The Beauty of Boundaries (and Airplane Mode)

A year ago I decided to work with a life coach, primarily with the purpose of helping me move away from my constant socializing (in person and virtually) to prioritizing my health and more meaningful activities.

I wanted to feel more purposeful and fulfilled, with something to show for at the end of the day other than fingers that were cramped from texting so much and a new Facebook profile picture.

Ugh, what would my ancestors think about this? 

During this period in my life, I actually felt assaulted by the steady stream of text messages, calls, Snapchats, Facebook messages, emails, and Instagram notifications pouring into my phone at all hours of the day. I felt chained to my device due to a sense of urgent obligation to respond to them all. NOW. I thought that was the courteous, respectful thing to do, and that’s the kind of person I wanted to be seen as. The idea of leaving a message for hours, or God forbid days (as some people I know do), was not an option.

My constant phone and social media use was derailing my plans for all the creative and healthy things I wanted to do, such as meditate, crack open that new book, or play around with some paint. Day after day I’d go to sleep with none of these started.

I felt guilty, sort of like I was wasting my life. I felt that my privacy was being invaded, and my boundaries trampled over. I felt resentful towards the people constantly communicating with me, yet simultaneously weak for not having the self-control to just ignore my phone and its beeps and vibrations, or put it away all together.

I’m no celebrity. I don’t run my own multimillion dollar business. I don’t think I have any more friends than Mike or Molly over there. Yet this was my experience, and therefore I imagine it might be yours, too.  

So for a week my life coach had me turn my phone onto Airplane Mode each night at 9 pm (which also included no social media use on my computer) and write a little reflection about it. At first I actually felt anxiety about missing out on a friend having an emotional breakdown and me not being there to comfort her, a possible late night hook up, a family emergency, or a last minute invite to what would afterwards be deemed the “best night everrrr.” 

I was also worried about people calling me rude, irresponsible, or old-fashioned. I thought my best friends would make a fuss about feeling abandoned or something.

But guess what? Literally no one said a thing! It was humbling, actually. Maybe I'm not so important after all. Some of my friends even embraced my new schedule, mindful to call or text a good night “I love you” at 8:58 before I disappeared into the technology-free void.

I have to admit that during the first few days I did turn my phone back on right before I went to sleep. I had to make sure that nothing totallllly pressing had come through, and wanted to feel a little more connected to the world. How weird it is that we can actually feel lonely without our contacts instantly available at our fingertips. As the week progressed my previous anxiety melted into actual relief when my alarm would buzz at 9 pm. I felt grateful and excited about all that I’d be able to accomplish in solitude.

The experiment was deemed a success. But after it was over I gradually went back to my old ways….

Until 3 months ago

I was settled on Vancouver Island and decided it was time to resurrect the challenge. And I'm pleased to report that I’ve actually stuck with it since then!

I’ve also started keeping it off until after I’ve been up and about for a little while in the morning, which is sometimes as late as 9 or 10 am. This ensures that I can get going with my morning routine in peace (some days reading, meditating, or going for a walk) and don’t immediately start scrolling through Instagram or Facebook while still in bed, which I know is the new norm for so many people.  I can also settle into work more focused. 

Some of the benefits I have discovered of nightly Airplane Mode:

  • Much better sleep
  • More awareness of my fatigue and actually honouring it
  • More meditating, reading, journaling, and other things that would quickly get forgotten with my phone around
  • A feeling of self-respect and a being a little bit of a rebel :)  
  • More quality time with the precious people in my life – true presence
  • Less attachment to my phone when it is turned on
  • Greater productivity
  • A sense of peace

Also, a new appreciation for boundaries.

I know, I know, how boring. People are always talking about the damn things. What’s so important about them anyway?

Well I’ve learned that they enable us to protect ourselves from factors that are not contributing to our health and happiness, and in my case specifically, my productivity and feeling of presence. Contrary to some beliefs, boundaries should not be interpreted as signs of disrespect or lack of love for friends and family. They aren’t meant to be punishing others, but rather about valuing ourselves. Valuing ourselves enough to look out for, and prioritize, our needs and feelings before that of others, even part of the time. This may not be natural for those of us who naturally take on the role of being there 24/7, 365, to give emotional support and constant love to the people in ours lives, but there usually comes a time when it is required.

Sometimes we actually need boundaries set for ourselves because we have been engaging in self-sabotaging behavior, which was happening with me. And sometimes we need boundaries set for others, which was also happening with me. What was cool about my behavior change was that although it was introduced as more of a temporary intervention for self-protection, it eventually came to feel so good that it just became a permanent part of my lifestyle. 

But back to Airplane Mode. Are you ready to try it yourself?! I think so. 

It doesn’t have to be 9 pm. Whatever time feels best for you and makes most sense for your life. Maybe for practical reasons related to your family, partner, or job, you must be more accessible, more of the time, than I do. In that case, perhaps just commit to not checking social media after a certain time. Or if nighttime really isn’t doable, you could take from 5-7 pm, for example, to yourself. Whatever feels realistic to you, but also a little challenging and uncomfortable at first.

Just try something! Even a few days a week. I have faith in you! 

Of course there are situations where this plan is simply impractical and would cause more harm than good. In those situations I'll have my phone on, but keep myself restricted to only communicating with whomever is essential. I do not take it as an opportunity to start scrolling through my great Aunt’s dog’s Instagram account, although that may be tempting. 

There many be some of you who read this and actually don’t connect to this experience of such attachment and addiction to technology, social media, and constant communication. How I envy you! If that is the case, perhaps reflect on any other areas of your life where your time, energy, or spirit is being drained, and commit to taking some of that back.

Boundaries are a gift. Make 'em work for you.  

It is possible that I just have particularly low self-control when it comes to my phone, and therefore some of you may be wondering what the hell I’m talking about because you maintain a very healthy relationship with your phone and social media and are able to accomplish all the things that are important to you. But unfortunately I think more of you will relate than less.

Whether you are a heavy phone user or not,  try my experiment or something similar. Whatever it is, have its purpose be to carve out more time for silence.

It is in the quiet stillness amidst the constant activity and chatter whirring around us that our creativity and intuition can truly shine through. I'm certain we will be so much better off if we create the space for that to happen. 

“Silence isn’t empty. It’s full of answers.”