What regrets will you have on your deathbed? It almost certainly won’t be “I wish I’d caught the last two seasons of Brooklyn 99!” If you have goals that don’t involve sitting on the couch watching endless television and films, limiting your Netflix time is important.
This post has a bunch of obvious suggestions like that – and oftentimes the message we need is the obvious message. If you’re managing your viewing habits just fine, move along to the next article.
For everyone else, some strategies that work:
- Turn off autoplay. Seriously.
- Decide that it’s okay to watch part of a movie or show. If you find yourself thinking “Ugh, I shouldn’t have started, but I’m already 5 minutes in so I have to finish”, don’t believe your thoughts. You don’t have to do anything. Netflix will keep your place.
- Act in the moment – if you have the impulse to get up, follow that impulse.
- Set a simple “implementation intention” for the end of the episode, to help transition. (For me it might be “Make a cup of peppermint tea.”)
- Use the 10 minute rule. If you have the impulse to watch another episode, wait 10 minutes. Use the time to exercise or do a household chore. After that, decide whether you actually want to watch – but either way, you’ve strengthened part of your prefrontal cortex in your brain that’s associated with willpower, given yourself more control over your own life, and done something constructive during those 10 minutes.
Or go deeper. How much do you care about your actual goal – the thing you want but keep procrastinating on? Your book, your side hustle, your reading or online course. Given the choice, would you achieve your goal rather than watching a bunch of television?
To go to the next level, don’t start watching in the first place. There are few great shows in the world, and they’ll be here next week or next year. And there are very few that compare to actually achieving the thing you want. So let’s get specific:
- Put the remote in another room. In a drawer. With the batteries removed. Use whatever degree of barrier you need to avoid habitual “let’s see what’s on” behaviour.
- Decide never to watch a show unless it’s been recommended to you by multiple people. This means no time wasted searching through an index of shows.
- Pull out the plug. To watch the TV you’ve got to physically plug it in again.
- Pack the TV away. Turn it to face the wall, put it against the corner in your spare room. These last two depend on others that you live with.
- Turn a sofa away from the TV and place your reading material next to it. That’s now your chair. You or the person watching the television can use headphones as needed.
The “pull out the plug” strategy worked for me in my last years of high school in 1987-88. It worked because I was living with my father, who rarely watched television. I would walk into the lounge room, flick the TV on out of habit, and when nothing happened, I would (a) remember why I’d unplugged it, and (b) ask myself whether there was anything on that I really wanted to watch, or if it was just a habit. The impulse weakened as I refused to reward it, meaning my brain was rewiring, and the changed habit has served me well to this day.
Which strategy will you use? Take action now.