I look for what takes energy, focus and agency away from me.
The first one is obvious: Netflix (or other streaming service). When I decide to get into a show, what would it take for me to be able to watch just one or two episodes and turn it off? When my children were small, they had a two-hour-a-week screen-time rule. Can I enforce that on myself now?
The next four may not be as simple, but here they are:
Having a process: If I don’t have a ritual for the things that I want to do, then it’s more likely that obstacles will get in the way. And if I have too many of them, then I become compromised. Also, the more I break ritual, the easier it becomes to keep breaking them. The more I uphold them, the more automatic my rituals, translating to stronger boundaries.
Having a keen understanding of my philosophy and values: This helps me prioritize and stay constant. Sometimes prioritizing isn’t a question of do I write, or do I watch an episode of The Good Place? Sometimes it’s a battle between two important values. The best example I have is of when my two children were in their grade school years. I fed them mostly whole, fresh, organic, unprocessed foods with high pranic value. I had a practice at that time in my life where I literally cooked all three meals for the day first thing every morning for two hours, infusing the food with breath and sound meditation during the cooking process. This is based on my belief that what and how we eat weigh heavily on our physical and mental health and can be the best and sustainable sources of medicine, nourishment and joy. We befriended our neighbors who had 3 children of similar age, and the 5 of them were immediately joined at the hips, spending all of their days together. As parents, we either had 5 kids to oversee, or none, as co-parenting ensued. Our new friends ate a more standard American diet, and the kids had unlimited access to packaged snacks and processed foods. I was faced with the question: do I tell my kids to come home every time they are about to have a meal because their food choices weren’t in my value system? While I have a strong philosophy around the diet, my value for community and relationship rank higher, so I chose “eat with friends,” and don’t poison that choice with messages that make anyone feel bad about it. Choosing food over relationship would be damaging on multiple levels; in this case anyway. Of course, they got to experience my kitchen when I was the parent in charge. Bottom line is, I had to be clear on my philosophies and priorities in order to be clear on my decision and not suffer every time I thought about them eating what I considered to be “bad food.” Instead, I felt truly blessed for the friendship we had, including the shared meals.
Digital notifications: I keep them off. I get to decide when I will check my emails and social media. Banners, sounds and badges undermine agency. Even a split second of interruption can take the deep dive focus away from whatever we are doing (including relaxing and having tea with friends). I won’t let the dings or red circles indicating a new text message, email, or update, pull my concentration away from delving deeper. It takes too long to go back in.
Willingness to be uncomfortable: My boundaries unravel when I become unwilling to deal with something difficult, continually putting it off. It could be that I don’t want to call Comcast, I don’t want to have a difficult conversation with someone, I don’t want to follow through on an agreement because it would be emotionally harder, at least at that moment, or that I overeat because it’s uncomfortable to feel “not full.”
These are boundaries that protect us from the energy drains, prolong anxiety, and block us from becoming the full expression of who we are.
My now college-aged daughter still has a 4 year old post-it note on her full length mirror in her bedroom that she seldom occupies anymore: You are better than Netflix. I might need a version of that for my own mirror.