Why Binging on Reality TV Can Make You Better at Your Job

Reality TV has a bad reputation as a mindless waste of time; a guilty pleasure for those looking to escape. It’s almost embarrassing to admit you watch it; you feel like you should preface it with ‘only after I read The Wall Street Journal’ or something.

I disagree. I’m going to go on record saying, I LOVE reality television, at least some of it.

Here’s why: In addition to providing some downtime (which we know contributes to a better performance at work), watching reality TV can help your career in a number of ways.

Reality television grants you front row access to human nature at its finest and its worst. Without leaving your couch, you get to observe love, leadership, tragedy, or other peak experiences. And for a student of human behavior like myself, I find that reality TV can give you insights into patterns that are often missed in the “real world.”

Here are three ways watching reality TV has helped my own career:

  1. You observe more (because you’re not an active participant)

In your ‘real life’, you’re (hopefully) conscious of what you’re doing, what you’re saying, and how you look. When you’re merely watching the situation unfold, that goes out the window, and your attention can be solely devoted to observing the interaction play out on the screen.

I’m betting I’m not the only one who learned a thing or two about collaboration and competition from those early seasons of Survivor. When your brain isn’t clouded by your role in the action, you’re better able to observe nuances, like facial expressions and changes in body language.

  1. Relationships play out in hyper-speed 

In most reality shows, you don’t have to wait days, weeks, or months between interactions. Whether it’s Love Is Blind or 90 Day Fiancé, seeing expedited relationships is fascinating. When everything speeds up, the patterns and dynamics become much more obvious.

Without time to reflect or calm down, people are more likely to let their gut reactions out. Watching how people respond to stress, criticism or even praise is quite a lesson in human emotion.

  1. Mindset and motive are more transparent

In most reality shows, there are ‘confessionals’ – a type of aside, where the camera cuts away from the drama to a close-up shot of one cast member talking directly to the camera. In the ‘confessional’ the person talking will usually give their take on the situation at hand.

This is solid gold for learning about people. The aside brings personal mindset and motive to the fore. In daily life, we have to pick up cues about mindset and motive from behavior. It’s more challenging, and we often get it wrong.

Yet when we have backstage knowledge, as we do in reality television, it’s easy to see how someone’s underlying mindset impacts everything from the decisions they make to the conversations they have.

Personally, I find that the more I study the mindset to behavior journey, the better I’m able to understand and leverage it in the workplace.

Next time you want to indulge in the chaos of reality television, don’t feel so guilty about it. You’re learning (Perhaps not as robustly as a LinkedIn Learning Course or a coaching session). But it still counts.

So, yes, I read the Harvard Business Review. I listen to Adam Grant’s podcast. My office is filled to the brim with business books I’ve studied for decades. But on Saturday mornings, I watch Bravo TV.  The sum of it all makes me a better leader, teacher, and human.