Marilyn Paul, PhD

Practicing Boundary Setting

by

 

www.revealedpresence.com
www.revealedpresence.com

 

I am concentrating hard on a writing project and my office mate speaks, “We have a meeting this Friday…”    “David,” I said in a friendly tone of voice, “I am off limits for the next hour.”  “Oh, okay.”  He said, and we both went back to work.

I notice an important email from a valued client.  I want to jump to answer it.  Good customer service.  But this time I tell myself, “No email for the next hour,” even though I would love to answer it.  It’s not an emergency, and I need to focus.

I generally keep my phone on in case there is an emergency call from school.  My phone buzzes and it’s a valued colleague who is not easy to get a hold off.  I let the call go to voice mail to protect my focus and energy and keep working.

I’m practicing boundary setting and it’s helping my productivity.    I’m getting a lot done this morning.  What is a boundary?  It defines a border, sets a limit and defines what is in and what is out. Boundaries are essential for a good workday.

When I set my timer for 20 minutes of answering email, I am setting a boundary that reminds me that I have limited time.  When I create a to do list I am defining tasks and goals for action.  More boundaries.

For someone like me with ADHD, a very active mind, and an equally active emotional life, good boundaries need practice and reinforcement.  I need to get on board with setting boundaries because I can slide through my days in a boundariless way.  Then, I set boundaries in less intentional ways – answering email rather than focusing on my project, chatting too long, or when I am tired, withdrawing in a huff or disappearing in embarrassment.  These are familiar but unsatisfying ways of setting boundaries.

I need to set boundaries on my goals, tasks, communications and emotional connections.  As I write this, it sounds cool and unemotional, but it is actually a life saver for me.  Initially, I fear the distance that setting boundaries seems to bring.  But over time, learning how to create boundaries helps me live with more gusto and work with more enjoyment.

I can set emotional limits on myself as well.  When I spend time resenting someone’s unpleasant communications with me I can set a boundary by talking to myself like this, “I am feeling misunderstood right now and a little powerless.  I notice that I am making myself mad.  Is there anything I can communicate to clarify my point of view and increase understanding?  If not, how can I help myself move into a more constructive frame of mind?”

If I can’t move on in some way, I am in boundary failure and that’s a sign to go eat (just kidding…sort of.)

For those of us who are pleasers, easily distractible, or just love a good schmooze, setting boundaries can seem unfamiliar, alienating or even harsh and restrictive.  Yet, over time, you’ll actually feel less restriction and a much greater sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

As you do this more and more, you’ll be able to protect time for what’s been missing for you.  Time for a sport or a hobby, time to walk in nature, or meet a friend for lunch.  Time for your yoga or meditation practice.

At first, notice your opportunities to set a boundary, observe if you can do it.  Feel the discomfort of doing so – if there is any – and then notice the results.  Are you accomplishing more in an effective way?  Were you harsh and clumsy as you set your boundary?  Did your energy increase?  Setting boundaries is a rich area for learning and practice and the results can be powerful.

4 Responses to "Practicing Boundary Setting"
  1. Marilyn…We seem to be on parallel trails as I , too, am learning to focus on what’s truly important & who is truly important as well. My “tip” for list-making…is make tomorrow’s to-do list before you go to sleep. For me, it puts the day in perspective. Also, my week. And I sleep better too!

    Sign me up. I’d love to be part of your online discussion. Alona Angel, thetelavivangel

  2. Marilyn,

    I can completely relate to this! I will experiment with the boundaries and the accompanying discomfort. My little internal battle of “don’t limit me!” and “please won’t somebody set some limits for me?!”

    Leslie

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