A couple of weeks ago, I asked readers to respond to a survey about what they want to learn about.

I was fascinated to see the word boundaries emerge from the survey.

On the one hand, it should have been obvious: Better boundaries are one of the things my clients consistently report walking away from our work with, and when I scour my testimonials, I see the word repeatedly.

Yet, I haven’t used the word boundaries much. One reason is that the word boundary is not quite precise: Like the word self-care, people use the word boundaries to mean many things.

Instead, I use the term radical discernment, which I define as the skill of honoring our needs, and I talk a lot about consciously choosing to honor our needs.

I was also surprised that immediately after reading the survey results, I started hearing people using the word boundary all over the place—clients, friends, and people on social media.

And hearing others talk about boundaries made me curious about my own boundaries, especially related to my new role as a city councilor.

As you probably know, I took two weeks off from work to go camping in Acadia with my family in August. It was fabulous: I could only charge my phone in the campground bathroom, the internet was spotty even in town, and I genuinely unplugged.

When I came home, I plunged right back into work and city council stuff, and by the end of the week, I felt pretty stressed out.

Like it or not, teachers are called to teach the things we most need to learn about, and I recognized the opportunity to examine how I might tighten up my own boundaries.

And so, last Thursday, I updated my schedule with the “boundaries” I want (time for yoga, prayer, study, walks, my son, my partner, friends, and so forth).

Boundaries Calendar viewHere’s what my calendar looks like:

And since then, I’ve been investigating, journaling each day on the question:

What do I discover when I decide to hold these boundaries?

What follows are my most recent discoveries.

Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to call them rememberings because most of them are not new. Sometimes, we have to learn the same things over and over again.

Either way, you’ll find that I center myself more in the following lines than I typically do in my love letters. But although I’m writing about myself here, I hope you might find some medicine that applies to your life, too.

Here we go:

1.  Although most self-help teachers talk about setting boundaries with others, I find setting boundaries with myself to be even more challenging.

2.  It’s hard to know whether to answer the phone when a call is from someone important to me, like a friend or colleague: Do I want to safeguard my alone time and mental space? Or do I want to prioritize connecting with the other person?

I’m practicing letting people know I have limited time and keeping calls short.

3.  Even though it’s usually hard to ask people to shift their behavior, it’s easier to share little requests when they first come up than to deal with a stockpile of grievances.

4.  Capitalism tells me that I’m always behind. Internalized Capitalism says If you were smarter, you’d be faster. As a recovering workaholic, it can be hard to discern between a lot and too much. And it’s hard to discern what’s true when many parts of myself believe the messages of Internalized Capitalism.

But capitalism’s pace is violent. I need allies who remind me of the truth, and I’m learning to surrender to the pace my body prefers.

5.  Sometimes, my mind has a hard time unhooking from work. Underneath the thinking about work is fear. Usually, the fear is about not having enough or being alone. Capitalism and separation/supremacy culture have done an excellent job of teaching me these fears.

When my mind has a hard time unhooking from work, I can get down on myself for not being present enough, or I can turn around and witness my thoughts with love and kindness. The latter quiets my thoughts. Soothing touch also helps.

6.  Stress builds up in our bodies and needs to be discharged. I like hula hooping to reggaeton, walking with friends, and taking online yoga classes with Heidi at Fresh Yoga in New Haven. The more stress I experience, the more time I need to dedicate to physical de-stressing.

7.  It’s hard to hold boundaries when I use the same device for multiple purposes—phone, texts, email (work, personal), social media, camera, alarm clock.

AM stands for automated message, airplane mode, and answer machine.

8.  When I say I’ll hold a boundary but don’t, part of me feels sad, like I’ve let myself down. When I successfully hold a boundary, I feel relief and believe that change is possible.

9.  Thinking about boundaries inspires me to declutter. When my office, living room, and kitchen are all in the same room, it becomes hard not to think about work.

When I create space in my home, I’m inspired to bring in more plants and art. (On Friday, I cleaned out a closet so I could wheel my desk there during the weekend.) Physical space creates mental space.

10.  My calendar is my friend, a map of how I intend to live. It helps me discern what is realistic and what is not. It safeguards space for what is most important. It holds my thoughts so that I can be more present and my creativity wheels can turn. It lets me know when I don’t have time to say yes, so I can sustain myself for the long term.

11.  Here is the schedule I want:

    • A weekly day of rest when I do not look at social media or my email, sundown one day to sundown the next.
    • A weekly creative day when I don’t have appointments and can write love letters and create new offerings all day long.
    • Not looking at social media or email right when I wake up, so I can be present with Kai before he bikes to school.
    • Starting work at 9am, not 8am, so I can pray and write and do yoga.
    • Ending work at 6pm, instead of 5pm, so I have time for a longer lunch and a walk some days.
    • Not having excited conversations after 9pm, otherwise I have a hard time down-regulating and falling asleep at 11pm. (Of course, this isn’t always possible because city council meetings often last late into the night, but I can do my best.)
    • Turning lights off at 11pm and waking up around 7am. (I tried to fall asleep at 9pm for many years, but I had a hard time falling asleep because I’m not an early bird.)
    • Empty space scheduled in. When I hold empty space in my calendar, important things get done, like tidying and talking with friends.

12.  It’s enough to do the big new project (city council) well enough. If I tried to show up for all the things I wanted to show up for, I’d burn myself out, and then I couldn’t do anything at all. I don’t want to fall into the all-or-nothing trap or think the only way to feel good is to leave the work entirely.

13.  Journaling helps me slow down my thoughts and understand myself better.

14.  Music is medicine.

Thanks for bearing witness!

Now, I want to offer you a few questions.

I invite you to journal on these or place them in the pot on the back burner of your mind and let them percolate there.

  1. What unmet needs are your body and heart asking you to honor?
  2. How might you tweak your schedule to meet your needs better?
  3. Is there anything you need to let go of to better meet your needs?

Then make any needed changes in your calendar and keep track of what you discover: What happens when you decide to hold better boundaries?

If any thoughts emerge for you that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them! Feel free to email me.

In the next couple of months, I plan to create a course on boundaries and time. I look forward to sharing it with you!

I offer private and group life + leadership coaching programs, and I hold a free one-hour conversation before inviting clients to work with me (to make sure we’re a good fit).

To reach out, fill out the discovery session application at the bottom of this page, and I’ll be in touch within 48 hours. I’d love to hear from you!

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