‘NO TV’: Possibly the best mantra there is

Markham Nolan
3 min readJan 10, 2023

Hi folks. I don’t publish much here any more. If you fancy following my writing, do please sign up to ‘Oscillations’, a Substack newsletter where I look for lessons in growth from all aspects of work & life, making them applicable to all areas of work & life. Why’s it called ‘oscillations’? I explain it here.

In my late teens/early 20s I sailed a type of sportsboat called a 1720. They were fast and fun and new, part of a new style of racing (asymmetrics, for the sailing crowd reading this) which many people didn’t quite have the hang of at the time.

As a result, when the wind picked up, thing got a little more… spectacular on the racecourse — especially when the fleet tended to compress around turning marks, with boats jockeying for position in close proximity, all while carrying out their highest-risk maneuvers.

Doesn’t this look like fun?

When you put less experienced crews in high-stress situations where they had to make quick decisions and change sails and direction fast, wipeouts were inevitable, and also highly entertaining, assuming you weren’t too close for comfort. For the non-sailor, these out-of-control spinouts are called ‘broaching’. They are one of the few things about sailboat racing that make for reasonably good TV. They are the epic fails of our sport.

So it may be a little odd that one of the better crews at that time — a boat consistently near the top of the fleet where competence begat safety — saw the slapstick antics of lesser crews as an existential threat, even when they were usually safely out of range of the carnage.

To counter the threat, they wrote two words prominently on either side of the boom on that boat, a highly visible mantra to keep their team focused.

‘NO TV’

‘No TV’ meant no rubber-necking, no gawking, no paying attention to the entertaining mayhem. Don’t be distracted. Stop looking at the losers, lest we become them. They are dead to us. Focus on what matters. Focus on greatness. Focus on US.

In high-stress, high-stakes moments, putting a single foot wrong can mean losing control; even a second of distraction can cause you to see all your hard-win gains slip away. Having a short, shoutable mantra to snap you back to reality is a great tool. In the 20 years since, I’ve never seen anything more concise than ‘No TV’. (The power of concise communication is becoming a theme for me). No TV. NO TV!!

Eliminating distraction is the focus of vast reams of self-help and management literature. One of its best-known tropes, hugely popular in startup culture, is the ‘stop doing’ list. In business terms, it means not allowing mission creep in your business — be clear on what it is you can do well, avoid doing anything non-core. Know what you do, but know and adhere to what you do NOT do. No TV.

On the racecourse, you win by reeling in the people ahead of you, not by paying attention to the people creating chaos all around you. In business, you win by reeling in customers, rather than paying attention to the share price roller-coaster or most recent workplace drama of competitors. No TV.

Of course, business isn’t the only realm where this mantra is relevant. Sometimes ‘No TV’ means just that. Turn off the television (Or TikTok, or Twitter, or the news) and spend your time doing the most high-value thing. Maybe it’s getting exercise, maybe it’s hanging with your kids, maybe it’s going to sleep earlier, maybe it’s reading that book or writing that newsletter post or taking that course or finally selling that damn screenplay you wrote for Brendan Gleeson. Whatever it is: No TV.

And next time you tell your kids, ‘No TV’, and they ask why, you have a long-winded adult metaphor to bore them with. No TV.

Side note: Building a small business in the health/wellness space? Creating a brand around fitness/diet or something adjacent? Know someone who is? Even if you or they are just getting started — I’d love to talk about a project I’m involved in that might help supercharge it. markham.nolan@gmail.com

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Markham Nolan

Co-founder @getnoan || COO @ Recount Media // Priors: @WWE @cbsnews @storyful @vocativ @metroUK // ‘Ask not for whom the web trolls, it trolls for thee’ //