I spent the first six days of 2019 totally alone…well, with the exception of my sweet husky pup, Nash. My husband was traveling for college basketball tournaments the whole week. Both sides of our family were 7 hours away. I worked as a nanny to a big family that lived nearby, but they had just welcomed a sweet little newborn, and I had just had the flu over Christmas break, so no work for me. All of that to say, this was the longest and most alone I had ever been in my life. Me and my dog, tucked into our little cabin in the rainy foggy woods, on a big mountain down south. I think the only time I went out was to get groceries, and Nash and I visited the dog park when the sun peeked out one day. What did I do with the rest of my time? Netflix.
I kid you not, I watched so many hours of TV that week, that the days seemed to run together. No crafting, no painting, and I didn’t touch the Jane Austen that I was in the middle of. I didn’t even open up the brand new sewing machine I had gotten for Christmas. Cleaning the house top to bottom only took half a day really, because we lived in a tiny, one-room home, with my kitchen being 4ft x 4ft. The rest of the time, I was under the covers, bingeing TV and movies.
I’m sure everyone has had this kind of binge at some point (I hope I’m not the only one!), and I don’t think TV is evil or anything. But when Noah came home and we got back to our normal routine, I felt so hungover from all of that wasted screen time. I looked back at my week and was honestly appalled and embarrassed at how many hours and days I had spent just totally strung out on TV. I felt gross.
So from there I took a Netflix fast for the rest of the month…then the next time my husband was out of town, I had a plan. I allowed myself one fun girly movie, and then the rest of the time was spent pursuing activities that engaged my hands and mind. Crafts, sewing, reading, thrift shopping, hiking…It was a much better, more fulfilling weekend.
When I really stopped to examine that cringe binge week, I realized that it was actually an exaggerated representation of how I spend my free time, of how I fill up the blank space in my day. I would come home from work, and turn on a show while I picked up the house and started dinner. On laundry day, I hung out in the common room on campus, watching a couple episodes on my phone while waiting to switch over loads. Guess what I did while folding that laundry later on that night? Yup. Watched TV. Sometimes, even crafty pursuits, like sewing up a dress pattern, were done to the “background noise” of Netflix.
Now all of this isn’t to say that TV, movies, video games or phones are the enemy. I believe each of those things have a place and can be useful and enjoyable. But with shame, I realized that this was a very personal issue for me. This constant TV time had become my default. When I’m alone, when I have down time, when I have “nothing better to do”, when I’m waiting, when I’m doing a chore…my default is to entertain and numb my mind with a show. Or maybe a scroll through instagram, a youtube video, or some other distraction. In the quiet, I automatically reach for something to fill up the blank space in my mind.
Do you find yourself in this spot too? I don’t allow a blank empty minute to pass by. I don’t let the “dust” settle in my mind. When I’ve finished making dinner and its all ready on the table, and I’m just waiting for my husband to get out of the shower or something…What do I do? Pull up my inbox or watch whatever video is at the top of my feed. I can’t just be still. I subconsciously resist the moments where my mind could wander or imagine or remember or contemplate.
I’d like to say this is a problem for my generation, but I see folks of all ages with this same exact problem. I think so many of us aren’t comfortable with all of that free space in our heads. We have grown so used to some kind of screen time, that it’s become our default. I don’t think that it’s completely about limiting, or putting off screen time, though this definitely helps
But it’s about learning to discipline ourselves to give in to those free-moment thoughts, where wonderful things can happen. Where you can have a peaceful breath to think on what you are grateful for, or remember something funny from the other day, or add to that idea or plan or dream you having waiting in the back of your brain. Take that blank moment to say a prayer, or let a random thought float by. To look out the window just to see what you can see.
how to combat this bad habit:
- Set limitations for yourself. I like to pick at least one day out of the week where the TV is off. No movies or shows from sun up to sun down. Or maybe for you, that’s no TV and putting your phone away for the first hour you are home from work…take time to unwind, start dinner, relax without a screen. It’s definitely a good idea to try to put your phone away awhile before bed, or take some time to unwind after a movie before crawling right into bed…you’ll sleep better for sure! It’s always so refreshing.
- Fill your day with other things besides a screen. There are so many wonderful things to do, we miss out on them when we spend hours bingeing our favorite show. Read more books, take a walk outside, color or paint, find a hands-on hobby. I have a lot of suggestions over on this post. Find other things to fill up the rhythm of your day.
- Listen more. Instead of doing mundane chores with the TV on, try finding a podcast or audiobook to listen to. I used to think that I could never like listening to audiobooks, but once I started a good one, I couldn’t stop. Listen for free with your library card using the Hoopla or Libby apps. Tip: look for books that are read aloud by the author, those are the easiest to listen to!
- Practice sitting in that silent space. Some people call it meditating, I call it sitting on my front porch or in my cozy chair with my cup of coffee in the morning. Just five minutes or so, without my phone, without a person, and just let my thoughts come and go. Sometimes I’m praying, sometimes I remembering my dream from last night, sometimes I’m thinking of what I want to say or write or do next. I try not to scramble over a to-do list, or things that bring me stress. But those quiet moments give me clarity and stillness, without the distraction on what’s on my screen.
Maybe I’m totally alone in this bad habit. But I have a feeling there are a few others who might find themselves in this spot too. If so, I just want to encourage you to take a little step away from Netflix for a bit. Next time you have a night to relax, try a walk and a book. Bit by bit, give in to those quiet moments and see where your mind takes you. If you are feeling burnt out or stressed, tired but never rested, bored but uninspired, maybe blank moments need to be embraced more often in your day.
Enjoy those moments friends,