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.

  • Watch some excellent personal development classes online.
  • 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 206 brilliant comments

  1. Loved your article. I googled on TV addiction as my husband is completely addicted to TV. He still doesn’t think it’s a problem. He says what else will I do if not TV.
    It’s almost been an year we got married, before marriage I did not have a TV. I still had my laptop on which I used to watch a few series, but that’s about it.
    I came here after wedding and realise that the TV was perpetually on at all the times of the day. He wakes up at 6 am and I wake up at 6:30 am. By the time I reach the living room, the TV used to be on. And before going to bed in the bedroom as well. After a few months of fighting I finally was able to convince him to never put it on in the bedroom at least. Before me moving in, the TV used to be on the entire night, if he used to wake up from his sleep, he used to put it on (thankfully that has stopped after a lot of our fights).
    He still watches videos on his mobile for a few minutes and then he finally asks me if I want to sleep. If I say yes I would like to sleep now, he take out his air pods, puts either friends (the series) or any other series and flip over the phone screen so that the light doesn’t disturb my sleep.
    This goes worse- even in the toilet when he’s taking a dump or he’s taking a shower, some or the other video or series in playing on his cellphone.

    Honestly, after an year of watching this and fighting over it almost every two weeks, I have given up. I feel it’s his life, what can I do if doesn’t understand. I literally wonder how can someone watch so much of tv/Netflix/amazon prime or whatever. I watch 2 episodes back to back and feel unproductive.

    I don’t know if you’d even reply. But it felt good to just type all this down.

    Thanks

  2. I am in the same phase now. Every time I am home I always end up starting Netflix and spending hours every day. It’s like Netflix is my hideout from the rest of the world and problems. Instead of facing and solving problems, I spend an awful lot of time on movies and end up feeling even more miserable.
    Recently I started reading some blogs, and have been trying to improve my habits and stay focused on my goals. Your blog definitely gave me a kick I needed. Thank you.
    I have long wanted to start my blog and write my thoughts. I will start now.

  3. Where and who do I want to be in 5 years? Bahaha I’ve been asking myself this same question my entire life! I’m stuck unable to progress because I still don’t know this answer. I’ve always wanted to make a huge impact on the world! I never thought I would be 40 and still have no clue what my calling in life was or even have a clue what my ideal life looks like. Sadly now it just feels too late. 40 is old, my life is practically over.

    I enjoyed your article, it made me think I could definitely be doing more if I stop escaping through tv. I should be actively looking and finding ways to serve the greater good. I may die never finding my calling in life but at least my offspring will have memories of me actively searching and serving.

  4. Overcoming TV addiction is rather easy – you simply take the TV and get rid of it. (That worked for me, I put it into the attic and forgot about it). You won’t miss it (for long). But TV addiction is so 20th century – Internet is the new TV.

    I use the Internet to distract myself, cope with boredom, to avoid facing my fear of stepping out into the world, connecting with others.

    While the Internet may provide a short term escape from reality it ultimately uses my time and energy to deal with my problems and improve my life, which I am wasting on the Internet.

    However, unlike the simple task of getting rid of TV living an offline life is a rather difficult task to accomplish. Have you ever tried booking a flight offline? Order some widget related to your obscure hobby? An Uber? Dating? Getting rid of something (craigslist? If you put it in the classifieds you won’t get a call, even if you give it away for free)

    Since everyone and everything is online (and expects you to be online as a matter of course), leading an offline life is (unfortunately) not a real possibility in a modern world.

    Being offline is not an option, but whenever I am online I start wasting my time…wasting a little to unwind would be fine, but just like TV used to the Internet sucks me in instantly and I will not complete the task(s) I wanted to.

    IMHO Internet addiction (unlike TV addiction) is like having an eating disorder. You cannot not eat, you cannot not have Internet.

    Not having a TV is like being a dry alcoholic – you “simply” don’t drink beer if you know its bad for you. But you “have to have” Internet and then only use it in moderation, like a tool to accomplish whatever you need to find out, buy, whatever, but not getting carried away…which is difficult. Or you say “only one youtube clip to unwind and then I’ll research new job possibilities” … many hours later you are still on youtube…Even if you do something useful (research flights for your next holiday, hunt some obscure widget or information on the hike you want to do next weekend) the information overload (too much useful information) leads you to get sidetracked by wanting to know “everything”. The Internet has been stealing my life.

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