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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?