May 9, 2016

6 Benefits of Switching off the TV.

Pablo GarciaSaldaña/Unsplash

I did it, I am so proud of myself.

I went on vacation and didn’t watch TV once in seven days.

This was in spite of the launch of the Game of Thrones newest season, the NFL draft and the Atlanta Braves worst start in history. It was both cathartic and freeing.

There is something that watching TV regularly does to our minds; we turn off certain portions of our brains that have to be forced to wake up again when we turn the TV off for long periods of time. There is a certain addictive quality to being entertained through our eyeballs—we don’t have to do anything (save for mastering the buttons on the remote without having to look at them), make any hard decisions (although choosing what to watch from hundreds of mind numbing channels can be exhausting) and oftentimes we can forget about what is waiting for us outside of the room we are watching that darned TV in.

Some of us go so far as to leave the TV on and fall asleep to the drone and drivel of I Love Lucy reruns just so we don’t have to think about what lurks in the dark corners of our lives if we were to click that “off” button prior to our heads hitting the pillows in earnest.

There are so many benefits of switching the TV off that I realized once I turned my mind back on. Here are just a few:

More Time: It is amazing how much more time there is in a day without TV. I had two more hours to do stuff.  I don’t watch that much TV all the time but somehow I lose the time anyway. On this vacation I used the extra time to read or nap—nap being the operative word. It still felt like the days were lasting longer and there was more time to do anything. It was great just to let my mind wander and not do any critical or analytical thinking. This was on top of sleeping extra hours and going to bed early. When I didn’t watch that movie that started at 10pm or the Tonight Show, I actually discovered that I could go to bed at a reasonable hour. It also started to dawn on me that Netflix wasn’t necessarily the late night comfort and best friend it had assumed it to become.

Better Nutrition: Without TV I was not mindlessly snacking through the night. I usually don’t snack when I am working or playing but park me in front of a TV and my food plan goes right out of the window (think Midnight Buffet of Caloric Debauchery in The Garden of Good and Evil). I have the tendency to eat anything with salt and fat I can find in the house and mechanically load my mouth over and over again—most often without even being hungry. It is like feeding a slot machine. When I didn’t watch TV, I could go for a walk on the beach, visit friends, even write more stories or get a few more chapters written on my great American novel (more about the “Southern Book Of The Dead” another day). My mind was actually working on all cylinders and it was in a beneficial way in every way. I notice when I go on a marathon TV binge, like watching a PGA tournament, I get really stupid. It takes me a couple of hours to ramp my IQ back up to functional levels. It is like the TV is a vacuum cleaner that sucks all of the motivation out of my body.

Better Relationships: Without TV, I actually had more time for meaningful conversations with my fiancé. It is hard to carry on a decent, value rich conversation when 50% or more of my brain function is watching TV. I always get better results when I focus on what I am trying to do and truly listening to the other person talking to me. When I am doing two things at once, it takes more effort and discipline to maintain a high level of quality in whatever I am attempting to do. This includes talking on the phone with the TV on mute, it just doesn’t cut it. I swear, I began to hear things she was saying that normally I would miss when Jason Day was putting for birdie.

More Energy: Whenever I get up from watching TV, it feels like I have 50 lb. bags of wet sand over my shoulders. When I am not watching TV, I can pop up like a Pop Tart from the lazy boy couch recliner. It may be a function of not watching TV all hours of the night, but I still felt a bit lighter and have a bounce in my step. I also got outside more and enjoyed some sunshine and fresh air. The therapeutic effects of those two elements can’t be underestimated. Walking barefoot on the sand and grass, listening to children playfully laughing in the distance also have huge therapeutic effects. While I am returning to the land of asphalt and concrete, I am going to find a spot of grass I can wiggle my toes in that is off limits to dogs.

Better Awareness: A surprising benefit was a heightening of my senses. Colors were brighter, smells were sharper, my taste buds started working, I started to feel satisfied with smaller amounts of food and I started hearing birds and other live animal sounds I have not heard in months. That probably is because I live in a concrete jungle but actually noticing birds singing and doing their bird thing is enlivening. Usually I just turn the TV up to drown out those kinds of sounds, but it was refreshing to hear them over the last week.

No More Boredom: There is something insidiously boring about TV, perhaps it’s because we tend to sit back and live our lives vicariously through whatever we are watching. Whenever I am not directly participating in life, I tend to get bored. This is especially true with sports—I will always rather participate than watch. That won’t work for the Super Bowl or the US Open (which I did get to play in, once, as an amateur way-back-in-the-day), but I know at some point in watching those events, I will be looking for something to occupy my mind and body.

It is pretty amazing how much happens when I don’t watch TV. I get things done, I am happier, I feel better and I am more alert. The effects of TV radiation must be much stronger than I had noticed before. I highly recommend taking a week off from TV, even if you aren’t on vacation.

I promise that you won’t miss anything big—and, in any case, your mama or friends or the Internet will call you and let you know.


Author: James Robinson

Editor: Sarah Kolkka

Image: Pablo GarciaSaldaña/Unsplash

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