Scott H Young

How to Give Up Television


How much television do you watch every day? The national figure is seven hours every day. Isn’t that astounding. Seven hours? That is the equivalent of a full time job if you include Sunday in that figure. An even more alarming statistic is that 70% of what we watch we have absolutely no interest in. We are really just watching television just to see what’s on. If you are looking for a hidden gold mine of time to devote to your personal development, improving your relationships and enjoying really entertaining activities, television is usually a good place to start.

Several months ago I made the decision to give up television entirely. Initially I found it difficult to find useful and entertaining activities to fill the vacancy television created, but after a few months off of the tube and I can say it is wonderful. The extra time I gained from television was crucial in meeting a few of my goals I reached this June. Moreover, this extra time allowed me to pursue activities such as volunteer coaching for soccer and Toastmasters.

Why Drop Television?

If you are currently locked into the radiation emitter, then you may be curious as to why you may decide to dump television. I’ll go over some of the positive benefits of the habit as well as some things you may not have thought of. Here are the major reasons to drop television:

Reason One: More Time

Although I doubt most the people who visit sites like these spend a full seven hours a day watching television, you probably spend a lot more than you realize. By giving up television completely you will suddenly find yourself with a flow of extra time to pursue new activities. If you are time starved like most people in today’s society, retaking the television time can be a good start.

Reason Two: More Energy

Obesity, stress and fatigue are common problems of the typical Westerner. I believe that the television drains far more energy out of you then you think. Although the act of watching television doesn’t expend much energy, by watching it so much you exhaust your ability to use energy. Like someone who is stuck in bed for weeks, your energy ‘muscles’ atrophy to the point where it takes considerable force to concentrate and focus. This isn’t even considering the fact that television may be replacing exercise in your daily routine.

Reason Three: Better Entertainment

I’ll be the first to admit it. There are some fantastically entertaining shows on television. Some of my favorite shows were Family Guy, Star Trek, Friends and Law & Order. Suspenseful and humorous, many of these shows were worth watching. Unfortunately, I started to notice that the quality of the entertainment was fairly hit or miss. While some shows provided consistent entertainment, for many getting true laughs or suspense was rare and hard to come by. More than that, I noticed I was wasting time watching episodes with no value whatsoever, just to catch a glimpse of a good one. By eliminating television I spent more time in social activities that consistently provided more entertainment.

Reason Four: Gain Sensitivity

Television is very desensitizing. With flashy plots, moving colors and gimmicky ads you start to lose sensation for everyday experiences. The beauty of the clouds or smell after a rainstorm lose value when compared to the high impact experience of a car explosion or intense colors of a Five Alive advertisement. By giving up television you ensure that your everyday experiences becomes a little more vibrant. Now this isn’t to say that you should never seek extraordinary sensations to expand your mind, but by constantly consuming them you become dependent on that stimulation.

Reason Five: What do you have to lose?

Honestly, this was the biggest reason for my experiment. If giving up television works out great, then I have installed a great new habit. If I decide that it was better before, then the trial was still successful. That is the beauty of experimentation, you are free to experience both sides and then pick the best option. The worst case scenario is that you miss a few of your shows for a few days. Come on, it isn’t like they won’t be syndicated until the end of time anyways!

Start with a 30 Day Blackout

The first way to start your habit conditioning trial is to do a thirty day blackout of all television. I tend to allow DVD movies as they are usually a very distinct form of entertainment, usually watched with friends and aren’t usually watched to excess. But other than that small caveat, you must go completely free without television for thirty days. This is meant to break your addiction so you can decide to pursue television or not through a conscious decision.

I’m serious when I say no television for thirty days. If a friend wants to watch a television show with you, leave the room and ask him to tape it. If someone has left the television on in a room, turn it off immediately, or leave the room. If everyone is watching television with supper, eat alone. This may seem harsh, but cold turkey is the only way to snap out of the habit of watching television as an automatic response when you are bored, eating or sitting in the living room.

Replace Your Sources of Entertainment

Real serious TV addicts may come to one conclusion. They really don’t have very many other entertaining activities to replace television. Others may find they have a devolved social life because of the tube. Replacing your sources of entertainment and solutions to boredom are critical in replacing the TV addiction.

Look around for other activities in your area. Brainstorm a list of fun, interesting or exciting things you always wanted to try but didn’t feel you had enough time. I’ll start the list for you:

You need to make sure that all of the benefits you received from television are somehow compensated for by another source. Finding better and more efficient forms of entertainment, solutions to boredom or things to do while eating will be critical in shaking off your television addiction. There are plenty of sources, you just need to access that latent grey area between your ears to find them.

Other Possibilities for Television Usage

This television trial wasn’t my first trial with television usage. There are other ways you can utilize television to get more out of the television you are already watching. One of my first trials was over a year ago when I decided to try the habit of using a VCR recorder to tape all my favorite shows and to never watch television live. I ultimately found this was inefficient, but you need to experiment to find what works for you. Here are some possiblities:

No Live TV

Tape all your shows and watch them without commercials. This can be great if you mostly watch TV alone or you have a few key shows you like to watch. By taping shows in advance you are distilling what you deem to be better content from the mass of garbage out there. It may not be an effective strategy if you like to watch television with family or friends as they may not put up with your strange methods of optimization. I eventually found this habit was causing me to watch boring episodes of shows I had taped simply because I hadn’t taped anything else. It is also easy to go overboard and tape too much so you are right back where you started. Find what works for you.

Pre-Assigned Television Watching

Another experiment I did a long time ago when I was still new with the idea of changing habits was to make a rule that you could only watch television if you assigned it in advance. This one could work if your family or friends tend to watch television as a social activity. By deciding days in advance that you will watch only certain shows, that can help cut the 70% garbage rate, but still mean you can watch television with friends.

I eventually settled on no television at all, with the exception of rented/bought DVD’s but you need to find what works for you. As I mentioned in my reasons for giving up television, what do you have to lose? The very worst case will be that you decide you currently have the best possible television watching habits, in which case you missed one month of television. Otherwise you may be surprised to find a very superior form of entertainment or social contact. Whatever you settle upon, make the decision consciously.


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31 Responses to “How to Give Up Television”

  1. I have been having some really interesting discussion with my friend about Tv diets. I urge everyone to read Jerry Manders “5 arguments for the elimination of Television”.
    Whether you agree with him or not, it will make you think.

  2. Scott Young says:

    Considering how much of our time and energy TV eats up, I think experimenting with more effective or complete removal of TV watching has a huge impact on our lives.

  3. Dirk says:

    Can you cite the study that says that Americans, on average, watch TV for seven hours a day? I doubt that this is as simple as it sounds. The TV may be on for seven hours on average, but I believe people do other stuff while the TV is on. Like a radio playing in the background.

    It just does not add up: work for eight hours, commute, eat, sleep, shower etc., and watch seven hours of TV?

    Thanks.

  4. Scott Young says:

    If you google “average television watch per day” you get figures between 4 and 8.25 hours a day for the average time people watch television each day. I picked the one that said seven because that was the statistic I have heard a few times before.

    In many of these cases the television is probably left on during other tasks. Some people wouldn’t consider this television watching, but I disagree. Watching TV when eating means you aren’t spending that attention on talking with others, listening to an audio tape or improving your social relationships. Multitasking is reknown for sucking up your energy and making you deficient at other tasks. I suppose I didn’t mention watching television while doing other activities in the article, but it is important not to discount this time.

  5. Dave says:

    I’m proud to say I’ve been (mostly) TV-free for more than 10 years. My mom bought me a TV so she could watch when she visits, but when she’s not here I leave it in the closet. One thing which is hard to appreciate for most regular watchers is how desensitized to sight and sound you become. It is very uncomfortable for me to be in a room with a TV on. I find it very difficult to think and the noise hurts my ears.

    How did I do it? Just decided I was going to do it and went cold turkey. It helps that I’m single. It’s nice not paying $60 every month for cable!

  6. Scott Young says:

    @Dave,

    Great to hear it, I forgot about the obvious monetary implications of television, although I suppose with all the time you save you may end up spending the saved money on something else. Still, it is a good point.

  7. R. Clark says:

    What about the internet? I know that you still have to read and have more interaction on the net than with TV but sometimes I find myself turning off the TV and going to the internet and reading numerous mind-numbing blogs (not this one of course!), pointless surfing, etc. just to fill up TV time.

    Do you think the internet will be the next thing we need to ‘turn-off’ or at least limit to get back in touch with our humanity?

  8. Scott Young says:

    R. Clark,

    I actually wrote an article about internet reduction.

    http://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/2006/06/12/efficient-internete-mail-usage/

    Since writing this article on television, I have reconsidered my stance on the issue. Being in a completely different environment than I was when I made this decision, television actually facillitates social interaction here as opposed to limiting it. Still, I never sit down to watch television by myself. Come up with your own decisions based on whether you think it will help you get more out of life.

  9. max night says:

    I usually watch television for the stories of the movies that are made. And no, I dont watch reality or game shows except for Wheel of Fortune. I put my tv time into finding a good movie I havent seen, from before I was born. Many movies from the last fifty or sixtie years might be dumb, but there are many however that I would like to appreciate while theyre around. I also watch anime, and those types of shows are good bits of fiction to watch especially when the dvds are quite expensive. One of the best ones I watched on Youtube in english was Wolfs Rain. It held the issue that this world will end and only the wolves will enter paradise. Dont ask me to say anymore.I dont want to spoil the very good, however tragic plot.

  10. [...] H Young: How to Give Up Television Leave a comment? Like this article? ThinkSimpleNow delivers weekly articles on creativity, [...]

  11. Dawn Weaver says:

    I have not watched tv for over thirty days, and I don’t miss a single minute. It is so nice to read and write and hear nothing. My husband and I had three tvs before children. After our first son was born we got rid of two and put the one we had in the basement. After my second son was born we just took the tv and stuffed it in a closet where it still sits and he is two. I have found that since the tv is off we talk all of the time, we read, play, and my two boys entertain themselves no problem. I don’t think that I will watch tv ever again. I am honestly sick of it and I want to feel life, to breath it in, and not be obsessed with the inculcation of tv. I wish more people felt as I do, because I don’t think anyone realizes how much control tv has upon their lives.

  12. [...] How to Give Up Television – When I wrote this article I was off the tube for about six months completely. Today I’d watch less than an hour of television per week. The article goes further trying to explore how to cut the wasted viewing hours, or eliminate them altogether. [...]

  13. [...] Scott H Young: How to Give Up Television [...]

  14. mac says:

    OK, there is a lot of unhappiness in the world.

    A lot of this unhappiness comes from people who watch TV.

    As somebody else said, TV *controls* you, it controls your life.

    If you are unhappy, think about the role you give to TV in your life.

    Do you look forward to seeing shows? Do you decline invitations to go out because of TV? Or have you allowed TV to stop you answering the phone… from a *real* person?

    I believe that excessive TV watching (more than 1 hour a day) makes you into a different person, someone not in control of their life, and you miss out big time on what is really happening in the world.

    If you are unhappy, and you watch TV, why don’t you at least try to see if giving up TV makes a difference for the better. You have nothing to lose.

  15. alan says:

    hmm.. I heard last weekend (on the toob) that with the DTV box requirements that up to 15% of people would not upgrade/ would not be watching tv.
    The other side:
    sometimes tv is the only “socialization” pepple have; ie: nursing homes, elderly in-home, disabled, etc. Maybe some of the 15% may start visiting a shut-in or nursing home as an option to those who are on the 7hours a day.. Personally: overcoming agoraphobia, gradually- I used to have to be picked up to go 4 blocks to get groceries- thank goodness I’m not in that state anymore.. but at times, if I’m suffering from CTS + sinus headaches +depression + foot/joint pain (can’t stand/walk too long) or down with a cold/flu, that damnable box has bridged the time to put me to sleep and distract me from other miseries. call it a limbo or purgatory state, it serves a purpose when physical or emotional pain is overwhelming.
    TV is “easier” than building relationships; it’s controlled emotional responses that it evokes is close to an internet avatar/alternative I.D.. Sure it’s not real but at least you can safely ‘feel’.
    I get the “rightness” of real-reality when I have a good day, but as one who recognizes that it is a false reality, for some it serves a purpose who’ve otherwise been disconnected from real relationships, where it’s been too hard, high and far at times to catch up with the ones living a _real_ “life”..
    BTW: my old analog tube is finally worn out; it has a green cast similar to the edges of this blog; when it goes, I’ll have no choice but for “something” other than tv. maybe see you outside, on a “good” day ?…

  16. Teresa says:

    Why I want to give up TV:

    I want to give up TV because I feel like there is something missing in my life and I fill this whole with TV which is completely unfulfilling and really bad for my mind and imagination. I am going to find other things that interest me instead, I really want to take up a new activity such as Karate/kick boxing, I will try and get my housemates to come as well. I will read a lot more, start reading the newspaper again and books. Study for my dissertation and research for my major project. Go out and take photographs, so many nights I’ve wanted to go out and take photographs of the starry sky but I’ve just let myself get caught up in front of the TV. Find interesting things to do in London, go to exhibitions, events things I always want to do but never find the time to do. Go to socialism events, Buddhist events, cultural events. Comedy clubs. Go rock climbing. Play basketball. Go and see friends who I don’t usually meet up with, Go to film events. Don’t just get stuck in my own little bubble in our house with only my housemates and the TV.

    Now I’m thinking about giving up TV I realise how much there is outside this sofa and I feel really excited about my life, something that I usually have to force out of myself! I am going to begin 30D trial today and finish by 7th of February 2009 I’l keep you updated on my progress. Thanks a lot for your blogs its great to find some really useful practical advice on this subject!

    Teresa

  17. Remrie Arrie says:

    I can say it’s great living without TV personally, I’m alot more productive and more emmersed into a envoronment on the net that is much more likely to involve me with activities automatically rather than needing to pull me away from some box.

    I got a TV but only for movies/video games and even still I probably only play one videogame one day a week on average or later for personal entertainment if I’m just plain bored.

    The only TV I will ever watch is Google Current and those are user made documentaries uploaded onto Current.com which actually have value with minimal pharmasutical commercials and other wasteful ads, I only watch that channel for an hour or two once every 2 weeks on average depending. Other than that I’m on the net scouring around looking for like-minded people to network and befriend and learn anything I can for my own personal development such as the things you post on your website.

    Great job and I really enjoy what you have to say. I’m writing my own monthly news letters myself because up until last night I never really found anyone who talked about such topics in good detail. Great job.

    ~Remrie.

  18. [...] first attempts at effective television watching were simply to stop watching television altogether. This may be the ideal solution for many people. If you need to reclaim a lot of time for new [...]

  19. [...] fallen into this reasoning trap myself. I’ve previously written about giving up television, and while I enjoyed the challenge (I still don’t have a television), I think I pursued the goal [...]

  20. Will says:

    Before reading this blog, I have decided to give up TV for one month as a trial. It starts tomorrow and I thought I’d look up a few tips about it and am glad to know a 30 day trial is a recommended idea. I’ve actually been very excited but it’s suddenly kicked in that I’ve got to force it upon myself now. Fingers crossed…

  21. Corey J. says:

    i used to watch hours of t.v. to fill that annoying time between periods of sleep called consciousness. I found myself watching episodes i had already seen again just to fill time. But recently when our direct tv 6 month deal expired and it was over 100 bucks to continue to watch for five channels i actually was interested in or 380 to cancel i initially got rid of the box and it returned because of my addiction to it. but now ive found that i only watch t.v. when i eat about 15 minutes a day. ive ditched that direct tv box now and occasionally watch movies but at night i find myself on wikipedia learning about stuff. If our ancestors could live without t.v. then so can i!

  22. MaryO says:

    I ditched my television months ago, after realizing I only turned it on for the cat, when I was away overnight. When my girlfriend and I get together, we play Scrabble, talk, go places, and occasionally watch a DVD.

    I volunteer for the Red Cross in disaster response, am active in my church, and have a meaningful job with a nonprofit. For auditory stimulation I listen to my local emergency services on radioreference.com and I hear much more interesting events than ever make it to the news.

  23. [...] awhile, this strategy worked. I’ve successfully gone month stretches without television of any kind (and as of this article, I haven’t owned a television in three years). I’ve also shrunk my net [...]

  24. AH says:

    Being controlled by TV is bad as it lack time to do useful works….
    but there are some good TV programme really deserved to watch, such as Prison Break, apprentice, etc.

    The question might NOT : stop watching TV
    The difficult question might be : how to enjoy TV WITHOUT being controlled by TV? how to remain conscious even if watching TV?

    There seems a critical point when we watch TV, we changed from being in-control to being out-of-control…….
    if there is a signal to remind ourselves, then we know we should stop the TV before we became out of control !!!
    but it is not easy to identify that critical point !!! any one has idea ???

  25. V Jain says:

    I have been 99% off television for 10 years now. Probably the best decision I ever made. For every really entertaining program on television, there is a more entertaining book to read. Instead of watching sports, I now participate more in sports and I try to go to live sports (even if little league or high scchool).

  26. Dave Nielsen says:

    Seven hours or even four hours a day is ridiculous. I’m all in favor of cutting back but cutting it out completely is not necessary.

  27. Norma O'Dwyer says:

    I have been wanting to give up TV completely for years but my husband doesn’t feel the same. If he is watching TV and I have to stay out of the lounge, well it seems very anti-social and difficult to do. I need to get rid of the TV as I often resort to switching on when I’m alone and bored.

  28. Ade says:

    I will be giving up TV for the most part beginning July 28, 2011, I just paid my last cable bill and it is paid through that date. After that I will be taking the box to the cable office and turning it in. I lost my job last September and can no longer afford the $87 a month (no premium movie channels) to keep it on.

  29. Lauren says:

    I grew up on tv and didn’t think I watched much… I’ve just given up tv and it’s so awesome! I am seriously struggling to fill the hours though! I’ve watched a small bit of tv to help pass time and I’ve noticed that it saps my energy!! I suddenly feel lethargic and tired and all productiveness leaves me. I’m quitting for good tommorow, how I will fill the time I have no idea but I know I’m out!! Definately go for it if you are considering giving it up.

  30. Rob says:

    I might have mentioned it already, but a very inspiring post! Your entire blog seems very thoughtful.
    On my blog (which is in some way similar to yours) I published a similar article: http://moveoveraverage.com/25/
    If you find some free time, please leave me some feedback.
    Keep up the great posts

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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