My first codependency management technique was taping a fortune cookie sized scrap of paper onto the outside of my flip phone.
It simply read the word, boundaries.
This small, simple and stoic visual cue reminded me that there are no emergencies. As if to place a calm hand on my shoulder and whisper:
Hey man, you don’t have to drop everything you’re doing just to respond to this phone number you don’t even recognize. The world will not fall apart if you let it go to voicemail. And you will still be talented and loved and complete, even if you stay present in this moment. How about keeping your eyes on the road for a while before you sideswipe another elderly couple?
It’s amazing how much of a difference that little pause made in my daily life. Taoists have a beautiful scripture about this very issue:
Nature is never in a hurry, and it accomplished everything.
No wonder we’re so anxious all the time. We think nature is outside of us. Something we go out into.
But we’re part of it. Always have been, always will be. And yet, we are killing ourselves trying to respond to every magnet for our attention.
When the truth is, very few things are that urgent or important. It’s just a story we tell ourselves. Without a solid sense of boundaries, we ultimately allow people to rent space in our head without paying. And they’re horrible tenants.
My therapist friend once told me, if you pick up the phone, they will talk you out of your boundary. Learn to let it go. It’s not like you’re a surgeon on call.
Of course, this has nothing to do with phones and everything to do with setting limits. Behavioral scientists conducted a fascinating study about this.
They sought to pinpoint the specific psychological costs for people who knew that they could be called upon at any time. Their findings, not surprisingly, showed higher cortisol levels in those individuals. Because without boundaries, nobody can entirely relax.
Sometimes we need to just let the phone ring and trust that we’ll be okay.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
In a chaotic and unfathomable world where we can’t control much, why leave our minds at the mercy of the things we can?