We like Netflix. We’re flixters and like most flixters, we watch episode after episode.
But here’s what was happening. I work from home so I’d be up in my office and my wife would tend to the kids. Sometimes she’ll watch TV while she folds laundry and sometimes I’ll watch while I eat lunch and sometimes our daughters would occasionally watch an episode of something like Bubble Guppies or Little Einsteins. Then my wife would make dinner, I’d emerge from my office and we’d eat. After dinner, we’d go through the process of getting the kids to bed. After the kids were in bed, I might pop back into my office to do some work or check my email, my wife sometimes would join me to check her email or work on her photography. After some amount of time these words would surface… “you want to watch something?”
It didn’t matter who asked it, me or her, the answer was always predictably the same, “yes”. We’d make our way to the couch and turn on the television. After we sat down and started navigating to our show of choice, we’d generally start talking about something from the day, the kids, my work, something funny, or sad. And then, as if scrolling through the options was inflicting physical pain, we’d interrupt our own conversation with, “what do you want to watch?” We’d quickly get to the business of making a selection and then starting the show. We’d be content. After all, things are good with so many great shows at our fingertips. If one of us had to get something to eat (which is so often the companion to Netflix) we’d hit pause, because that’s the respectable thing to do. Scooping a massive bowl of ice cream takes some time so again, we’d start a conversation sometimes picking up the same topic we had previously been talking about until the other would return and we could resume watching.
Other times one of us (usually whoever is less into the show) will start a conversation mid-viewing…of course, this is totally unacceptable but sometimes you just remember something that might be of equal to or greater than importance than the current binge session. Now, everyone knows this is incredibly rare and most tenured flixters know it’s borderline impossible and maybe just a myth. But when one thinks they’ve found the four leaf clover of discussion topics and bravely interrupts a binge sesh, they’re usually the last to realize they’ve made a huge mistake. The realization finally arrives as one notices the thumb of their slightly annoyed viewing partner, hovering over, or agonizingly tracing the outline of the play button. It’s as if everyone else in the room has already counted your clover and determined, like all clovers, there are three leaves…. and now we’d like to get back to bingeing. Most often the offender sheepishly apologizes or trails off until it’s clear we’re ready to resume watching.
Then those episodes fall, like a long row of perfectly organized dominoes, one right after the other. Until way too late for people who plan on being coherent in the morning. So finally we’d shut it down, about the point we KNOW FOR SURE we’ve watched too much. Keep in mind, this is different than thinking we MIGHT have watched too much. That’s rookie territory. We’d make our way to our room and start getting ready for bed. It’s then, that that pesky conversation topic would continue trying to be heard. We’d either talk too late or fall asleep trying to talk. Either way, the conversation was rushed, fragmented and incomplete. We’d wake the next morning with a binge hangover only a true flixter would understand.
How Bad Can It be?
Now don’t get me wrong, we’re not the type that throws everything to the wind to get our flix in. We’d be considered “high functioning” flixters.
My wife is a (Rockstar) stay at home Mom. She juggles three kids, a high energy, hyper-curious five-year-old girl, a spunky, three-year-old girl who most days refuses to wear pants and can cross a single eye (we call it crazy eyes) on command. And a newly mobile 7-month-old who acts like he has a shock collar that zaps him every time any human leaves his three-foot radius. But she doesn’t take the low road, she’s committed to keeping them on a schedule, engaged in productive developmental activities and, perhaps ironically, off of technology almost entirely. She keeps a tidy house and sticks to a consistent workout regimen. She keeps our lifeboat afloat.
I try to keep up with her. I have a full-time job, a new leadership development business and several “side gigs” that all jockey for my time and attention. I too, take the time to exercise and even participate in endurance sports that require year-round training. And occasionally, I like to wrestle with my kids, read them books, eat them like a zombie or put on my best “Prince Eric” and “Mickey Mouse” performance while playing pretend. On top of all this, Both my wife and I are active in our church and hold responsibilities that require several hours throughout the week to maintain.
So why are we giving up Netflix?
Well, first of all, we’re not permanently giving it up. For now, it’s for the month of January. And it’s not only Netflix, it’s all TV. We literally took the power cord off the TV and put it in a super secret hiding place. Okay, okay…. it’s in the cabinet by the sink.
We need to hit the reset button.
One reason is that we both have specific goals for 2017. I’m trying to routinely build daily consistency in 7 core areas and my wife has several ambitions of her own. We both want to read more and spend more time together and therefore, we felt like giving ourselves more time each day would give us the best chance of success in the New Year.
But the primary reason we’re giving up Netflix and television is that we recognized we were forming a habit. In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg outlines the steps involved in the formation of new habits and how those habits work over time. He speaks in depth about the habit loop which consists of a cue, something that triggers an action or set of actions, a routine, the aforementioned set of actions, and a reward, the reason we engage in the routine in the first place. For us, our kids being in bed had become a cue to fire up Netflix, the routine, was to sit there for way too long and the reward was we got to enjoy lots of good shows. But it was becoming more than that. Habits are frequently more complex than a single loop and can be intertwined. Eating food had piggybacked onto our simple habit of Netflix viewing. Netflix became its own cue and finding something sweet to eat, had become the routine. And of course, the reward was having something good to eat while being entertained. Of course, I’m not saying that sitting with your sweetheart, eating ice cream and watching Netflix is a bad thing, but it can be if it happens too frequently.
Our habit didn’t form overnight. If first started with a night here and there, and then one more episode and then another and another until it was consistent and a night with no Netflix was abnormal. This is almost by definition, considered “going through the motions” or “autopilot” in fact our brains actually operate at a lower level when executing on deeply established habits. It becomes a ritual. And Duhigg talks about that too. He identifies that when any single habit is repeated consistently over time, it creates a craving. When a craving hits (associated with a cue) then the routine is almost automatically followed (free of thought) in an effort to gain the reward. When there is no reward, frustration can be the primary side effect. As if any of us need a little extra frustration in our lives.
Breaking The Cycle
I don’t need to convince you that there is a growing addiction to food and technology. What is less visible, though, is how these habits are damaging our ability to work, the impact on self-confidence and the many ways they can deteriorate relationships. While my wife and I love each other very much and we work well together, we recognized that we weren’t having deep conversations as often as we’d like. You know, the kind that will strengthen the relationship, generate fun personal jokes and help us learn to better understand each other and strategize for our family. We were trying to fit them into elusively rare open spaces for an already busy family of 5. The quality of our conversations diminished as our Netflix habit built momentum. We knew that these habits, along with others, would become more deeply ingrained over time. If we didn’t take care of them now, we knew they would impact our ability to accomplish our vision for our family and could possibly even push us apart. Ultimately we’d be setting our auto-pilot on a crash course. We would be slaves to our habits.
So far, we’ve spent more time outside with the kids, talked more, laughed more and played more games. We’re not eating hardly anything after dinner or before bed and we’re getting to bed earlier and getting more sleep which makes for a better start to the day. You might be wondering if we’ll turn our television on or fire up Netflix again, and the answer is most definitely, yes. But you can be sure that anytime we feel we are building habits that keep us from what is most important, we’ll hit the reset button without flinching, Netflix and all.
Greer Method Complete Coaching provides one on one coaching for executives and business owners. Through expert coaches, habit locking technology, and proven processes we help leaders create, manage, and sustain personal and professional performance.
Jared J. Greer is the founder of Greer Method Complete Coaching. He is an executive coach, 6-time Ironman finisher, marathoner, ultra-marathoner, husband, and father of four.