There’s a feature in World of Warcraft that allows you to check how many hours you logged into each character over its lifetime. 3 years into playing the game, I remember checking to find 365 + days, X hours, X minutes all on my main character. One third of my time including sleep was logged into this game. I slept 8 hours a night so if you do the math, half my waking time was playing WOW. This was 9 to 12 years ago and a very different time in my life. Over 8760 hours that could have been spread around doing life enriching things. Who is currently playing hours of Fortnite, Overwatch, or Call of Duty?
How much television would you wager you watched last year? 3 hours a day? What if we add scrolling social media, watching YouTube, movies, and video games. Perhaps 4 hours? Likely a conservative estimate for some. 4 hours a day becomes 1460 hours in one year. 14,600 hours across a decade. I can't imagine the total number of hours I’ve invested in staring at screens in my life. Think about what happens to your personal and professional goals if you keep this going for the next 10, 20, 30 years. Please take a second to conjure how much of your life has been spent in front of your television.
No one is suggesting you never watch movies again, sledgehammer the PlayStation, or delete all social media apps. Instead I hope to shed light on how much time we waste. Even reclaiming a portion of your time could be what’s needed to get into the best shape of your life and enjoy all of those physical and emotional benefits.
Not all of that time was a waste. I do have treasured memories of television growing up. Watching Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls teams dominate the 90’s was a treat. I have movies and shows I hold a deep nostalgia for. Star Trek: The Next Generation and The X-Files just to name a few. De Niro vs Pacino in Heat and virtually the entire Fast and Furious franchise are guilty pleasures. I will never argue with someone who appreciated Mad Men or Breaking Bad. Some shows are cultural events we talk about with clients and coworkers and this holds social value. I have a client who would risk his job is he wasn't current on Riverdale.
We are allowed to relax and be entertained. How many of us currently or at least used to take this too far? The 5th straight episode of Storage Wars might be a problem, and we know we do dump tons of hours into junk television. Soap operas (someone reading this has seen all 15 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy), reality tv, and loops of the same Sportscenter highlights. Does is sound like I’m speaking in contradiction here? It’s about balance. Taking time to turn your brain off and indulge in a something special to you, be it The Bachelor, Sons of Anarchy, or Firefly. I’m sorry did you just say that you aren’t familiar with Firefly? You need some damned culture in your life so go ahead and google it. We go wrong when we lose evening after evening in front of the TV to the detriment of our physical, emotional, and social well being.
Aside from one more season of Game of Thrones and Rick and Morty, I don't watch any television shows. Nothing. For a long time I bought dvds I wanted to watch but as time passed I've lost interest in most shows. I haven’t had cable in over 12 years, never subscribed to Netflix, and I rarely watch YouTube. A few years back I began to devote more time to reading books. Now I fill my driving and cooking time with audiobooks and podcasts. Scrolling Facebook has long been an issue yet I’ve cut down of recent. I try to go directly to specific interests of mine, post and interact with my content and aim for less time lost to social media. I aim to avoid arguing on the internet anymore. I’m far from perfect but dramatically better. Writing a response then deleting it is surprisingly satisfying. I almost never watch movies anymore aside from the big Marvel flicks. Its probably safe if it has one of the superhero Chris’s starring in it. For the record there are 4 of them and I would be curious to see who you like most. I’m torn between Pratt and Evans personally.
Perhaps I’ve grown older, out of touch with the mainstream, and lack the attention span or interest in any of these traditional time sinks. In some cases the evolution of reclaiming my time was organic. In others it was the realization of how much time I as losing. I’ve long prioritized workouts but I now use my added time for time with friends, writing, studying career related material, and more reading than ever.
I notice at the end of a productive day, when I didn’t lose much time to social media or other mind numbing activities, I feel better, more fulfilled, and positive about the day.
If you want to see just how much time you lose to these mindless activities, try writing down the time you spend on each item over the course of a week. It should provide windows to workout, get outside for walks, or possibly try a new fad called jogging. You should find lots of room for activities that align with person you aspire to be. People often imagine an ideal self but they wait to become that person before engaging in the behaviours aligned with that aspirational self. The key to achieving that self is to begin those behaviours now and watch as this drives becoming the better person.
You don’t need to start with a drastic shift in behaviour. Begin by watching 30 minutes less per day. Instead do something that feels fulfilling. Think ahead and watch only shows you plan on watching then turn off the set. Be on guard against mindlessly flipping through channels and settling on a random rerun.
Recognize television for the habit it is. We get home and go straight for the couch without much thought. According to author James Clear and his book Atomic Habits, we need to make new desirable habits easier and to make current undesirable habits harder. Putting the remote away instead of right next to your favourite couch spot means just a little more effort to turn the television on. Try unplugging the Xbox after use, necessitating added effort to turn it on next time. Deleting social media apps from your phone is a popular tactic to keep you from wasting time. Just think about how often you reach into your pocket without thinking and clicking open Instagram. Force yourself to log onto your computer to check social media apps. Even logging out of the mobile app each time creates more effort before mindlessly scrolling. Create barriers to the behaviour you want to move away from. Advice you’ve heard before, have your gym bag packed and waiting at the door as you leave for work. The reminder paves the way to working out more. It becomes part of a ritual establishing new habits.
Bring on the argument of not having enough time to drive to the gym and workout. It’s difficult to find the 90 minutes of door to door time to workout when you could squeeze in 2 episodes of Stranger Things. Knowing you finished a workout feels more satisfying than any show.
It should be uncomfortable to think back over countless hours lost staring at a screen that never added value to our lives. Think how you want to spend this next year, two, or five. Working toward personal goals of health, strength, and career advancement or looking back accounting for the hours lost with eyes nailed to a screen. I know its easy to turn away from such realizations and stay within those embedded patterns. It’s easy to say you will start tomorrow, Monday, or January 1st. These are lies we tell ourselves. It would be a terrible mistake to feel guilt over past behaviour. It's a sunk cost never to be reclaimed. We can only take steps to change our behaviour going forward.
What mattered to me changed. I chose the gym, my health, and my physique rather than hiding in an addictive game. I have tons of pleasant memories but it became time to move on. As my friend Robbie Farlow would say, my workouts and nutrition levelled up. That led to a change of career and here you are reading my fitness writings a decade later.
Only you can make choices to improve your situation. Your situation won’t change without your own personal intervention. Choose wisely. Choose to make effort today. Build momentum. Little changes add up to big results if added up over long enough.