I emailed a friend this week and got an immediate response that at first seemed like it was a typical “out-of-office” email, but it was even better. The email said, “I’ve stepped away from my electronic devices today and will respond to you in a day or so when I reconnect.”
What a healthy boundary to set for yourself! To simply put your devices aside (for a day, maybe a weekend) and allow yourself the calm and quiet of an uninterrupted period of time for anything you need, creativity, in-person connections, rest – the possibilities are endless!
I was so proud of my friend for taking this initiative for self-care! It reminded me that we’re often so reluctant to set boundaries even when they can be a very healthy defense against the modern onslaught of being constantly available to everyone!
Where could YOU use a healthy boundary? We all have opportunity to consider where a healthy boundary could serve us. Several opportunities come to mind (that I employ myself) beyond the device-disconnect strategy my friend used. They include:
- Simply not answering my phone if the call isn’t “urgent” and would interrupt my creative time.
- Using the “delete all” option when my personal email box fills up with advertisements & spam.
- Choosing not to answer the door when the doorbell rings during dinner time.
- Setting aside time for R & R like a yoga class, time for reading or listening to music.
- Deciding NOT to check my business email over the course of the weekend.
Your life may look nothing like mine, so I invite you to discover where YOU need healthy boundaries and where you’ve been neglecting the conversation with those who feel they deserve free access to your time and attention 24/7. This may be a tough conversation but, it will help those people appreciate your needs, your limits and your commitment to self-care.
Merriam Webster’s dictionary offers this brief definition of the word boundary: something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent. We’re often uncomfortable setting a boundary. Sometimes it is because we feel as if others will be offended or put-off if we claim some time or space for ourselves.
Honestly, I find that people are far less offended than they are surprised that we’ve placed any limitation on my availability (to them, or anyone else). It is uncommon in our society to set aside time for oneself (one’s family or a friend, exclusively), but that was not always the case.
There have been times and certainly segments of our community where time apart was or is considered sacred! Here are a few examples I grew up with:
- Time for family (for us it was Sunday dinner, a midday meal that lasted hours!)
- Time for worship (for us it was Sunday School, followed by a church service)
- Time for homework (no television until that was completely finished each evening!)
These were boundaries I learned to set as a child when the phone was attached to the wall, not in my pocket and the expectations were that setting aside certain times for healthy, replenishing activities both served us, and a served a greater good.
I do have friends who worry that setting healthy boundaries will cause them to miss something that might matter to them – Fear of Missing Out – yes, it’s a real thing. I would offer the reminder however that while one might miss out occasionally, the benefits of being planful with your time, consistent with your boundaries, and completely attentive & present with the activity or interpersonal connection you’ve devoted your time to, can be surprisingly rich.
Boundaries allow us to focus on what we believe to be important (consistent with our core values) and convey to anyone who shares such “sacred” time with us that they too, are important in our lives and priorities.
Where could you stand to build a healthy boundary? What is sufficiently “sacred” in your life that you’re willing to set aside time, space, attention and energy for it? Who deserves your undivided attention for a phone call, a visit or a meal together? What would enrich your life if you gave it an uninterrupted thirty minutes (or even an hour) of your time? What would genuinely serve you?
I invite you to build a boundary for yourself in the coming days – to find something worth honoring with the commitment of uninterrupted time. It may surprise you what unexpected gifts come from choosing to limit the amount of accessibility you offer to others as you choose self-care over self-sacrifice.