The Single Easiest Habit Change to Improve Your Life Forever

watch-less

Life change can be hard, really hard. There is a reason we make resolutions every January 1. We desire to grow and improve and live life to the fullest, but getting there takes discipline and work and effort. Too often, we fall short of the desired change we desire to embrace.

But there is one change available to us that is as significant and beneficial as any of the others. The decision and implementation are really not that difficult. In fact, almost everyone I have ever met that made the change recommends it.

Watch less television.

Consider the negative effects of television on our lives.

It is bad for our health. Numerous studies draw direct parallels between excessive television watching, obesity, and poor eating habits. But we don’t need studies to tell us we eat less healthy when watching television. We already know that.

It distracts us from the real people in our lives. The characters on television are not real. They are thought up in an office building and given life on a piece of paper. In contrast, you are surrounded everyday by real people living real lives. They need you. And you need them.

It influences our spending habits. Corporations do not spend trillions of dollars in advertising hoping to influence you. They spend trillions of dollars because they know, eventually, they will gain some control over your spending.

It costs us money. We spend money to power our television sets. Add in the cost of cable/satellite bills, dvd’s, Internet channel subscriptions, movie subscriptions, peripherals … and we’re starting to talk about real money.

It, literally, causes us less satisfaction with life. According to the Journal of Economic Psychology, TV viewers report lower life satisfaction, higher material aspirations, and more anxiety.

It results in less intimacy with your spouse. Couples who keep a TV in the bedroom have sex half as often as those who don’t.

And those are only the ones we are aware of. When we consider how television influences our worldview, impacts our kids, changes our mood, and demands our mental energy, the downsides of too much television make an almost airtight case to watch less of it.

But statistics say we watch television nearly 40 hours per week. 40 hours! That is 2,000 hours we could have spent last year doing anything else, experiencing any other positive habit: learning, reading, growing, contributing, or pursuing a dream.

When I decided to watch less television years ago, I was immediately forced to fill my evenings with something else. We spent more time together as a family. We spent more time outdoors. I began to write more. I decided to visit the gym in the evening. I took more control over my life and my decisions. These are all good things—healthy habits—and cutting out television provided opportunity for me to accomplish them.

Not only are the negative effects of TV detrimental to our lives, the opportunity cost is great. There are just better, more life-fulfilling things we could be doing with our evenings and weekends.

If you agree, here are some helpful tips to reduce your personal television watching habits.

1. Begin with the decision. Most of the healthy habits that emerge in our lives are the result of an intentional decision. If you agree that your life may improve with this simple change, embrace it. If you don’t think it will improve your life, review the above list again.

2. Less can be different than none. Put down your defenses. I’m advocating less, not none. I realize some TV can be educational and entertainment is not necessarily an exercise in futility. We still have one TV in our house that I watch occasionally. But I do watch far less… and maybe you should too.

3. Limit the number of televisions in your home. One of our first steps in reducing clutter in our home was to take the TV out of the kitchen. As an unexpected result, I began to discover how much I enjoyed cooking. And removing the TV out of our bedroom reminded me how much I enjoyed…

4. Find a good season to start. While this habit could be incorporated at any time, nice weather outside (or a busy season) provides a natural opportunity to enact a change—especially if you have family to get onboard.

5. If necessary, go it alone. Speaking of family, just because you are personally feeling challenged in this area does not mean they are too. That’s okay. Make the change in your own life first. Become the change you would like to see in your family.

6. Be intentional about planning something else. Go for a walk. Find a book. Join a club. Or pick up a new hobby. Intentionally picking something else to do will keep the temptation to a minimum.

7. Try to eliminate specific shows. It may seem easier to make sweeping generalities such as, “I’ll stop watching TV on Thursday nights,” “I’ll turn off the TV at 10pm,” or “I’ll cut out all reality shows.” But for us, at first, it was easier to pick some specific shows that we could easily live without. When we started to experience the benefits of living life rather than watching it, it was suddenly easier to cut out even more.

8. Know it gets even easier over time. Television is a self-propagating habit. It promotes its own self-interests by boldly declaring the Best New Show, Most Watched Network, Can’t Miss Episode, or Game of the Year. They play on our fear of missing-out. But as you commit to watching less, you are less persuaded by these claims because you see them less. Quickly you will realize you aren’t really missing that much anyway.

Life change can be hard. But some decisions have a greater beneficial impact than others. And watching less television just may be your quickest shortcut to better living right away—it only takes the decision to hit the Power-Off button.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. Bryan Boyd says

    My wife and I adapted this several years ago. We replaced tv with books. What a change in our lives! Definitely more time for each other and family, plus the added benefit of learning.

  2. says

    Love this article! Thank you for sharing the many reasons to affirm less TV in our lives. I especially lovedyour comment about being the change you wish to see in your family… it’s not so much about changing others but being an example. That can apply with so many other healthy habits you wish your family will adopt, too!

  3. Laura says

    I lived without a television for 7 years. When I moved I just didn’t feel like all the hassle with cable companies so decided to not get one. Most people thought that was so weird and asked me if it was because of a religion or asked what I did with my time. It’s not like I didn’t watch anything, there are many websites to watch the stuff you missed and really do want to see. It made watching TV much more intentional.

    About a year ago a television came into my life again. The reason: my boyfriend and his kids. I must say it is very nice for the two extremely wild boys to be quiet every once in a while, but lately I have been noticing that unintentionally watching is increasing again. Stupid sitcom reruns I really don’t want to watch but do anyway because there’s nothing else on.

    Thank you for this blog, you reminded me of how I want to live.

    • Mandy says

      This is a great article, but we can’t claim a causal relationship between anxiety and TV viewing; how do we know that TV causes anxiety and not that anxiety leads to sublimation and numbing through TV consumption? …Just a little food for thought.

    • MIke says

      Everything in moderation. Too much TV will rot your brain and make you question some long held beliefs. Television gets trashier every year. Even so-called children’s programming. Indoctrination.

    • Ben says

      I don’t pay for cable/satellite service so what my antenna doesn’t provide I don’t watch. My television viewing is very minimal because of that.

  4. Sarah says

    Getting rid of the television is a goal for my family. I don’t want the television to become a babysitter of my kids, and i think the fewer the advertisements we are introduced to the better. Plus the tv and tv stands are just eyesores. We no longer have cable, we just need to finally pull the trigger and get rid of it.
    Honestly though, getting rid of my smartphone is higher on my list. I spend way too much time and money on my phone, and it was truly a keeping up with the Johnsons purchase. I keep saying that i am keeping it for the camera, but honestly i have an irrational fear of getting rid of it.

    • Bob Pepe says

      That is my goal.. getting rid of my smartphone… If you knew me you would laugh at that statement, because I have the latest and greatest smartphone before it even comes out… I currently have THREE of them…. I handle the phones for my company and am always getting new phones from the suppliers.. It has become an obsession and I need to break from it. I want to get down to just ONE smartphone first and then take it from there.. I say that I need it for work. but do I really???? I basic “call me if you breakdown” phone would probably do the trick…..

    • Ben says

      You don’t have to get rid of your t.v. Just cut the cord and use a pair of antennas hooked up to it instead. That right there will curb your viewing of it quite a bit.

  5. says

    If I might offer an alternative view:

    Anything in excess is usually never good. However, I disagree with the notion that characters in television shows are not worth spending time with because they are not part of the “real” world. Often times TV characters are more interesting, fleshed-out, and believable than the people around you. Sometimes you don’t need the “real” world.

    I think it’s a testament to the power of fiction that we feel like we form connections with characters on TV shows. I think it’s also a testament to the power of good writing. After all, any TV show has to be written, and writers who are able to craft great characters can leave significant impacts on people. What does it matter if that writing came from ancient Greek poetry or a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, a Charles Dickens novel or Avatar: The Last Airbender? Good storytelling is good storytelling, no matter what form. And storytelling is an integral part of the human situation.

    In order to better articulate my point, I want to leave you with a review of the episode “Milagro” from Season 6 of The X-Files. The review was written by the brilliant Musings of An X-Phile author Salome, and it talks about what it means for a character to be “real” and the meaning fiction can have in our lives.

    http://musingsofanxphile.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/milagro-6×18-i-live-in-my-head/

    • Tami Ali says

      As the saying goes…too much of anything. Someone above mentioned Intentional watching. I feel this is key for me. Plan my watching and turn off the nonsense. There are quite a few very good shows written by wonderfully creative writers that provide much need laughter or expose us to otherwise missed experiences. There are also human foibles brought to light and made less shameful or isolating. When I was a child and there was such a thing as the “t.v. guide”, my mother would buy it once a week, circle the shows we would watch and otherwise the t.v. was off. Good tactic.

  6. Catherine Peters says

    Thanks for the encouragement! Perfect timing. While on vacation last week I decided to bite the bullet and cancel our cable. I spend way too much time watching TV and use it to distress and numb out, but it seems to be sucking the life out of me instead of helping me re-energize. Coming home Sunday night and not being able to flip on the TV was a rude shock, and it has definitely felt weird not to have it this week. I was an only child, latch key kid and single most of my adult life, so tv has been a constant companion. I’m really interested I what opens up in my life in its absence and am just hoping it’s worth the initial discomfort.

    • Carol says

      we mostly just watch PBS and World (also PBS station) – generally, aside from that, the shows seem pretty ridiculous and really boring. I’ve never had cable but generally keep busy with reading and art projects anyway.

    • Craig says

      I think that when you want to cut out TV you shouldn’t just remove it and hope that your life improves. Instead you should have a plan, preferably before you remove the TV, for what you will do with that extra time. Otherwise you will find yourself boarded with no idea what to do with yourself and you are less likely to succeed.

  7. Bob Pepe says

    I think that getting rid of some of the TV’s is a good idea, but we still want to be connected to the real world and there is some good TV still on if you look.

    Plus, Watching TV can be relaxing and enjoyable and the last thing someone trying to become a minimalist is to feel that they are missing out on one of the pleasures they used to enjoy.

  8. Susan says

    I have never been interested in TV – even as a kid I never watched TV. I didn’t like have someone/something else controlling my thoughts and my time. My husband however, was a TV watcher and I hated it. I would end doing other stuff and we weren’t spending as much time together as either of wanted. So, about 3 years ago we just got rid of it. Of course, it doesn’t matter to me, but we did get a Roku and it’s perfect. We can select to watch something – usually a movie – and we can watch it over a couple nights so I don’t feel like I’m wasting time. He told me the other night, he could never go back to the “commercial” world and he loves the money we’re saving. It did take him some time to adjust though……..

  9. says

    I recently returned to a TV free life after 6 months of slowly slipping into addiction when I received TV and DVR free in a service bundle. I had fallen into the habit of reaching for the remote every time I sat down and cycling through the channels even if I wasn’t going to watch the shows. It was wasted time on meaningless images and prevented me from having quiet moments of doing nothing. I also watched a couple hours a night of whatever was on. Yes, whatever was on.
    For several days after letting go of cable my hand would crave the remote when I sat on the couch. It was humbling and strange.
    So, now I have Netflix through a Bluray and bookmarked streaming news on my computer in case of emergency.
    I feel like I am returning to myself, have more peaceful, quiet time, and am back to making conscious choices for anything I might choose for entertainment.

  10. Glenda says

    I stopped watching TV due to a lack of good shows to watch. I have my favourites that I like to watch and that is the only time it is on. Definitely worth a try

  11. Jackie Barger says

    Pretty much the same arguments work for screen time with the computer and internet. Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Bob Pepe says

      For me it is the internet… I automatically get up in the morning on the weekends and make my coffee and grab the laptop… I am making an effort to stop using Facebook and Twitter as much and come to better, more fulfilling websites like this one!!

      TV or internet…. computer screen with images…. same thing… and you can add the smartphone to the list. I hate it when I see the world with their collective faces looking down into that magical little device that we find so hard to put away….. and I am as guilty as anyone (but acknowledging the problem is the first step….)

    • Ben says

      That’s true. There’s probably more internet junkies than t.v. junkies. I think most of society in the west is now some sort of addict whenever it comes to being plugged in be it social networking,video ganes, searching web sites, and etc.

  12. Ellen Scott Grable says

    Amazing how may folks are defending something which robs them of their time, resources and mind. I gave up my TV ten years and in that time got a university degree, lived abroad, became a certified sailing yacht skipper, learned to play polo and have read hundreds of books and road tripped for almost a month cross country and started writing a book. I had a dream of this life before I gave away my TV and after I did I began to truly live my dreams.

    Live your life or watch someone else live. The decision for me was easy and I have not missed an episode of my life yet!

  13. Deana Beckham says

    I really believe in this. I’ve had an on again off again relationship with TV. Right now it’s difficult as you mentioned sometimes others in our home don’t or can’t stop TV watching. One thing that helps me is every time a commercial comes on I get up and do something. Before I know it I’m doing the something all the time and not watching TV anymore!

  14. says

    So true… Our kids have always used the TV to watch programs and movies that we as parents have chosen are appropriate for learning, imagination and for fun. Since they were born, the aerial of free to air or pay TV has pretty much been unplugged. For all of us. TV is such a fantastic thing to be free of, but of late, I find myself wondering if TV is being replaced by Internet. Don’t get me wrong, the net is a fantastic medium of sharing, exploring, learning and FUN, but I think there is a danger of replacing screen time with screen time. Like all things though, I think its about seeing the dangers, and providing balance.

  15. Carole says

    Not an issue for us. We’ve never watched a lot of tv, and we watch even less now. Nothing that’s on really interests us. We do watch movies, but little broadcast tv. And we don’t watch the news. We get our news from other (and what we feel are) more reliable and less sensationalized sources.

    Of the people I know, their cell phones are much more of an issue than tv ever was.

  16. Carole says

    When I was a kid tv time was limited. We were outside far more than we were inside. Now there are also computers, tablets, cell phones, video games, all to contend with. TV seems a minor issue comparatively.

    • Ben says

      That’s true. Some ppl will bash t.v. while using one of those other devices hours on end every day. They don’t even realize they’re hypocrites.

  17. James M says

    I have no problem with the television my wife and I watch. For us it is a lovely moment at the end of the day. We sit down, snuggle up and enjoy a show or two. We watch Netflix almost exclusively so we are not inundated with advertisements. This way we watch specific shows that we enjoy and never just channel surf.
    I’m glad this article didn’t advocate getting rid of tv. Television can be a great part of our culture. Numerous wonderful discussions are held at work discussing the latest episode of the latest great show. I wouldn’t want to lose that (and I think that when people avoid tv altogether they are really missing out). I believe that all media should be balanced. When chastising my children for watching too much tv I’ve told them that if they came home and read a book from the time school is done until bedtime every night I’d be just as upset. Balance is important. Television, reading, radio, music, exercise, boardgames, video games etc can be enjoyed, without guilt, if balanced.

  18. dani says

    I only partly agree. Watching a good TV show or documentary is the same as reading a good book. I don’t know why books are always on a pedestal above TV. I learn a lot more from a war doco, it’s more engaging to me. I’ve never liked reading fiction and I am an educated person. Plus I love news and sport. I have a toddler so I can’t always get to the game anymore.

    I also try to move while I watch TV. Stretching etc…

    It’s only evil if you let it be

  19. Carolyn says

    Yes, yes, yes! We’ve been holidaying in Japan for a week with no tv and its been fantastic! It’s amazing how inventive the kids are without it. We even caught them playing charades! Less tv is something I’ve been trying to do for years – hopefully we can continue it when we get back home and then all I have to work on is less time on social media!

  20. Reiko says

    Thank you for the great post. I gave up on TV more than two years ago and i never want to go back to a life with TV. Seriously. I cannot imagine now to live with that thing!!

  21. cj beuning says

    The kids were young, I came home and found 4 tv’s in 4 rooms turned on but no one was watching any of them! Then one died…. we didn’t replace it.
    We took the # of tv’s down to 1 in 2003. We still have 1. It is in its own room away from the hub of the house. Movie/snack night was a big event with preperation!!
    Sometimes we subscribe to cable and sometimes not – depends on the cable company bargain of the month.
    I have a couple shows I like to watch, as does my sweetie. The kids are grown and will choose their own path.

  22. Carol Druckman says

    I’m surprised no one mentioned the library. Ours is free and has thousands of documentaries, kid’s things, old and new movies and you can pick the kind of entertainment you want all without commercials and no cost!

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