Help me kick my TV habit, please?
June 27, 2012 7:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm having problems with my escapism. How do I kick my TV addiction?

Lately, I have been having a problem with escapism through TV. It's been a rough couple months for me. My ex-girlfriend left me out of nowhere (again) and I've found myself watching TV from the moment I get home till I finally go to bed to keep from feeling lonely. In fact, I make sure to watch it so much that I exhaust myself so I don't spend those few minutes between the couch and the bed thinking about my life. Having voices fill the apartment is comforting. I don't watch new shows. In fact, I avoid watching anything new; I just watch reruns of shows that I mildly enjoy. New shows almost make me uncomfortable.

Other than this, my life is pretty great. Good job, school/research is going well, I'm out and about a fair amount each week, have plenty of friends, been dating again, etc. It's just this one thing that bothers me because I can't seem to shake it and spend time on my other, more interesting, hobbies.

To my question: How do you break TV addiction when it isn't the shows you are addicted to but the sense of connection and contact? I'd still like to consume high-quality media on occasion but that is not what I am doing now.
posted by Loto to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Get rid of cable or whatever it is you depend on for television. Make a good plan for ways to spend the money you save, like an awesome trip. Go to the library and get an assortment of good books and DVDs. Get some exercise DVDs and use them. If you still miss the sound of other people nearby play your radio turned low.
posted by mareli at 7:31 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

turn on the radio instead. Music is very therapeutic.
posted by parmanparman at 7:32 AM on June 27, 2012

What would you rather be doing with your time? Do that.

Join a gym and go there before you get home. If you do end up vegging out, at least you worked out first.

How about resolving to cook a nice meal every night? You go into the kitchen, perhaps put some music on, and do your thing.

Are there books you'd like to read?

You want to fill your time, but you want to feel like you're getting something out of it.

Call some friends and invite them over to eat your home cooking.

Shake it up.

Decide how much TV time you want to allot yourself and actually plan what you're going to watch and when. Now you're discriminating.

It's rough, but once you get back into the swing, you'll feel better.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:34 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sounds to me like you're not really addicted to TV, it's just filling a hole in your life right now. You sound a little depressed (not a medical diagnosis) and a little demotivated. That's normal post-breakup. You're doing the right things (seeing friends, a bit of dating) and I imagine you'll lose the TV crutch soon enough. But if you're looking to make a change today, I would suggest you start scheduling in non-TV activities for every evening, whether that's a call to family, some radio, reading, a run or whatever. You could also try planning out your weekly TV time and only switch it on for shows you decide in advance to watch. Also, tell your friends about your concerns; I bet they'll soon rally round and have you wishing for some peace and quiet.
posted by londonmark at 7:43 AM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

You need to keep the barriers from doing something else EXTREMELY low.

--Make a list of other things you could be doing. Make sure it includes stuff you could do on your own, stuff that costs no money, stuff that you don't have to get out of the room to do, all that. (Make this list when you're not at home, so the actual list-making isn't something you want to avoid, too.)

--Tape the list to the front of the TV and the remote.

--On another tack, make a list of things you want to do, regardless of whether or not it will require extra effort (where "extra effort" is defined as "I might have to get off the couch when a commercial ISN'T on"). Then... DO THEM. Do them specifically BECAUSE it is difficult for you to do so, or you don't want to get out of the house, or you're afraid, or you think you'll look stupid.

Things like this for me included going to the movies on my own.

--The checklist thing is great because a) it gives you somewhere to automatically turn, but b) it also acts as a way to gamify or give yourself a gold-star reward.
posted by Madamina at 7:49 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Make it a goal to come home and not turn the tv on for 15 minutes. TV (and internet) is a definite "laziness trigger" for me and once it's on, it usually doesn't go off. I've found that breaking the habit of turning the tv on as soon as I get home is usually enough to get me out of my routine and doing something new. I LOVE tv and at times I use it the same way you do. The only problem I have with it is it takes up valuable time that I could be exercising, reading, practicing my instrument, calling a friend, meeting up with people, going for a walk, etc. Doing something even mildly productive is going to help you feel better about yourself in the wake of a breakup. Turning on the tv to drown out your thoughts drowns out not only the bad thoughts but the good, interesting thoughts as well. You're going to like yourself more if you can hear your interesting, valuable thoughts, even if it comes with the bad ones too.
posted by Katine at 7:50 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had to cut the damn cable, both figuratively and literally.
But here's the question you need to ask yourself - if you do away with television, will the computer take its place?

I would tend to think that television or the internet is the symptom of a larger problem with escapism. What are you REALLY escaping from?

Once you do away with television, you will need something else to take its place, as nature abhors a vacuum.

Me? I work on my next novel, workout, spend time with family and friends, read a good book, etc.

Have a list of things you can do INSTEAD of watching television.
Do them.
posted by THAT William Mize at 8:03 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe you could start by putting the remote somewhere that it would be inconvenient to get (e.g. up on a high shelf that you need a ladder or step stool to get to)? This isn't going to stop you from watching TV if you really want to, but it forces you to make a conscious decision to do it instead of just falling in to watching TV.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:04 AM on June 27, 2012

If you do sit down to watch a show, set the timer on the TV to go off in 30-60 minutes, depending on the length of the show. When the TV automatically goes off, you know it's time to do something else!
posted by Nutritionista at 8:21 AM on June 27, 2012

Sometimes we just need to shut off our brains, and that's okay, I think. I have particular films for this and sometimes I will just play them on a loop if it's necessary - my reasoning is that it's better to do this than something destructive or more harmful. What I find helps control this is doing something else while the tv is on - even if it's just trying a complicated recipe. I find myself focusing on that and not on the tv, and it helps me not use it as a crutch as much. Though as I do use tv as background noise rather than playing music often, I tend not to find it as massive a distraction as some people, so this might not be a good move for you. (I have drafted articles while it's playing, for example.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 8:22 AM on June 27, 2012

I am similar to Lesbiassparrow, and I agree that it's okay sometimes. I weaned myself down to only occasional days - like once a month - of netflix marathons. Here's some things I did:

For before bedtime, instead of TV, to stop my brain from going round and round over worries that will keep me awake and sad and / or stressed, I switched from TV to audiobooks (in my case, Joan Hickson reading Miss Marple, YMMV). I got a pair of sleepphones to make this comfy.

I also started to read* really fun books -- ones that are not going to enlightenment in any way and that I devour like TV. I'm still sedentary, but at least my mind is active. (* when I was depressed, I couldn't concentrate to read, so that may not be a good substitute activity for you). Presently reading Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series. They are to me the equivalent of the addictive bad tv I like but in book form.

Podcasts while doing chores, organizing things, hobbies etc. is also a good substitute, and more active. Lesbiasparrow's music + recipe is a good one too, but I would be doing a podcast or background TV rather than music in all likelihood.
posted by girlpublisher at 8:37 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I fall into this trap often. I love the reruns of Friends and Big Bang Theory. I've noticed:

- it doesn't feel so bad if I'm only doing it a few nights a week. Sign up for a class or make plans with friends so that you have something to do after work.

- I feel far less guilty about if I'm doing something else while watching TV. If it's on in the background while I replace a button, write, or fold laundry, that's ok

- I can get a similar comfort zone by setting myself up washing dishes, cleaning, or whatever with a good podcast or some nice music going.

- once you sit down on the couch and turn on the TV, it's really hard to get back up. If you walk in the door and immediately do some sort of chore, you're much more likely to keep moving.
posted by bunderful at 8:45 AM on June 27, 2012

Treadmill/bike and more books than you can ever finish... exhaust your mind & body at the same time
posted by MangyCarface at 8:52 AM on June 27, 2012

The past four years of my life have been a series of Major Unlucky Ridiculous Events Of Suck. I honestly and sincerely couldn't have gotten through them without being able to zone out to episodes of Mythbusters, Doctor Who and Top Gear, and reruns of Law and Order SVU or Cold Case. But yeah, it got to be a habit.

So I've started cutting down by confining it to just those shows. Now, if I can't find one of those shows on, the TV goes off, period. If I do find an episode, but if it's a repeat I've seen a ton of times and is not one of my very favorites, the TV still goes off (unless there's a particularly good bit - say it's the Top Gear where they turn a car into a space shuttle, or the scene in the SVU squadroom where the schizophrenic guy tells Stabler "I can't find my head!" - then I just watch that one bit, and turn it off right after).

That's actually done a good job of weaning me - I've found that a lot fewer episodes of the various shows are "oh but I have to watch this one again" status, and I've even found that new episodes of some shows don't appeal (I don't think I've seen Top Gear for a while now).

Switching to radio also helped -- although it did prove to be equally as addicting for a time; I really like the NPR show "Wait Wait Don't tell me!" Fortunately, though, in New York the show they follow that with is this awful thing I hate, so that was an incentive to turn the radio off right away, so at least I was only addicted to one thing.

But yeah - try switching to radio, so you can do other things in the meantime, and confine your television to a few very specific shows. That'll help cut back without trying to go cold turkey. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:16 AM on June 27, 2012

nthing radio; radio dramas can be quite interesting.
I like This American Life for my escapism needs.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 9:42 AM on June 27, 2012

Watch an extra hour a day for a month. You will have to force yourself to do it very quickly, and soon it will be a major annoyance. At the end of the month, you will be all 'thank god that's over, no more tv for me!"
posted by Jacen at 9:43 AM on June 27, 2012

Just chiming in because unfortunately I don't have much self control and if I had a TV, let me tell you....I would never go outside.

This is what works for me (still fulfilling the desire to get occasional programming, too):

--Get rid of the TV (no inbetween cable with a few channels; Tv-gone!)

--If you need an occasional fix,there is youtube, hulu,and a few episodes of a series are online.

--But what if you want an entire series. You can turn Netflix (or another serviceon and off). I will turn it on ONLY if I have accomplished certain goals.My list of goals(exercise, save X amt of $) is set up with a point system and prizes! One of the optional prizes is ...a few months of Netflix or buying a series online. Anywho, for me I have to first do the do the other tasks and do so many before I can justify a gateway to nonstop streaming entertainment.

Also, if you need other options for voices besides TV and don't like the news. Experiment with podcasts (there are comedies, scifi stories with characters, etc. etc.)-this may be enough of an option for you.
posted by Wolfster at 9:51 AM on June 27, 2012

I'm going to add to the "is this really a problem?" camp. There's nothing wrong with a little extended escapism as a component of an ongoing recovery. There's nothing wrong with escapism in general, in moderation. The biggest problem is that you feel bad about it taking time away from other activities and hobbies, but I'd posit that a hobby you engage in purely out of obligation isn't much of a hobby. If you need some time off those things then let yourself have it.

Maybe you can help the transition by using some of that time to do other things as well. You want to be exhausted for bed; can you do some exercises while escaping? Situps, pushups, simple weight training with hand weights. We know you don't need to pay perfect attention to the screen since you've seen this stuff before. I'd avoid it in the hours before bed since, for me, exercise wakes me up. But maybe when you first are sitting down to turn off your brain.

Also a possibility, something you do with your hands. Any physical crafts you can do at the coffee table while watching? My wife likes do to some of the craft projects for baubles we sell at art shows while watching television. Would any of your hobbies fit into this space?
posted by phearlez at 10:16 AM on June 27, 2012

Even when I wish I would do X instead, been waiting all day to get home so I can do X, I find that the hardest part is starting X instead of turning on the TV.
If I were to actually manage to get started on X, I'll be away, happy and productive and get shit done.
But instead, tired from work, all I want to do in the moment is fall into the couch and watch stuff. And once you start...

Keep an eye out for chinks like that - they're useful information when scheming against yourself. In my case for example, I can thus do things like "Ok, I'm allowed to watch TV all night if I do just 20 minutes of X first" - and in my case, this may lead to no TV and a productive evening.

But that said, as you well know, the larger problem is that you need something to fill the void. And that thing should be you living your new life, not other people's make-believe.

What's something you wanted to do when you were a child, but being powerless and young, could not? Something that you forgot about as you grew up, and haven't thought about in years?
You're an adult now, and you can shape the world. Go do that thing. See if you can rope others into it as well :)
posted by -harlequin- at 2:24 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe restrict your viewing to things like TED talks, or similar feel-good easy-digest stuff that inspires you to aim high and DO!
posted by -harlequin- at 2:27 PM on June 27, 2012

I had this problem not that long ago. I was single and using tv to fill the void. I'd get home from work and instantly put on the tv and it stayed on until I went to bed. What worked for me was:
- Decide on a time length limit for how long I'm allowed to sit in front of the tv each day. An hour a day is what worked for me. And then I feverently STUCK TO IT.
- I started hand quilting whenever I watched tv, so at least the times when I did watch tv I was doing something. It kept my brain a little more engaged and I didn't go so zombie and the time didn't get away from me.
- Started exercising. A lot. I worked out at the gym before work and then went for a long walk after dinner every evening. By the time I was "in for the night" I was more interested in curling up in bed and reading for a bit before passing out in bed.
- Got a cat. She provided the companionship I missed and took away a lot of the loneliness.
- I found some other things to take up my time that were with people. For me, I volunteered at an afterschool homework help/tutoring program.
- I got rid of cable and haven't looked back.

Seriously, getting rid of cable was a decision I never thought I'd make because I was extremely invested in my shows. But then I moved in with my partner, and while we both had cable/satelite separately and we both had ALWAYS had cable, we decided that together we didn't want it, mostly for financial reasons. So we've been cable-free for about a year and holy christ is it liberating. We don't feel like we have to be home by this time on whatever night because such and such a show is on. We do so much more than we did before, from bike rides to scrabble games to just sitting on the couch talking. Even on the nights where he is out and I'm on my own, I find myself reading or fregging about in the garden or calling up a friend in that time, where before I know I would have just turned on the tv and zoned out. So if you can remove the ability to watch tv, I would recommend it because once you lose that crutch you'll inevitatbly find something else (and probably better) to spend your time on.

Life is better without tv. I'm a reformed TV junkie so I get to say this as fact not opinion.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:55 AM on June 28, 2012

When my wife left me I got rid of my TV. Completely. Out of the house. Gone. That was back in 1997. I haven't had a TV since and I now regard TV as this weird and very pernicious western drug that most people need and don't even realise how much they depend on. And I don't. It feels really, really good not to need that shit.

Cold Turkey. That's it.
posted by Decani at 1:45 PM on June 28, 2012

Response by poster: This is all great advice, thank you!

I got a bit of a kickstart this past weekend as the DC Metro area is largely without power. Spent it all out of the apartment or reading in the apartment and listening to my wind-up radio. If I started to feel disconnected from everyone, I just went for a walk. It was great.
posted by Loto at 5:43 AM on July 2, 2012

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