The Freedom of Limits

Who doesn’t love the fall? The back-to-school energy of fresh notebooks, resetting daily routine, getting all your ducks in a row for the settling-down end of the year. I sure love it.

On the other hand, my inner teenager is balking at the idea of constriction, rebelling along with my 13-yr-old who hates having to do what other people tell him.

“I want to do what I want to do!”

“I want to eat what I want to eat!”

“I want to go where I want to go!”

I feel like I’m being squeezed back into a box of expectations after spending the summer completely free-form. Sad that I can’t just run wild, that I have to buckle down and reset the limits to responsibility and necessity. It feels like I’m losing the freedom to be myself.

And yet I crave the boundary, and when I embrace it, I feel a great sense of joy and satisfaction. Why is that and how can you find the freedom within your own limits?

I’m sure there’s study somewhere that demonstrates the psychology of how this works. I’m coming at this from a place of trial and error. The life experiences that remind me of this concept over and over.

Limits create a feeling of safety

You can surely relate to that teenager I described above, feeling like the rules are created to crush your true spirit. Wanting to explore the world beyond the lines that have been drawn. 

One of my sons was forever pushing the boundaries. He’d be unpleasant and rude and question (or outright ignore) every limit I set for him. Depending on what state I was in on a given day, I’d have more or less energy to uphold those limits. On days when I couldn’t be bothered, he’d push further and run even more rampant.

However, every time I had the strength to stand my ground, an amazing transformation happened: the surly beast turned into a courteous, helpful young man. He became chatty and relaxed, took better care of his belongings, and was his generally happy self.

He felt safe. I had created the limits that gave him the space to roam as he chose.

You can use this story as an analogy for any part of your life that has you feeling restricted, that drains your energy and has your inner-teen on speed-dial.

Having to cut out particular foods is a big one. You know, when the diet or the doctor tell you to stay away from sugar-dairy-gluten-red meat-… fill in your offending food of choice.

How limits help you enjoy eating better

A world of endless possibility is overwhelming. Think about how confused you feel at a restaurant with a 10-page menu, or how clear things are when it’s only one page.

And yet, when you search for the possible ways that you can lose the weight or settle the aches or boost your mojo, you’re lead to that overwhelming land of confusion.

Inevitably, whichever food style you choose comes with a list of restrictions. And your rebel automatically craves those very things, right? And then, you feel the deprivation, fear you’ll starve, that there’s “nothing left to eat!”

This is where self-love needs to be the strong mother and hold you to those limits. You want the cookies as much as you wanted to stay out past 11 with your boyfriend. It’s not happening; move on. So, maybe instead you came home early and curled up with a book that opened your mind in a whole new way.

This is where the miracle of freedom within limits happens. Knowing to steer clear of certain ingredients, your eye will start perusing the other recipes in the magazine, will start seeing all the other items in the grocery store and the meals on the menu that can eat.

When you make the limits clear as to what you are, and not, “allowed” to eat for this particular period of time, the choices become clear.

Limits for better eating habits can also include 

  • what time you will eat, and how often
  • the meal plan and grocery list – know what you need for the next few days and get only those items along with any staples that are running low 
  • how often you’ll shop – stick to what’s in the fridge & pantry and you’re less likely to steer off course

Containing the time for food in this way then leaves you free to roam all the other parts of your life that need your love and attention.

What limits do you crave?

You can apply these same ideas to work, to exercise, to parenting and to whatever way you need to cultivate the person you are, and want to be.

(You might want your journal for this part.)

Take a deep breath, or 3. Let out the day so far.

Take a few moments to remember and revel in all the wonderful ways you ran wild through the summer.

Now, think about who you want to be through the end of the year.

Finally, ask yourself what structure, which limits do you need to set in place for that person to roam free?

Share your thoughts and answers in the comments, and open the possibilities for others.