The Value of Physical, Mental, and Emotional Fences

We have all heard the expression, “fences make good neighbors.” Why wouldn’t that also be true in our own lives? After all, fences can do more than keep a neighbor’s pit bull out of the backyard. Fences, both real and metaphorical, are an effective way to separate different aspects of our world, our lives, and our attention. Simply put, fences keep us focused, alert, and productive.

We live in an always on, always connected, and over-wired world. This means that focused attention is now a vanishing resource. To be here now, to fully exhale in a moment of solitude, and even to embrace the presence of loved ones is growing increasingly difficult. To do so, we need to construct mental, emotional, and at times physical fences. So, what do these fences look like?

Fences come in all shapes and sizes. They are the boundaries we establish to focus on what matters most and resist the distractions and temptations that are constantly pulling us away from our focus.

Physical Fences: Physical fences are the barriers we construct to avoid being pulled off our path and away from our goals. If you want to eat healthier foods, not bringing ice cream or empty carbs into your home is a physical fence. After all, the less energy or willpower you have to exert to avoid eating these items, the easier it will be to not cave into the temptation. If you are easily distracted by your electronic devices, stripping time-wasting apps off your phone (e.g., video games) is a physical fence you can put up to stay focused on what matters most. Likewise, if you are a freelancer and work at home but find yourself constantly distracted by household tasks (e.g., reorganizing your cupboards and doing the laundry), renting a desk in a co-working space can be an effective way to put up a physical fence to stop life demands from seeping into your work.

Mental Fences: In a digital world, few of us leave work at the office. Whether we’re commuting home, picking up a child from school, or winding down to sleep, most of us are still online. This habit, however, pulls us away from what we are doing in the moment, and it has an impact not only on our own wellbeing but on our family’s wellbeing. This is why it is essential to take time out to close down work. For example, at the end of the workday, take time out to take stock of what you accomplished and what you need to do tomorrow. When you do this, you are putting up a mental fence that will enable you to focus on what matters most once you leave work behind for the day.

Emotional Fences: It is difficult but necessary. Sometimes, you just need to let go of old relationships that no longer serve you. Putting boundaries up around toxic relationships is never easy but by building effective emotional fences, you are reclaiming the space and time you need to focus on those things that matter.

The key to building fences — whether they are designed to keep out a neighbor’s pit bull or support our health, mental wellbeing, and productivity — is to build them once but use them continuously over time. Remember, putting up fences is not simply about keeping bad things out but also about creating the space needed to see, appreciate, and savor those things that truly matter.