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Lessons from a TV Detox: Stop Watching and Start Doing

Man Watching TV

“Action may not always bring happiness but there is no happiness without action.” ~Benjamin Disraeli

Back when I was a ballroom dance instructor, I never watched TV. This was because online streaming wasn't yet available, and I worked Monday through Friday from 1pm-10pm.

But over the past couple of years (and in a new career as a solo-preneur), it's become way too easy to watch TV episodes on my computer. My one or two favorite shows a week turned into binge watching other recommended series.

It all started out innocently enough. I enjoyed it as a way to unwind. But it slowly turned into an avoidance tactic.

When I didn't want to deal with the mounting laundry, or all the papers to file in my office, or those emails that had me cringing, I escaped into another TV show episode. It was great. I could get swept away into someone else's drama for hours.

But when I spent an entire weekend in bed streaming movies and shows for thirty-plus hours, I knew something had to change. Moreover, I knew I was going to have to do it myself. It wasn't like I was addicted to drugs or alcohol. No one was going to have a TV show intervention with me.

I decided to put myself on a twenty-one day TV show detox.

Here is what I learned:

1. To be more spontaneous.

Before the detox, it felt like I needed time to completely turn my brain off. I needed time to shut it all down.

Yet, when I no longer had TV shows to use as an escape, I realized that “need” was a story I was telling myself. I didn't really need to turn off my brain. Rather, my ego had convinced me that it was important.

What blossomed as a result was the ability to say yes to last minute adventures with friends. I had more time in my day because I hadn't wasted it escaping into TV Shows. I learned that it wasn't downtime I needed; it was creative time. Adding more fun and play in my life, felt great.

Action: If you too have declined last minute offers to stay at home and watch TV, ask yourself: Is it because the activity is truly not your idea of fun? Or, is it because you're living in another story? Perhaps it’s the “I'm too tired” story, or, “I need to turn off my brain” story. Acknowledging the fact that it is a story is the first step toward change.

2. To choose activities that fed my soul.

Usually after watching an episode or two, my negative self-talk voice would start saying things like, “You're such a slacker. Look how much time you're wasting, again! You are so unreliable. How can you help anyone, look at yourself?”

It wasn't until I banned TV that I realized how much my negative self-talk relied upon my all-consuming TV habit as its trigger, and why it was so negative—I was yearning for activities that fed my soul.

Of course, I still allowed myself downtime during the detox, but I chose activities that allowed me to relax without checking out mentally, like reading or connecting with friends.

Action: Instead of choosing TV as a “downtime” activity, list three activities you can do that help you relax and feed your soul—things that recharge and rejuvenate you.

3. To face my stuff immediately.

I don't know about you, but reading work emails can put me on edge. It's hard not to take things personally. So, I used to avoid responding by escaping into a TV character's drama. The character's overwhelm was far more entertaining. Not to mention the fact that they always came out looking like the hero.

Without TV, I had to learn how to handle the emotional overwhelm of email in the moment.

Action: If you, too, use technology or entertainment to delay responding to things that make you feel upset or wonky, practice keeping a small notebook and pen with you. I wrote out all my intense emotions in the notebook. It was my outlet, and it allowed me to get to the core of the issue.

Writing has the duel affect of being a great way to vent and to spark your creative mind. This helps you come up with a powerful solution that works for everyone. Experiment with it and share below in the comments what happens for you.

4. To be more social.

Since I no longer had my TV show “friends,” I was forced to face my loneliness. Being a solo-entrepreneur, I don’t get a lot of social interaction with others unless I specifically plan it.

So, I joined more meet-up events and met new people. I also scheduled phone dates with friends and I hung out with my family more. It felt good and surprisingly I became more inspired in my work.

Action: Instead of sitting in front of a screen, sign up to attend an event, or go to a class by yourself (not with your group of friends) and introduce yourself to five other people. Meeting new people can be a big step outside of our comfort zones. But it can also be incredibly rewarding. I've met some of my closest friends this way.

5. To get healthier.

The most fun result of my TV show detox was that I lost weight.

I am single and often eat alone at night. So, I used to give myself permission to watch a show while I ate dinner. The problem with this was that I would eat for forty-five minutes instead of the twenty minutes it took me to finish my plate. I would keep munching on things (that bag of chips or those pieces of chocolate) until the show was over.

Action: Instead of eating and watching TV or eating and doing work, create three dinner dates for yourself this week. (They can be dates with yourself.) Put on your favorite music and take the time to enjoy tasting your food. Or, invite a friend over and prepare a meal together. When you pamper yourself this way, your body naturally relaxes.

6. To stop distracting myself.

My TV detox was not a perfect path. I still had low-energy, and overwhelming days. There were nights where I desperately wanted to curl up in my bed and watch a movie. There were also times that I caught myself distracting myself in other ways, by listening to audio books, for example.

When I felt this way, I realized that what I really wanted was a hug and for someone else to hold me up for a while. So, I created a list of healthy, self-loving activities and I did them instead; for example, taking a hot shower or painting my toenails. By the time I was done, I had my energy back.

Action: Create a list of twenty-five self-loving activities and post them somewhere that is highly visible. When your energy is low you don't want to have to go fishing for the list. Instead of disappearing into your low energy by watching a TV show, you release the draining energy and feel even better for showering yourself with love.

Deciding to put myself on a twenty-one day TV show detox was not the easy choice. It meant facing a bad habit and exploring all the affects it had on my life. But I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to see where I was “hiding” in life and stop the patterns of playing small.

Man watching TV image via Shutterstock

About Molly Rider

Molly Rider is a Human Design coach who specializes in helping female entrepreneurs like you, stop feeling guilty, and start asking for what you REALLY want. It's time to thrive. Utilize your Human Design Chart to learn your unique strategy for success. Get a Free Audio with more tips at MollyRider.com.

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  • It’s so odd how you become an outsider in so many circles when you give up TV and entertainment mags!! I was addicted to Bravo for 3 years…24/7 it was on in my house. TOTAL escapism! No more!! I’m free…hallelujah…I’m free!! Loved this piece 🙂

  • This is inspirational! In the past I have wasted a lot of time watching TV but am gradually watching less and less. It really does free up more time for you to do what you really want. I will try the TV detox for a few days and see how I get on. And if I feel I am reverting back to old ways I will revist this article! Thanks for posting 🙂

  • Judith

    Thanks for this article Molly! There are some great tips in there. I’ll quiclky write them down, so I can’t forget them.

  • Rachel

    When I was younger I was wasn’t allowed to watch tv on week days and we also never had cable. I always felt so left out when my friends would talk about tv shows they loved watching and I had no clue what they were talking about. When I moved out to go to college, I went on some crazy tv binges because I wanted to be able to participate in those conversations. After a few years of this, I actually realized how unhappy I was becoming from just sitting around during all my free time. I was so used to filling my free time with other activities, more fulfilling ones, that I really started missing all of that. I became so thankful that my parents raised me that way. I still watch a few tv shows, but I do try to make an effort to make sure it’s few and far between! Thank you for this article!!

  • Peace Within

    When I was younger we didn’t have cable, we had basic channels. None of them were good, so I never was addicted to TV. Now, I just don’t care about it. I need change, so I can’t finish a show consistently. I lose interest. The people in my life that do watch too much TV, I feel as if they are watching other people live, but they aren’t living themselves. That’s where society has come to now. There is a show for everything. If people aren’t socially networking, they are watching TV, they aren’t really socializing in a healthy way at all. I feel like that is why so many people are depressed. Us humans need real compassion, which you can’t find behind a screen.

  • Peace Within

    We don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. I like being the odd one out =)

  • Hi Molly
    Thanks for sharing your story and insights. TV can really suck the life out of us if we let it. Generally speaking, the less we watch the better, but I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with the activity. It can be a great way to unwind and raise our energy if we watch something funny or uplifting. But, not watching it at all certainly wouldn’t have any ill effects I imagine!

    One of the things I find most interesting about the whole TV thing is the fact that so many people who lament they have such busy lives and don’t have time to engage in activities that would drastically improve their lives (if that is something they so desire of course) like meditating ,exercising or reading a book, seem to have plenty of time to watch TV.

    I sometimes get into moods where I just want to veg out and binge watch a series or what have you, and sometimes I do let myself. But, I know my own personal line of when I am doing it for enjoyment or because I am trying to avoid doing something I know I should just dive in and take care of.

    You gave some really great tips to break this habit and deal with whatever it is we are escaping. Great stuff!

  • geigna

    I agree that watching TV isn’t inherently bad, it’s how & why we watch it – e.g. as a distraction or an electronic babysitter! If we manage our TV watching appropriately then it’s just a different form of entertainment, learning, etc than reading a book & each to their own preference (visual, audio, written word). Personally I get some things done (like fold laundry) whilst watching TV. My biggest time waster is the internet!

  • Get It Productions

    Great article, I try not to watch that much TV but my family does so sometimes it means we don’t spend that much time together. However, we do watch the science channel because into the wormhole is awesome.

  • Hi
    I like what you said about ‘why.’ That is key in evaluating our habits and what have you. Very few things are inherently good, bad,etc.. It is all about the energy and feelings behind what we do.

  • ellie

    I love this! Especially the 25 self-loving activities to fill in the gaps that TV would. I’m currently binging on a couple of shows on Netflix. It’s such a waste, but I tell myself everyday that I just need to get through them all so I can resume my life. Agh! Once I do, I’m detoxing and making my list! 🙂

  • samadhientrainment.com

    Television corrupts the mind and brainwashes people

  • RT

    Hello Molly I so love your points on what to do on days I have low energy and feeling overwhelmed.
    I am going through a separation and am doing it alone. And some days are more of a struggle than others to feel happy where I am at. But I really like your idea on making a list of 25 self-loving activities and placing it somewhere visible. Most times I write inspirational notes in my lovely notepads but having them visible sounds very energizing,thank you.

  • I’m so glad you’ve found this article inspirational! How has it gone with your own TV detox? I found the weekends to be my biggest temptation. U?

  • Hey Ellie! How’s it going with ending the Netflix binge? I can totally relate! I’ve said those EXACT same words to myself “once I get through this season, then I’ll stop.” The problem was always that when I got to the end of a season it felt like there was this scary void I needed to fill. So, I’d start the next season or a new show. Have you had better success at moving into a detox, than I did in the beginning? I’d LOVE to know how your 25 self-loving activities list is going!

  • Ashley

    YES! this exactly what I experience. After my binge I feel that void too! And the need to fill it is strong. How have you guys been dealing with this. I think it is ridiculous that I feel a void at all.
    BTW @mollyrider:disqus Thank you for posting this. I have been searching for some help with my TV addiction and this article has been the most down to earth advice. Thank you 🙂

  • Phoenixtea

    Lovely article! Needed to read something like this. But what about the urge to know about my Beloved characters!? I feel like I need to know what they are doing. Specially when there is a new episode, there’s new insights into the story and the characters. How do I ignore them?

  • Mark

    Well I don’t know if that’s just an excuse but as an English learner I find watching TV shows important. As a matter of fact half of my English knowledge came from TV shows and half from my personal experience. Now I’m pulling myself through a TV detox simply ‘coz I want live a better life. Watching tv series over and over won’t fulfill me as human being. I know that now ….

  • Melissa Harkins

    I’ve been desparately struggling with binge eating and a good bit of it I attribute to binge tv watching. Ive tried refusing myself to eat on the couch, especially when watching TV. Yet again I keep ending up in that same spot claiming “this is the last episode/last binge eat”. The urge to overeat is so strong when watching TV, so I’m convinced that the TV is the thing to cut back on. I didn’t want it to come back but when the binge eating habit occurs more and stronger it seems to be necessary. I hope it helps.