Boundaries Can Lead to Freedom
What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘rules‘?
For the past eight or nine years I have been on a team that takes a group of kids (who really need it) on holiday for a few days. It is consistently one of the best albeit most exhausting weeks of my year.
It may sound obvious but one of our written collective objectives is simply ‘to give the children a great holiday’.
And from the outset we take time to clearly communicate the boundaries and expectations that we have to respect; where they can and can’t go, what they can and can’t do, and when they need to be in particular places.
We don’t lay on a load of strict rules to make the holiday miserable. We don’t do it because we want to control or annoy them.
We do it in order to establish an environment of safety and freedom. And this is key if we are to achieve our objective.
Boundaries and Freedom
This represents a strange and somewhat paradoxical truth that we may experience in many areas of life; when we establish boundaries we feel safe and free to do what really matters. When the children know how far they can go they don’t need to worry about ambiguity. They can just get on with the important and necessary work of having fun.
We all need boundaries in our lives. How we use our time, where we call home, what is expected from us at work or place of education.
I personally take great solace and freedom in feeling like I know what to expect. I like to ‘know the plan’, wherever I am and whatever I’m doing (I don’t really like surprises).
Create, Understand, and Communicate
Get firm on why boundaries, what boundaries, and how boundaries. Then you can begin gently implementing them:
1. Take Responsibility
You get to decide who and what to let in, and who and what to keep out.
This might sound callous when stated like that, but the truth is you decide these things every day often without thinking about it.
Do you seem to accumulate things in your home over time without noticing the build up?
We have a drawer in our living room that suffers from this. It’s where everything that doesn’t really have a place ends up, and eventually/periodically reaches the point where it no longer closes.
Our lives can be a bit like that. Unless we consciously look at what we’re letting in and what we’re keeping out, we will end up unable to close the drawer.
I love the feeling of having cleared out a room; sorting through the junk and leaving it light and spacious. It frees up the space to be used more effectively. But it takes work and an intentional choice to do it.
The ‘path of least resistance‘, which is often our default setting dictates that it is easier to allow junk to build up, to postpone clearing it up until the future. We offset the responsibility we have for refining our boundaries to a different time.
2. Take Heed
Does your rhythm change through the day? Are you susceptible to shifts in your mind? Perhaps in the morning you don’t feel like going out in the evening, but later on in the day you feel up for it?
This is important feedback to which you should listen. We all experience big shifts in our energy rhythm throughout the day and knowing the arch of yours is important if you want to set social boundaries.
Take note of your thoughts. Do you find yourself occupied with anxieties about particular events, activities, or relationships? What is your default answer to most things? Is it yes?
Do you find it difficult to concentrate in the day when you have something planned in the evening that you don’t want to do? Ask yourself why that is, why you are going, and what affect it is having on your life. A social engagement doesn’t just cost you the time of the engagement itself, it may well cost you time before it mentally preparing, and time after it recovering. Is it worth it?
A lot of this comes down to establishing and running your life through a priority filter. It is therefore key to be clear on your priorities.
How does your life reflect the people, things, and values that you really treasure? Are you able to commit time to your priorities or are you unable to give them the time and energy you would like?
Prune the dead and superfluous branches so that these relationships, pursuits, and foundational values have the space and time to truly flourish.
If you aren’t clear on your priorities then there are other people in your life who will be willing to do it for you. They will happily tell you what you should do with your time, which will probably fit in with their own goals and expectations.
But healthy friends will recognise your need to establish priorities that make sense to you and will not take it personally if you don’t hold the same things with equal value.
Although they can offer advice based on knowing you, only you know your deepest hopes and dreams. Therefore you alone can make the decision as to what boundaries are necessary for you to find time to give to those things that make you feel most alive.
Boundaries are established over time. They are constantly refined.
Take small steps to clear out the drawers. Sort through them, leave only those things that you really care about, the stuff that fits with who you are (the important and necessary stuff).
It’s not like you have time for the rest of it anyway. The other stuff just sits around the edges, it piles on top of the activities, relationships, and things you would love to prioritise. In the end nothing meaningful gets done, it all sits there gathering dust, and you probably feel guilty for not using any of it.
Over to You
Question: how do you find the idea of protecting your personal boundaries (time/social)? Do you find it hard to say ‘no’ when you need to, for fear of offending people?
Please come and leave your answer at Sheep Dressed Like Wolves where this article was originally published.