Releasing Distraction and Coming into the Present Moment: Lessons Learned When I Stopped Watching TV

The Back-Story

For July & August of 2017, I declared a TV ban.  What did this mean?  To me it meant no television (including Netflix) but I might watch the occasional movie with family, going to theatres with friends, etc.  After finishing the latest season of OITNB on June 30, I thought, “Okay, no problem, I can do this.”  While I can say I’m not a fan of cable or satellite television (can’t stand commercials!), I was definitely a Netflix consumer.  Even with Netflix, much of what I “watched” was not really watched as much as listened to, while I cleaned, made dinner, etc.  It was background noise.

The Reason for the TV Ban

My intention to get away from the screen stemmed from wanting to enjoy summer, feeling like TV was a waste of my time, and wanting to move out of some habits that I felt were unhealthy for me.  I didn’t mind too much if a show was in the background while I was cooking, but often times I would then sit down in front of the screen to eat.  Also, I recognized that I wasn’t reading as many books as I would like.  I have always been a bookworm, and the realization that I hadn’t actually finished a book in over a year was a big motivator.  Another realization- my memory for any of the shows I watched was extremely poor.  Whereas when I listened to something educational or informative, like a podcast, I would remember tidbits that I would then utilize, or share with friends later on.  In comparison, I’m notorious for getting halfway or three quarters through a movie before realizing I have indeed seen it before.  This signalled for me that screen time was certainly not developing my brain in any productive way!

The First Month

Early July, the TV ban went over quite well!  I was surprised by how easy it was to give up my Netflix habit.  In the mornings, after meditation, I listed to a podcast called Happier (highly recommend!) as I got ready for the day.  In the evenings, I watched the sun set over the prairies. I talked to my friends on the phone more often.  Summer was really getting going and I had some travel plans at the beginning of the month, so that kept me busy. Mid-month I found myself on a solo trip in Saskatoon, where I read a passage that said, “I am learning to become comfortable in my own company.”  I thought, “Wow, that is so beautiful.  This feels like the journey I am on at the moment.”

And then… I found myself with a bout of illness Mid-July.  I rarely get sick and this was a doozy.  It reminded me how awful being sick is.  This also presented a bit of a challenge.  I had NO energy.  What do people do when they are sick besides watch TV??

The Realization

As the month wound down my health returned, and my schedule slowed a bit, I recognized an unsettling pattern had begun.  Post-dinner, when I was ready for some quiet time, I found my way to the bedroom.  In the past I may have relaxed with a show before calling it a night.  Now, instead of being face to computer screen with my “Netflix friends”, I found myself face to phone screen with my social media friends.  Yepp- Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, you name it.  Scrolling, scrolling.  Endlessly.  The realization happened one night when I sat down with my phone at 7:30 pm and the next thing I knew it was 9:30 pm.  “What?” I thought, “I’ve been looking at this sh*t for two hours?”  I felt uneasy.  I realized I’d replaced the television with a lot more social media time.  And not productive or even enjoyable social media time (I do believe there is such a thing).  The root of all these distractions begged the questions… What was with this need for mindlessly “zoning out”?  Why did it feel so uncomfortable to simply sit with myself?

Same but Different

I’ve come to understand that many things can act as the same drug.  The same distraction, the same way of checking out.  Television.  Social media.  Alcohol.  Overeating.  Online shopping.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all of these are bad things.  I truly believe there is a time and place for all these things to be enjoyed.  However, when used in this way- for the purpose of distraction from reality, for tuning out- they can become destructive.  Personally, it is not my intention to live this way.  I want to be conscious, in the moment, living from the inside out- not the other way around.
So why do we want to check out?  Often times, being outside the present moment is a lot easier than dealing with the emotions or feelings we are currently holding.  These distractions are numbing.  Numbing and quieting.  Numbing the feeling of being alone, maybe feeling lonely.  Quieting the conversation in your head where you actually have to face what you’re thinking and feeling.   Seeking something external, something outside ourselves, in hopes it will fill that internal void.  Fill that loneliness, hide that pain, that anxiety, whatever it may be.  That lack of self-love.  We use them as a band-aid.  A quick patch to cover up what’s underneath.

But what’s underneath are our emotions and feelings, wanting so desperately for us to feel them, work through them, and let them go.  Thing is, working through the emotions, learning to accept ourselves; to love ourselves, it’s continual and sometimes it’s uncomfortable as hell.  But here’s the thing- this work, is so necessary, especially if you are seeking a life beyond mediocrity; a life of brilliance… And it’s so incredibly rewarding.

The Work

Here’s what I came to know- I didn’t want to use the band-aids anymore.  I felt ready to do the work.  I wanted to sit with myself, and I wanted to be comfortable in my own company.  Now what?  The work will vary from person to person.  Through trial and error, I found what worked for me.  Here are some of the tools and discoveries I found helpful:

  • Disconnect and be with yourself.  These days, it’s so easy to stay “connected” 24/7.  One of the things I found most helpful was a strict screens away policy (including/ especially phones).  At least one hour before sleeping, leaving it off until about one hour after waking up (or until after my morning practice/ after breakfast).  I use airplane mode to fully disconnect but still have access to a morning alarm.  If you feel you need to leave the phone on (in case of emergency, etc.), try using night mode on your phone, or plugging it in across the room, whatever you need to do!
  • Just feel it.  Whenever a feeling comes up, we always have a choice of yes or no; now or later.  Are we willing to feel it now or will we find a distraction and choose later?  The trouble with the latter option is, the feeling will continue to come back to you.  It will show up again and again, until we say yes, until we choose now and decide to be in the present with it.
  • We don’t have to psychoanalyze every feeling.  In the past, I always had a notion that I had to get to the root cause of every emotion.  “Okay, so I’m feeling scared or abandoned, is this because I was left in a grocery story when I was 6?” I mean, maybe that’s true… But what I’ve learned is, it doesn’t really matter where the emotion came from, because we’ve already been through and experienced that moment.  The fact of the matter is, we’re feeling this emotion now- so here again is our choice to feel it or not.  All we can really do is feel it.  Sit with the emotion, feel where it is, and eventually… it will dissipate.
  • Build intuition.  In beautiful symmetry, being present increases intuition, and developing intuition increases your ability to be present.  Those quiet times, with nothing or nobody but myself were the moments I found the most self discovery.  I listened to my intuition; receiving guidance on what to do, how to spend my time, where to direct my energy.  And those moments became some of my favorite summer memories.
  • Take back your power.  Removing distractions allows us to release any notions of external things holding power over us.  We embrace our power over our own lives and recognize that we can choose exactly how we spend each moment.  Choice is so powerful!  I found reframing to be helpful.  For example, if I felt lonely I would ask myself, “Are you really lonely?  Or are you alone?”  The distinction is, loneliness I haven’t chosen, but being alone I have chosen.  And in fact, I quite enjoy being alone!

My Own Company

As we continue to grow and shift, letting go of old habits and adopting new ones, we must remember to be compassionate with ourselves.  This process of removing distractions and becoming present in the moment is ongoing.  The work will likely never end.  Interestingly, I’ve found the work has started to feel less like work and more like coming into my true self.  Living from the inside out has brought me more joy, helped me to relieve anxiety, and I continue to let go of worry more and more every day.  As I let go of those habits that allowed me to “check out,” I feel more in tune with myself and more capable of dealing with feelings and emotions as they rise.  And the best part?  I’m learning to be comfortable in my own company.
Thank you for reading.  Much love,

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