When I was a kid, the only notion of television addiction was humorously personified by the cowboy clad, TV obsessed "Mike Teevee" in the 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. In contrast to today’s countless channels and 24-hours-a-day broadcasting, we only had three channels, no remote control, and the television stations went off air at the end of the day!
These days, superfluous television watching à la Mike Teevee has become the norm. According to the A.C. Nielsen Company, the average American watches more than 4 hours of television a day, equalling 28 hours a week or 2 months of non-stop TV viewing. If you live to be 65, you’ll have accumulated 9 years of having been glued to the television. Now, with on-demand internet streaming services like Netflix, there has been a rise in the phenomenon of binge watching, in which two to six episodes of the same television show is viewed in one sitting.
Studies have found that people who call themselves "television addicts" watch twice as much as the average viewer. In fact, one study found that self-described addicts watched an average of 56 hours a week, and that 2 to 12% of viewers see themselves as addicted, feeling unhappy watching as much as they do, yet seem powerless to stop themselves.
Going TV free
Each year, I like to observe Lent, a season in which I'd abstain from one habit. In 2006, I chose to forego watching television, prompted by the fact that I’d been spending entire Saturdays laying on the couch, marathon watching episodes of Law & Order. I'd always feel so guilty, painfully aware that I’d frittered away my entire day doing something so soul sucking, but would then go and do it again the following weekend.
As the Lent season wore on, I found that I didn’t really miss television all that much. Deciding to get rid of TV altogether, I cancelled my cable service and gave away my TV set. Ironically, I worked in television production at this time, and was expected to watch television to stay current with the latest topics and trends. Yet, being TV free was so liberating! I got stuff done, read more books, exercised faithfully, had a flourishing social life, and got more sleep!
At present, I am no longer TV free, but I always try to stay mindful about keeping my television watching habits in check!
Overcoming television addiction
How do you beat something so alluring and addictive as television? If you feel your TV viewing habits are consuming your life, and you’re really wanting to make a change, here are some strategies that can be effective for curbing your cravings:
Admit to yourself that you have a problem
Ignoring the problem or pretending that it doesn’t exist won’t make it go away. Like other addictions, the compulsion to watch is gradual, gaining more control over your thoughts and actions, and ultimately stealing time that could have spent on better things. Consider whether you’re using TV to avoid something more challenging, more uncomfortable, like work, exercise or relationships. The addiction fulfills the compulsion to run towards comfort and away from discomfort.
Assess the of the extent of your addiction
Keep track of how much television you are actually watching, even if you have to keep a written log the hours you’ve spent sat in front of the screen. Increase awareness of your motivation to watch by asking yourself these questions:
By watching the usual 4 hours of television this evening, will I feel any happier, healthier, or more fulfilled in the morning?
If I only watch 1 hour of television this evening, will I feel any less happy, healthy, or fulfilled in the morning?
Apart of short term entertainment and relaxation, what do I really get out of it?
When you gain the realization that you can turn off the television by a certain time at night and leave it off, it frees up a lot of time which you can use however you like. Plus, you’ll get a better night’s sleep!
Wean off gradually
To overcome your television addiction, try giving up watching for one evening, or one day of the week. At first, you may feel the tug of resistance, but keep telling yourself that “it’s just one day.” To avoid feeling tempted to reach for the remote, plan ahead by scheduling other activities to keep yourself occupied. Once you feel confident that you can go without television for one day without consequence, increase to two days a week, or for a entire weekend.
Use your time effectively
Nobody on their deathbed ever wished they’d spent more of their life watching television! Life is precious and not to be wasted! Think about what is important to you and that you only have a limited time in this life to do things that really matter. Instead of squandering your time bathed in the glow of the TV, explore new ways to spend your time. Go learn something new, acquire a new skill, take up a new hobby, make new friends, foster the ones you already have, or finish that project you left incomplete! Live your life consciously by deciding how you want to spend your time.
Remember, the alternatives to watching television are limited only by your imagination and willingness to move out of your comfort zone!