In an attempt to increase productivity and limit distractions, I decided to cut out mindless TV consumption from my life for one month. And what better month than November, the month of not-doing, whether shaving, sleeping, or masturbating (apparently No-Nut November is a thing). No more coming home from work after a long day, and half-paying attention to four episodes of The Office that I’ve already seen while scrolling through my phone. No more dinners plopped in front of the TV watching Food Wars. No re-watching the six-hour miniseries of Pride and Prejudice on Hulu even though I own the DVD.
I come from a family that is very fond of television. The Simpsons and Seinfeld were nightly weekday staples as a child: One episode of The Simpsons when Dad got home, one episode of Seinfeld after dinner. Although we weren’t allowed to watch TV during dinner – I fail to understand the distinction within that rule – everyone jumped up as soon as they finished eating to gather around the glowing epicenter of our family room. My mother would sit in the room and read while the rest of us cackled at whatever was on screen. Turning on the TV marked the end of the work day and the beginning of relaxation; it was how we unwound, how we bonded.
Now, I shudder to think how many hours I wasted as a young person sitting and watching instead of doing. In elementary school, I created optimal TV-watching schedules for myself so that I could watch all of my favorite shows on Nickelodeon and Disney Channel. In middle school, I would come home, crack open a can of Pepsi, grab a box of Cheezits, and watch whatever garbage was on MTV that day. And as an adult, these habits continued. TV was the best way to shake off a long day, get off my feet, and decompress. I was always on my feet as a teacher, so I felt entitled to sit down when I came home. Even after I left teaching and got a sedentary desk job, I still felt entitled to sit down.
Decding that I was watching far too much television is a relatively recent observation. Not too long ago, I was talking to a friend who was using all of her free time to get her side hustle going as a fashion blogger. I asked her how she found the motivation to work her day job and focus on her passion project. She said, “after graduating and getting a job, I realized all I was doing was going to work, coming home, eating dinner, watching TV, and going to bed. And I didn’t want that to be the rest of my life.”
Those words made me stop and think. I couldn’t remember the last time I made anything, created anything. It had been ages since I wrote something new or took out my sketchbook. Although I was always a creative person, I hesitated to call myself a “writer”, an “artist”, a “poet”. I didn’t think I was serious enough to claim those titles. But the only thing that really separated me from the people that were those things was a lack of commitment.
I decided to cut TV out as much as possible because I wanted to see a stark contrast in what my day could look like. Watching only a little TV left too much gray area for me. I needed something definitive, Berenstain Bears and Too Much TV style. The goal was to use these new bouts of free time to create, instead of consuming the creations of others.
After 30 days, this is what I’ve learned:
- There are so many more hours in the day
On weekends, my boyfriend and I would usually turn on an episode of something-or-other to watch together when we were bored. Without TV, there were more opportunities for spontaneity like, hey want to get breakfast downtown? or let’s go for a hike, we’re not doing anything. I also accomplished more without thinking about it. After the thirty days were up, I realized I had written a few poems, read some library books, and sketched more often than I had in months.
- I like eating at my kitchen table
We went a year and a half without a kitchen table in our apartment because we always ate at our coffee table with the TV on. When we finally bought a kitchen table, our apartment felt more like a home, but we still ate in front of the TV. It was really nice to cook dinner together, eat at the table, have a conversation about our day, or listen to some music. It’s such a simple thing, and kept us both present.
- Even without distractions, I still procrastinate
I don’t know why I thought cutting out TV from my routine would change my personality. At first, I replaced TV consumption with reading. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I was still reading other people’s ideas instead of coming up with my own. On the weekends, I would make up excuses to avoid self-enforced tasks. I decided to clean my house instead of sitting down to write or draw. Or I would organize my kitchen pantry. Or go through my wardrobe. It was always something. Eventually, I would get motivated, but I learned that procrastination is just an annoying part of my creative process.
There is nothing wrong with watching television. But I’ve learned that balance is everything. We live in a culture where we watch a documentary to be informed, a sad film to feel moved, a comedy to lighten up, shitty TV to avoid our thoughts. Especially now, during the renaissance of television, we’re constantly berated with “OH MY GOD, you need to watch fill in the blank.” Staying up-to-date on current shows is a way to contribute to conversations with our coworkers, a chance to send a shocked-face emoji to our family members when one of our favorite characters dies. It’s just another type of FOMO. And we can never really get ahead, unless we’re willing to dedicate hours upon hours to catching up on what we’ve missed.
I’m tired of passively watching. If this monthly experiment has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t want to turn on the TV without thinking about it. I want to give myself the time and space to be bored and create something, rather than reaching for my remote or my phone like a pacifier. For me, this was one more opportunity to take stock of how I use my time, and decide if what I’m doing actually adds value to my day. In my case, watching other people do cool things on screen was preventing me from doing cool things in real life. And that’s the FOMO that I’m worried about.