If binge-watching Netflix is wrong, you don’t want to be right. Right? At least that’s what you’ll tell yourself until you wake up tomorrow in a puddle of Mountain Dew and tears, slightly tanned by the glow of your television. Or not. I don’t know your life.
Kick It Like A Bad Habit
“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”― Samuel Johnson“The Golden Rule of Habit Change: You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.”― Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit
The “Warm Turkey” Approach
“Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize—they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.”― Charles Duhigg, The Power Of Habit
Step 1 – Record your hours
Don’t make any changes. Instead, keep track of the hours you spend watching television for one week. Write down when you watch TV, as well as how you feel before and after. The goal of this step is to begin recognizing your triggers and rewards. Make a note on your phone and just start paying attention to yourself.
Step 2 – Disconnect other activities from television
You’re going to hate this, but I want you to stop multitasking when you watch TV. When you watch television, only watch television. Don’t watch it while you’re doing homework or the dishes. Don’t read articles on your phone or check email. When you watch TV, only watch TV. It is no longer a background thing. It’s just slowing you down. Humans can’t actually multitask anyway, so stop pretending.
Keep recording your daily hours and how you feel before, during, and after watching TV.
Step 3 – Slightly limit your TV intake
This is where you slowly start ratcheting-back the amount of TV you watch (or whatever habit your’e trying to change). Give yourself permission to watch TV at 80% of what is normal. If you normally watch five hours of television every day, limit yourself to four. Whatever you do, don’t be drastic. Don’t try to go cold-turkey now and neglect the rest of the process.
Keep looking for patterns and recording those observations and times on your phone. If you haven’t realized yet, that’s the important part.
Step 4 – Substitute a new habit
Decide on a “replacement habit” like reading, exercising, meditating, walking, playing an instrument, or listening to an audiobook. Ideally, it should be something that triggers the same “reward” as watching television.
When you “feel” like watching TV (this is why you’ve been writing down how you feel), do your replacement habit, instead. You won’t be able to do it 100% of the time, but shoot for once a day.
Keep writing stuff down, but start recording the times and feelings associated with your replacement habit, too. You might need to change your replacement habit a few times to find a good fit. If it doesn’t deliver the same “reward,” it is not a good replacement.
Step 5 – Set time-of-day limits
Set specific times when you will allow yourself to watch television. For example, I only watch television twice each day. I give myself permission to watch a 30-minute episode (of something) while I eat lunch and a 1-hour episode at dinner. Using a blocking software like Chrome Nanny or Leech Block is beneficial.
If you “feel” like watching television outside of your scheduled TV times, do your replacement habit, instead.
If you don’t feel like watching TV during your scheduled TV times, then do something else. That’s kind of the point, right?
Perspective is important here.
Don’t think: “I can’t watch TV now.”
Think: “This isn’t when I watch TV.”
Step 6 – Continue replacing habits until desired result
The way to replace a bad habit isn’t to “do it less,” but to do something more. For every hour of television that you cut out, replace it with one hour of something else. Continue to gradually substitute replacement habits for watching TV.
At this point, you have a really good framework for replacing this bad habit. Even if you don’t want to fully eliminate television, you now have it under control.
Also, if you didn’t realize it, you can apply this to other bad habits.
A Final Note
“It is facile to imply that smoking, alcoholism, overeating, or other ingrained patters can be upended without real effort. Genuine change requires work and self-understanding of the cravings driving behaviours.”― Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit