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Why I Stopped Binge-Watching TV (and a step-by-step guide for you to try it, too)

An occupational hazard of my job is that if your own stuff needs tending to, it won’t be long until you bump up against it when you’re in a session. Most recently, my “BS detector” went off while having a conversation with someone about numbing out to television (BS detector is my term for when […]

An occupational hazard of my job is that if your own stuff needs tending to, it won’t be long until you bump up against it when you’re in a session. Most recently, my “BS detector” went off while having a conversation with someone about numbing out to television (BS detector is my term for when I’m encouraging someone to do some thing that I likely need to do myself). It’s basically a detector for my own BS.

Here’s my confession – I have worked so hard to reduce my numbing out behaviours over the last several years, but binge-watching Netflix has been one that I’ve been resistant to letting go of. If I’m being honest, I’ve been resistant even to the idea that it might be problematic. Yet, I had all the symptoms of a problem – anxiety as the end of a series approached, the urgent search for what to “binge” next, rewatching a series I’d already seen in its entirety more than once.

My justification has always been that I’m doing lots of other things too, working out, socializing, spending a couple of hours a day outside with my dog. So what if I spend the rest of the time being numbed out in front of the tv? But when I really stepped back, I could see that this wasn’t a totally accurate view of the situation. There was an entire list of things that I’d been considering getting started on, a list of things swirling around in my brain, existing only as ideas – I wanted to start writing, create a blog, think about some ideas for a book I might like to write sometime, start creating a presence for myself on social media, and increase my meditation practice from a few times a week to every day.

Interestingly, upon further examination, I found that I had some resistance toward starting these things. For example, I desperately wanted to start writing, yet the idea of actually sharing things I’d written with other people felt vulnerable and frightening. I very much wanted to increase my meditation practice to be a daily thing, yet the idea of connecting deeply with my internal self more than a few times a week seemed daunting. So I was bingeing instead, telling myself “one more episode, then I’ll look into that whole blog thing”. And lucky for me, Netflix just kept those episodes rolling along, requiring little action from me to do so. And everyone’s doing it, everyone’s talking about whatever show they’re “bingeing” – it’s so normalized that it was easy to brush it off as non-problematic. It’s really the perfect vehicle for avoidance, isn’t it.

So folks, I stopped. It’s been two months (8 weeks). I have watched two episodes of Outlander (I just can’t give those two crazy kids up), and the Ted Bundy documentary (at the rate of one episode per week). Someone recently asked me, “What do you do when you’re at home?”. Well, long story short, I’ve been doing all of those things I’d been avoiding. It all feels slightly uncomfortable still, it didn’t suddenly become less scary because I gave up TV. But, removing that avoidance was symbolic of me opening myself up and committing to these other things. 

It’s been surprisingly easy, to be honest. And it’s been reinforcing – I journal at the end of each day, and include a list of things I felt grateful for that day – lately it’s been so much easier to come up with those things. My mind also feels less foggy, my thinking is more clear, and I’m sleeping better. The hard things I’m doing instead are helping me learn and grow. I can feel it happening. If this resonates with you in any way, I would encourage you to give this a try. Here’s a little plan for you to try (I would suggest writing this down for yourself):

Step 1: Figure out why your’e doing it. Is there something you’re avoiding (probably). It might be tasks you want to start but fear actually doing, it might be some void or empty place inside of you, it might be facing your own thoughts and emotions. Figure this out first. 

Step 2: Identify what makes sense about what you’re doing. For example, of course it’s more appealing to let the episodes keep rolling than to face your feelings after a hard day. Of course you would prefer to stay in the comfort zone than to start something new that scares you. Of course, of course, of course. 

Step 3: Identify what you’re losing or missing out on. Is there a longer term goal that you’ll never reach if you keep avoiding now? Is there an opportunity for you to find more meaningful ways to spend your time that will be good for your well-being? Are some emotions being avoided and leading you to feel worse in some way?

Step 4: Blend Step 2 and 3 together into a balanced statement. For example, “Of course I’d rather watch Netflix than feel my cruddy emotions at the end of the day, and I’m not giving myself the chance to process something that needs to be processed”. This is what we call a dialectical statement – it holds the two opposites sides of the coin together in one statement – and when we can frame things this way, it often helps us open up to the idea of change.

Step 5: Commit to something. You don’t have to swear to give up Netflix forever. I often suggest to people the idea of a “trial period”. Make it a length of time you can commit to (a week, two weeks, etc.) and then define exactly what you will do (e.g., no tv at all, or maybe one day a week without TV to start). 

Step 6: Plan how you’ll spend your extra time. My suggestion is to make a list of at least five things that you would like to be doing instead of watching TV, and then start doing them. The more specific you can be, the better (you’ll be less likely to avoid).

Step 7: Try it out for your trial period, then reassess. What has changed? Do you feel any different? The key here is not to expect a lack of discomfort, but to expect that there will be some of that. But also try to identify what you’ve gained by making the change. Then decide how to proceed.

If anyone decides to give this a go, I would love to hear about it (comment below or by shoot me an email).

If you enjoyed reading this, please check out my site: heartsatthehelm.com

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