The Surreal Life – Without Television

The idea of taking risks and experimenting all sounds well and good, but where does the time to do those things come from? There is one minor life adjustment I’ve made which has significantly helped me start to achieve my goals.

I do not have TV. I do own a television, but I get one channel in clearly, and it’s in Spanish.

Let me go back a bit. I grew up without cable, which was no big deal because I was only allowed to watch two shows a day anyway. One before school and one after. We could watch movies or National Geographic specials (usually while eating pizza or something equally unappetizing when watching lions hunt and kill on the Serengeti), but to watch any Nickelodeon I had to go to a neighbors’ house.

This never bothered me that much until I went to college, where my dorm room was blessed with free cable. I did my homework in the blue light of the television screen, soaking in the sounds and goofy hi-jinks, watching re-runs of the shows everyone else watched as a kid so I could pretend I had also. I don’t think addiction is the right word, I wasn’t glued to it and still went to class and fed and dressed myself, but TV took up a large portion of my off time. I would come home from class and plop on the couch while my ramen noodles cooked (don’t judge, you did it too) and watch hopefully something interesting on the History Channel or Discovery, but if nothing was on I’d resort to crappy reality shows and MTV dramas.

The next year I lived alone and I will say I was glad to have cable then. Even if I wasn’t watching it, the sound of other human voices and music, even as background noise, was comforting. But when I graduated, broke and in need of a new apartment, my roommate and I decided the cost of cable was one we could do without. That was two years ago, and I haven’t regretted it yet.

I’m not a “Television is the mind killer” type of person, but I do think the negative effects of TV outweigh the positives. If you want to be a more creative, fulfilled, and take more time for experiments in real life, I think television has to play a smaller part first.

Weigh the Negatives

Not only can TV make you fat, it more importantly teaches you dissatisfaction. The ads between shows tell you all the things you need to have, and the shows themselves generally portray people who are prettier, skinnier, and more successful than you, even if they have emotional breakdowns every episode. I also feel a lot of shows tend to harp on a gossip-y culture. They encourage cattiness, over-the-top behavior, and general rudeness. This is of course not true of all shows, but I bet you could find a couple playing at any time of the day or night.

What are you exchanging for TV Time?

The average American spends more than four hours a day watching TV. I know, it’s really nice to just relax and not think about anything and unwind in front of the TV, but in our already cramped-for-time world, what else could you be doing, and enjoying more, with that TV time?

I found that my excuse of never having time to read evaporated after TV, and I suddenly found more time to be creative while unwinding by writing, doing a crossword, or simply spending time with friends in active conversation.

How to cut back

I’m not proposing everyone chuck their televisions into the streets and start a riot against the capitalist system, but simply, how to make your time watching TV a treat instead of a default.

For most of us, cutting back is not that hard. We simply have to be mindful of how log we’ve been watching TV and cut our time accordingly. What shows do you love and can’t live without? How many hours does that accrue? If it’s less than five a week, make a point to turn the television on when that show comes on, and off right after, so you minimize that time.

On the TV making you fat front, don’t eat and watch TV at the same time. You’ll eat more, and not really enjoy or be present in what you’re eating. Even if you slopped together a sandwich and some chips, make time to appreciate what’s going in your body first, and then watch a show as you digest.

If you have 50 shows a week you religiously watch, start paying closer attention to how you feel during and after the programs. Is it really making you happy and satisfied? What else do you want to be doing? What goals are you putting off to watch some reality show or crime drama? Once you become more aware of the TV’s hold, you can start to let go and peter off your screen time.

Make your exceptions worth it

There are a few shows I really enjoy watching, Modern Marvels or basically anything on the History Channel, and Pushing Daisies to name a few. I watch the History Channel at the gym, since all the running and elliptical equipment have TVs attached. It keeps me distracted and it makes sure I run long enough to finish a show. It’s also a really good motivation to work out! I have a few other friends who share my love for Pushing Daisies, and so I go to someone else’s house to watch it each week, and get to spend time with friends while doing it. If I need to miss one, they’re available online anyway.

On the days that I absolutely feel drained and just need some outside stimuli, I’ll pop in a DVD of a show I or my roommate owns and watch that and do a puzzle or knit, something to keep my hands busy and engage my mind just a little, to keep me from becoming a TV zombie.

Beware the Interweb

I’ll admit, I still struggle with this one. The immediate availability of the internet is so very attractive. There are always new things to read, watch, and consume. Beware! This can be just as, or more, destructive as a television habit. Use the same discretion with your time online as you do with TV, and you’ll find more creative ways to utilize the web for your benefit.

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