I Stopped Watching TV for 30 Days. Here's What I Learned

A woman watching a large RCA television.
A woman watching a large RCA television.

Hi, my name is Lauren and I'm addicted to 30-day challenges. If you've been keeping up with me for awhile, you know this statement is true, but if you're new I'll elaborate.

There was the time I stopped eating out for 30 days, or when I challenged myself (way back in the early days of my blog) to have 30 no-spend days.

I've even done longer stretches of challenges.. like the time I managed to pay off $8,000 in debt in just 90 days time. Some were more successful than others (looking at you, no-spend challenge), but at the very least I always learned something.

And I really, truly believe that with 30 days challenges there is no better way to make quick, lasting changes to your life. Or at least shake up the norm and try a few new things.

I got a lot of great feedback when I announced I was going to attempt to not watch any TV for an entire month. I was championed and cheered by a lot of folks in my online life, while many in my offline circle were dubious. Perhaps they're the ones who know first hand how much I really, really love watching television.

The real question is... was I able to do it?

I'm not going to lie to you.

I wasn't.

When held up against some of the other challenges I've done, this one will easily live on the "abysmal failures" shelf, and there are many reasons for this, the main one being that I spent a large majority of September and October sick in bed. It's like me declaring to the world that I wasn't going to watch the TV for 30 days was the universe's cue to send me various ailments to truly test my will.

What I was able to do, rather successfully, was significantly decrease my television time (and subsequently all screen times in general). I estimate before the challenge I was spending about 3-4 hours a day on average in front of the tube (usually working.) Now, I probably log about an hour a day, and some days I go the whole 24 hours. Me going an entire day without television was unheard of until I attempted this challenge.

While not a "win" necessarily, I consider the outcome real progress on an aspect of my life I was looking to change. And as with every 30 day challenge I did manage to learn a thing or two. Here's three things I learned:

Not Watching Television Made Me More Productive

I feared my love affair with TV was getting in between me and my business, and I admit that the need to be more productive during the day was the #1 reason I took on the challenge in the first place.

And this is where the "all or nothing" approach of the 30 day challenge really comes into play - once you take something away and truly deprive yourself, you have to find other ways to fill your time. In the prep piece I listed off 13 things I was going to do instead of watching television: cooking more, reading more, playing with my dog, staying on top of my laundry. With the exception of taking voice lessons, I completed everything on that list.

And with my business, spending less time in front of the TV allowed me to focus on getting work done and courting new clients. I'm on track to have my first five-figure month this November and I couldn't be more excited, due in large part to ground work I laid in October when I spent my time building my business instead of watching Scream Queens. 

And that's when I realized that it's a vicious cycle -- you're never going to feel productive and empowered sitting in front of the television. Basically, you have to show up.

Not Watching Television Helped My Wallet and My Waistline

In an effort to entertain myself sans-TV I started listening to audio books and podcasts on my cell phone. I did this in my spare time, but I also started incorporating them on my daily walks with my dog, Roo. Instead of walking for 20 minutes, I'd get so caught up in listening that I'd walk for 45 minutes to an hour.

Having an extra hour or two in the evenings (time normally spent in front of the television) also meant I cooked more. I'm still on a cooking kick from the last challenge, but I think all of these things put together helped me lose four pounds in the month of October.

And, oddly enough, my personal spending in October was way down compared to every other month of 2015 so far. It could've been that I was so busy with the extra work load and the travel that I didn't have time to shop or go out much, but my spending was significantly less.

I can't personally correlate watching television with spending less money since it's just one month, but it's been proven that the rich and elite watch less than one hour of television per day.  If that's not motivation to put down the remote, I don't know what is!

Not Watching Television Forced Me to Confront Issues Head On

Television is designed to be a big, glittery distraction. In the past, I mainly used the tube to decompress after a long day, but perhaps more subconsciously the television helped me forget (for an hour or two) about whatever was stressing me out.

In turning off the television, I had to deal with issues head on and in real time. No distractions. No "I'll get to it after I watch xyz." The biggest thing this challenge taught me is that I was using the television to soothe myself. Instead I had to find other ways to relax like taking a bath, journaling and practicing meditation.

Sometimes I was annoyed I couldn't watch TV. But looking back on it, having the extra time allowed me to purposefully think through stressful situations and brainstorm solutions rather than just watching TV until my eyelids felt heavy.

I'll begrudgingly admit it: not watching television was helpful.

What Now?

I've been indulging in guilt free TV with a few new constructs. After my last post, an LBMT reader named Colin commented that he limits his TV time to just one day of the week, and I loved this idea! I'm currently limiting my TV time to just Saturday and Sundays and reserving the weekdays for work and other tasks.

This puts a big time cramp in my style since I love nothing more than getting up in the mornings, making coffee, and watching Hulu until I feel like my brain can string together more than one sentence, but I'm going to try journaling and an earlier AM yoga class instead.

BUT as a solopreneur, my days can often feel like they bleed into one another and since I no longer have the typical Monday blues or Friday excitement, reserving television makes the weekends feel a bit more special again.

So for everyone who wrote in last time saying they didn't know if they could do the television challenge, I say give it a try. At the very least it's an eye opening exploration into how you spend your time and what fills your days. I like filling the corners of my life with my own stories and experiences rather than the ones of my favorite TV show characters, and maybe when you're binging on Netflix there is less time for new and exciting.

So go on, try it. The television will always be there.