In August 2014, I quit TV for a month. You can read the reasons why in my previous post, I Am Quitting TV for 30 days! This post chronicles the unexpected challenges I encountered, the changes I made, and the conclusions I reached.
- T – 10 days before I quit TV – Preparation
- T – 6 days – Defining the Ground Rules
- T – 2 days – Bargaining
- Day 1 – A Rocky Start
- Day 2 – Avoidance & Changing the Rules
- Day 3 – Growing Perspective
- Day 5 – Temptation
- Day 11 – Finding My Stride
- Day 12 – No Escape
- Days 13-16 – Hotel with No TV
- Days 16-19 – Escape
- Day 20 – Children Are Ruled by TV
- Day 21 – Back to Reality
- Day 23 – Taking Action
- Day 26 – Real Progress
- I Made it! Lessons Learned
T – 10 days before I quit TV – Preparation
Started a list of things I can do instead of watching TV, and ordered a bunch of books, puzzles, and an extravagant (aromatherapy) candle from Amazon. Picked a date (August 1) as my quit TV date.
I want to have a lot of activities at the ready so there’s no shortage of options for any mood or energy level. Need to be ready when the impulse arrives.
T – 6 days – Defining the Ground Rules
Discovered the addictive & free Spanish language app, Duolingo. I need to refresh my very rusty Spanish for an upcoming Mexico trip & this game is PERFECT for sucking away time while rebuilding my Spanish skills
My stockpile of alternate activities has started to arrive.
The Ground Rules
I have decided on the following Ground Rules for my quitting TV process.
- I may use the TV to play music (a la Spotify/Itunes…).
- I may use the TV to do workout videos.
- No other TV. Period.
I may not consume alcohol when home. Socially is ok, but I should not use it to unwind when I used to watch TV.Be vigilant not to replace one bad habit with another. Not too much snacking, wine, etc.
T – 2 days – Bargaining
Caught myself bargaining mentally for an exception to the no-TV rule – “Maybe I can just watch So You Think You Can Dance so I don’t miss seeing the winner.” Nice try, brain!
Day 1 – A Rocky Start
5:15am: Woke up 90 minutes early and couldn’t get back to sleep. My first instinct was my normal one – I’ll just go veg in front of the TV since I feel crummy. Oh wait, I’m not allowed to do that today. Shit.
7:30am: What a great morning already. Listening to NPR, writing a blog post. Took care of my dog, talked to my dad on the phone about stocks, replied to a couple emails, got some good news about a business deal months in the works. What do I need TV for?
5 seconds later: Strong urge to grab the remote and turn on the Today Show. Followed by a spike of utter panic – I may not be able to control myself and may accidentally start watching TV before I remember that I’m not allowed to. Can I trust myself?!! Should I disconnect the TV antenna and take out the remote’s batteries? Oh no!
Day 2 – Avoidance & Changing the Rules
I avoided the TV area nearly all day. Worked an extra-long 12-hour day, clearly to avoid facing the hole where TV used to be. I thought about TV 4 or 5 times over the course of the day, and felt a bit of an empty feeling. After 9pm, I forced myself away from the computer because the blue light messes with my sleep. As I entered the living room, I caught myself 2 feet from the TV, arm outstretched towards the power button. Autopilot. Whoa!
Nice evening with a puzzle & the Tim Ferris podcast, but in this episode he was drinking wine, so I joined in.
Changed the drinking rule (see #4 above). My objective is not to stop drinking wine, but to stop watching TV. Adding extra constraints is taxing my willpower and making me more likely to fail at my core objective. As Kelly McGonigal and others have written, willpower is a muscle. We only have so much of it in a given day, and once it’s used up, our brain starts to rationalize all sorts of bad decisions. Given that I am trying to change my nighttime TV watching, a time when my willpower reserves are already naturally depleted, piling on extra behavior change rules is setting me up for failure.
Day 3 – Growing Perspective
Kept busy, most of the day spent out of the house. Evening spent with a jigsaw puzzle, fancy scented candle, NPR.
I’ve started to make some keen observations.
- My main living space (an open floor plan) entirely faces the TV. You can see the TV from the kitchen, dining table, living room, even from the bathroom! Because of my very large couch, there hasn’t been a way to rearrange the furniture differently.
- Without the TV, there’s a lot less light, only one (yellowish) lamp that’s totally insufficient. I miss the flashing colors, the brightness added by the TV. And the sound.
- I still feel an emptiness, a loneliness without the TV
- TV influence is everywhere. The radio is talking about TV shows I watched. Spotify has ads for TV shows. My friends talk about TV, Social media is filled with TV references.
Let me describe these observations as the components of a habit cycle:
- Trigger: Seeing the TV
The layout provides visual line of sight to the TV from everywhere on my main floor, most strongly felt at the moment of entry into the area
- Trigger: Hearing about TV shows
My friends, social media, radio, the Internet, Spotify, all filled with TV mentions and references
- Trigger: Dim light, quietness, emptiness of my house
- Action (caused by Trigger): Turn on the TV
- Reward (from the Action): Light, color, sound & companionship provided by the TV
Day 5 – Temptation
A friend tried to get me to enter a room where the TV was playing. I refused. Odd how similar this defensive behavior is to quitting smoking or any other habit.
Overall, I’m feeling good about not watching TV. I really don’t miss it, but I still get the urge to turn it on every time I walk into the room, most strongly first thing in the morning (before work) & at night (after work), the two times I most often turned it on.
Day 11 – Finding My Stride
For the most part, I don’t think about TV anymore. I still have the impulse to turn it on when I enter the room where it is, but not as strongly. I don’t miss 99% of what I used to watch, which really surprises me given how avid a viewer I was. Still haven’t managed to shake the feeling of loneliness & solitude though at night. I go out more now, and sit at the dining table with my back to the TV, which I never ever did before. I’ve done all my jigsaw puzzles, and the thought of reading at night still doesn’t appeal despite my shiny pile of fresh books. I voraciously search for new music or podcasts to love but so far no real luck. Still, it’s nice to listen to music again, which I pretty much stopped listening to regularly (outside of the car) when TV took hold. I spend more time than before striving for connection on social media.
Day 12 – No Escape
Southwest emailed to inform me there is free TV on my upcoming flight. Even in a flying metal box….
Days 13-16 – Hotel with No TV
Stayed at a hotel while attending a conference. The room was dank and dark. I refused to turn on the TV for possibly the first time ever in a hotel room, which just made it all the more dank and dark.
Days 16-19 – Escape
Vacation in Mexico, no TV at all in this glorious AirBnb house! Didn’t even think about TV once. Real life for the win! Sun, pool, ocean, friends, adventures.
Day 20 – Children Are Ruled by TV
Flying home from Mexico, the TVs on every seatback came on and forced us to watch the safety video then a series of commercial ads, ignoring my vigorous attempts to turn off the power. Two boys traveling without parents were seated in my row, and next to me was the littler one, 7 or 8 years old and very hyper. I couldn’t help but see his TV playing Disney Kids programming, in between the repeated times he crashed his system by overwhelming it with his frenetic and random touch gestures. After about the 4th time, it was clear he had used up his supply of rescues by me, his brother, and the flight attendant. So he started trying to turn on my TV with his little fingers, then poking me & whining to turn it on. “NOPE, I quit TV, little buddy!” Needless to say, he did not understand my obvious mental deficit.
Yet another unexpected battle to avoid having to watch TV, waged by a child no less.
Day 21 – Back to Reality
Back home again. Not enough light and the TV is just too omnipresent!
Day 23 – Taking Action
Decided to attack the layout & color problems once and for all, to reduce the constant triggers in my home that make me want to turn on the TV. Being in a non-TV environment has made it clear that this is possible.
- Rearranged the furniture! Yes, I found a way to do it, even though I’d always thought I couldn’t. My couch now faces my awesome fireplace & the interior of the house instead of the exterior “TV wall”. It’s much more inclusive & social. The TV has moved to a spot where it is only seen from the narrow side view. I can swivel it when the time comes to face it in whichever direction, but it’s much less noticeable now.
- Ordered a special color-changing light and a new lamp to house it. A splurge for sure, but the closest thing I could find to match the flickering TV spectrum that I miss. And a much-needed boost of light in this big space.
- Hide the TV with a tapestry? I love the idea of covering the TV altogether in a fabric that doubles as art. But I have yet to find one that I like, one that’s also affordable. So for now, #1 and #2 will suffice.
Here are some before & after shots! Note how much subtler the TV’s presence is AFTER.
Day 26 – Real Progress
I’m enjoying my new furniture configuration and feeling a lot less TV temptation. The TV urges continue to wane in strength. Tonight was the first night I had the desire to read as my main nighttime activity. Yay! A friend wanted to talk to me about a TV show today that I’d forgotten about.
End of month – I Made it! – Lessons Learned
My 30 day challenge has passed. To my surprise, I found that I didn’t miss what I actually watched on TV – the programs themselves, I mainly missed the sensory presence of the TV in the room – the sounds, colors, the voices. Removing and reducing the triggers associated with my urge to turn on the television helped tremendously. I changed my furniture layout, added colorful new lighting, played different types of radio, music, and podcasts, and engaged in new nightly activities that I enjoyed. I was slow to adopt certain after-work activities, namely non-fiction reading, that early-on felt too much like work and not enough like pleasure. Turns out the real obstacle was the environment. Once I improved the light in the room, my opinion quickly changed, and I now enjoy night reading. Just as we optimize our work configurations for ergonomics and efficiency, our home environments must be optimized with care to support the behaviors we want to practice.
Do I feel smarter after a month of no TV?
I feel just as sharp when I’m sharp, creative when I’m creative as I did before, which is to say, not all the time, but at particular times more so than others. My IQ did not magically go (back?) up. My work productivity has not changed in any obvious sense.
Do I feel better after a month of no TV?
I spent a lot of time beating myself up over the past few years for watching TV, a sedentary habit associated with increased obesity and health problems, particularly for people like me who already sit occupationally for 2+ hours a day. Just Google ‘sitting disease’ or ‘active couch potato’ to see the latest stream of articles on this issue. In addition, TV is an addictive behavior that burns less calories than almost any other activity and lowers brain activity associated with logical thought.
In short, TV is a villain. So not watching it means not beating myself for watching it. Am I burning more calories and more healthy? Hard to say with certainty, as many of my replacement activities are also sedentary though not mentally passive. I exercise like I did before, eat well like I did before. Overall though, not watching TV feels pretty good because it feels like I am living in alignment with my health goals.
Do I feel that this experiment was a success?
I learned a lot in the process, and I’m really enjoying the changes in lifestyle. Peeling back the layers of a habit’s ecosystem and living the experiment firsthand has been absolutely fascinating, but not without its challenges.
Am I cured of my TV habit?
I still have the urge to watch TV here and there. I still long for it occasionally and miss its companionship and passively colorful entertainment. I don’t know if this will ever go away (Duhigg would say no). Nor if it needs to. But I am not cured and the triggers are omnipresent.
So, I have decided to extend my no-TV watching experiment indefinitely until either (a) I tire of the experiment and feel there’s no more to learn, or (b) I magically defeat the urge to watch TV and feel entirely in control of my TV-watching habits – to live ever after as able to not watch TV on a given night as to watch TV.
Fantastic books related to habits:
Fun finds during the month:
- The Moth Radio Hour, a weekly NPR show featuring amazing, award-winning storytellers who take you on unexpected journeys with their words
- Duolingo, a free & excellent web tool & mobile app that teaches numerous languages, including French & Spanish; helps with speaking, reading, writing, & is game-like so it’s super fun