The paradox of setting limits

The paradox of setting limits

The paradox of setting limits

I’ve talked about a few of the lessons that I heard again and again during my retreat (through various books, courses, blog posts, etc.) and one of the ones that has stuck with me the most is the idea that limits can actually expand your life rather than shrinking it.

As a noncomformist who spends most of my time trying to shake off the shackles of other people’s expectations and limitations, this was a new concept for me and one I needed to really spend some time thinking about before it clicked.

What I’ve realized—through paying attention and testing the theory myself—is that it really is true: When there are limits in place in your life (on your time, the specs for a project, and even your actions) something happens that actually allows more to happen within that space.

I first explored this idea as it relates to creativity. Again and again, I heard something to the effect of, “Creative constraints lead to great breakthroughs” (most notably in The Creative Habit and Die Empty). That almost seems like one of those things that people say without really understanding what it means, but think of it this way: If you’re doodling on a smaller piece of paper, your creativity needs to be more focused and, well, creative because you don’t have a ton of blank space with which to expand your doodle, explore more ideas, etc. In other words, the limits make you try harder.

As another example, I recently shared that I don’t like planning out my editorial calendar in advance or writing on specified topics because it feels too limiting. While that remains true, I’ve found that writing on the topics we’ve decided on ahead of time for the Live course has been really good for me. Writing within the limits of the monthly themes has actually stretched my skills in new ways, and I’m proud of the things I’ve written.

I’ve also found that setting—and sticking to—office hours has made me much more productive. Although I’m still working 8 hours a day (at least on days when Jackson doesn’t have a doctor’s appointment!), I’m getting more work done than I was when I would let my work day bleed out into the whole day. I know that I have limited time to work, so I’m focusing on getting things done. (Most of us have experienced this in one form or another when we talk about how much more productive we are with a full schedule or to-do list.)

And, obviously, limiting my food choices (which I’m still working on!) is important to improving my health and—when I successfully do it—allows me to enjoy the food I do eat even more.

Finally, it can clearly be seen in relationships, where limits—whether that’s monogamy or healthy boundaries within the relationship—allow trust and respect and love to blossom.

It’s counterintuitive, but the practice of setting limits is an important one for living an intentional life, and limits don’t have to mean deprivation; they can mean a fuller life instead!

Where have you found that limits actually expand your life? 

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Setting boundaries in relationship has been crucial to my health. Some people get mad when I set boundaries for them (like when I decided I wouldn’t go out with friends in the evening after my husband was off work because I choose to set aside that time for him). They somehow feel like I am rejecting them, but I am not. By choosing to have boundaries in my life, I am choosing to be healthy, and when I am healthy I can also be a better friend. I love your writing Mandi, it really inspires me. I need to take action on setting more boundaries with my work schedule, limiting myself so I am more effective in the time I do commit to it.

  2. We must be on the same path this year because I am trying hard to set limits too. Limiting what I can realistically get done it a day has helped. I’ve also committed to making sure my desk is clean and my to do list is ready for the next day. I got sick of walking into a pile and not knowing where to begin. I don’t do an editorial calendar either but I am trying something new which is picking a theme for the month and a weekly topic. Then I can form individual blogs around that. Food choices is where I am lacking! I started the year off great but it’s SO easy to get sucked back into old habits. I literally have to recommit daily. Great post! I think so many moms and women are working on this!

  3. I completely get what you’re talking about, Sarah! I’m what one of my friends call an extroverted introvert, so I love love love community and hosting parties, but I have to hide out afterwards to recover. :p So when she randomly texts a bunch of us to go out (which she does a lot) and I say no, she feels rejected by that. Those communities and parties are mostly things that are on my calendar and I know they are happening on a certain day and at a certain time because I have set those limits, but if I am forever getting spontaneous invitations to go out all the time at night when my introverted self is pretty much done for the day, I would be doing myself and my family a disservice to be depleted of my energy for the next day. I don’t mind it from time to time and enjoy her company and a good night out, but it can’t be all the time! “By choosing to have boundaries in my life, I am choosing to be healthy, and when I am healthy I can also be a better friend.” <– I really like that!

    I need to work on food limits for sure though, but it's so good. :p

  4. I tried to respond to this post several times today from my phone and it just wouldn’t work! I know this to be true, but I still have trouble applying it! There was a two year span in my life that I taught pre-K in a Christian school. That first summer off I thought I would get sooo much done because I didn’t have to go to work every day. The complete opposite happened-with no “deadline”, there was always tomorrow to do the things I had hoped to accomplish.

    Recently, I set a broad schedule for myself to cover homeschooling, household management and personal growth. The first week I implemented it, I got so many varied things done-it felt great! Unfortunately, the second week was already dedicated to something else and this past week I tried, but didn’t quite get back to what I had the first week. The key is to keep on trying!

  5. Wow-that’s me too Joyce! I really enjoying hosting get togethers, even though it wears me out, but hate it when someone shows up unannounced at my house! It’s like I know how much energy I have, and I’ve budgeted it to do these certain things, and the unannounced visit isn’t in the budget! I do try to see the good in it though, as God always has good plans for us!

  6. Joyce, sometimes it is easier to set boundaries in one area of our life (relationships) than another (food). My best friend (and blogging partner) Sammi has written a lot about setting manageable food goals and I am so proud of her for meeting those goals (she is more disciplined than me in this area). We always say just make one small change at a time and before you know it you will have a completely different relationship with food. Best of luck!

  7. It’s like poetry versus prose. Poetry can be so poignant because it’s limited by meter and form, among other things. It takes so much more work to make a short poem get across your point that they’re much more memorable and powerful. Thanks for sharing!

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