I’m guessing you’ve heard that it’s important to set healthy boundaries. Maybe you’ve been practising this already or you’re feeling a bit lost about where to start. But what if you’re doing all the “right” things by saying no to everything you don’t want to do and you’re still feeling stuck about how to look after your own needs? I’m going to discuss a much neglected part of the conversation around boundaries, and that’s the boundaries we need to set with ourselves.
Much of what I have seen on social media which aims to empower people to set limits around access to their time and energy is really important. So many people find it hard to say no to requests for help or extra tasks that they always seem to get landed with in a way that their colleagues might not do. Often, we are trying to avoid feeling guilty when we keep saying yes even though we don’t have the capacity to do more or just don’t want to. And this leaves us with something much worse in the long term when we struggle to attend to our own health needs and wonder why we can’t make seemingly simple lifestyle changes. But it isn’t simple when we are facing a lifetime of habits of people pleasing or perfectionism. If this is the part of your journey that you are exploring right now, keep going.
If you are ready to delve a bit further, I invite you to consider how boundaried you are with the activities you enjoy doing. Now this might seem the opposite of what is helpful when so many people do not get enough pleasure in their lives and are overwhelmed with responsibilities. This is aimed at those who do have pleasure in their lives and are struggling to do enough of the things that would help with their health and wellbeing overall. Because it is about balance, like so many things.
I’m especially aiming to consider those of you who are recovering from or managing certain health conditions or burnout. Some of the things that are often in our enjoyment category are unfortunately also some of the things that can take a lot of energy. You may be comparing yourself to the time when you could lift heavy weights, run certain distances or do high intensity training with a sense of (completely understandable) sadness. And when you are building back up to being more active, you may notice the temptation to test out your old limits and maybe even seem to get away with it in the moment because you can do it. You may enjoy the flow of getting creative and spend hours on end absorbed in the process. You may love working away at certain projects and go all out without stopping for water or food. Maybe you love falling down the rabbit hole on social media or even reading blog posts. But what happens next? How much longer do you have to recover for? How sustainable is that pattern of activity for you? If the answers are: you crash the next day and need extended periods of recovery, this isn’t sustainable for you but that doesn’t mean you need to avoid these activities altogether. You do, however, need to set some boundaries.
I’ve been doing a lot of this comparison with former self recently. The high intensity activities that felt great. Whilst it felt sustainable back then, in the context of my overall lifestyle, it wasn’t. And whilst I do not feel that I am burned out anymore, I don’t feel it would take a lot to get me back there so I have to be very cautious about how much running and other high intensity activities I do, including some yang forms of yoga. Things that we are encouraged to do more and more of. I do still do some of these things but very differently. I have had to compromise and focus on small doses of pilates for now as a way of building up some strength and fitness, and I’m actually enjoying it, much to my surprise. I previously always would have chosen the flow of yoga over the precision of pilates. I would have chosen a 75 minute class in a studio over a 10 minute practice using YouTube. But I know which one is more sustainable for me at the moment and that’s what I’m choosing. Consistency over being my “best self”. Aiming to keep going rather than aiming high. Making friends with mediocrity because allowing yourself to be average / lower than average at some things is actually allowing yourself to be human. And this self compassion is the best way you can learn to meet your own needs.
So if you identify with some of the above, can you now think of changes that you have been struggling to make that would be more manageable if you eased off on some of the other stuff? If you can save time and energy by holding back a bit on certain things, does that now mean that you could introduce a bit of extra high quality relaxation (small, steady doses with this too!)? Does it mean you could plan ahead for your meals a bit more to nourish your body? Does it mean you could allocate a bit of time in your diary to attend to some of that life admin that has been building up and needs dealing with (you don’t need to do it all at once but will feel so much better if you can tick some things off the list)? For me, I needed to cut back slightly on how long I was on my phone for or how much reading I did in the morning to carve out this little bit of regular time for movement. I could still do with cutting back the phone time but I am at least doing a bit more of what matters now and in a way that is working for me, i.e. is sustainable. And with yin yoga, I have also learned to set limits with how far I push in a pose when I technically have the flexibility to go deeper (and my ego really likes to go further) but the consequences can be pain that follows when I haven’t respected the unique positioning of bones when I have noticed something not feeling quite right (anyone else feel they have a “dodgy” left hip and right shoulder?).
Small steps, consistent actions over time, all add up. But to do more in one area of our lives, we have to set boundaries and do less in some other areas, even if we enjoy them.