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 and the consequences of allowing too much screen time for kids.
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.