As I sit here and write this, I honestly cannot remember the last time that I watched television in my home. It’s been at least several weeks, and in that very same time, I’ve had a few of the most productive weeks ever.
Long ago, I realized that watching television negatively affected my mood, my productivity, and my outward perception in life. Lessening, and then completely eliminating the amount of time that I watch network and cable television has been one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made.
A few years ago, I was like other people. I watched television regularly, and I had a number of favorite shows. I also had a cable television subscription complete with a DVR. I recorded my favorite shows and I spent a few hours each week catching up on those shows. But, I started to notice that a few different factors contributed to me being anxious and worried as a direct result of watching TV. Once I started eliminating the number of hours that I watched TV, these problems disappeared.
Mindless Television Watching
I know that I’m not the only person who is guilty of mindless television watching. When I was a child, I fell asleep with the television on every night. It was like “white noise” to me. I liked hearing the sounds of talking and laughter as a I fell asleep, and I continued that habit into adulthood. This meant that most nights, my eyes were glued to the TV until I fell asleep.
When I had roomates during law school, or when I had someone over, they would sometimes comment on my bad habit. I became defensive, and said there was nothing wrong with watching TV late at night. I didn’t make the connection between my TV-watching habit and my difficulty having a restful sleep.
During my 1L year of law school, a speaker talked to us about healthy habits. I recall the speaker saying that is was best to sleep in a dark, quiet room with the TV off, and preferably no television set at all. So, I started trying to fall asleep with the TV off. I didn’t do it often, but when I did, I slept much better.
I also had less time to watch TV in general. I was always busy studying for school. When I did have free time, I used it to write, blog, or read for pleasure. I also worked out, hung out with one of my roommates, or traveled back home.
I was becoming less “hooked” to TV. Ironically, I sold my television set at the end of my 1L year in 2009. It was one of those big, old box TVs, one of the last of its kind. Selling it off was somewhat symbolic of me moving into a new phase in my life.
Negative News Stories
Although I started watching much less mindless television, I was still hooked on watching the news. Growing up, I was a bit news junkie. I would watch the weekly political news shows with my dad on Sunday mornings. It was a great opportunity for me to learn about how the world worked, and I continued the habit of watching news shows religiously.
My favorite television networks were CNN, MSNBC, and HLN. I would schedule reminders to watch my favorite news shows, and I was able to repeat the major headlines daily. There were some shows that were informative, but there were other shows that gave me a lot of anxiety.
I started to notice that some news stories negatively affected my mood for hours after I watched a show. For example, if there was talk of poor relations with another country, a knot would form in my stomach, as I worried about the safety of U.S. soldiers. I literally had no control over those political issues, nor was I directly affected, but I still had a negative physical reaction.
That wasn’t healthy.
Once, in 2012, I recall being at my apartment. I had been suffering from bad general anxiety, and I was decluttering to calm my mood. I also had the television turned onto the news.
The news anchor started talking about negative relations with a foreign country, and how the U.S. might go to war. All of a sudden, I felt so nervous at even the thought of going to war. I could not finish cleaning.
I stopped cleaning, and laid down in my bed. My sister and mother tried to ask me what was wrong, but I couldn’t really articulate it. It told them about the news story, but they didn’t understand. It was just a story.
They left me alone for the rest of the evening. That’s when I realized I had to stop watching the news.
To stay informed, I started reading the news online, where I could control what stories I read and what stories I didn’t. Even now, negative news headlines are somewhat of a “trigger” and I try to avoid them. But, I also remind myself no matter what I read or watch, I am okay in the moment. A news story is just that, a story.
The last time I watched the television news was during Hurricane Harvey. The images of the flooding devastation flashed across the screen had me convinced that my house was next. I was worried and panicked for days straight, until I cut off the television.
As bad as the storm was, my home didn’t flood and much of that worry was for nothing.
Increased Consumer Consumption
The last problem that I had with watching too much television is advertisements. Ads here, ads there, ads seem like they are everywhere. But, nowhere are they more prevalent than when watching network TV. A 30 minute television show has about 10 minutes of commercials. That means that one-third of the programming is not there to entertain you, but to sell your products.
In late 2016, I discovered minimalism. At the time, I was dealing with financial problems, and a general feeling of overwhelm and anxiety. Yet, I was still buying stuff. Thankfully, once I learned about minimalism, I decreased my spending and stopped buying stuff that I didn’t need.
The documentary The Minimalists, talks about the journey of two friends as they became minimalists and sought out to share their message with the world. Their documentary changed my life. I have continued to follower their blog and podcast, and they talk the connection between advertising and consumerism.
I didn’t realize it before, but my spending habits were directly affected by the ads I saw on television (and online, and elsewhere). Although it’s impossible to cut out all spending, or all exposure to advertisements, by cutting out television, I cut out a large chunk of the ads that I was consuming.
Now, I don’t think that all advertising is bad. In fact, I help to write advertisements for beauty brands, and I promote my own brand. But, hours of television watching spliced by commercials wasn’t beneficial to me. The ads that I still see online tend to be more targeted to my actual needs. I do still cut out some of the ads online by opting into ad-free upgrades like YouTube Premium whenever I can.
What I Do Instead of Watching Television
Once I cut out mindless television watching, the news, and reality TV, there were was nothing left for me to watch on television. So, I stopped completely. I have a television in my living room and bedroom, but I hardly ever turn them on. I honestly don’t need them.
What does one do without watching TV? Well, there are a lot of other ways to be entertained. You can still watch your favorite shows with subscriptions to services like Netflix and Hulu. I honestly don’t care for Hulu because it still has too many ads. I watch Netflix occasionally (maybe twice a month), and I watch documentaries and other educational entertainment on YouTube.
I also listen to podcasts and audiobooks, and I also read good old, fashioned physical books. I own a few of my favorite movies on DVD (yes, I still have a DVD player), so I watch them or I go to the movies every now and then.
The time that I used to spend watching television mindlessly is now time that I spend writing and blogging, creating things instead of just consuming. I also have more time to go places around town like festivals and events, spend time with friends and family, and just hang out all by myself.
I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything, either. When I was on Facebook, I used to see posts about people watching Power (much like I used to watch Empire),but now I don’t really use Facebook everyday, so that not a problem. If I did want to watch a really popular show, most are available online.
How My Life Has Improved
By cutting out TV, I’m able to focus on things that matter a lot more. I have big dreams, to be a published author, and to positively affect people all over the world. I spend my time creating and making that vision happen. Here are a few of the ways that my life has improved since I cut out television.
My finances have improved. I did take other steps to make that happen, like selling my home and getting on a strict budget. But, watching TV used to make me “lazy” and I didn’t want to deal with my finances. Now, I’m more focused.
I now have a new job that I really enjoy. Instead of watching TV, I worked on my resume and searched for a new job. Before I started my search, I spent time doing a lot mindset work by listening to the podcasts and audiobooks. All of those things contributed to me eventually manifesting my dream job.
I’ve lost weight. When I used to watch TV, I was stuck in front of the television. Now that I consume audiobooks and podcasts, and more online content, I can take it with me on the go. I take my phone with me to exercise and I eat better because I’m not munching on food while I watch TV.
My mood has improved. Now that I don’t have my mood affected by negative news stories, it has improved greatly.
My relationships have improved. I’m still happily single, but my relationships with my family members have improved. I also take active steps like going to counseling and dealing with own issues, which have helped as well.
Should You Stop Watching Television?
The decision of whether or not to watch TV is totally up to you. I am not condemning TV, but this is where I am in my life. Maybe one day I’ll be back to watching HGTV reruns once I reach more of my goals. But, I doubt it. Watching HGTV obsessively gave me an unrealistic idea of home ownership and that’s what I think watching too much TV tends to do. It give us an unrealistic view of life.
I definitely think that everyone should try to reduce the amount of time spent consuming content. Balance the time that you spend consuming content, whether it’s on television online, with time spent creating content, and sharing your own talents. Start with small steps like I did. Turn the TV off when you go to sleep. Cut the cord on cable. Get out and go places.
Experience life in real life and not from behind a screen.