It’s been over a year since I wrote about reducing TV viewing, and since then several readers have told me about their experiences giving up television completely. Some claimed not to have watched any TV in years. Reported benefits included better mental clarity, (desired) weight loss, exploring new hobbies, better relationships, more energy, higher productivity, greater emotional stability, and even better sex. A few people told me it was one of the best lifestyle changes they’ve ever made for themselves and their families.
As you can imagine, this eventually got to me, and I realized that my TV viewing habits could use a makeover. My whole family did a 30-day TV fast in 2004, which was definitely beneficial, but afterwards I still stuck with a couple shows I really enjoyed, such as The Simpsons. Since I work from home, I often watch DVR-recorded shows during lunch. Even though I don’t watch a lot of TV, I’m intrigued by the overwhelming benefits others reported after much longer periods with no TV.
First, I decided to try to become more aware of what TV was doing for me. Without changing my viewing habits, I attempted to observe them more consciously. Were my favorite shows as entertaining as I thought? I noticed that even during a Simpsons episode I considered very funny, I barely laughed at all (Doh!). I mostly just thought it was clever. I compared this to spending time with friends where we’d typically share many genuine laughs together. Hmmmm…
The next thing I did was to decouple TV viewing from meals. I began eating lunch in silence, while talking to my wife and/or son, while reading or listening to audio programs, or even while continuing to work. I noticed that without the food, watching TV was rather boring. Without TV to distract me, I started paying more attention to what I was eating for lunch, so I began preparing higher quality meals with greater variety. When watching TV I’d often make a sandwich or a veggie burger, but I started making curried chick peas and other interesting dishes after realizing that my lunches had become boring too. The simple act of decoupling TV from meals raised my awareness of the blandness of both.
Incidentally, a common challenge in personal development is that we must sometimes take a step backwards in order to take two steps forward. My attempt to raise my awareness of my TV viewing habits made both the TV shows and my meals more boring — a seemingly negative result. This is like being in an unfulfilling relationship where acknowledging how bad it is may initially make you feel even worse. But when there’s no path forward, that’s when we need to shift into reverse, admitting that our forward path is blocked and will not lead us to joy. Once we back out of the quagmire of stagnation, we can reassess the situation and explore another path where the long-term results look far more promising.
After seeing that my TV habits were basically a dead-end in terms of their potential entertainment value, I decided to begin another 30-day TV fast, and after that I’ll assess if I want to drop TV for good. I started at the beginning of the month, so I’m more than halfway through it already. I’m still open to DVD rentals when there’s something I really want to see, but I’m not watching any broadcast shows.
I’ve noticed that without TV as my so-called entertainment, I feel a greater impulse to enjoy other forms of entertainment and especially to do more traveling. My wife and I went on vacation to Newport Beach last week, and I’m already wanting to take another trip. I’ll also be playing disc golf again later this week. I remember one of the other no-TV readers telling me that his family started spending a lot more time outdoors as well.
I’ll see how it goes, but at this point I’d say the chance of me giving up broadcast and cable TV for good is high. I’m seeing that TV is a pretty weak form of entertainment compared to the alternatives.
One thing I really like about running this site is that you, my readers, continually push me to grow. I doubt I would have even thought about giving up TV if not for the stories people sent me. We all have blind spots in terms of living consciously, and it’s helpful to have someone else point them out… even when our natural tendency is to be resistant at first.