My 8 year old has been pretty bossy lately.
He’s been making a lot of rules for how we should interact with him. He wants me to be quieter in the mornings, and not open the curtains in his bedroom without his permission. He’s dictated what kind of ice cream should be on the grocery list (mint chocolate chip) and let us know that he is out of yogurt. But only the very specific brand of strawberry that he likes. Don’t get that other kind. It is NOT good.
My husband and I roll our eyes and smile when he issues his orders like a prince. In a world where pretty much everything changed for him overnight, I figure he’s looking for anything he can control at this point. Aren’t we all? And, I admire him. After all, others might say that he’s really just setting some boundaries for himself.
Setting - and verbalizing - boundaries is a lesson we learn early in life, even if we have a clunky way of doing it. Have you ever heard a preschooler say, “get out of my bubble?” They’ve learned that they have the right to a certain amount of space around them, and they’ll speak up when it’s being invaded.
It’s pretty easy to name the kinds of boundaries we need to protect ourselves and our interests from potential threats: we will not allow others to abuse us, put us in danger, violate our privacy, or insult us for long before we stand up and defend ourselves (or at least vent to someone else about it).
And, we have internal boundaries, too. Our bodies have a threshold of need for movement, sleep, nourishment, connection, and love, and the only person who can violate them is us.
We do that when we consistently over-obligate ourselves to others, speak negatively to ourselves, and put what others want ahead of what we need.
If you consistently find yourself wondering why you can’t seem to make the time for exercise, get enough sleep, or motivate yourself to follow through on pursuing greater health, it may be because you are not being N.I.C.E. to yourself.
Use each letter in the word “NICE” to remember the steps for respecting your own boundaries:
N = Notice. Notice when you are approaching an internal boundary that needs to be respected. You would not tell someone else that what they need is selfish and unimportant, so why is it okay to tell yourself that? Hearing negative self-talk is one way to notice that a boundary is in jeopardy. Feeling anxious, guilty, or otherwise overwhelmed are other signs that there is a personal boundary that you are not respecting for yourself.
I = Identify. It may seem silly at first, but verbalizing to yourself what you have noticed really helps clear the mental clutter. It can be so powerful to say something like, “I just accepted a piece of cake that I do not want to eat because it was offered to me. I am pushing my boundary of eating within my calorie needs because I feel obligated to eat food that is given to me.” In doing so, you’ve noticed how you feel and why you feel that way, without judgement or evaluation of yourself as a person. Wow! You are so evolved! Go you!
C – Commit. Once you notice how you feel and identify why, it’s time to commit to respecting that boundary. “I am committed to making choices that will support my health and vitality.” Sometimes that means saying no to people who made cake. Sometimes it means saying no to another part of yourself, like the part that wants to stay up late watching TV instead of getting enough sleep to be energized for a morning workout. Committing to respecting your own boundaries doesn’t mean putting yourself first at the expense of others, it means taking care of yourself so you can take care of others.
E – Engage! Act! Do the thing! Put your metaphorical foot down, steel your resolve, take a deep breath, and say, “thanks, but I’m good.” Turn off the TV and get in bed so you can wake up energized for exercise. Get off the couch and prepare a healthy lunch and snacks for the next day so you don’t end up in the drive-through. Do the thing. Nothing changes if you don’t engage with your own commitment.
As empathetic, mature, and responsible people, it is completely expected and appropriate that we will put the needs of others ahead of our own at times. Selfless acts of kindness and compassion are part of what connects us as people and makes the world a better place. But when we take it to an extreme and allow our own emotional and physical health to deteriorate as a result, no one wins.
My little prince will get his requested ice cream, and I’ll let him decide when his bedroom curtains are opened. I can’t guarantee a quiet morning, but I appreciate his desire for one! As we navigate this new world, take time to be nice to yourself this week. See if the world suffers. I expect it will actually be very, very nice.