day inside your room what can be other ways to relax then to watch tv?

    1. Hi Priyanka. If you are in fact trapped in your room all day and can’t get out, you have my sympathy. As a parent myself, that seems unreasonable to me, and I can understand your desire to escape by watching television.

      That said, if you want to make the best of it, you could use it as an opportunity to develop your self-control/willpower muscles. You could do that by setting a limit on how much tv you watch during the day. For example, you might study for 90 minutes, then allow yourself 30 minutes to watch TV or some other relaxing activity. Then go back to studying for another 90 minutes.

      Instead of TV, you could learn and practice meditation or deep breathing exercises for 30 minutes (try a google search for guidance on this), or perhaps do some light exercise for that time period, read a novel or watch some interesting TedTalk videos on a topic you find interesting. You could also try something creative, such as drawing, painting or even dancing ( see http://danceinayear.com ).

      In any case, I wish you well in your journey. This period of your life will pass. My hope for you is that you will one day look back on it as a turning point in your life when you took complete responsibility for your happiness.

  14. My 48 year old son recntly had a major spine surgery. Right now he is recouperating and so his TV watching cannot be called excessive. However, he has always turned to the TV as his BEST friend and companion through a very hard life of ostracism (when school mates exclude you because you for from another country etc) to hard Karate training, a betrayal in a divorce removing a dearly loved son to distances, etc.

    I am not making excuses but through ot all the TV and he companionship without any interjections gave him some solace I guess… When we vidit him he is usually watching movies and wants to join in watching it with him. We cannot talk to him for then he shushes us. His three year old son and six month old daughter are playing with the T constantly naking its noises and light flckers… He even gets them to watch TV. My husband humors him and sits with him without any comments or talk and watches whatever my son wants to. His wife has just bought him an even bigger TV! I think its ok to a certain extent because he produces media based educational products and games and watching TV gives some ideas for those as well. However, I think it is rude to make your visitors wstch the shows you want to watch the entire time of their visit is crazy!

    I would like to go and talk to him, have conversations about how he is faring and how we are doing and whats happening in our lives etc., without the TV blaring and us having to ‘shush,’ every other word!

    He invites us over–then does this. How do I make it pleasant for all of us without hurting his feelings or mine?

    Mom

    1. Hi Mom. That’s a tough situation to be in with your son. Generally, people make a change only when THEY decide to do it. And the more we try to urge them to make the change we think they should make, the more they resist. In other words, if your son does not experience his behavior as a problem – i.e. it’s not causing him pain or discomfort in some way – there’s little you can do to make a direct impact toward change. If you tell him to change – directly or indirectly – he will likely resist or resent you for it.

      Assuming you’re not already doing these, here are a few ideas:

      1. Don’t nag or complain about his behavior, but at the same time, be calm and clear about what you want and need from the relationship. If he invites you over, you could agree to visit on the condition that you not spend all your time watching television.

      2. I don’t know the details of your son’s situation, but it’s possible he is depressed. I’m not a trained therapist, so I suggest you check google for “symptoms of depression,” and go from there. If you suspect that’s the case, get in touch with a trained therapist for advice on how best to support him.

      3. You might also check out the Family and Friends forum on the SMART Recovery website here: http://www.smartrecovery.org/community/forums/24-Family-amp-Friends. SMART is an alternative recovery program based on the science of behavior change. While I realize your son may not accurately be classified as an addict, I’m sure you’ll find plenty of folks dealing with similar issues as you in that particular forum.

      I hope these ideas are helpful for you, and I wish you well.

  15. Very timely and powerful article for me Michael. I am so glad that you wrote this. I identify and know that much of my time and downhill life spiral has to do with my addiction to movies and TV. I really appreciate the depth of your openness and vulnerability. THIS IS A BIG DEAL!!! Thank you so much!!!

  16. I am having an issue where I get caught up in what is going on on TV and cant hear or realize others are trying to talk to me. How do I break myself of this? What if somebody is in real trouble, and I am all zoned out on the tv? I could never live with myself if something happened. Please help.

    1. Sounds like you’re allowing yourself to get sucked into whatever is on the TV. Said another way, you are allowing your attention to be stolen, which is exactly what they want. “They,” meaning the TV producers and multi-billion-dollar advertisers that support them. They only want you to watch more and more, become hypnotized by medium and buy whatever they are selling during the commercial breaks. They want you to become just another sheep being led to the slaughter.

      Stop being a sheep, Tim. Take back your attention, and refocus on things that really matter – friends, family, your health, you goals, your future. They are real. They exist right here, right now. Whatever you’re watching on TV is not. If you must watch TV, instead of shifting all your attention to the TV, practice focusing on whatever else is going on in the room.

  17. I live in South Africa. American television controls my mother and I. we are TV slaves. We have no life, we don’t go out, we have no friends. All weekend night and day, during the week. TV, TV and more TV. Our lives are sad. We want to do things, but we’re too busy watching TV. TV is basically 60% of our lives. Home make overs, cooking shows on and on and on. Very sad.

    1. Sorry to hear that Ray. While I realize you didn’t ask for advice, I can’t help myself, so here goes …

      It would serve you to shift your language from “television controls my life” to “I am allowing television to control my life, and I have the choice to do something about it.”

  18. I stopped watching TV years ago but there are still three old tube TVs in the house because no one wants the suckers. Might as well just throw them out because I see no use for them. I remember watching TV all day and it just blows my mind. I do a lot of creative writing now as well as research for it which I guess is also a form of escape but it doesn’t feel like a waste of time. I also do a scrapbook and now that winter is coming I miss all the time I spend outside. I actually read much more when I didn’t write as much- now I’m more interested in creating a story than reading what someone else thought up. I also love to talk to my friends and family, over skype with the ones that don’t live close to me. I honestly don’t miss TV at all, it actually genuinely annoys me now. If I want background noise, I’ll turn on some music.

    1. Thanks for the feedback JD. Those old TVs are impossible to get rid of nowadays. I see then often on garbage day.

      Glad to hear you’ve kicked the TV habit. Sounds like you have created quite a rich life in its absence. Great example 🙂

  19. Hey Michael,
    Awesome article. Lots of respect to you for taking back control of your life. My boyfriend is in a very similar situation to what you once were (escaping life’s issues and doing anything productive through excessive media consumption). Could you please offer advice? What I could possibly do? Inspire him somehow?
    I would really appreciate it.
    Thanks.

    1. Thanks for the kind words MJ. That’s a tough situation to be in with your BF. Generally, people make a change only when THEY decide to do it. And the more we try to urge them to make the change we think they should make, the more they resist. In other words, if your BF does not experience his behavior as a problem – i.e. it’s not causing him pain or discomfort in some way – there’s little you can do to make a direct impact toward change. If you tell him to change, he will likely resist or resent you for it.

      Assuming you’re not already doing these, here are a few ideas:

      1. Take care of you, and live YOUR best life. Lead by example. If you read my full article, this is precisely what my partner – Ellen – did for me. As Gandhi famously wrote, “be the change you want to see.”

      2. Don’t nag or complain about his behavior, but at the same time, be calm and clear about what you want and need from the relationship. Make requests rather than demands or complaints.

      3. I don’t know the details of your BF’s situation, but it’s possible he is depressed. I’m not a trained therapist, so I suggest you check google for “symptoms of depression,” and go from there. If you suspect that’s the case, get in touch with a trained therapist for advice on how best to support him.

      4. You might also check out the Family and Friends forum on the SMART Recovery website here: http://www.smartrecovery.org/community/forums/24-Family-amp-Friends. SMART is an alternative recovery program based on the science of behavior change. While I realize your BF may not accurately be classified as an addict, I’m sure you’ll find plenty of folks dealing with similar issues as you in that particular forum.

      I hope these ideas are helpful for you, and I wish you well.

  20. Michael,

    Thank you for this amazing article! I gave up my T.V. addiction in April, and haven’t looked back. I still watch a movie from time to time (nobody’s perfect) but I’m sill amazed at the hours I’ve gained to pursue much more important things.

    Blessings,
    Stacey

  21. Thank you for this blog. It is nice to have a forum that helps to focus thought and effort on a subtle and somewhat pathetic problem.

    Every sliver of self-help advice requires finding a purpose, a mission, a meaningful activity, a goal. It is as if an intelligent human can suddenly find meaning where there was none, suddenly find the motivation to “embrace” something or as if people just forgot to try to set goals. I know first hand some people MUST have a goal in order to find motivation to do anything, while others can find motivation in a mere interest.

    The REAL problems seem to be:

    1. how to trick your mind into finding meaning in something you must do or

    2. how to make the jump from finding something interesting to finding it compelling and

    3. how to overcome avoidance behaviors.

    I don’t believe tv addiction is simply about not having anything else to do – we all have enormous amounts of things we know we should be doing (cooking, financial planning, gift buying, exercising, homework, housework, grooming, finishing those photo albums, pet grooming, meeting social obligations, clearing out the garage, work); we already know things we’d like to do (learn Italian, study piano, get in touch with those Irish cousins, research that yard sale painting, hike up that hill) or that we might like to try (ballooning, painting, ballroom dancing)- the problem is finding good compelling motivations for making the effort towards these things worthwhile.

    Doers are always happier people; that is no mystery. The question is how we turn ourselves into doers. The absence of this critical step looms gigantic. Saying “Find a meaningful goal” is as artificial as saying “Just decide to believe.”

    So, how does one turn an interest or value into a meaningful goal? How does one make things that are already needed or desirable, compelling?

    1. Thanks so much for this very thoughtful, and well-articulated comment, OldMom. Your observations are astute, and you raise some excellent questions. Unfortunately, I don’t have all the answers for you at the moment, but please stay tuuned 🙂

    2. I think your comments are very thoughtful. I too struggle with the same issues and can relate. Yes, there are a lot of things that we should/could/would and want to do if we weren’t watching television but for me, all good intentions aside, the television takes over and everything else falls to the wayside even though I know that is not what I truly want to be doing.

  22. Hi I agree with u a lot but me there is a tv show that I’m soo adicted to and if I I don’t watch its like I’m gonna die and I fell sad please help me I want to stop watching that show and it has like 200 episodes I want to watch them and I don’t want to watch them too all day and night in my phone watching it online please help me (and the actor that is accting in this show I love him soooooo much) what should I do. ???? I can’t stop watching it and if I do I will be soo sad and I will want to cry and always thinking in it help me

  23. I started on television and social media detox yesterday and after reading a few dozen articles on the subject yours is definitely one of the best three I have found. Even the comments have been insightful.

    I can watch anything from 3 hours to 16 hours of television a day including DVDs and online streaming. I only realized how much TV had taken over my life and my emotions when I was more devastated by the impending death of a character than I was by the death of a friend who was only 21 years old.

    Yesterday I decided to make a change and for the next few weeks or months I am limiting myself to only one hour of television and social media a day in total. Outside that time I will not engage with social media or shows in any way. I will eventually change this and allow myself more flexibility but only once I know it is no longer something I rely on to keep me busy. When I get bored I tend to turn on the TV or pick up my phone.

    Today is day 2 of my detox and while doing a puzzle I felt like I was literally going insane. All I could think about was turning on the TV, mostly so I would not have to concentrate so hard. The sad thing is I used to love doing puzzles. The same with books which I also am struggling to get through.

    There was a time, as a child, where I watched 2 and a half hours of television a week and I was able to keep myself busy else where the rest of the time. I can not for the life of me figure out what I did in all that free time. I know there was a time when I was addicted to books and read 3 or 4 children’s novel a day and even let it take over my life but outside of that I have few ideas on how to keep myself busy without technology.

    1. Good for you Michelle. It takes time, but the withdrawal symptoms do subside. Have you tried writing/journaling? It’s a great way to occupy your time and get your thoughts out of your head.

      In any case, keep with it. It’s a long-term commitment but well-worth it.

  24. I very much enjoyed your article, but as I read it, it sounds like you had someone who gave you motivation, a reason to cut back your TV consumption, and an alternative to watching tv.

    What is your recommendation for people who really don’t have some built in support or an activity to fall back on? I think for some people, if/when they stop watching tv things will feel really empty. If trying something new isn’t working, or someone really feels worse after cutting back, what should they do?

    1. Thanks for the question JJ. Let me preface my answer by acknowledging that I have no idea what your specific situation is, so it’s difficult to offer any targeted suggestions.

      That said, it sounds like you already know the general answer to your question. To use your own words, find someone (or something) that gives you a reason to cut back your TV consumption, and an alternative to watching TV. To put it more simply, find something better to do with your time than watch television. For some good examples, read Melissa’s comment here.

      What are your long-term goals and dreams? What could you do with an extra hour or more each day? Cultivate a sense of purpose and mission in your life, and find small ways to begin living in alignment with your purpose and mission each day. Overcoming TV addiction is less about eliminating the addiction, and more about creating a more fulfilling and inspiring life that has little room for wasting time on TV.

      All this takes time though. And no one is saying that it’s easy, because it’s not (for most people). It wasn’t easy for me.

      If trying something new isn’t working, or someone really feels worse after cutting back, what should they do?

      Cut back gradually. Most change involves some level of discomfort initially (i.e. withdrawal symptoms), and unless you have a strong support system in place, cold-turkey is a difficult way to approach it. That’s just the way we human beings are wired. The trick is to have a compelling, long-term vision for your life to help pull you through it.

      For example, if you’re currently watching 4 hours of television per night, set a goal to reduce it by 20 minutes each week. And find something else more productive or restorative to do with that time.

      I’m writing an entire book to address this question, but those are a few of the big ideas to help get you started. I hope you find them helpful.

  25. I believe in TV addiction. For 37 years, I was married to a TV addict. Even as a newlywed, he would come home and turn on the TV first thing. Before we were married, he would come into my apartment and immediately turn on my TV. This is very rude behavior. After we were married, he got very dirty and greasy in his work at a tire store. He would not get cleaned up when he came home and ruined the furniture. Conversation was impossible. I thought I knew what “lonely” meant when I lived alone. I found out what “lonely” really is after getting married. Even before we got married, there were very few real conversations between us. Most of those were one-sided. And, yes, he was a binge-eater. He could not ever be satisfied with food. At the end of the marriage, he was eating constantly and weight close to 400 pounds, size 58 pants. He always insisted on having the TV on the table where we ate. I used to say the house could burn down around him and he would not notice as long as the TV kept going. If he was home and awake, he was watching TV. There would be a show I would want to watch and he would complain, saying awful things about the shows I wanted to see. After we had kids, he refused to interact with them. He simply could not get enough of it. The kids were terrible behavior problems because he would not enforce the rules with them. They would not mind me because they knew he didn’t care. It was not the number of hours of TV he watched, it was the relentless TV watching when he was not working. He worked 48 or more hours per week. He did get enough sleep, the rest of his time was spent watching TV. His TV watching was a big factor in the divorce.

  26. Thanks you so much for writing this article, and also responding to all the comments. I binge watch streaming services for hours on end, sometimes literally all day (on weekends). Like most people that have commented, I always knew I was ‘ a TV addict’ but I (a) didnt realise how serious it was and (b) thought I was struggling alone. Was very happy to read this article and the comments, and your point about ‘using it to escape problems and not deal with life’ really struck home for me. It is good to know that there are others out there, and steps to take to overcome this. I also looked up ego depletion and it is fascinating, so thank you for mentioning that and putting this into context of the bigger picture.

  27. Wow….great, great article. My addiction is to Hulu….and I really want to end that relationship! What you said Michael is soooo true and you really captured what I could not articulate myself. Thank you so much for this!

    1. Thanks so much Keisha. Glad to hear it was useful for you. I use Netflix and have on occasion done the binge watching thing. Especially with House of Cards 🙂

      The trick – for me – is to find something better/more productive to do with my time.

  28. Wow, your article and all the comments resonate so much with me. I was brought up as an only child with tv as my ‘friend’ and babysitter. My partner was in the same boat. We have both been tv addicted since we were kids and now I can see our kids predictably following in our paths. It is really difficult because I am the only one who thinks it is a problem and wants to kick the habit 🙁

    Today, after 2 hours of tv, I managed to pull myself away from the tv and it is the first day that I will try with every fibre of my being to cut down (rather than just say to myself that I will do it).

  29. I am quite convinced that my wife is addicted to television. She gets home from work around 4PM, comes into the study (I work from home), we chat a few minutes, goes out to the living room and turns on the TV. She sits there until 10 or 10:30PM, when we go into the bedroom, turn on the TV there and go to sleep. That’s six hours – nonstop – every working day. On weekends, it goes on at 7:30 AM, and stays on till 10 or 11 at night. Every day, every week.

    When she gets a day off from work (snow/weather, for example), she gets up, lets the dogs out, turns on the TV, and it stays on all day. Binge watching Star Trek reruns, Law and Order….hour after hour. She has a few shows she likes – cooking shows, cop/fireman dramas – but most of the time she just sits there and stares at whatever comes on.

    Yes, she cooks dinner (fortunately our kitchen is within eyesight of the TV). I cook, too. The dogs get fed. Dishes and laundry get done (we share those those things), but dinner gets burned sometimes because she gets wrapped up in TV show. Laundry will sit wet in the washing machine for days sometimes. She’ll say, I need to change that lightbulb or hang up some clothes or wash out the dog dish, but those items get ignored for days, usually until I do them myself.

    I exercise. We live in a very nice neighborhood near a beautiful park and I go out every day and walk. I like to walk the dogs – she’ll come with me if I nag her – if I say nothing, I go by myself while she sits and watches TV. She has promised on numerous occasions that she’ll start going to the gym with me at night (‘hey, bring your tablet!’ I’ll suggest…), but she doesn’t and gets defensive and irritated when I bring it up.

    The dogs bark and interrupts the dialogue on the TV. She gets mad. I come out to living room and she’s staring agape at a movie she’s seen twenty times before. I suggest, hey, isn’t there ANYTHING else to do but watch this again??? She gets mad. “What are you watching?” “Some stupid movie.” “Why are you watching it then?”….cold stare

    Then, there’s the two-screen thing – she’ll sit there with the TV on, flipping through Facebook or playing her game on her smartphone. If I say anything, she gets mad.

    We have a few things we watch together – Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul, Walking Dead, space shows – but that comprises about 6 hours a week.

    I am concerned for her health (she also smokes) and for our marriage. We do very little together outside the house. She has no hobbies, isn’t interested in getting any, and has zero interest in mine.

    My first wife was an alcoholic – I know very well the defenses that get thrown up when someone tries to crack a partner’s addictive behavior. My first wife died from her addiction. I am very concerned that between sedentary TV watching and the smoking, my current wife is slowly draining her own life away.

    It’s starting to be a problem. Maybe…it’s way past that point. I feel like I have failed in this marriage.

    What do I do?

    1. Hi Dave. That sounds like a really tough situation, and I feel for you. Based on the information you offered, it does sound like your wife may very well be suffering from TV addiction. It also sounds as though she’s not willing to acknowledge it, which obviously makes the situation even more challenging to deal with.

      I am not a trained marriage and family therapist, and frankly, I think that’s what would serve you best at this point. My suggestion would be to calmly sit down with her, and tell her how concerned you are for her, yourself and your marriage. Don’t blame her for the situation, and avoid speaking in a judgmental tone. Simply voice your concerns in a gentle, loving way, and ask if she would be willing to seek out a couples therapist to help you both work together to improve the connection and communication in your relationship.

      Here’s are two great articles for more information:
      https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-intelligent-divorce/201210/what-if-your-partner-won-t-go-therapy
      http://www.relationshipjourney.com/getpartnertogotocounseling.html

      I wish you well.

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