Are you living life or watching it?

Are you living life or watching it?

Notice the difference between two groups of people in our culture. One group is actively watching life, while the other group is actively doing life. I discussed this gap recently about why some guys watch as much as 35 hours a week of ESPN sports on TV and totally ignore their family. During our conversation we determined that people who spent that much time watching sports were really doing the same thing as anybody else watching sitcoms, soaps or movies. It was entertainment, no more, no less. Even though the behavior might look like a serious study of the sport, in reality it was about watching TV. Entertainment is to relax and turn your mind off, which can be a useful activity. Yet some guys justify that they “need” to watch the sporting event so that their support will supernaturally go through the screen to somehow help their favorite team win! Not even realizing that the players don’t really hear the cheers when they score or groans when they miss the shot because they are so focused on staying in the game.

Now, contrast watching sports with playing sports, which involves tremendous activity and sweat. There is a major difference! One group is having the time of their lives by pushing themselves to a new level of exertion and competition. The other group is quietly watching a satellite or video taped episode of someone else on the field playing their hearts out. Here are some of the startling differences she and I discovered as began to contrast these two common, but misunderstood activities.

Amusement Recreation

Watching Doing

Leisure, (no sweating) Active, (sweating)

No discipline required Discipline required

No health benefit Some health benefit

Isolation, (mostly alone) Social connection with others

No teamwork required Teamwork required

Tendency to self-focus Tendency to focus on others

(“I want to watch this”) (“Let’s vote on what to do”)

Connect to media image Connect to real people

Empty feeling afterwards Energizing feeling afterwards

There is one other major difference between the two groups, and that is what you wear. Think about if for a second. You can participate in amusement by wearing ugly or baggy clothes, perhaps even your pajamas! Recreation involves some type of dress code, uniform, or equipment. For instance, most golf courses require you to meet a very specific dress code to play, as do many tennis courts. Scuba divers need a certain type of equipment, as do bowlers and mountain bikers, and of course everyone knows that basketball players wear their favorite brand of shoes! Recreation is doing something with others and creating an experience that results in creating more value for you and those that you share it with. Recreation keeps you young at heart and is usually good for your heart. Amusement tends to shut off your brain and body; which can lead to the multiple health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle.

Does this mean that you should never watch the game on TV? Nope. It means that you have to get honest with the real reasons behind your behavior. Understand what motivates you to do things, especially any activity that might stand in the way of a more successful life. Even seemingly innocent things, like watching football or ice-skating could become a roadblock. Leonardo DaVinci was likely thinking through the same issue when he said, “Just as iron rusts from disuse, so does inaction spoil the intellect.” Ask yourself, “Does this activity help me have a more successful life?” Sometimes it’s hard to tell, so here’s the balancing formula to protect re-creation, while still taking advantage of the benefits from amusement.

Use of Media, (watching life) with Life Experiences, (living life)


Learn to be honest with the real reasons behind why you do things. If you want to relax by watching a sailing regatta; good, enjoy it! Make some popcorn. Light an aromatherapy candle. Stretch out on the couch. Take a mental break. All of these things help you because they can soothe your soul. However, if you end up agitated that the wrong crew won, or just spend three hours surfing through channels looking for something else to watch to escape the pressures of your life; then you missed the benefit and value those three hours could have given you. You wasted your time. And when you waste time, you’re wasting your life.


Dwight Bain Bio:

Author, Nationally Certified Counselor & Certified Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change. Critical Incident Stress Management expert with the Orange County Sheriffs Office, founder of and trainer for over 1,000 business groups on the topic of making strategic change to overcome major stress- both personally & professionally. Corporate clients include: Toyota, State Farm, DuPont, Bank of America & Disney. Organizational clients include the US Army, Florida Hospital & the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation. Quoted in: Investors Business Daily, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution & Orlando Sentinel.

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