So, I just came off of a huge marathon. Not really, I don’t run (that’s a subject for another article!). But I have been on a marathon of stretching out of my comfort zone, taking on more activity than I ever imagined I could, and expected more of myself than I usually do. For those who have been reading my E-Zines lately, you know what I’m talking about, right?
But now, I have wide open space all around me! The wedding is over. Travel has slowed down (sort of). Daniel is off to college. The nest is empty (sort of). I have an extra 20-25 hours/week with my recent career transition. And what’s most exciting is that I get to choose what to put on my BIG EMPTY CALENDAR!
I was with my mom for an appointment recently, and I picked up a magazine in the waiting area. There was an article about parenting where the author addressed the necessity of setting limits for our children. “Set limits and stick to them,” he counseled. Limits create the structure and discipline that every child needs for healthy upbringing.
I remember when my daughter (1st born) was two years old. A friend gave me a book when I became concerned about some of the new behaviors that came with her being two (don’t you love how we look for an owner’s manual when it comes to raising our kids?). This book addressed the need for boundaries and why kids push back when you set them. He asked for us to imagine driving across a bridge that was high above the ground. Imagine driving along in the right lane going about 70 miles/hour. I had no problem visualizing it! I used to drive across the New River Gorge Bridge on my way to college (see photo)! Then… the author said, “Imagine driving across the same bridge, in the same right hand lane, going 70 miles/hour, but this time, imagine there are NO SIDES on this bridge.” Can you imagine how awful that would feel? I had a panic attack just thinking about it! And his point was (and is) that boundaries make us feel safe. So yes, I learned to set boundaries for my children (sometimes better than not). But I haven’t done so well setting boundaries around my own time, energy, and commitments. My life has been feeling a lot like I’ve been driving 80 miles an hour across a bridge with no sides. Not good. So yes, it’s time for me to get a grip! It’s time to set boundaries.. and more than that, to maintain them!
For me, and for many of my clients (especially those who tend to view other people’s needs and wants as more important than their own), setting limits or boundaries is more than an exercise in discipline… it’s a vital component in good self-care. If you love taking care of others, or you gain pleasure from helping others, you are at risk for abusing your own personal self-care boundaries.
I have a client who I will call ‘Betsy.’ Betsy’s calendar is filled with one family event after another. A niece’s graduation followed by a great-uncle’s 75th birthday party followed by a tea her mother planned for an old family friend. She has a brother who is going through a rough time and she spends a lot of her own time listening to his woes. She has two children who are busy and active and rely on her for much of their activities. As much as she loves her family, enough is enough. After a day of work, as well as meeting her immediate family’s needs, she takes care of everyone else too, and then barely has any time left for herself.
And then there is ‘Blake,’ whose boss barely gives him time to complete one project before he lays on another. Then another. Work is so backlogged that Blake stays at the office late every night and goes in again over the weekend. Blake justifies it because he is someone with a good work ethic. He believes in order to get ahead you have to work hard. He also is supportive and avoids conflict so getting the work projects done is satisfying to him. Blake and my husband have a lot in common!
And last example… “Diane’s’ husband helped her build a studio for her photography in the garage then stored his fishing gear and tools in whatever cabinet or cupboard he wanted. As she goes in her studio, she has to move fishing poles and tools out of her way, but she feels grateful that her husband so lovingly provided her with this new studio, she looks the other way. Yet, in many of our coaching calls, her resentment shows up over and over again. She wants to enjoy the space he created, but his stuff has invaded her space! She feels guilty complaining because at least he built the space for her. Resentment, guilt, frustration, anger… she cycles through her emotions and it has become a recurring pattern in her life.
In these cases, by not setting boundaries, Betsy, Blake and Diane are letting the needs and wants of others come before their own well-being.
Sometimes it’s difficult to learn to care for ourselves as much as we care for others. Especially if we feel uncomfortable or guilty saying “No.” When we compromise a boundary, there is always FEAR underneath our action. Ask yourself, “What am I afraid of if I speak my truth in this situation?” We may fear conflict. We may fear losing someone or something if we set boundaries. We may feel confusion or guilt over how much time we can give to others if we claim space on our calendar for ourselves. Always giving into the requests or demands of others is the same as plowing a field where resentment takes seed. When we fail to honor our own needs and wants, we disregard (or abandon) our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. And seeds of resentment grow into a garden of martyrdom and victim and disempowerment. Oh my!
So let’s at least all agree that taking care of ourselves is far from being selfish and mean. Setting limits and boundaries is a healthy act of self-respect. It usually starts with practicing the art of saying, “No” to others a few more times each day, and saying “Yes” to something each day that helps you relax, rejuvenate, replenish your energy and makes you feel good about yourself!
For Betsy, it meant coming up with compromises—she’d attend the great-uncle’s birthday party but drew the line at the niece’s graduation and her mother’s tea. Blake had to explain to his boss that it was impossible to do the kind of job the boss expected if he wasn’t allowed ample time to complete a project. Diane offered to help build additional storage space in the garage for her husband’s fishing equipment.
In each of these scenarios, by setting limits Betsy, Blake and Diane got what they wanted or needed, took good care of themselves and in the process gained a healthy amount of self-respect.
Now it’s my turn. I have had a series of experiences in the past few weeks that made it impossible to deny the evidence of how much I’ve put myself on the back burner. My health, energy, and my joy-factor are all influenced by my negligence when it comes to self-care and making sure I look and feel my best! To do that, I need to go back to my own advice, and learn once again, to say, “NO!”
Some of my clients have asked me how to gracefully say “No” when asked to volunteer or help with something. I’m an expert! Raising five children, and having a last name that starts with an “A,” put me on the top of the volunteer list for decades! I had a chronic issue with saying ‘No’ to anyone so I overextended myself on a regular basis. Finally, I learned to say this:
“Thank you for thinking of me. I would love to help, but right now I am over-committed. If you work your way down the list and cannot find anyone else who can help you, give me a call back and I’ll see what I can do.”
No one ever called me back! The jobs were done, the volunteer positions were filled, and I was not over-scheduled and over-worked! A client told me that she only said “Yes” every fifth time she was asked to volunteer! Whatever works for you, do it. Just be sure you leave room for your own self-care, well-being, and activities that bring you joy!
So, if it were that simple, everyone would have this under control, right? Taking a firm stand can be difficult at first (I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to maintaining my boundaries). But by being calm, clear and direct—and without intentionally stepping on anybody’s toes—you can learn how to set limits and create the kind of balance in your life that honors your own needs and wants. Put yourself on your calendar. Learn to say “No” to things that don’t feed your soul. Learn to say “No” to things that crowd your life, even if you love all of them. Learn to say “Yes” to things that nurture and care for yourself. Simplify your life by putting boundaries in place. Develop systems to keep life simple.
Here are some ideas that will help you say YES to what you need, and NO to the things that keep you from taking care of yourself so you can create the life you want to live.
‘Let me assure you, darling, that multi-tasking is highly overrated”
First, stop (or reduce) multi-tasking. Put one thing on your calendar or ‘to do’ list and do just that. Be present to that one thing and don’t try to do it along with other things you do.
- Print a couple of blank calendar weeks from your computer. Put all the things that are set in stone on the calendar. If you work, put your work hours on the calendar. If you set your own hours, hold off on that part. If you have appointments, add them. Any commitments you have already made that are non-negotiable, put them on the calendar.
- Now, look at your week and decide what you want it to look like. Does it include a nice walk in the morning? Do you want to do yoga or workouts a couple times each week? Do you plan to spend time socially with a friend or have a date night with your significant other? Add things that bring you pleasure and enjoyment to your calendar.
- Next, add in when you want to do your work (if you are an entrepreneur working from home and can set your hours and be flexible).
- For the next 30 days, see if you can follow that schedule. If someone asks you to do something, and there isn’t room on the calendar to say “YES,” don’t do it! If there IS room on your calendar to say ‘yes,’ but you don’t want to do it, say “No!”
And last, without a lot more to say about it, it’s NOT SELFISH TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF!
Now, I’m off to practice what I just wrote about….
Love and Blessings,