When most of our day is spent sitting in front of a screen, it can be hard to reflect and feel accomplished and proud of how you spent your time. When you learn to analyze everything for its advantages, you’ll impress yourself and your friends and feel motivated to do more productive things.

The biggest form of entertainment available is through videos and stories. I say “videos” instead of “movies” or “shows” because while watching funny Youtube videos may take up much less time than watching an episode of a show, it is still entertainment. However, make an effort to choose material that you may learn from. Almost all types of entertainment still involve some kind of learning.

If you’re reading a book, then you can take the opportunity to learn any words that you don’t know. (If you can define every single word, consider upgrading your reading list to better suit your reading level.) If you’re watching a show, you can learn about filming angles and techniques. (Yes, this sometimes ruins the moment. But there’s a LOT to be observed about casting choice, scripting, and camerawork. Even if you aren’t considering a career in the film industry, it never hurts to learn — in fact, it might help you later distinguish the quality of the movie.) In addition, you learn about body language and acting from the actors. You can learn about art styles from watching anime. Simply being observant can teach you enough to give the media a bit more value than it currently holds.

Next, in any type of fiction in general, try choosing an AU that is new or educational to you. My first post on this blog analyzed a story I read where the main characters were gangsters. The story itself was completely different, but the author mentioned so many small details about the underground life (and even outlined how to grow marijuana at some point) that I felt I had learned something. Again, this information probably will never be useful for me, but it was exciting to gain knowledge about a world I was clueless about.

To summarize the second point, choose an unfamiliar AU. If you feel like reading a romance novel, try choosing a romance novel where the main characters live in a different country, or where the main characters work in a hospital. You’ll learn so many small details that it’ll feel educational.

Another simple way is to be curious. If the main character mentions the stern of his kayak,don’t just accept that it’s some part of his boat and move on, or be satisfied with an inchoate description. Be curious enough to google a diagram of the parts of a kayak.

Not only are you learning things (and of your own volition, too!), but you’ll get a better understanding and appreciation of the scene. If the character spews a deep-sounding quote, take a moment to reflect on the quote and whether you really agree with it. If you don’t understand a joke, make an effort to try. Using entertainment as a prompt for your independent studies feels very rewarding.

In a show I watched, a line that is said several times is “the sky is blue because of Rayleigh scattering”. They never explain what this is. So once the story ended, I searched it up myself and actually learned for the first time why the sky is blue. If you’re curious,
it’s because when light approaches us from the sun, it tries to travel in a straight line to our eyes, but the blue light “scatters” off-path because it travels slower. So if you look directly at the sun, you see (reddish) white, whereas the further you look away from the sun, the bluer the sky is. When the sun is at a certain angle (sunset), all the blue light has been completely scattered and we’re left with a reddish orange sky. It connects to why the outermost colour in a rainbow is red while the innermost is blue (since violet is just the overlap of the start and end of two rainbows).

So if you didn’t know that before, then this post was educational to you. And those are the little snippets of information that you should look out for. If you’re watching a Youtube video, the Youtuber might make a casual reference to the updated election, and can store away this knowledge to verify later.

Finally, what is arguably the best use of entertainment is as motivation. When you see a doctor in a movie being awesome and helping everyone out, doesn’t it inspire you to try studying so you can be like that? After watching a Bollywood movie, you might be inspired to learn to dance like the main characters (and every single person on the same street the moment the song starts). Almost every piece of fiction has some kind of character that readers are meant to admire — and hopefully you admire the right people. Even if your favourite character was a thief, you can reflect on which aspects of him you were most impressed by. Was it his creativity? His agility? You might want to practice your own creativity by writing novel, or practice your agility through martial arts.

When you use entertainment as a source of inspiration, it earns a brand new value and it’ll stick with you for much longer. I picked up a tennis racket for the first time after watching Prince of Tennis, and I ended up joining the tennis team and periodically taking lessons. It’s funny because every once in a while I’ll compare my opponent’s serve to Ryoma’s “Twist Serve” or reflect on how Fuji would’ve returned a smash like that. The show ended years ago but I still carry it with me through my hobby.

So find a way to make your entertainment meaningful. Learn techniques from the author and the filmmaker. Expose yourself to new environments through fiction. Extend your knowledge by being curious about every term, and allow yourself to be easily inspired by every skill mentioned throughout the story.

If there’s absolutely nothing from the show you can learn from, make your own. Watch the show with subtitles in another language. Do jumping jacks for 5-minute intervals throughout the show. Write a really creative analysis of parts you liked, or ways it could improve, so at least you could leave an awesome comment.

Now feel productive, since you read this post! By this point, hopefully you have a basic idea of the process of Rayleigh scattering, recognize the parts of a boat, know the meaning of the word “inchoate”, feel inspired to consider these strategies next time, and not simply consider entertainment a mindless waste of time.

Thanks for reading! I enjoyed writing this post. Being productive is such a huge part of my optimism — when I’m productive, my day was meaningful, and I have no regrets. The jumping-jacks idea is also always inspiring. If you just do 50 jumping jacks during every commercial break, then after enough episodes, you’ll be able to go to bed saying “Today I did 1000 jumping jacks!”. The same applies to literally anything else you could do during a commercial break. Life is happy when you never feel like you’ve wasted a day.