August 11, 2010

Television and the push and pull of motivation

August 11, 2010 - Categories: family, life, reflection

For the first time in years, we have a television in the house.

I resisted the idea at first, nervous about the gravitational pull of a large television, the mind-numbing effects of passive attention, the shift of hours away from other pursuits.

It would be nice to play games with W- and J-, though. I remember how much J- enjoyed teaming up when we both had Nintendo DSes, and there were some new games that would be fun to explore on a Playstation 3. And the TV would come in handy when watching movies from the library, which we often do while folding laundry.

So we crunched the numbers, figured out what would be worth it based on a projected use of 1-3 hours per week, and headed to FutureShop to pick up the television. FutureShop was out of Playstation 3s. Walmart had plenty in stock, as well as less expensive HDMI cables and controllers. (You can save a few more dollars by ordering an HDMI cable off the Internet, if you plan ahead.) Having rounded up the gaming parts, we returned to FutureShop to get the TV and a wall-mounting bracket (important for keeping it out of reach of cats).

We’ve had the TV for a weekend. So far, we’re still okay. The chores are done. The freezer is full of meals for the next week. I’ve still had time to read and write. We’ve still had great conversations.

And it was a lot of fun exploring the world of LEGO Harry Potter with J-, who’s getting a lot of practice in solving puzzles, particularly stubborn ones. She and W- have been having fun playing LittleBigPlanet, too.

Here are some things I’ve realized about having a television:

TV is not inherently bad. It’s a tool. However, many people have invested a lot of time and energy into figuring out how to use this tool to engage or sell to others, so we should be careful about how we use it and what we absorb.

Knowing that movies and video games can be very engaging, I want to make it easier for me to make time to do other things. This is where choosing the right perspective really matters.

If I frame it as resisting the pull of the television, that’s going to take energy and wear down my self-control. (More about ego depletion on Wikipedia.)

On the other hand, if I focus on how much I want to do other things, then it becomes much easier to do them. I’m not fighting the television; it’s just the wrong tool for what I want to do. Let’s say that I want to write, which is fun and interesting and helps me learn. Instead of watching a movie, thinking, “I really should be writing,” and then trying to muster the energy to change activities and do it, I’ll focus on how much and why I want to write, and the television becomes irrelevant because it’s the wrong tool.

It’s easier to focus on the positive than to resist the negative. Easier for me to pull myself towards something than to push myself.

Are you avoiding or trying to break a bad habit, too? What if you tried flipping things around – focusing on the good parts of things you would rather do, instead of on resisting the bad parts of the things you don’t want to do?