Boundaries are a necessary part of living, for both relational health and the health of our own psyche and soul. Not only do intentional boundaries help us define who we are and the kind of life we want to be living, they help us know when to say yes, and when to say no—to anything that comes our way.
In short, boundaries help us weed out the excess in our lives and create the space needed to thrive. What happens in a life without boundaries? The dark side of having no boundaries can look something like this:
Your priorities become skewed. Your schedule becomes overfilled. You give so much of yourself to others you have nothing left. Your relationships suffer. You’ve abandoned the present moment.
I know what the dark side looks like because I’m all too familiar with it. I’ve been there repeatedly. I’ve made commitments I had to flake on, letting both the other party and myself down.
I’ve said yes to so many things that executing all of them has worn me down mentally and physically and left me feeling resentful. And I’ve let myself see everything at once, causing my mind to flood with too much information. When the mind floods, nothing gets the attention it deserves.
It’s taken me years to understand why setting boundaries for day to day living is a crucial part of creating space. To arrive at this place of understanding, it’s taken me experiencing the full weight of what happens when boundaries aren’t set and lines get blurred. When lines get blurred, space gets lost and joy, gratitude, and peace fall absent.
Through my own process of understanding, I’ve identified five daily practices and challenges I believe can help anyone struggling with boundaries restructure life in a way that allows you to have the space you need to thrive.
1. Shape your life around the integral aspects of your existence.
This might seem like a no brainer, but there’s something to be said for writing out what’s most important to us and keeping it close and visible. In doing so, we are far less likely to say yes to something that doesn’t come close to supporting our prioritizes. Likewise, it might help us readily say no to a good opportunity, that simply isn’t the best for us.
Last year I said yes to a “dream job.” Not only would this opportunity alleviate financial strain, it would help me tap into my community deeper. Win-win, right? The downside—it demanded more of me than I could give. As a result, my relationships took a beating, as did my creativity, and my physical and mental health.
At the end of my days, I came home a burnt out shell with nothing left. And so, I made the decision that nothing was worth compromising these parts of my existence. I exited my position and rerouted my professional path.
Challenge: If it doesn’t support the integral aspects of your existence and breaks you down more than it builds you up, gently remove it from your life.
2. Find balance (not burden) with social time.
Depending on the season, I easily find myself jam-packed with social obligations, or isolated and hyper-focused. Neither extreme is healthy. When I am going from one social obligation to the next, chances are I am feeling a sense of guilt or restlessness when I acknowledge the productive quiet time that isn’t happening. Likewise, when isolated, I’m not connecting with or finding context within my community.
Finding balance in social time is tricky, but it is possible. Though it might seem elementary, a simple rule is to book yourself for one or two social engagements per week. That way there is room to add more if an invitation that supports what’s most important to you pops up, and yet still allows you enough down time to avoid feeling burdened.
Challenge: Engage in enough social time to connect, not so much that drains you and is counterproductive.
3. Take control of daily communications.
Thanks to technology, we are able to communicate with countless individuals at any given moment. This means we can forge community nonstop, from wherever, whenever. Amazing, yes? Well, yes and no.
When this communication never ceases, there’s a risk of us becoming wrapped up and distracted by the constant dialogue—dialogue that has the power to remove us from our present, tangible universe, if we let it.
Stranger or family member, when someone reaches out, I respond. And I typically do so quickly. As noble as this might seem, the pressure I put on myself to drop what I’m doing to do so takes its toll on the people and the experiences that are in front of me.
I’ve recently challenged myself to identify specific times during the day to thoughtfully respond to others, and disengage from this virtual connectivity in between times. This gives me the space to retain focus and mindfulness during my daily activities, rather than having outside communication interrupt.
Whether it’s work emails, Facebook messages, or group texts from family or friends that go back and forth all day, I would guess many of us feel the need or pressure to chime in to conversations we are asked to be part of.
Challenge: Eliminate the pressure to respond immediately and remain in constant dialogue. Instead give yourself the time and space to respond thoughtfully during a designated time period.
4. Minimize mindless distractions.
Calling Netflix the enemy of mindfulness might be going a stretch too far, but you don’t know you have a problem until you’ve tuned out of life, and tuned in to entire seasons of shows—repeatedly. When you’re not someone who usually watches TV, somehow this mindless act becomes all to easy to justify.
While we as humans need an escape every now and then, there’s a difference between positive escape and going to mind-numbing places, over and over again. Maybe for you it’s not TV. Perhaps it’s scrolling through Instagram feeds, or having countless tabs open on your computer that derail your focus. Whatever it is, ask yourself if it’s helping you engage or disengage. If the answer is disengage, reroute.
Challenge: Find whatever distracting rabbit hole you are falling down, climb out, and say, “Enough.”
5. Take back sacred “you” time.
I know, I know. You might be thinking_nothing is sacred anymore. I realize most of us have an abundance of responsibilities, be it long workdays or caring for small humans; however, every single one of us can identify 30 minutes in a day to have sacred “us” time that will leave us recharged, refocused, and empowered.
Working from home, one might assume that I naturally have nonstop sacred time. The truth is, much of my day is spent going from one thing to the next if I don’t mindfully stop myself. Generally speaking, my sacred time for thought and connecting with my inner self comes when I get out of the house and go for a run and mindfully put one foot in front of the other, following my breathing, trusting the process.
Sacred time doesn’t have to be a physical activity. It could be powering down your computer and sitting quietly with a pen and paper for 30 minutes of reflective expression. It could involve working on a creative project that’s for you and only you while your kids are sleeping. Whatever it is, this time should be all about you and what your heart and soul needs.
Challenge: Give yourself the sacred time you need for your own peace of mind and renewal of the spirit. Having this time will put you in the best position to set intentional boundaries for the rest of your day, and all the days to follow.