How many browser tabs do you have open right now? I’ll go first. At any given time, I can have at least five tabs open: personal email, work email, the news, a cooking blog, a social media site (or two), and of course, Google. Pair that with instant messaging, text messages, and phone calls, and I’m at the middle of a distraction whirlwind.
Technology is a gift, for sure. It makes us more productive. It allows us to work from anywhere in the world. It lets us stay in touch with friends and loved ones at the click of a mouse or the tap of a finger. But too much of a good thing can be, well, distracting.
If you’ve ever dreamed of throwing your phone out the window, you’re not alone. But before you make a very expensive mistake, let’s talk about real-life ways to recognize everyday distractions (spoiler alert: it’s not just our phones) and the toll they can take on wellness.
Creating Healthy Boundaries
With all of the ways that technology lets us stay connected, why should you be interested in boundaries? For one thing, boundaries can help create structure. Have you ever found yourself in bed, scrolling through Facebook or Pinterest, and suddenly it’s over an hour past your bedtime? (Guilty!) That lost hour of sleep can have repercussions throughout the entire next day.
Here’s another example: the chatty coworker. It’s nice to have friendly relationships with your colleagues, but when water cooler chat turns into a 20-minute rant, being a captive audience can hurt your productivity.
Here are some guidelines from the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA) that could help you set healthy boundaries and reclaim your time and space:
We’ll start with the hard one: willpower. Willpower is the ability to maintain self-control in order to begin and complete a given action (e.g., quit smoking, exercise more, make healthy choices). What makes willpower so challenging is that you only have yourself to answer to. That’s why it’s important to practice positive thinking over negative thinking. For example, tell yourself, “I can turn off my laptop and spend more time with my family,” or “I can get my work done in time so that I can take a relaxing bike ride later on.” And avoid negative thoughts, such as “I never have time to exercise,” or “I just wasn’t built to run.” These have an unfortunate habit of becoming reality.
Assertiveness means holding your ground and protecting your self-interests. In the example of the complaining coworker, you may have to interrupt the rant du jour with, “Sorry to hear that, George, but I have a deadline. Let’s catch up later, thanks.” Or if you have established the willpower to quit smoking and temptation arises, refuse to let it get the best of you. The key to assertiveness is being firm, yet polite. It may take a few tries, but eventually your bad habits will get the message.
You can’t protect your time if you don’t feel like your time is worth it. Experts cite these five components as the building blocks of self-confidence and self-esteem: healthy role models, a sense of uniqueness, empowerment, social support, and calculated risk-taking. Sound complicated? Then grab a pen and paper and try this quick exercise:
- Name a role model and what you admire about them.
- Name a personal characteristic that makes you special.
- Name an area in your life in which you feel empowered.
- Name a person or group that gives you a sense of belonging.
- Name a risk that you have taken in the past year.
Feel better about yourself? Try this every time you feel self-doubt.
Whoops — we said that willpower was the hard one. But effective time management is no small challenge. In today’s hyper-connected culture, we may feel expected to do things like check our work email when at dinner with friends or choose fast food over a healthy meal. Or you may have a longstanding commitment that just doesn’t serve your needs anymore. If you find that you don’t have enough time for your hobbies, sleep, or exercise, start scheduling it in! Another tactic is to subtract the things that clutter your life — try this strategy from WELCOA:
- Find five things in your house that you don’t use and donate them to a charity.
- Identify people who make you feel drained instead of adding to your life. Give yourself permission to spend less time with them.
- Think of any optional activities (like a club or class) that no longer make you happy, and phase them out of your routine.
Remember: Changing habits doesn’t happen overnight. Start small and practice every day. If you like the changes you see in your life, set a few new healthy boundaries, or expand the ones you already have.