QUIT: Excessive Amounts of TV

credit: stars alive (license)

[Part of my mission to “live deliberately” involves ruthlessly cutting out anything that saps my time, energy or money to no good end.  I’m calling these things my “Quits,” and this is one of the many items that have found themselves on my Quits List.]

NaNoWriMo has been over for a couple weeks now, and I’m thoroughly enjoying having my evenings back for whatever I want.  I spent all of November longing to have time for crossword puzzles again, and reading books, and keeping up with the ridiculous family scenarios that people write in about to Miss Manners and Dear Abby.  And now I have time for all that and more.

I don’t think I really appreciated how much I can do in the handful of hours I have after work each night.  I feel like I’ve been given a gift of extra time, and I come home every night full of schemes for things I can’t wait to do.

But there’s one thing that used to be a staple of my evenings that I was surprised to find I never really missed during NaNo.  And now that I have my evenings to myself again, it seems like it’s always one of the last things I feel like doing.  That thing is watching excessive, indiscriminate amounts of TV.


My Relationship with the Tube

I never had cable growing up; my family didn’t think it was worth the cost.  Sure, I missed out on of some of my friend’s childhood favorites, like Daria, Salute Your Shorts, and basically anything else on Nickelodeon.  I felt a little left out of some cafeteria conversations, but beyond that, I didn’t resent it all that much.

Because there was always too much else to do. I read like a fiend, wrote even more fiendishly, and had adventures galore.  I hung out with my friends.  I played outside.  I made things.  There were certain (broadcast) shows I watched regularly, but I never really sat down to watch something just for the sake of watching something.  I couldn’t.  There wasn’t enough on.

There was one semester in college where I lived in an on-campus apartment that had cable, but I was too busy to ever watch it.  And after graduation, my budget was too tight to afford it in my own apartment.  So when I met and moved in with my future husband, I had cable at my fingertips for the first time in 26 years.

Suddenly, I had instant access to all the shows I used to house-sit for the treat of watching.  HGTV!  What Not to Wear!  Endless reruns and re-reruns of Saved by the Bell!  There was always something on at all times, and when we got our DVR, there was always something stockpiled, too.  I was hooked.  It was fantastic.

Until it got not-so-fantastic…


Where Things Went Wrong

At first, zoning out for hours at a time felt like an incredible luxury.  After a day of work that sucked my soul and sapped my energy, it felt so nice to just plop down and passively watch other people do interesting things in front of me.  But once you’ve plopped, it’s hard to unplop.  Especially when it becomes a habit.

I became a TV whore. I’ll admit it.  The instant I got home from work, I turned on the TV, and it was on until about 5 minutes before I went to bed.  Sometimes I was watching things I genuinely enjoyed.  But a lot of the time, I was just watching.  I couldn’t even say why.

It’s pretty clear now that my zombie TV viewing was just one of the many symptoms that things had gone horribly awry.

After being a super-crazy overachiever in high school and college, I suddenly found myself in the 9-5 rut, giving most of my day to a job I didn’t care about and then coming home too exhausted to do any of the things I did care about.  With no structure, no deadlines, and no goals except making it through the next day, I lost all motivation and just started to coast.  TV was hardly the driving factor behind the coasting, but it was definitely one of the things that aided and abetted it.


I Think We Need to See Less Of Each Other

I’m not jumping on the minimalist bandwagon of denouncing TV as an irredeemable evil that no self-respecting self-improver would ever go near.  I respect that some people have no use for it, but I still really enjoy spending a little time with the How I Met Your Mother gang, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Like anything else, TV in moderation can be great.  A good show can make me think, lift a bad mood, or even inspire me with ideas for stories of my own.  And there’s nothing like curling up with my husband on a snowy evening to lose ourselves for half an hour in the zany worlds of The Office or Modern Family.

But when TV becomes your default down time activity—when you start to lose whole strings of evenings watching mediocre shows you can’t even remember the plot of the next day—that’s when you know you’re in trouble.  That’s what I’m trying to avoid.

So, dear TV, I wanted to let you know that I’m not going to be around as much as I used to be.  It’s better for both of us, really.  I think I’ll appreciate you a lot more in small doses.

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  • A few years ago, I was seeing a therapist for anxiety/depression issues, and the first piece of advice she gave me was: turn off the television and start writing again. It’s amazing how much time I actually spent not doing anything, but escaping the day in front of my television. For me, it added to my anxiety because I wasn’t doing anything productive – I was just sitting there festering. Recently I’ve been feeling extra anxious, and this post was a great reminder to turn off the tv and pick up my journal. Thank you 🙂

    • Cordelia

      You’re quite welcome. I’m glad it helped!

  • I totally love this. I totally agree, Kelly (or do you want me to call you Cordelia on here?)! Sometimes I find myself totally zoning out to every. single. awful. show. on E!. I am always telling myself that it’s good in moderation, but I never listen. It drives me nuts because by the end of the night, I am so annoyed that I didn’t read, write, or workout and now another day is lost. But, like you, at the end of the work day, sometimes that’s all I can do … Maybe I’ll quit this one with you. 😉 Or at least try. 🙂

    • Cordelia

      Hey, Amber! I guess you might as well start calling me Cordelia. I keep slipping up and signing my comments/emails as both, but I’m trying to be more consistently Cordelia. Please disregard the momentary split personality. 😛

      It’s so easy to get sucked into mindless shows. I still foresee myself having the occasional night where I’m totally beat and all I can do is lie there and watch a Say Yes to the Dress marathon. But I’m trying to be better on the whole. I think it’s awesome that you might be quitting with me!

      (All quits, incidentally, are really just “tries.” I’ve been *trying* the snooze button quit for a full week now and every morning feels like a new quit all over again.) :/

      And congrats on the new wedding fitness blog! Planning a wedding is an undertaking in itself–good for you for also using it as a fitness goal!

  • Oh man! When you wrote “can’t even remember the plot of the next day” a lightbulb totally went off. I don’t have time for TV pretty much ever (teaching, my own night classes, pilates, the boyfriend)… but when I do, I completely zone out. I have shows that I “love,” but if I love them so much, why don’t I know any of my favorite characters names or know what the hell even happened this season?

    Completely agree with this quit. Keep up the good work!


    • Cordelia

      Thanks, Bridget! Yeah, I have to say even the shows on my “to watch” list, I sometimes have trouble remembering the details of the next day. I think I just automatically go into autopilot when I’m watching. Hopefully cutting down my list will help with that. Thanks for the support~

  • Yeah, tv is a double-whammy. You get all those messages that you’re not good enough (but you could be if you would just buy stuff!), and you don’t get the satisfaction of having done something interesting. After two weeks of intensively working on my stuff all the time, I find that I’m having major withdrawals now that I have to sit around at work all day and do stuff I don’t care about. Goofing off feels good, but doing something awesome feels better.

    • Cordelia

      I’m so jealous of your 2 weeks of freedom! I had a heck of a time getting back into the mundanity of work after only a week’s vacation (largely spent goofing off, I’ll admit, after all my NaNo stress in Nov.). You’re completely right, though. After a couple days of just “taking it easy” when I was off, I longed to get back to writing or creating something. It doesn’t feel like “work” if it’s something you really enjoy. It’s the kind of work that actually leaves you more energized, you know? 🙂

  • Clericsdaughter

    Thank you for pointing out how sapping TV can be, while also not insisting that TV should be cut out of people’s lives completely. What people use to relax is their own business, and it’s just snobby to insist that one form of goofing off is inherently superior to another.

    At the same time, any relaxing activity has the potential to become an escape. It’s not the medium, but how you’re using it that should be examined.

    • Cordelia

      “It’s just snobby to insist that one form of goofing off is inherently superior to another.”

      “It’s not the medium, but how you’re using it that should be examined.”

      Precisely! I couldn’t put it better myself. 🙂

  • I definitely agree with this! I recently moved to a new apartment, and I decided that rather than paying for cable, I was going to cut down on the bills and just have Netflix. Thanks to the digital switch I don’t even get network (at least I don’t think I do…I’ve never actually tried!) and I find it incredibly freeing. I can still get some television…I keep those Netflix discs flying pretty quickly…but since I have to work at it, I only watch things I really want to watch. So the quality goes up and the quantity goes down. There’s really only one television show that I feel like I’m missing by not having television right now, and I think that’s worth it. So much of television is just a vast wasteland. It’s so easy to just zone out in front of it…but there are so many better things to do if we can get motivated to do them!

    • Cordelia

      If my husband weren’t a factor, I would totally cancel our Dish subscription and just watch all my shows for free through Hulu. Infinitely cheaper, and then I’d be more actively choosing to watch only the shows I wanted to. But I don’t think the hubby would appreciate that. (Losing his NFL Red Zone alone would cause some grumblings.) 😛

      Good for you for making the switch to Netflix! It’s a fantastic service.

  • Love this post. I have also been trying to cut back the tv. My habit is to put on while I do housework. I’ve started to listen to books on cd instead. I enter into a more creative space and it keeps the little anxiety monsters occupied.

    I try not to surf, rather only turn the tv on when I know something I am interested in watching is on, and then shut if off when that show is done. Tv is a huge time sink, but I still love it!

    • Cordelia

      Books on CD is a great idea! I always have the TV on for background noise, too, but it would be so much better to use the time to actually learn something or feed my creativity. I might have to start trying that myself!

  • We have started playing Wii sports in the evening instead of watching TV. It sure is better than yelling at DWTS when Bristol stayed too long. Great post.

    • Cordelia

      Excellent alternative! Don’t even get me started on reality competition shows. I’ll admit I watch way too many myself sometimes, but they’re such a time suck. Wii sports is definitely a much better choice. 🙂

  • I agree. I don’t think it’s about getting rid of TV completely. I think it’s about being mindful about what we watched. I used to be ADDICTED to cable news. It was seriously bad for my health though, so I cut it out completely, but then I would have my random binges. So I allow myself to check the headlines every week, but only do it for about 15-30 min, and I avoid anything that is too negative or sensational. I watch Glee, Modern Family, and 30 rock occasionally, Conan is my daily dose of comedy. I like this shows because they make me really happy and they make me laugh, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But shows like Dexter, which I loved and used to watch religiously because it is such a great show, I cut out, because it was far too gruesome and dramatic for me. I want nice images in my head thank you very much.

    Great post, and good luck!

    • Cordelia

      Good point, Ollin. I’ve been focusing more on cutting back the quantity of my shows to a few shows I really enjoy. But I wasn’t thinking about the quality in terms of whether or not those shows will do anything constructive for me. Some of the shows that might make it onto my To Watch list might still be kind of junk for my system. Something I should be keeping an eye out for. Thanks for making me think!

  • Aargh, television the double-edged sword! A true connecting force that is also a true disconnecting force! I was able to wean myself only after LOST ended. Because, what could possibly compare? I will confess that a good Law & Order re-run hooks me nearly every time, but I’m through with “committed viewing”. Great post and good luck!

    • Cordelia

      Ahh, Lost! I hold that up as my ultimate TV experience–it made me seriously think, made me laugh and cry, and kept me on the edge of my seat. It was an actual experience you could enter into instead of just sitting back and passively taking in. I never felt at the end of those hours that I’d wasted my time watching.

      I enjoy your blog–I am fully behind the quest to “work to live” instead of “live to work.” Good luck to you, too! 🙂

  • So do you have a “cut back” plan?

    • Cordelia

      Not really a specific plan; mainly just being more diligent about the way I choose which shows to watch, and how much. TV has become kind of a brainless default for me; I want to learn to watch only the shows I really care about, and to spend the rest of time doing more meaningful things.

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