Creating specific boundaries in your life is critical to success and happiness, especially in the context of the burnout culture, and many of us (*raises hand*) are not very good at setting them. Lia Avellino, LCSW, relational psychotherapist and director of head and heart at The Well, explains that one of the reasons it can be hard to assert boundaries is because they require resigning oneself to an uncomfortable truth.
“In order to set boundaries, we have to become acquainted with the idea that we have limits. Limits? You—superwoman who works out, is an amazing friend, kicks ass at work, is dressed impeccably—you have limits,” she says. While you may need professional help (*raises hand*) undoing some of the programming that’s made it hard for you to establish the bigger boundaries in life, you can start making your day to day experience better now by learning to set microboundaries, aka drawing small lines in the sand daily.
“When we institute microboundaries in a conscious way, we can create a gentle, balanced flow in life that allows for greater productivity and work and greater restorative time in nonwork hours,” says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD. “Microboundaries help us slow down and evaluate our negative habits and create new habits that provide greater work/life balance.”
Microboundaries aren’t just for separating your working life from your personal life. You can use them in your relationships, too, says Avellino. “We associate boundaries with pushing people away, when in actuality, by letting them into our truths (our need for space) we are bringing them closer to us,” she says. “Boundaries are for the relationship, not against it—spokes need to be tight in order for the wheel of a bike to turn safely and efficiently. Like the wheel, if boundaries are not tight relationships do not feel as safe.”
Not sure where to get started? Avellino says you’ll know where to get your microboundaries in place stat by looking for a certain telltale sign. “One way to tell we’ve gone past our limit is when we feel resentment, the eye roll, the ahhhh!,” she explains. Below, find a list of easy microboundaries you can practice daily.
Small limits, big wins—this is how to set microboundaries for yourself right now
1. Banish your phone from the bedroom. “Don’t check emails first thing in the morning,” says Dr. Manly. “Allow yourself to enjoy at least a half hour of your morning (tea, shower, etc.) free of the distractions of emails and texts.” Avellino advises leaving your cellphone outside of the bedroom when you go to sleep, too.
2. Keep it out of the bathroom, too. “Make the toilet off-limits for cell phone use no matter the time of day,” says Dr. Manly. “Remind yourself that there’s nothing so urgent that you need to take a cell phone into the toilet with you!”
3. Let your body do the talking. “Walking fast, facing away from people, or being more distant emotionally than usual can send a message to most people that it isn’t a good time,” says clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD.
4. Avoid the rabbit hole. “Set a timer on Instagram,” says Avellino.
5. Stop being polite. “Most of us have automatic polite reactions that we might need to control. It’s great that you’re polite, but maybe don’t act delighted to see someone if you don’t want to be interrupted. If possible, don’t stop doing the task you’re doing,” says Dr. Daramus.
6. Establish some tit for tat. “For every obligation that you say yes to, identify a want to say yes to, too,” says Avellino.
7. Draw a line in the sand. “When you’re with friends, family, or a partner, leave work aside unless a true emergency arises,” says Dr. Manly. “Your relationships will thrive with more focused, conscious attention.” Avellino also recommends leaving your phone off the table when you’re out to dinner with friends or family.
8. On the flip side, focus. “When at work, stay focused rather than using social media or texting,” says Dr. Manly. “By having this boundary during work hours, you’ll not feel the conscious or unconscious urge to make up for work tasks during your off hours.”
8. Make a date, or not. “When you’re in a relationship, clearly differentiate when you are ‘on a date at home’ or ‘at home together’ to avoid miscommunication and set accurate expectations,” says Avellino.
9. Press pause when your boss or a colleague makes a request. “When we don’t feel capable of saying ‘no’ but also don’t feel certain we want to say ‘yes,’ ask for a pause: ‘Can I review the other work that I have on my plate and get back to you before the end of the day?'” says Avellino.
10. Schedule time for nothing. “Set aside 15 minutes a day for dream time,” says Avellino. “Modern life has many demands, take time to let your vivid fantasies run wild.”
11. See the glass as half full (literally). “Fill your coffee cup or wine glass halfway and see if that satiates you before reaching for more,” says Avellino.
12. Set expectations in advance. “To remain connected to friends and family on a busy schedule, make a phone call on your walk to the subway [for example], clarifying at the start the amount of time you have beforehand,” says Avellino.
13. Just say no. “It’s 2 letters, and a complete sentence,” says Avellino. “And it works in a variety of circumstances.”
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