Make the TV trade-off. It works.
At the start of 2018, my husband and I decided to give up watching TV for six months. We still watched movies and scrolled social media, but we consciously tuned out of the never-ending well of binge-worthy series. I thought it would be a miracle if we made it through one month. We ended up sticking with it for one year.
Why did we take this radical step? What made us single out TV for this big behavior change? And what made us stick with it?
The impetus for this decision came at the end of 2017 when I realized that I had read less than ten books that year. I’ve always been a reader, so this was a startling discovery. Where had all my time gone?
And I’m not alone. In our last State of the Reader Survey, 32% of people who reported experiencing barriers to reading as much as they would like cited TV as a reason.
Making this decision was, for me, one that was not about the number of books I could read if I gave up TV. Instead, it was about doing something great for my brain and building a healthy habit. I cared less about reading more books, I just wanted to spend more time reading.
The boundaries today of digital culture are much more blurry than in the past. TV is a big distraction, but so are our phones and the endless stream of entertainment and news we can access at any moment. Digital culture today requires us to join or risk feeling irrelevant (which, of course, is a narrative we should all shake off!). It can be hard, but it’s vital for all of us to feel empowered to make deliberate choices about how we spend our time.
Why choose books over TV?
There are so many proven benefits to reading; here are a few:
- Adults who spend just 30 minutes a week reading are 20% more likely to report greater life satisfaction
- Reading is a natural stress reducer, with side effects like reducing your heart rate and soothing muscle tension
- It’s like exercise for your brain, no matter what you read. This leads to better cognitive function as we age.
On the other hand, watching hours of TV is a sedentary, passive activity that has been shown to have many adverse health effects like obesity, depression, and isolation.
Practical tips for making the switch
If you’re ready to trade in some of your TV time for reading but are unsure what to read, the first step is to compile a list of books you’re excited about (add them to your queue!). Think about what you love watching and pick books similar to that. Love documentaries? Find some non-fiction books on your topics of interest. Love period dramas? Research some historical fiction novels that interest you. Google is your best friend here.
If you like to take a more methodical approach, you can set some rules around it. For example, consider designating specific days for TV (i.e., Friday and Saturday nights only). You can also audit the amount of screen time you currently have. Most phones have a function that tracks your time. You can see how much time you’re spending on social media, add that to the amount of TV you watch each day, and then calculate the total hours for the week. For example, if you spend two hours a day on social media and two hours a day watching TV, that’s 28 hours a week of screen time. You can then parse those hours out to reading more. It’s usually not a matter of if we have enough time to read; it’s a matter of making the time to read.
Some unexpected benefits
Besides building a habit that will make a happy and healthier you, there are some other benefits that I, alongside other readers, have found from their experiences:
- You may find you have extra creative energy. Reading stimulates the brain, which encourages energy and creativity. I found this to be true during my stint of no TV. I was engaging with ideas that stimulated me to start new creative projects.
- Books are amazing points of connection to others, invite a friend to read a book with you, and you may find that you’re connecting with old friends or new people through the books you are reading.
- When you do watch TV, you may find you enjoy it more! Being present with something you’ve intentionally picked, and looked forward to, is a great feeling. I found this to be true after taking time away from TV. Now, my husband and I keep a mental list of TV shows we’re excited about and will pick a quiet weekend to spend time watching. It feels more special and feels like we’re able to enjoy the shows we pick more fully.
All in all, habits are about being flexible and finding what’s right for you. Eventually, my husband and I started watching TV again but it was easier to create natural boundaries around it. And since 2018, we’ve done shorter stints of no TV when the balance towards screens starts to outweigh our reading time. This serves as a great habit reset and it works every time.
Life is short, and we only have a certain amount of time, so why not fill it with things that make us better?