But eventually, I realized that Netflix never made me feel better. When I finished watching, I was still frustrated by not being able to do whatever I wanted. It wasn’t until I got through a few shows, though, that I realized Netflix was making me feel worse. It didn’t matter if the show I watched was scary, depressing, or comical, whenever I stopped, I questioned what I was doing with my life. I questioned who I was, why I was wasting my life watching TV, and I questioned why my life mattered. I told a friend what I thought, and he said,
“Usually when you think you should do less of something, it means it's a bad habbit. People who drink five cups of coffee a day usually feel like they should be drinking less. But most people don’t.”
I’ve always considered myself a disciplined person. I live by my rules and standards, and I don’t like to violate them ever. I don’t swear, I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs. For several years, I wouldn’t even drive over the speed limit. To be so clearly told that this concern about watching too much TV probably meant I need to stop watching it made it clear to me that this was a choice I was making everyday.
When I thought about it as a habit, I knew that I needed to stop watching TV completely. It was making me miserable, and it was wasting my time. Imagine what I could do with an extra 1.5 hours a day? I could read, I could learn a new skill, I could talk with friends, I could exercise, I could sleep.
decided this, I figured I should learn a little bit more about it. Was I just being overdramatic?
Netflix is a social thing, my friends at work always talk about what shows
they’re watching. And I have shows that certain friends love, and we talk about
those shows regularly. What would it mean to not be able to participate in
these discussions? After all, it's not like Netflix is harmful, right?
The more I read about Netflix addiction, the more frustrated I got. Netflix, and many technologies, are engineered to addict us. They reward our brains through triggering dopamine and serotonin production, which not only give us pleasure, but also a feeling of satisfaction. Instead of having to do something productive, they let us feel like we’ve accomplished important things by literally doing nothing. If we can get the same feeling from volunteering, running a marathon, or watching Netflix, what will we choose? Most people choose Netflix-it’s by far the easiest way to get these rewards.
Not only that, but the shows themselves are designed to addict us. Episodes are made in lengths of 43 minutes, a length almost impossible for our brains to comprehend. We process time in hours, or half-hours, so 43 minutes is not a clear signal for us to stop watching anything. Additionally, the arc of these shows is designed to draw us in and keep us watching, even when the episode ends. (Read more on the physical reasons why Netflix is so addictive here.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Netflix couldn’t be a part of my life. I was spending a lot of time trying to figure out what I wanted to do next, what job or grad school program. But how would anything seem appealing when I could sit down and get the same feelings of accomplishment, pleasure, and satisfaction from just watching TV? It would diminish all other positive feelings I experience in my life, and convince me that the challenging times aren’t worth it, because there’s other ways to get these rewards.
When I told a friend that I wanted to stop watching Netflix, he told me how his four year old, who “is a really happy child, builds fairy houses and loves just playing outside” after her hour of iPad time once a week complains “I’m so bored,” and cries because she doesn’t have anything to do. Of course she feels like that, because her brain felt so accomplished without her having to do anything. If a perfectly happy four year old could feel that upset after watching one hour of TV, imagine what several hours could do to a young adult already struggling with purpose and direction?
Since deciding to stop watching Netflix, I have not once regretted my decision. When people talk about TV shows at work, I am completely okay with the fact that I haven’t seen them. Because I have better ways to spend my time. And while some people can watch Netflix and not have it be a problem, for me it was a problem. It was causing me to waste important time, question myself and my life in negative ways, and making me less motivated to do other things because it rewarded my brain in much easier ways.
If you’re considering if you watch too much Netflix, I encourage you to learn more about the effects it can have on you. It might be doing things you don’t even know. Record for a week how much you’re watching, and note how you feel before you start watching and after you finish. Maybe it’s something you enjoy, but you might be surprised.
As I try to be more intentional about how I spend my time, I’ve realized that Netflix is the complete opposite. Not only does it waste my time with things I don’t think are important, it confuses my brain into thinking that I’ve accomplished real things when I haven’t left my bed. For me, quitting Netflix was one of the most important decisions I’ve made for my well-being. At first, I missed the show I was watching, and I missed the characters. But I can find characters in books and in real life. Slowly, after a few weeks of not watching it, I’ve noticed how my brain is beginning to remember how rewarding it can be to work for emotional rewards. I have always know that life is more rewarding when you work for it (I’m a big believer in type 2 fun) and I wouldn’t have said that viewpoint changed while I watched Netflix, but it did.
Maybe it wasn’t an addiction, but honestly it doesn’t matter. It was an unhealthy habit that I am very happy to have removed from my life. This pandemic has encouraged and even glorified binge watching, but instead when people talk about the entertainment they get from Netflix or other similar things, I think about how much I have gained by not using it. It has given me another way to be intentional about how I use my time, and it allows me to stay in control of my emotions and priorities.