Breaking up with cable was one of the best things my husband and I have ever done. We got rid of cable about a year and a half ago and haven’t once regretted it. More than just not regretting the break up, we regularly celebrate it.

Why? We save about hundred dollars a month. But the monetary savings are really just the tip of the iceberg, it’s the other rewards that we have gained that make it worth celebrating, the rewards that aren’t as visible or as easy to measure.

Less Mindlessness, less need for distraction

The greatest of these rewards is how much more mindful we’ve become from not being able to just mindlessly flick on the tube and watch whatever’s on. Or endlessly flip through channels in search of something interesting.

We have to put some thought into our television watching, we have to make some choices. Which app? Which program? Should we watch a movie? A documentary? A TV show? Listen to music? Watch a game? Watch a show about nature or exploration?

We have to decide to watch TV, which also means that we can make a decision to do something else instead.

This is where the immeasurables come in, the great rewards, the ‘insteads’ that enrich our lives.

The true rewards of breaking up with cable

My husband bought some turntables a while back (but after ditching cable), so instead of watching TV he’ll often put on his headphone and DJ in his office for a bit.

He’s downloaded a ton of music, listened to new artists (including 5 artists we ‘met’ in Las Vegas when I made him by their CDs on a pedestrian overpass because I’m a sucker and will always try to support struggling artists. Little did we know that the five musicians were truly talented hip-hop artists and that their CDs are actually pretty damn good. See, it pays to support struggling artists!), and has developed a real talent for the DJing thing.

It’s pretty cool. (See kids, you can be in your 40s and still do cool shit.)

Being in the world of music so much, he’s also started playing the keyboard again, taking lessons online and practicing regularly.

He’s built us a custom fireplace. He finished our wood floors. He built really cool, rustic shelves out of plumbing pipe and plywood. He tinkers in the garage. He does yoga.

He plays video games (I know some would argue that this is not a benefit, but I disagree. Video games have been shown to improve cognitive function. And he plays with his buds, who live all over the country, who he probably wouldn’t talk to as much, otherwise).

He just does stuff.

I do stuff, too. Rather than sitting in front of just anything that happens to be on TV, programs that I’m not even interested in but since they’re on they’re easy to watch and be distracted, I’ll pick up a book and read instead (I usually have two books going at once, lately a book on some aspect of neuroscience and a book of classic literature. Read more about how I recently rediscovered the magic of reading here).

I’ll play around in the kitchen with new ingredients and new recipes (I’m currently on a legume kick and a making-everything-but-rice-in-my-rice cooker kick).

I’ll go for a walk or sit quietly to meditate (or go for a walk and meditate – walking is one of the best forms of mediation for me, without really being mediation). I’m happiest outside so I try to walk for at least an hour every day and I hike as often as I can. (I even work on the computer outside, weather permitting.)

I write in my journal or here, on MyCuppaJo. I’ve try to write for at least an hour every day, which sometimes turns into hours. I never even think about cable when I’m writing.

I think and imagine, wander and wonder, explore and discover.

I take classes through Coursera, including a Medical Neuroscience course that I’m two weeks into. Rather than watch a reality TV show I’m not really that interested in, I now watch videos on nervous system anatomy and learning about the brain (the best kind of reality TV, for me at least).

Instead of always passively watching screens, we can actively learn from them

There are so many free courses available online now, it’s quite remarkable; anything from learning a new language to learning photography, from learning how to code to creative writing courses, from classes for entrepreneurs to classes for aspiring musicians, from political science to medicine, history to morality, dinosaurs to galaxies, cooking to chemistry to the chemistry of cooking (I actually don’t know if that’s a course, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was).

There’s truly something for everyone. And it’s free. And it’s a much better use of our screen time.

Taking time to think, reflect, and just be

It seems to me that in our efforts to never be alone with our thoughts (or, *gasp*, be bored), we’re constantly seeking mindless distraction, whether it be in the form of watching cable TV or absently messing around on our smart phones or computers, endlessly scrolling through social media feeds, blog posts, and emails or playing one of the millions (billions?) of game apps out there (which you can learn how to build over at Coursera, by the way. That one’s for reals).

In our efforts to break away from our screens each day, we take a walk every evening as a family (me, husband, dog), no screens allowed. It’s only 30 or so minutes and it’s the same route every single night, but it’s the thing I look forward to most each day. It’s a wonderful way to transition from work to not-work.

The no screens rule is an important one, one that we never break (unless unusual circumstances call for it, which only occurs rarely).

Even just having your phone within reach can be distracting and make you want to grab it and check just one thing…

Mindless consumption

We are living in a time where we have instantaneous, 24-7 access to the world; to it’s recorded history, it’s shared knowledge, it’s scientific findings, it’s literature and art.

We also have access to up-to-the-nanosecond, happening-right-this-instant current events.

Not to mention all of the celebrity gossip, the diets, the workouts, the recipes, the cat videos, the e-cards, the news and the ‘news’, the live-this-way-not-that-way programs (beware the guru that has answers to all your problems, you just have pay a small sum for it).

Everything you could ever want to know or look up or listen to or see is at our fingertips. It’s astounding, we’re incredibly lucky.

But we’re also overloaded with all of this information.

There’s so much of it, we can only take it all in via 140 characters or attention-grabbing headlines (many people ‘like’ an article shared on social media without ever reading the article, just based on the headline alone. Sadly, this is why click-bait is more important than content, substance, and veracity).

We mindlessly consume all of this information, but never digest it. We never take the time (who has the time?) to sit with what it means, to think about it, to incorporate it into our being. It just takes up space and time. Our space, our time.

Our precious space, our limited time.

It clutters up the works, it makes us sluggish and foggy and distant and disconnected, despite all the connectedness. It makes it hard to just think because there’s so much meaningless crap crammed in there.

Making it meaningful

But that’s just it. It’s only meaningless crap because we haven’t taken the time to assign it meaning. We just hoard and store it and forget about it, we don’t take the time to enjoy it and use it and live it.

There’s good shit in there, we just need to find it and explore it in more depth.

Rather than consume everything, consume only those things that truly pique our interests, that get our blood flowing, that energize and inspire us. And linger over it, take pleasure in it. Take our time with it.

How?

Breaking up with cable was a good first step for us; it allowed us to start decluttering our minds and help us make space for some other things that are important to us, things we may not have known were important to us if we hadn’t made the space, and the time.

Things that we enjoy actively doing, rather than passively watching.

My next step (one that I’m currently working on), is spending less time on my phone; I can endlessly scroll through Facebook, Feedly, and Flipboard for hours during the course of a day.

And Instagram. Oh, Instagram, how I love thee. I could look at pictures of nature and people’s adventures all day long. I follow adventurous souls from all over the world, it’s wonderful and wondrous.

But it doesn’t need to be checked all throughout the day.

(Oh yeah, and play Scrabble. Which I’m not giving up, by the way. I love the interaction with my mom and one of my best friends, and the game itself, so it’s staying in the rotation. By mindful choice.)

Most of my screen time is spent endlessly consuming information that I do little, if anything, with. So my goal is to be more selective in what I consume on social media and the internet (and definitely set some time limits) and, more importantly, to sit with the information I have in my head for a bit, see what’s there, what it means, and what I can do with it.

There may be some really good stuff in there, just waiting to be discovered and shared.

Less passive screen time. More active doing.

Now, I want to make clear that I don’t think that all screen time needs to be banned (though I don’t know that there’d be harm in doing such a thing). There’s value to be found in those screens, even in those cat videos.

Laughter and play and connection with our friends and loved ones are incredibly important, and our screens give us unprecedented access to them. And there is no discounting the wealth of information that we can find on our screens, I just hope for us to be a bit more discerning.

I’m still going to read the blogs I find interesting. I’m still going to follow a few select news outlets. I’m still going to look at the beautiful pictures on Instagram, but not all the day long. I’m still going to check in with Facebook now and then to see what my peeps are up to.

I’m still going to keep up the MyCuppaJo page, which requires me to find interesting stuff on the web to share. I’m still going to check emails.

Some reasonable screen limits

But I’m not going to do those things every time I pick up my phone or get on my computer. And I’m definitely going to refrain from seeking out my phone to just mindlessly scroll.

When I find the temptation to do just that, I’m going to go for a walk. Without my phone. Even if it’s just 5 minutes.

I’m going to set distinct periods of the day to check emails and social media, not jump on them a dozen (more?) times a day and scroll through them without thinking or engaging.

Seems reasonable, no?

Our time is valuable, I’m going to aim to spend mine a bit more wisely. A bit more mindfully.

All we are guaranteed is right now. So I’m going to try and make sure my right now is as awesome, enlightening, enriching, and rewarding as it can be.

Are you thinking about breaking up with cable? I’d love to hear your thoughts! And I encourage you to just do it! With Roku and other internet-based TV options, you don’t need it! You’ll be surprised at how much time you gain. And how the quality of your TV viewing increases :)

Do it!

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