Binge-watching reality: ‘Let me escape from decisions and duties’.

‘I’m in trouble’. The Story Screenshot.

Tipy: “I need to tell you something strange. I think I am a T.V. series maniac”.

Ally: “I am glad that you are not a serial killer though. It would be more difficult to deal with.”

Tipy: “Well, some of the T.V. shows about them, I am watching regularly too. The problem is that I can’t stop myself after watching just one episode, I need crave more. Once the episode ends, there is an invisible force within me that makes me watch at least another one but even more often another three or four. Sometimes I can waste most of my day.”

Ally: “Does it make you happy, however? I mean it’s exciting to watch ‘Games of Thrones’ or ‘Sex in the city’ again, isn’t it? It helps me sometimes to relax my mind.

Tipy: ‘It is and it isn’t. I spend more time than I should. Even though I really enjoy the process of watching T.V. shows, I often feel frustrated with myself and guilty for the rest of the day. Why can’t I control my behaviour when I know that it is so easy just to shut the T.V. off? Do you think I murdered my willpower? Or did it just die from a mysterious decease so I have no self-control left?

‘Why we behave this way?’ Behavioural Science in Layman terms.

Binge-watching is a relatively new phenomenon in our everyday lives. Researchers describe new behaviour of ‘Binge-watching’ as the temptation to view “just one more episode”. I personally think that it is a great option to binge-watch favourite TV shows on a subscription basis because it gives us so much freedom and flexibility to set our spare time the way we want. But do we really have that freedom or we are slaved by smart technology living with an illusion of freedom?

Watching back-to-back episodes may feel like a relaxing escape at the end of the day, but it’s actually getting your brain fired up, and can affect sleep quality. The reason why there is an effect on sleep quality is an increase in “cognitive arousal,” or stimulation in the brain when we are intensely involved with the content, and keep thinking about it even trying to fall asleep. Sleep insufficiency has had a negative effect on physical and mental health, including reduced memory function and learning ability. Finally, there is also a best friend of binge-watching that takes forms of snacking, fast-fooding or eating lots of sweets during the shows non-stop feast. Failing on self-control in one activity, it doesn’t take us much to fail to avoid other temptations and we hardly reflect on all of that because all focus is converted from our lives to the TV reality for a few hours a day.

But what is actually happening inside of our brain making us unable to pull ourselves together and press the off button on a remote control? The reasons for binge-watching are not yet well understood but there a few interesting scientific findings.

Well, first of all, the craving of moving on to the next episode has been smartly deployed by TV companies. It is like a rewarding activity for our brain that is very much similar to gaming. When we are finishing a number of episodes or even a whole series, this allows us to feel as if we have completed a task, which causes a surge of dopamine release (one of the chemicals in the brain that becomes activated when something good happens unexpectedly). This dopamine then motivates us to keep watching more, creating a feedback loop that is seemingly never-ending. This is a similar process of forming an automatic response and then an addiction.

Now, look how this gets even trickier. Another interesting thing about the human brain is the way we process time. It’s much easier for us to divide our time into concrete portions such as 30 minutes or 60 minutes. Have you noticed that when it comes to many shows on, they are talking about 40 minutes or 20 minutes, which doesn’t exactly fit into our designated time slots? So when you give yourself one hour to watch Netflix for example, before you have to get back to other tasks, that means you have about enough time to watch one and a half episodes of a forty-minute show… But in reality, who watches half of a show? And there are only 15 seconds to make a decision that will be…well, you know what that will likely be…

‘Is there a magic pill to help?’ Practical peaks and tips.

1. Designing reality checks. Setting up external reminders, like a timer, could be a helpful hand to our willpower to boost us off the couch and do something different breaking the ‘just one more episode’ trap.

2. Turning guilt into reward. One trick that I found quite useful is using pausing during a transition or slow part of an episode to complete a small task or chore that is on my to-do list and then returning to finish the show. This really helps break up the time-warp effect of Netflix-ing and helps with accomplishing some duties while still feeling happy from TV watching.

3. Activating ‘heavy weapons’. Sometimes nothing works better than just eliminating yourself from TV watching using technology that has neither self-control failures no empathy to our favourite character stories. It’s like to have digital parenting if you like. For example, solutions such as StayFocusd or Freedom limit the number of minutes spent on certain sites or apps per day. This equips your willpower with scheduling a “blackout” once you reach your maximum time allowed to watch your favourite shows on Netflix. If you find yourself drifting away with YouTube regularly, the very first thing that can help is to disable autoplay. The next step is to install Remove YouTube Recommended, which is a Chrome extension. It instantly brings a sense of deliberation to how you use the platform. Seeking and choosing something you really want to see activates your reflection and self- control better. Otherwise, you are just picking whatever creeps on you based on your previous surfing the Web.

‘Did this help?’ Sometime later.

I would say this helped Tipy to be more aware of some practical tricks that she started using in the moments she catches herself in the ‘just one more episode’ trap. It is interesting that Tipy shared her later experience and found one more factor that increases her binge-watching – and that is emotions. Having fear or worries about something (often about finances) or struggling to make a decision can deactivate her previous improvements bringing her back to heavy binge-watching sometimes for a few days. Emotions are a fascinating topic and a super powerful element in our decision making. I will come across this topic in future stories with every character. Watch the space… Learning from Netflix 🙂

Sketch:

Tipy is watching one of her favourite Doctor House series consuming chocolate candies without paying attention to how many.

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