Movies give us an escape and break, it’s true, but more importantly they help us engage with reality more deeply.
It’s no secret Bob and I are cinephiles. If you’ve heard us speak or read one of our books, you know we’re always referring to great cinema. Since the dawn of time, we’ve been using fiction and storytelling to teach lessons—from the parables in the Bible to ancient cave paintings and oral traditions in native cultures. Stories are interwoven into the fabric of our lives. Books, lectures, and yes, film help us explore our anthropology and the very origins of our humanity and emotions.
Film can teach powerful lessons and bring on strong feelings. Think of the scene between Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in Goodwill Hunting when Ben’s character is an ally and true friend because he tells his buddy a harsh reality: that he looks forward to the day when he’ll escape their small town and go on to greater things.
Or the great scene in The Matrix when Keanu Reeve’s character, Neo makes the CHOICE between the red pill (reality and truth) and the blue pill (a life of blissful ignorance).
Then there’s the scene in The Notebook when Ryan Gosling tells Rachel McAdams that she’s a pain in the ass, but he loves her, so it’s okay that they fight all the time—a powerful lesson in relationships.
Yes, movies can teach us many things and be wonderful platforms for deeper engagement.
But just like any escape, they can be abused and overused. When does your “Netflix and chill” time go from entertainment to zoning out? And what do you do if your partner would rather stay home on social media or watching TV, when you’d prefer to be out DOING and living life? How do you both break out of that comfortable rut?
Does a film engage you? Do you use it as a platform for deeper exploration about yourself and the world around you? Do you and your partner discuss the nuances of each film and the takeaways afterwards? Is that discussion your favorite part of the movie date?
If you’re using film, books, or any entertainment as an opportunity to engage more deeply with reality and discover more about yourself, then you’re using it as a powerful tool.
When we use movies as a substitute for reality, a way to zone out, escape and disengage, that’s when we’re abusing them. That’s when it becomes a soft addiction. Soft addictions are time-fillers and worse, time-wasters.
Soft addictions are activities that tune us out rather than tune us in: scrolling endlessly through social media, watching news stories ad nauseam, flipping mindlessly through magazines, and yes, “binge watching” our favorite shows and movies (hence, Netflix and chill).
There’s nothing wrong with entertainment, but there IS something wrong when we use entertainment and “screen time” as substitutes for real interaction. It can be hard to determine if an activity is a soft addiction or just something you enjoy. There’s no hard and fast rule either. It’s not “bad” to watch TV or shop or read or play videogames. Each of these activities have their time and place.
If you find you’re using an activity as just “something to do” with your partner (and it’s often the same movie-night or binge-watching sitcoms pattern), you might be damaging your relationship with your soft addictions. Look at the amount of time you spend (a few hours vs. a whole day). What is your motivation? Some people might listen to music to zone out, for example, while others may listen to learn, educate, feel uplifted, and more.
Also check how your feeling. Does talking about the activity or “admitting it” make you feel embarrassed or ashamed? Are you afraid someone will find out how much money you spent shopping or how much time you’ve spent focused on the activity? Do you cancel plans, obsess over it, or think about it often? Does giving it up or taking a break make you feel nervous?
These questions can help you separate your positive habits and activities from your soft addictions.
Every date doesn’t need to be wind surfing in the Caribbean or scaling Mount Kilimanjaro. They don’t have to be costly or elaborate. You can still go to your favorite restaurant or see the latest blockbuster.
The key to making it meaningful is to find the message and the lesson in the activity. Can you try a new dish at your favorite restaurant? Explore the wine list? Learn something new about the way the food is made? Break out of your comfort (addiction) zone and break into a place where you can learn or do something new and interesting.
If you and your significant other enjoy movies, add more meaning by engaging in a lively discussion after the film. What lessons did you each take away? What did you think of the plot twist? Rather than a simple black and white critique, explore the deeper WHY and let your opinion be known!
The key to breaking out of your rut is to try new things. Maybe you love movie night, so why not take in a play or a concert once in a while instead? Go for a walk. Try a new spot for dinner or a different ethnic cuisine than you’re normally comfortable with.
When you and your partner experience something new together, it strengthens your bond. It’s a small risk, but those little risks add up to greater connection. Just as how our bodies—bones and muscles—are strengthened by breaking them down slightly so they can continuously repair and regrow. Our minds are the same way. We have to push beyond our comfort zone to grow our brain and develop it in new ways.
Made up of BILLIONS of neurons, our brains are amazingly pliable. These neurons form different pathways with every new experience. Just as driving over the same route repeatedly would lead to a deep groove or rut, doing the same activities and habits over and over leaves our brains dulled and in a rut as well.
We’re built to grow! We’re built to have new experiences and find new opportunities for conversation. When we’re involved in something new, our brains are forming new connections. Breaking out of those old ruts and tired ways of thinking means we’re alive and engaged. Learning and growing shouldn’t be reserved for professional development and our work life. We can become even more fulfilled and more deeply engaged in our personal relationships and leisure time. Break out!
So if your relationship needs to bust the routine, try something different. It doesn’t have to be huge. It can be a small, deliberate activity like a nature walk, a meditation class or simply enjoying a new food or new experience together.
When you push yourself and your partner out of your comfort zone and away from your soft addictions, your relationship will grow stronger!
For more on how you can strengthen your relationships and deepen your ties to your partner, please visit the Wright Foundation.
Dr. Judith Wright is a media favorite, sought-after inspirational speaker, respected leader, peerless educator, bestselling author, & world-class coach. She is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.