I felt anxiety bubble in my belly as the sun rose and coffee poured down the back of my throat. It was a cross between bubbles and butterflies, heaviness and stress, overwhelm and anticipation. I scrawled across the smooth pages of my journal in black ink looking for the answer. No answer but I did have an idea.
In less than an hour, I packed my backpack and a few extra bags and loaded myself and the dog into the car. We headed north to the Red River. I crossed my fingers I’d find a campsite open to taking a girl and her dog. It was a Wednesday. We had no problem at all.
There’s something to listening to divine inspirations, whispering whims. You’re almost guaranteed success if you listen and don’t question. We succeeded in procuring the perfect spot.
The open grassy area met the water’s edge, backed by a line of tall pines and oak trees. We were secluded, mostly. The cloudy skies kept the temperature in an ideal range. My body and heart danced with joy.
It was midday by the time the tent was up and each thing in its spot. I did the obligatory dog walk so he’d settle down and not spend the afternoon barking at me from a distance. What I needed was peace not an incessant, restless corgi in my ear.
We’ve done this before. Camp. Just me and him. But I realized we had never been successful. The first time we managed to make it through the night but I never fully relaxed. I was restless. Constantly walking, making movements, even drove out of the campgrounds to get beer to numb the anxiety. I anxiously awaited morning so I could hurry up and get home.
The second time he was never really settled. At least, that was the excuse I used. Really, I just wanted to go home and spend time with my partner. The whole reason for getting out and away was lost on me when hard feelings surfaced as the sun started to set.
I became lonely and missed my guy. Unaware of the influence of these dark feelings, I lept up and tore down the whole scene, threw everything into the car, and returned home two hours later.
Here we were again for a third opportunity of giving this camping thing a good college try. Me, a self-proclaimed nature lover, incapable of settling into a single night in the great outdoors mostly alone. What’s with that?
This time I sat at the door of my tent, leaned back against my multi-colored, striped pillow on a pink, yellow, and orange picnic blanket towel with my journal and pen in hand. Alongside me were my feelings.
I came to nature to ease my anxiety. What was I expecting? For my feelings to dissolve the minute I stepped outside? Well, it doesn’t work like that I learned.
Yes, perhaps at times the indoors cramps my energy, and I need to get out to breathe. But these feelings were more than that, much more.
And there they were with me, on that colorful blanket and pillow, staring out over the Red River on a cloudy, windy day. There they were asking me to please, please take a look for once without running away or numbing.
My pen whipped furiously from side to side across those cool pages. Thoughts became liquid ink as shapes took form, words. My thoughts and feelings materialized.
I easily moved through my original motivating anxiety. I was left to face the daunting anxiety of being in nature, of coming face-to-face with the reality that wherever I go, there I am.
Up until this point, I wasn’t ready to do that. Each failed camping trip was like a false start. But in this moment, I felt better prepared than ever before.
I felt ready, able, and deeply curious about how and why I felt the way I did. I dove in deep and excitedly pushed to the edge of each thought and feeling. I flushed it all out and pulled it all into the light.
What was different about me this time? How did I feel so ready to face these difficult feelings where before I couldn’t help but run and hide?
It sounds like a big claim, and I’m certain it’s not the entire reason, but I strongly believe that quitting TV created fertile ground for deep self-understanding and discovery.
The Experiment: One Month of No TV
One month ago I committed to four weeks (one month) of no TV. I started this experiment inspired by Dr. Jane Goodall, who I presumed lived a more luscious, fulfilled, productive, and happier life because she didn’t watch TV.
After hearing her on a podcast, I started to envision what my life would be like without TV. I imagined days filled with conversations with people I loved, completed books, time spent writing and working on extracurricular activities, walks in nature, and playtime with my dog.
In the beginning, I felt so inspired and had so much energy as each spring day grew longer. I cleaned and tidied my home. I completed herbal tincture projects that had been on my want-to-do list for a while. I grabbed a non-fiction book off my shelf I’d been meaning to read for a long time. Plus, I ordered a fiction book (got to keep the brain balanced!).
It was a great start. So much enthusiasm and excitement. But all that began to change.
I’m now almost done with both books, each of which is over 500 pages long. I’ve listened to many hours of podcasts. I’ve worked extra at the hospital, been sick and called off work, and experienced extremely stressful work shifts.
I endured the full moon in Scorpio while on my period. I’ve sunk deep into grief and sadness as I’ve gone farter into uncoupling from my partner of eight years. On top of that, I’ve withstood quarantine with only one spontaneous visit to my family for isolation reprieve.
Countless times I questioned the sanity of initiating an experiment in the midst of such great personal and collective challenges. I became aware of how comforting TV has been for me over the years. How I use it to soothe difficult emotions and feelings.
On multiple nights, I struggled with the impulse to pull the plug on my experiment so I could watch TV while I ate dinner alone again on a Saturday night. But I didn’t. Not once.
I stayed completely committed to myself and to the experiment. Each time I felt vulnerable I reminded myself that at the end of the day following through was less about the experiment and all about staying true to my word, for myself. I made a commitment to myself. And it’s imperative that my word holds weight and value.
It can only have true value and weight if I stay true. It’s this conviction that drove me right through to the end even in the midst of such great challenges. I’m so glad I stuck it out because it was in the last week that I began to truly see the value of the experiment and the impact it was having on how I operated.
My 5 Positive Outcomes from One Month of No TV
No doubt the month came with great challenges. Some of which are completely unique to this time in my life and the life of the collective, which had a huge impact on my experience. If anything, it heightened my awareness of my habitual need for TV during difficult times. For that awareness alone, I am grateful.
In addition, breaking any habit is always the most challenging at the start. I frequently found myself questioning what to do and how to spend my time at first. It required pause and thought. Later in the month I easily transitioned from one activity to the next. I had become a lot more relaxed in my new way of living.
Beyond a few expected challenges of habit-changing there were several amazing benefits. I’ve boiled the no TV experiment down to a handful of positive outcomes.
1. Increased awareness of feeling states and greater personal empowerment
This is by far the greatest outcome of the experiment. One that I did not see coming at all. That’s why I’m giving this article over to this point the most.
It occurred to me about a week ago. I was walking around my bedroom, tidying up clothes here and there, and then I had this impulse to watch TV. It coincided at the exact moment I started to feel anxiety in my body.
I paused and sat on the edge of my bed. I saw the impulse to watch TV and then underneath it I saw the feeling. I chose to sit with the feeling (since TV wasn’t an option). It’s this exact same process that came to my aid as I sat lying outside my tent, facing a slew of difficult feelings, unwitnessed on my prior camping trips.
It’s alarming to me how often I habitually turn to TV, not to mention any other form of distraction, the moment hard or difficult feelings surface in my body. I have never before been aware of how frequent and insidious this desire is to use TV as a solution.
I used to talk about it intellectually, like, “Oh, yea, people use TV to numb.” But I never identified myself as that person. I thought I had a good relationship with TV, honestly.
I see now how untrue that has been. My body and brain have been wired to run in a certain way. I have turned to TV time and time again without conscious thought. By the time the TV is on, consuming my full attention and awareness, there’s no attention or awareness to give to whatever feeling state is rising in my body.
It creeps me out how seductive, cunning, and subtle the entire process has been in my life. It feels, in many ways, as though I have had no conscious control. If I haven’t been in control, then who has?
Okay, this is multi-layered. So now I’m aware of the triggered response of difficult feelings and the impulse to watch TV. But I haven’t been doing the latter, therefore I’ve been highly attuned to all of my passing feeling states more than ever before.
As I turn toward my feelings, creating a new habit, my sensitivity to my feelings has increased. I am much more adept at sensing and appropriately responding to however I feel at the moment.
My responses now look like pausing, sensing and feeling into my body and heart, bringing greater presence, awareness, and attention to what’s there, and intuitively moving forward.
Sometimes all it takes is loving awareness and then, poof, the feeling is gone. Sometimes I am moved to write, go outside, dance, listen to music, laugh, call a friend, cry, paint, or meditate.
Now feelings inspire conscious, pro-active steps to embody and process what’s risen rather than unconscious, passive submission to programming as a numbing or avoidant activity, while feelings remain unprocessed and stockpiled. Which leads me to my next positive outcome.
2. Increased feelings of relaxation and peace, less urgency and stress
I believe I now experience greater peace and relaxation for multiple reasons. First, in accordance with the prior positive outcome, I am now actively engaged with my feeling states. No longer am I unconsciously suppressing my feelings and inadvertently stockpiling anxiety, sadness, fear, and other emotions or feelings.
I’m now an active participant in the fluid nature of feelings, allowing myself to bring greater presence to an aspect of my being and the messages they bring. All feelings are messengers.
It’s our responsibility to mine them for the gifts. Now that I’m actively doing so I feel at greater ease in myself. I also feel more empowered than ever. I feel capable of tending my heart.
I always knew that I could tend my own heart but now I regularly experience myself being my biggest advocate by creating space for my own tender heart, which is easier said than done. It’s easier done when there’s no looping TV habit to keep me from consciously making the choice to do so, too. So not only am I more empowered than ever but I feel at greater ease because of the peace I create for myself by way of greater awareness and attention for myself.
Secondly, I believe I experience greater peace and relaxation because TV is just stressful. It creates this constant anxiety of fast-moving images and drama. Think about it.
The reason TV is so entertaining is that you get “hooked.” Something about the show or movie leaves you on “the edge of your seat.” Either suspense, drama, horror, sadness, fear, or excitement.
Some high level of emotion is required to keep you engaged. They do it with action scenes, violence, or emotional turmoil. It’s essentially capturing your emotive state and seizing it in highly stimulated states unless of course you’re watching Planet Earth, at which point you may just be asleep on the couch.
When I cut out TV I cut out the captor of my emotional state. It’s not to say I don’t love a good movie or show. I do. But without the nightly drama of TV, I’m better able to maintain an even keel. My stress hormones aren’t being falsely manipulated by images on a screen.
Our brains don’t know the difference between what’s being seen on a screen versus what’s being experienced in real life. It’s part of the great appeal of TV and movies. But my body thanks me greatly for allowing it a break!
Lastly, I used to associate watching TV with relaxation. If I wasn’t watching TV, then I wasn’t relaxing. That belief and habit system made it extremely difficult to relax into doing anything else. In fact, I’m certain I felt a near-constant sense of urgency and anxiety during my day.
Even in the last couple of years, when my TV consumption has been significantly less than before, the urgency and anxiety still persisted. This incessant need to “hurry up” and get to the TV so I could “finally” relax. This is hogwash. And detaching myself from this belief system and habit has alleviated a lot of this self-created stress.
3. Better sleep
As you can imagine, more relaxation and peace leads to better sleep. I don’t have any science to back this up. Only my personal experience.
Instead of filling my mind and heart with the drama of the screen before going to bed, I read instead. Reading can certainly create similar emotional swings but it occurs at a much slower pace. I feel far more relaxed while reading.
My eyes aren’t on a screen either. Both less drama and less screen time allow my brainwave activity to easily drop into deeper states when it’s time to go to sleep. When I’m ready for bed I’m already primed for sleep.
4. More time outside in nature (better able to take care of Rupert)
When I envisioned no TV I saw myself spending more time outside but part of me didn’t actually expect that to happen. I say that because I want to list this as an unexpected outcome but it’s not. I knew it would happen. My body just didn’t believe me, and how it manifested was really what was unexpected.
I thought I’d spend more time out hiking or walking, alone. What ended up happening was more walks with my dog and tons of time spent sitting at the park together. I learned that Rupert, my corgi, needs one of two things to be happy at the end of the day.
First, he needs either a long, long walk or some other form of exercise that will wear him out. If he doesn’t get that, it’s fine because he’d be completely okay with trading the amount of exertion for time spent outside. So, secondly, he needs at least one or more hours outside lying, sitting, standing, sniffing, or moseying around, which equally, if not more than, satisfies his needs.
As I learned this, I started to take advantage of it. It’s springtime and the weather has been absolutely gorgeous. I love being outside. So I see his needs as a roundabout way to meet my needs as well.
What’s the difference between sitting on the couch and reading and sitting outside and reading? One is arguably more comfortable but the other is generally better for my nervous system. I opted for the latter as I was not only able to meet my need for nature as well as my desire to read but I was also able to take care of Rupert, too.
My picnic blanket towel has gotten so much good use this month. I’ll soon be on the market for another one at this rate.
5. Deeper contemplation and self-inquiry
My last positive outcome is a play on the first but with a slightly different twist. In the first positive outcome, I noted increased self-awareness of feeling states and greater capacity to respond to and tend to my own heart.
Deeper contemplation and self-inquiry are outcomes of greater self-awareness but also I have spent more time this month than ever before in the act of sitting, thinking, and writing. It’s these acts specifically that represent deeper contemplation and self-inquiry.
According to Gallop’s Strengths Finder test, intellection is my top strength. It’s the capacity to sit and think, essentially. I’ve generally known this to be true but this month it became so apparent it couldn’t be denied.
I’ve had more time at home as well as at work to give myself to my thoughts. I’ve uncovered what a joy it is for me to spend hours following thought and feeling threads. I can sit with a pen and paper and write for several hours on end, exploring my own mind and heart.
It has led to near-endless discoveries about who I am as a human as well as where my path is headed in the coming months. I honor this gift now as not only a tool for my advantage but as an ally and a hobby. It’s my entertainment.
In the absence of a screen and a program controlling the messaging of my mind I’ve become an active participant and explorer of my inner terrain thanks to deep contemplation and self-inquiry practices.
Active v. Passive Participant in My Life
I see myself as having shifted from being a passenger in my life to the co-pilot. I play an active role now. No longer am I subject to the whims of the screen and subsequent programming coming from other people’s minds. Now I see myself as an active creator and responder to the fluid nature of my mind, heart, body, and soul.
In the past, I might have argued that living an active life is so exhausting. It takes energy, gumption, and enthusiasm. And I just didn’t have the energy for it. I needed to “relax.” I realize now how it takes energy either way. Both ways I experience challenges and difficulties.
On one path, I am a pro-active user and director of my life force energy. I meet the demand and challenge of my mind-body complex. I take up space, get out of the house, make adventures, dare to fail, and have fun.
On the other path, I’m lazy and passive, and the sedentary nature of the path erodes my self-worth and -value as I fail to heed the call to a life well-lived. I’ve learned that I either use the energy of life or the energy of life will cause me to erode from the inside out.
Either way, I’m going to die. I’d rather do it guns ablaze than withered into a pile of mush on the couch.
Where Will I Go From Here?
The jig is up. I’ve done the experiment. What will I do going forward? I see the power of no TV in my life. And as I’ve come to the end of this month, I’ve come face-to-face with visions for a future that require my active efforts if I want to see it realized. So, looking down the barrel of that gun, I’m choosing to use my time for good.
I’ll watch shows and movies from time to time. But I’m choosing to be extremely cautious as I’m aware of how slippery a slope it is. I’ll be disciplined and keep my guard up. I’ll work with limits such as only one hour of TV a week, or something like that.
Limits often get a bad rap but it’s within the limitations of our own lives that we learn to flourish. Self-imposed limits can help us flourish in certain ways. It’s akin to pruning a tree.
If you want the tree to take a certain shape, it’s necessary to prune a few limbs here and there. It’s a matter of guidance and direction. It’s a wise use of masculine structures and power within. It’s a conscious and active choice.
Simultaneously, I believe that limitations can often hamper and weaken a system. It’s an adept individual who stays constantly in tune with the needs of the system (the mind-body complex) to do what feels most empowering for one’s self. At this point in time, I feel strengthened by the idea of limiting my TV exposure as I veer towards a vision I desire to make manifest.
May you be inspired to make a choice that similarly strengthens and enlivens you.