Protecting yourself from the hypnotic power of binge watching

Making sure you mean it when you say 'just one more episode'


Last weekend, I lost my entire Sunday to season two of “Stranger Things.” I didn’t plan on watching the whole season. I didn’t even plan on watching more than three episodes. Yet, at 3 a.m., I found myself where Netflix binges always seems to take me — staring at the end credits with bleary eyes and hating myself.

The truth is, most people in college have binge watched at least once. Unfortunately for our collective deadlines, sites like Netflix are both addicting and a great way to procrastinate, even though it often goes too far. Does that mean we should all abandon Netflix? Definitely not. After all, the problem isn’t so much with Netflix, it’s with us. There is nothing wrong with us watching an hour of TV. The problem comes when we watch seven hours of TV.

So, for those of us that are having trouble fighting the urge for late night marathons, I have made a list of tips to help us all reclaim some time.

Disable autoplay

Autoplay might just be the single biggest enabler of procrastination that exists. It’s the reason our viewing sessions spiral out of control, because it allows us to watch an entire season without actively making a decision. However, there are a few easy steps you can use to get around this diabolical device:

  1. Open Netflix.
  2. Go to your Account page from the drop-down menu in the top right comer.
  3. Scroll down “My Profile.” 
  4. Click on “Playback Settings.”
  5. Uncheck Autoplay.

Boom. If you are anything like me, you have just shut down the biggest source of laziness in your life. It might not seem that important, but without autoplay, you’ll now have to make a conscious decision to keep binging at the end of each episode. No longer will you be able to just plow through an entire season without thinking about the other things you need to do. Every time you go back on your promise of “just one more episode,” it will be your decision to click that button.

Take a break before the cliffhanger arrives

Even with autoplay disabled, it can still be hard to stop yourself from watching the next episode. Most episodes end with some kind of a cliffhanger, making us feel pressured to keep watching to find out what happens next. So, we load the next episode, lose another hour of our lives and end with another cliffhanger.

Repeat until the heat death of the universe.

The best way to break out of this pervasive cycle is to stop watching before the episode actually ends. If you pause during a part closer to the middle where the pacing often slows down, chances are your motivation to continue watching won’t be as high. Take that opportunity and return to the rest of your life.

Keep track of how many hours you watch a week

Another reason why binge watching is so good at stealing away our free time is that it’s hard to keep track of just how long we actually binge for. As a result, adding up the amount of Netflix we watch in a week often leads to a downright scary number — which in turn makes for a great deterrent.

In my experience, tracking how much free time I typically sacrifice to TV can help scare me into binging far less. Although it might be a somewhat extreme option, using a website like TopTracker to record the amount of Netflix you consume is a great way to finally stop losing entire afternoons to binges.

Think about why it keeps happening

We don’t binge in a vacuum. We do it because we’re stressed, unhappy or trying to avoid work. It’s fun and relaxing, but it can also steal away our precious free time. Like many of us, I doubt I’ll ever stop binge watching entirely. But, if I take a moment to think about why I’m doing it, I can usually find the motivation to pull away.

Because in the end, the next episode will be ready when we are.

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