TV has been bringing world news and entertainment into our homes and lives since long before the internet was invented. But in our pursuit of Self-Improvement, perhaps we are missing something…

Self-Improvement TV - Turning Off And Tuning In

photo credit: Florida Memory

Amongst several inventors early last century, John Logie Baird is credited with being the first to produce a live, moving television image from reflected light. Little more than a hundred years later, TV is generally considered to part of ‘normal’ life and many of us have multiple television receivers in our homes and even in our pockets.

On average in the UK we watch around four hours of TV every day. In the US this figure rises to five hours or more, particularly as we age. So if you live to be 80, you might spend as much as 16 of those years watching television. Why do so many of us spend such a staggering proportion of our lives in front of the TV screen?

Reasons to watch TV

  • For many of us, TV is a primary source of leisure and entertainment and relaxation. Sitting down and grabbing the TV remote marks the end of a day’s work: time to relax. Comedy shows lighten the mood and make us laugh. Movies take us beyond ourselves into other worlds. Soap operas give us a sense of familiarity. Gritty reality shows remind us that we are not the only ones with problems.
  • TV also offers opportunities to become more informed about the world around us, whether in the form of up-to-date news articles or more general knowledge from documentaries and political discussion shows.
  • TV can help us follow our hobbies and interests, particularly if they are sport-related. We can watch the match, check our team’s progress, study the stats and hear any amount of related discussion.
  • For those who live alone, particularly the housebound, TV offers a lifeline: human voices to listen and relate to where there are none in the home. The TV becomes a ‘friend’ to the lonely.

All apparently good reasons to watch TV. But…

TV can hinder your Self-Improvement!

For anyone serious about Self-Improvement, I recommend considering a TV diet. You don’t have to eliminate TV completely, but it’s worth cutting back on your viewing time, for several reasons:

  • Watching TV ‘dumbs down’ our brain state considerably. Rather than actively and intentionally thinking about the world around us, we start to tune out and allow the broadcast content to wash over us and consume us. We may sit down with the intention of engaging intelligently with a particular programme but sooner or later we’re disengaged and watching a tightrope-walking dog with an inane smile on our face. TV changes us,  and not in a good way!
  • The content pumped out by our TV is not neutral: it is designed to suck us in. Whether it’s adverts to create perceived needs in our lives, trailers to keep us watching into the next show or subtle political propaganda, the intention is to affect and change us subliminally. The fact that this type of manipulative content continues to feature year after year demonstrates one thing: it works. No-one would be paying for those ads or running those trailers if they didn’t sucker us into buying or watching more!
  • Imagine lying on your deathbed in (hopefully) many years’ time. Can you envisage yourself looking back on your life and saying, “I wish I’d watched more TV”? This “Deathbed Method” is a great way to figure out your priorities in life (I will cover this in another post). If you’re even close to your national average of four or five hours’ TV viewing a day, you are devoting a lot of time to one activity that could be spread across a range of other creative and life-enhancing pastimes such as reading, studying, exercising or helping others. In the 1970s we had a kids’ TV show in the UK, entitled “Why Don’t You Just Switch Off Your Television Set And Go Do Something More Interesting Instead?” A valuable sentiment, I think!
  • In my post about Brain Power,  I talk about going on a “news diet”, intentionally restricting my contact with any form of news bulletins (radio, TV, newspapers, internet etc.) in order to reduce negativity in my life. A more general TV diet can have the same effect. By reducing your overall viewing hours, you will not only see fewer news bulletins but also limit your exposure to negativity in other areas. TV panders to the lowest common denominator in most things (think Jeremy Kyle).
  • As I considered my own Self-Improvement, I felt was watching far too much TV and wasting my evenings. So I cut back to a handful of shows, and then after a few weeks, I reduced to just one daily show (“Neighbours”.  I know. Forgive me.) Soon my wife and I were recording all the episodes and watching them back-to-back on a Sunday afternoon. Then after a while, we stopped watching them altogether. Here’s the truth: if you put yourself on a TV diet and replace the time with something worthwhile, you won’t miss it half as much as you think. I can honestly say I don’t miss watching TV at all. That’s not to say I will never watch it again. Every now and again my wife and I watch a movie using TV- on-demand. When the new series of Doctor Who starts I will almost certainly record the episodes and watch them when I have time. But TV no longer controls or dictates my life, and I am much the richer for it. Don’t think you can live with less TV? Don’t knock it until you try it.

TV Diet Challenges

Where are you with your TV viewing? How much of a piece of you does it have? Here are four TV Diet Challenges…I dare you to try one or more of them!

TV Diet Challenge 1: write down your viewing hours.

Every time you watch TV, make a note in a notebook (or on your phone, etc.) what time you start and for how long. This will accomplish two things: firstly, you will be able to add up at the end of the week just how much time you are spending watching TV and decide if you think it’s acceptable or not. Secondly, you will start to become more intentional about your viewing.  It’s almost impossible to regularly record your behaviour without starting to change it!

TV Diet Challenge 2: reduce your viewing

Set your self a task to reduce your viewing hours in some way. You could shorten your viewing sessions (e.g. only watch one or two shows before turning off) or have a TV-free day in your week. Maybe all you need is to turn off the TV and go to bed at a reasonable time rather than fall asleep in front of it?

TV Diet Challenge 3: eliminate all live viewing (record, catch-up)

Now we’re heading into some more advanced Self-Improvement techniques: planning and batching. Digital TV recording is easier and cheaper than has ever been and there is a wide range of catch-up TV options, too. It is hugely liberating to discover that you don’t have to be home by a certain time to watch a particular show! Being more selective and stacking up your recordings for one ‘big’hit’ at the end of the week is more efficient and gives you something to look forward to (another Self-Improvement technique: reconfiguring something you already do into a treat!)

TV Diet Challenge 4: eliminate your viewing (for a while at least)

Here’s the Big One: can you survive without TV? The answer is clearly yes, because I can and I’m no better than you (despite my big mouth and my self-opinionated Self-Improvement blog). You don’t have to make a vow of TV chastity for eternity – but can you give up for a whole week without recording and watching anything back afterwards? How about a month…?

Take Action

Do you have what it takes to change your TV habits for Self-Improvement? Have you already made changes and seen the benefits? Let me know in the comments below or drop me an email – I answer all messages personally!


To our continued Self-Improvement and success!

David Hendra

The Self Improvement Guy