Say No to Say Yes – The Power of Boundaries

“Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious.” Anna Taylor

Hands up if any of the following apply to you:

  • You start a project but never finish it
  • You struggle to make decisions
  • You promise yourself you’ll lose weight/start an exercise program/learn a skill/___(insert your own promise) but don’t follow through
  • You have trouble saying no

My hand is up and waving wildly.

If your hand is up too, is it just a matter of needing better self-discipline? Or trying harder? Perhaps. I’ve tried that… and continue to do so. I’m sure you have too. But I don’t always get the results I want. You?

Sometimes it’s helpful to look at a situation from another angle. It’s called cognitive reframing. Reframing is like looking out a different window at the same scene. The adjusted viewpoint can alter how you see things: how the light changes, details become clearer, or something is now discernible that wasn’t before.

Let’s try shifting our viewpoint and reframing the above situations. We are going to do that by taking a look at boundaries.

The importance of boundaries

Simply put, boundaries define what is and is not acceptable in relationships. That includes the relationship you have with yourself. These are called internal boundaries and they determine how you treat yourself.  

Boundaries can be porous (soft or loose), rigid, or healthy. What do porous internal boundaries look like? Take another look at that list at the beginning; it’s not an exhaustive list of examples of porous internal boundaries, but you get the idea. And here’s a heads up: soft internal boundaries are an indication that there are likely issues with external boundaries also.

A lack of boundaries invites a lack of respect.

Strengthening internal boundaries repairs our relationship with ourselves and builds self-respect. Where do we start? The first step is recognition; you can’t address something you’re unaware of.

Learning about our values, what is truly important to us, and what we want from and for our life is critical. To have healthy internal boundaries, we need to know what we want to stand for, our why. Without a why it’s a whole lot harder to achieve your goals using willpower alone.

If you haven’t yet identified your why, I suggest you read The Making of You: Creating a Personal Mission Statement. Try to make at least a draft of your personal mission statement. Even a rough outline will do in getting you started on your boundary journey.

Why do the work?

When our internal boundaries are porous, we give in. We agree to things we don’t want. We fail to speak up for ourselves. We procrastinate. And we live in fear of rejection, disapproval, or criticism. In short, we abandon ourselves. When we don’t respect ourselves, it is difficult for others to respect us. Doesn’t sound like a winning recipe for creating a rich, satisfying life, does it?! 

The relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship you have. Jane Travis

With better personal boundaries, we treat ourselves more in line with our values. That, in turn, models to others how to treat us.

It’s not an easy road or a quick fix, but it is worth the work. The pain of staying stuck in a self-defeating rut far outweighs the discomfort of changing the status quo.

A universal problem

Let’s explore an example of how stronger internal boundaries could work. It’s a problem most of us have – controlling that weapon of mass distraction, the smartphone.

It’s common knowledge that smartphones consume vast amounts of time. According to one source, people spend on average 142 minutes daily on social media alone. That’s almost 17 hours per week. For someone who rises at 6 am and retires at 10 pm, 17 hours amount to more than an entire waking day lost… every week!

That’s not to say that social media is necessarily bad. Active, positive, intentional interaction on social media enhances connection with others; mindless, passive scrolling does not.

Ask yourself:

  • Does my current amount and type of internet usage line up with my values?
  • Is it moving my life in the direction I want to go?
  • What could I do instead that would truly enrich my life?
  • What things do I really want to achieve with my limited time?

Saying yes to bigger, more important things will give you the needed impetus to say no to mindlessly frittering away precious time and energy. Choose to not abandon yourself.

Three helpful boundary-setting actions

1. Unfollow or log out

Do the accounts we follow add meaning or value to our life? How do they make us feel? We would do better to unfollow accounts that leave us feeling uncomfortable, discontent, envious, or that feed our FOMO (fear of missing out). If unfollowing isn’t an option, mute the account or hide the content.

I had to take things one step further. One particular social media app was so addictive that I made it harder to access. I moved the icon so that it was no longer visible and logged out. Now, I have to make the effort of signing back in each time I use it, which is much less these days. Another app got the chop completely; on the basis of irreconcilable differences, I deleted my account permanently.

Drastic, I know, but necessary. And liberating!

2. Do Not Disturb

This is a tremendously useful boundary-setting feature. The Do Not Disturb setting on your smartphone will silence all notifications and calls, with exceptions that you can specify. Mine is set to automatically turn on between the hours of 8.30 pm and 7.00 am every day.  I also use the setting while I’m writing, giving myself the gift of hours of delicious, distraction-free silence.

Mealtimes are another good time for this setting, so we can be actually present with those at the table with us.

3. Turn off news alerts

The news media is saturated with tragedy and trauma – ‘if it bleeds, it leads’. But what is exposure to a constant stream of bad news and disturbing images doing to our mental and emotional health? I’m not advocating ignorance, but I believe that limiting our intake of negative material is vital to well-being.

Well-being (physical, emotional, and mental) is one of my personal values. Because of that, in our household, television news is seriously restricted and I have no news alerts on my smartphone. Most of our information comes from written formats, where we have more control over what and how much we are exposed to.

Do we risk missing out? Yes. However, there’s a certain pleasure in setting aside FOMO and embracing JOMO (joy of missing out) especially when it comes to smartphone use. Besides, learning to flex our boundary-setting muscles in this area is great training and practice for tackling other areas.  

And finally…

The subject of boundaries is broad terrain and there is a lot of good information available. In this article, we took a peek at just one aspect. I will circle back and cover other aspects in the future. In the meantime, if you want to investigate the subject further, I recommend getting yourself one of the many excellent books out there or talking to a qualified therapist.  

Photo by Xavier Mouton Photographie on Unsplash



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